Nottingham has a rich history – some claiming that there was evidence of pre-Roman occupation here. In around 600AD the City was part of the Kingdom of Mercia, where it was known as “Tigguo Cobauc” meaning “a place of cave dwellings”. It was rumoured that more people lived underground than over-ground.
This history is a relay important part of the Nottingham story. In the next few weeks an App is to be launched which will open people’s eyes (but not the ground!) to the Caves of Nottingham. You can read about the story here.
It is the Sherwood Sandstone beneath Nottingham that allowed the dwellers to hand-carve cellars. These then were used variously as store rooms, factories, pub cellars, dwellings and even air raid shelters during the second world war.
Many of these caves remain – mostly as cellars to city buildings – it’s not unusual to find two levels, accessed down quite lethal uneven and worn steps!
You can, of course, take a trip into this historic world – the City of Caves tour is located in the rather sad and forlorn place we know as the Broadmarsh Centre. You might argue that it is the best thing on offer there.
The caves deserve a place on the lat of great stuff about Nottingham – hopefully when the Broadmarsh centre gets redeveloped we will get an improved attraction – at least in approach!
I blogged last week about my trip to the Caves of Nottingham and the ‘homework’ I was doing. You may know that I was part of the Sheriff’s Commission until quite recently – and we had looked at a number of options to create a world-class visitor attraction.
One of the recurring themes was the disappointment expressed by visitors to Nottingham about the Castle. This is partly because it isn’t really a Castle – it is a Ducal Palace. It is not what people expect. Kids especially think there should be turrets and a drawbridge!
In the last couple of weeks we have met up with a USA based theme park operator who have completely bought into the Robin Hood story. And they can see the only great things. They are serious investors and want to create a ‘themed attraction’. This will be based around Robin Hood.
But sadly this doesn’t include the Castle. So today they have lodged a Planning Application to demolish Nottingham Castle and replace it with something more ‘suitable’. They have experience of Castles and seem to know what they are doing. The pink lighting effect will be replaced with Lincoln Green – which I have seen and is quite stunning. It will certainly put Nottingham on the map! Nottingham will have a proper Castle again.
There will be a moat re-cut and a proper drawbridge. Themed characters will ‘guard’ the gates and a new multi-sensory maglev ride will whisk visitors from the gatehouse up the Castle ramparts. Casting will take place later in the year to find a Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Adverts will appear in The Stage in the next week.
I’m not sure what English Heritage will make of this, but I think the new owners will treat the replacement sensitively. It will certainly be ‘eye-catching’.
Work is expected to start 12 months from today and the ‘New’ Castle will open for business in 2015…
Last week, for the first time in my life I visited the Caves beneath Nottingham Castle. For £2.50 you get to step back in time – in parts into what looks like an alien world.
For those that don’t know Nottingham has more man-made caves than anywhere else in the UK. They were dwellings – and at one time it was reckoned that there were more people living underground than above ground. Many of the caves were inhabited until 1845, when the St. Mary’s Enclosure Act banned the rental of cellars and caves as homes for the poor.
The Caves at the Castle are an odd mix. They comprise some long tunnels which were used to bring up goods from the Trent Valley, others as storage areas for meat, wine and prisoners (including without doubt Robin Hood). There are some for waste (including human waste!) and some for short cuts to the pub!
Our guide was Colin, who led us on a circuitous route which eventually ends in Brewhouse Yard. It’s a precarious route in parts – not really suitable for the infirm. The sense of history is enormous. Especially the latter part – the 98m long Mortimers Hole– where Roger De Mortimer was allegedly taken down after being captured by the Kings troops in 1330. De Mortimer was at the time of his capture running the Country.
So what did I think?
I actually thought it was better than I was expecting – we are lucky to have this amount of history on our doorstep. But I couldn’t help that this is also a missed opportunity. There is little publicity about the caves. The story is well told but needs some more life to it. Stuffed dummies are not what is needed for 2011. My biggest issue is that we were left in Brewhouse Yard – where we had a huge hike back up to Castle.
I know that we have another Cave tour (at BroadMarsh centre) in Nottingham. But this is The Castle. Nottingham Castle. We need to make better use of these assets in the future.
It won’t surprise you to know that I have a plan… which is why I was there. Doing homework!