History is revealed at the Malt Cross
Nottingham’s Malt Cross may be familiar to many of you who have been out and about in the city centre for a light ale or a glass of wine. It’s an old music hall that’s taken on a new identity in recent times, but has still maintained its tradition of hosting live music to entertain its guests.
As a venue, there really is nowhere like it and it’s currently undergoing some major work to re-vamp the existing ground floor and upper level that was already accessible to the public. However, below the ground floor, secrets have been lying in wait for decades and centuries – and they are now being unearthed as part of the redevelopment. I paid the site a visit in mid July to see how it’s all taking shape.
The project was given the go ahead after it received Heritage Lottery funding early this year. The plan is to open two floors below ground level as well as caves beneath. The levels opened up will be used for heritage education, tourism, arts, crafts and music.
During my visit, I must have ended up about four levels below ground level. The Malt Cross has had many uses in its lifetime as a warehouse and music hall. And nearby stood a Carmelite Monastery, which gives the guys reason to believe that the caves below the Malt Cross were carved out by the people at the monastery. So the history of this plot on St James Street is far reaching and delves into the pages of history. The first step on my visit was to make my way below the ground floor. The space opened up below is huge. When I was told about all the different uses planned for the site in the future I thought that it would require a lot of space to make it possible. But that’s exactly what they have – space. It’s eerie to think that all the space below ground level has existed all this time but has been unused for so long.
Nottingham is a city of caves and it’s said that what lies beneath our feet in Nottingham is still largely unknown. Visiting the Malt Cross began to provide me with some perspective on this. Some of the features unearthed are very charming and precious to the feel of the grade II listed building and it’s great that a lot of the original colours and features discovered will feature in the Malt Cross when it’s complete. One of my favourite finds is the brick archway, which was covered up by false walls and discovered purely by chance. It’s a great example of Victorian architecture and is a feature the guys at the Malt Cross are keen to keep and use as part of the new womens’ toilet facilities. The new mens’ toilets will be housed partly in a cave – a very surreal and unique experience indeed!
The best part of the tour for me was venturing down into the caves. Some of the lighting wasn’t working properly so it required me to get out my phone and use the torch to find my way around in the dark. A Victorian beer barrel was discovered down there as well as Victorian safes, still locked up from whenever they were last used. And at the end of the network of caves, I stumbled across a well and the old Victorian boiler that would have once powered the building. The artifacts down there and the history and heritage attached to them is overwhelming. I even discovered a fact I never knew about the Malt Cross relating to inventions. The alley way at the rear of the property that leads to Angel Row, used to house one of the few patent offices in the country during Victorian times. For all we know, some of the finest inventions we have today might have started life in Nottingham …
It was a truly eye opening experience to be able to see the work at the Malt Cross and to see the levels below ground before their completion. Witnessing them as they’ve been discovered and to see the caves as bare shells was fantastic and I am very excited about what the future holds for Nottingham’s old music hall.