I have today been asked by a new friend to consider three things that I like about Nottingham. I took about twenty seconds thinking about this one and came up with the following:
For the first, I am tempted to say ‘the view of Princes Street in Edinburgh’. It’s 275 miles away precisely and I think you can see where my real love lies as a qualifier…
1. I like the way that it is very easy to access the countryside – even from the very centre of the city. Nottingham, though one of the relatively larger UK cities, has a smallish, concise city centre that is easily navigable on foot. Genuine country villages lie perhaps only 15-20 minutes away. Like this one:
2. Underground stuff. Back in history, Nottingham was known as ‘Land of Cavey Dwellers’. There are literally hundreds of man-made, hand-carved caves burrowed out underground the cities buildings by local people. They have been used for all manner of things such as tanneries, gambling dens, food and beer stores. living accommodation and air raid shelters in World War 2.
3. The rebellious nature of the locals is something I tend to admire. The world’s first Socialist, Robin Hood, if you choose to believe the ancient ballads, resided here and it was notable as the home of Ned Ludd the legend from whom the word ‘Luddite’ was derived. The Luddites were a decent bunch of lad who smashed factory textile machines to keep the poverty stricken in work. People over the ages have rioted about practically everything in Nottingham. including the price of cheese. They even burnt Nottingham Castle down because they didn’t like the Duke much. Bravo!
There may be three negatives to come…
I’ve written previously about the numerous networks of caves that run under the city of Nottingham and some of it’s outlying suburbs such as the one I live in. They are many in number, not generally connected to other systems across the area and generally speaking, hand-hewn from the soft sandstone that the city lies on, for all sorts of reasons.
Some time ago, I came across an interesting academic article regarding the disused sand mines that line the main arterial Mansfield Road which leads directly out of the north side of Nottingham. Interesting to me, partly due to the fact that it’s a part of the city I use frequently, in particular for visits to The Lincolnshire Poacher pub just a few minutes walk up the same road heading towards to the old Rock Cemetery and Forest recreation ground, home of the annual Goose Fair.
I’d long been told that underneath The Lincolnshire Poacher and it’s neighbouring businesses there are deep caves which I assumed were the result of the sand mines originally in-situ. Notable in this is The Golden Fleece, another Mansfield Road hostelry close by which in the past has held charity abseiling events down it’s two-storey caves below the public house.
Last night I had the opportunity to visit The Poacher’s cellars briefly. Again, they are two-storied with the first level being traditional brick by construction. Interesting enough in their own right but it is when descending a further narrow staircase through the rock down to a second lower storey where things become quite remarkable and thought-provoking.
As can be seen in the above images, this part of the cellars is a hand-made cave, whether this is the result of former sand mining or excavated especially for this former dwelling house is not clear to me. Quite clearly, the indentations of tools used to scrape away the soft rock are apparent, forming a uniformly shaped ‘room’ complete with a ‘drop’ for beer barrels, at the end, leading down from the pub back yard.
The cellars are of course a busy working environment under the former Old Grey Nag’s Head, the pub’s previous incarnation and so are laden and scattered with beer barrels, bottled beers and the various paraphernalia required to serve the pub’s many satisfied and loyal customers. The atmosphere, as one might expect, is damp and temperate, the floor sticky and with a general feel of the labour required in keeping a busy city-centre pub replenished. Even in 2013 though there remains a little evocative history and a few questions outstanding deep under The Lincolnshire Poacher and the businesses and homes nearby.
‘The Trip’ as it is known locally takes its name from the crusaders who were reputed to have stopped of at the hostelry back in the middle ages. Dating back to 1189 AD, it’s argued that it’s the oldest pub in England or even the world according to some. This is debated by a couple of other pubs in Nottingham though. The argument revolves around when The Trip actually became a pub rather than the age of the building, which is not in doubt.
What is very unusual about the place is that part of the pub is hewn out of caves set at the foot of the Nottingham Castle rock. From the medieval game set in the wall of the initial downstairs bar up to the most recent bar opened from a newly opened cave upstairs, the pub reeks of history and originality. A legend surrounds the model galleon ship that sits above the upper bar in a glass case. The ship used to hang in an aperture in the cave roof for many years, smothered in cobwebs, as it was reputed that anyone touching it would come to grief, (apparently several people died, became seriously ill or suffered other misfortune).
The fact that the pub is a well-visited tourist destination does not detract from its appeal. Although unique, it still retains the feel of a good local pub. If you should find yourself in Nottingham, try not to miss this place, as its situated only five minutes walk away from the city’s central Old Market Square.
I recently took a visit down the city caves in Nottingham for perhaps the fifth or sixth time. Mostly in past times these occasions have been when accompanying visitors to our home. Although the visit is a but a short tour, I can honestly say I never tire of this excellent little historical site, tucked away in the city centre of Nottingham, rather incongruously inside an entrance to the Broad Marsh Shopping Centre.
There is one important change to visiting in the past. Previously the tour was self-conducted by the use of an audio device. The friendly and helpful ticket office worker informed us however that the caves had now changed hands and that there would be a real live group guide for the tour. Having been on so many various audio tours in the past, I looked forward to the personal touch supplied by a guide versed in the history of the site and was not to be disappointed.
From a visitor’s point of view, our day in Nottingham had started with some promise via a tram ride on the quick and efficient service from its Hucknall terminus. Arriving at the far Station Street depot adjacent The Midland Railway Station, the impressive sight of the Pitcher and Piano, an attractively refurbished large church in the Lace Market area loomed above us. Perhaps not unique but certainly rare – even in the current era of reconstructing many types of buildings such as banks and post offices into public houses, one cannot fail to be impressed by the interior of the Pitcher and Piano. It’s a strange mixture of feelings when one enters a pub that used to be a place of worship, I’ll say that straight away without hesitation. One can’t help but lament in some small way the sadness of a grand church being lost to premises licensed to sell alcohol to a weekend hoard of revellers but the world changes and so do its needs. Without being too churlish however I’d urge a visit to the Pitcher and Piano to anyone with an hour to kill and a thirst as it’s a most unusual experience. Personally I felt restrained whilst in there curiously, just as if I was still in a church.
The Pitcher and Piano, Nottingham
Back to the sub terrain and in through the outdoor and back into history then. Our personable guide asked the large-ish group if there were any local residents and I noted I was the sole one, a statistic that might indicate the caves’ popularity and visibility spreading to more and more outside visitors. With a crack and a pun or two we were heading down into the ‘real’ Nottingham, ‘land of cavey-dwellers’. This article won’t spoil what may become a visit in the future to the prospective visitor but suffice to say the cheery guide explained to the group of the many and varied uses of the caves by Nottinghamians in the past. These include the story of the tannery, illegal gambling dens and WWII air raid shelters.
Brushing against the iron-red bunter sandstone, it’s easy to imagine with the crumbling, dusty walls how easy it was to carve out some of the caves that were not naturally formed, the city of Nottingham was truly made for the temperate atmosphere of the caves being put to practical use. It’s well-spoken that much of the city is honeycombed with underground caves and whilst there has been access available from a handful of pub cellars and most notably underneath Nottingham Castle, the Broadmarsh Caves offer easily the most accessible and varied option. For a few pounds this tour offers a unique insight into the city’s past and can be entered whilst on a shopping trip to the city. As a resident I’d say it’s a not to be missed hour or two for the traveller to the Lace City.