When you mention Nottingham, most people think of Robin Hood but there is a more solid history to it that is right under their feet. Nottingham has more man-made caves than anywhere else in Britain. It was once known as Tigguo Cobauc meaning, place of dwellings as noted by the Bishop of Sherorne in his 893 AD book The Life of King Alfred (the earliest conclusive date that Nottingham’s caves were being used to live in is 1250-70).
Nottingham’s CBD sits on a shoulder of sandstone that is so soft enough that it was faster for a small team of workmen to carve out room than it was to build a shelter above ground. It was more sheltered too. Even though it is very soft, once carved the caves are structurally sound, even with building on top of them.
This natural resource has come in handy throughout the centuries. Storage space wasn’t a problem if your building was on the sandstone. You just dug another room, all they had to do is dig a hole in the sandstone under their house. Whole houses, known as rock houses, have also been carved out of the rock. Industry also took advantage of the ability to build caves including tanners and malters.Up until at least 1924 people still lived in the caves. During WWII some caves were converted to bomb shelters.
However the caves often had a bad reputation. In the past they have been known as todeholes(leper colonies) and pauper holes. Between 1335-1595 town records show that rock houses were used as leper colonies.The Narrow Marsh district became part of slum housing. Sometimes these houses were a cave with a makeshift door. Up until 1845 many caves, including cellars, were inhabited by the city’s poorest inhabitants.
Being a man made resource their number has fluctuated. Pre-1067 there is estimated over to be 100. In the centre of Nottingham between 1758-64 there were same number of caves as there were pubs between (approx 140). So far there are 544 caves documented to have existed. Some are being rediscovered while others have been destroyed either from being filled in or a buildings above have had extended downwards.