Excavation in Hounds-gate, destroyed 1901. (13.)
Excavation in Hounds-gate, destroyed 1901. (13.)

The following is the abstract of an interesting Latin charter relating to one of the wells we have alluded to, dated 1469-70:—"Licence from Thomas Thurland, of Nottingham, to Alice, who was the wife of John Lyversege, her heirs or assigns, residing and commorant in her tenement in the holding of William Hurst, smith, upon the Longrawe .... to draw and take water from and in a well of the said Thomas Thurland, dusr out of the rock in his underground cellar belonging to his aforesaid tenement, with licence for the said Alice and her assigns to come, during the time of their residence there, upon the land of the tenement aforesaid with their vessels so often as it shall be necessary, and to draw and carry away water to her own land; providing that the aforesaid Alice or her assigns residing in the tenement aforesaid shall contribute to the repairing of the well aforesaid and of the buckets and ropes and other fittings."

In 1503-4 there is a reference to Corporation gardens at "Bugholes." It does not certainly appear whether the "Bugge Holes" derived their name from the Bugge family (whose mansion from the early thirteenth century at least occupied a site above them, in Castle-gate), or from the bog or marsh which the caves faced. In the accounts for 1543-4. besides a reference to the Pool Yard beneath the "Boke Holles," we read that the sum of two shillings was paid out, "at the commandementes of Master May re for the vyset folke in Boge Holys." to one Thomas Guymer. This man was probably either a keeper or a constable. Fourteen years later we find him collecting the toll of salt in the publio market. However, it is clear from the preceding note that the Bugge or Bog Holes were then utilised for housing the "visited" or plague-stricken townspeople, and as such they were the earliest local isolation hospitals on record, apart from the older leper hospitals. Of course, these places may have been similarly utilised long prior to 1543.

Deering mentions a statute of 27th Henry VIII. (1535-6), "for re-edifying Nottingham, Gloucester, Northampton, and other towns." The preamble states that divers tenements, &c., in Nottingham and six other specified towns, in the principal streets, were then and had long been in great ruin and decay, "with pyttes, cellars, and vaultes, lying open and uncovered, very perillous for people to go by in the Nyghte withoute Jeopardy of Lyf," &c. We should be well prepared to find that Nottingham was the worst offender in the latter particular.


Sneinton Hermitage in 1900.
Sneinton Hermitage in 1900.

In a rental of 1544 we first read of Sneinton Hermitage:—"Item, there is a hous under the grounde in a roche of stone that somtyme was called thermitage." In a later rental, dated 1591, we read that "The Ermytage in Sneynton, being a house cutte oute of rock, and paieth yearly 2s." It should be distinctly understood that these entries refer to a particular cave, or range of caves, probably with land attached, which had been a mediaeval hermitage, but was then disused as such. Its appellation was subsequently absorbed by the whole line of cliff known in modern times as Sneinton Hermitage. The entries have been erroneously held to show that only one cave then existed. It would be just as reasonable to say that the numberless caves on the Nottingham lands, wastes, and roads (for which no rent was paid, did not exist in old times, because they fail to figure on the town rentals. The transference of the name of Sneinton Hermitage from one cavern to an extensive series had the unfortunate effect of causing the original hermitage (which would include a rock-cut chapel) to be lost, and it has never been identified in modern times. Perhaps the chapel was identical with the great cavern bared in April, and destroyed in July, 1903, measuring 12 yards either way, roughly circular, and 18 to 20 feet in height. The roof was supported by six immense rock pillars, square oblong in plan, and each about 14ft. in circumference. In 1605 we find one Percival Millington refusing to pay his rent of 2s. 6d. for the "Bugholes," evidently a breach of agreement.

The following presentment, made in 1606—nearly three centuries ago—is of interest as marking the earliest recorded date of "rock-house suppressions." "Also we intreat yow yat the holles at the Holloston [Hollow Stone], as the come to be empty, yat the may be fillid up, and not mad a harbor for beggeres.—Let it be done." One year later, in 1607, the matter was broached again: "Wee present the Hollowstone to wante walling and paving, and thinke yt convenient that the doresteades be walled up, and none permitted to dwell in anye hole ther hearafter."


