Nottingham Caves Festival

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If you’re in Nottingham city centre, chances are you’re stood directly above a cave. There’s an intricate network over 700 of underground tunnels and caverns, carved into the sandstone rock beneath the city streets.

The caves date back to medieval times and have been used as homes, bomb shelters and even jail cells over the years.

The first ever Festival of Caves is well underway in Nottingham, with special tours, storytelling events and interactive activities taking place all week until Sunday across the city to bring Nottingham’s underground history to life.

We’ve gathered some little known facts to shed some light on the hidden world the beneath our feet.


The first reference to caves in Nottingham dates to back to 893 when the Vikings occupied Nottingham. It is likely the Vikings carved some of the earliest caves.

During that time Nottingham was called ‘Snottingham’ which is derived from the Viking words for ‘place of caves.’

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The oldest datable cave is beneath 8 Castle Gate and dates to approximately 1250.

Whilst many caves are of medieval date there were lots created in the 18th and 19th centuries and even some as recently as the 1960s when garages were carved out of the rock in The Park.

There are approximately 700 caves recorded by the City Council. There are likely to be many more that we do not know about.

There are caves beneath every street in Nottingham city centre. Although most caves are in the city centre caves exist elsewhere in the city, including in Lenton, Basford, Radford, Sherwood and The Park.

Credit: Visit England

Credit: Visit England

Some of the uses of caves have included: General storage cellars; beer cellars (particularly under pubs); passages/tunnels; malt kilns; tanneries; catacombs; hermitages; gaol cells; isolation chambers for suffers of epidemics; sand mines; stables; follies; air raid shelters.

Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, visited Nottingham Castle in the early 18th century. When asked if he wanted to go into the caves beneath the castle he was too scared, remarking he did not like the look of them.

Few of Nottingham caves were created for people to live in. However, during the 19th century in particular some of the poorest did live in caves. The town’s authorities made it illegal and ordered the destruction of some of those caves that were being used in this way.

Nottingham Castle Caves

Photo Credit: Visit England

Caves were used as air raid shelters during the Second World War but also during the First World War when zeppelins dropped bombs over the city.

During the Second World War a man named George Campion, who excavated many caves in the city, tried to persuade the authorities to join all the caves together and make an underground city where Nottingham folk could live, safe from German bombs.

In the 1970s the council considered creating an underground road system to replace Maid Marian Way.


Find out more about the week’s events here.

Posted on 18 October 2016
Featured author: Jessie

Nottingham native and fan of all things music, arts and animal related.

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    A very lucky marketeer in her dream job. Passionate about all things Nottinghamshire and firmly believes if you work really hard and are kind, amazing things will happen!

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    Addicted to music and learning languages. Loves reading, gardening, travelling and everything new media related.

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    Proud to represent the county I grew up in. Travel loving devoted mum of two who carries a torch for the city’s unsung hero, Captain Albert Ball VC.

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    Writer and amateur local historian with an affection for English eccentrics. Returned to Nottingham in 2013, only to fall in love with the creative and cultural goings of the city.

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