On the occasion of another plague visitation, in 1610, the stricken townspeople were removed to a much healthier site on the high hills north-east of the town, where wooden plague-cabins were built. Nevertheless, we find the old praotise followed with regard to county victims, who were gathered at Nottingham as a centre, and housed immediately outside the jurisdiction of the borough, on extra-parochial ground pertaining to the castle, viz., in the caves at the foot of the castle rock. The sum of £22 11s. 8d. was received from the constables of four county wapentakes, as assessed by the shire justices, "towardes the ayde and releife of the people under the Castle, beinge out of our County." The higher sum of £39 10s. was actually "Payd out for the chardges of the visited and watchinge att the Brewhouse and under the Castle."

A tenement "neere the Bugholes" is mentioned in 1613. Respecting these historic excavations, we may mention that in 1640 it was requested that "there may be a reale [rail] set. to keepe out horses out of the Bughoales, for treading in the dike.— Done." "Bog Hole" is precisely located on the town map of 1744. in the present Mortimer-street. It was apparently about the site of St. Nicholas's Schools, where the ground has been raised in modern times, and where the crown of an old cave entrance may yet be observed above the existing level.


In our last chapter (mainly made up of documentary notices) we deemed it best to dispose of all the selections we had made under that head, although the adoption of such a course unavoidably involved a little chronological overlapping. However, the way is now clear for us to devote some attention to literary references and to our visitors—in other words, to see ourselves as others see us. The process will bring us in touch with some interesting personalities, and will incidentally carry us down to modern times.


It is almost superfluous to say that our earliest recorded topographical visitor was that father of English antiquaries, John Leland, who visited Nottingham about the year 1540, and left an extremely interesting: account of the town on record. In the course of his remarks on the castle Leland says: "There is also a chochlea with a turret over it. wher the kepers of the castelle say Edwarde the thirdes band cam up through the rok and toke the Erle Mortymer prisoner. Ther is yet a fair staire to go downe by the rok to the ripe of Line. There be diverse buildinges betwyxt the dungeon and the ynner court of the castelle; and ther goith also doune a stair ynto the grounde, wher Davy kinge of Scottes. as the castellanes say, was kept as a prisoner."

The self same features of the mediaeval castle were seen and noted by William Camden towards the close of the 16th century. In the English translation of the work on Britain, 1610. we read: "The Castellanes report many stories of David, King of the Scots, prisoner in it, and of Roger Mortimer, Earle of March, taken here in a hollow secret passage under the ground, who because he prised his faith and loialty to his country lighter than Scotish gold, and with a vast minde designed other mischiefes, was afterwards hanged. Certes, in the first base court of the Castle wee went downe by many steps or staires, with candle light, into a vault under the ground and certaine close roomes, wrought out of the verie rocke, in the walles whereof are engraven the stories of Christ's passion and other things, by the hand (as they say) of David the second, King of Scots, who was there imprisoned. But in the upper part of the Castle, which riseth up aloft upon a rock, we came also by many staires into another cave, likewise under the ground, which they cal Mortimer's Hole, for that in it the aforesaid Roger Mortimer lay hidden, when as being guilty to himselfe of wickednesse, hee stood in feare of his life."


Camden furthermore deals with the town of Nottingham, where, falling into the old error, he avers that the Anglo-Saxons bestowed the name on account of "certaine caves and passages under the ground, which in old time they hewed and wrought hollow under those huge and steepe cliffes. which are on the Southside hanging over the little river Lin, for places of receit and refuge, yea and for habitations." But Camden says nothing about an odd experience he had in connection with his exploration of the Nottingham caverns. It was placed on record by a native, who wrote an anonymous account of the town in 1641, which was not printed until so recently as 1899. The D. N. B. states that Camden, accompanied by his friend Robert Cotton, travelled to survey the northern counties in the latter part of the year 1600. If the following story be accurate, however, it goes to show that Camden's journey transpired between Michaelmas 1598 and the same season of 1599, during which year Anker (not Arthur) Jackson was mayor of Nottingham:—

"There was a Time not long before the untimely Death of that incomparable Princesse Queen Elizabeth when all, or the greatest part of the Nobilitie were suddenly called to the Court, noe cause at that Time openly knowen, which caused many to fear the Death of the Queen, others to suspect some suddene Arrival or near Approach of a new Armado from Spain, in Revenge of the then late defeated of eighty eight. Others more probably (as the event shewed) feared the Danger that might insue by that unhappye Arrival of that noble and high spirited but unfortunate Lord Robert Earl of Essex from Ireland, which was then suspected, and shortly after succeeded, to the fatal Ruyne of that noble Gentleman. During the Heat of that hudwinck't Murmur, it fell out that two ancient Gentlemen alighted at the Bull-head in Nottingham some what early in the afternoone, men of grave Aspect and graceful Deportment. Soe soone as they were alighted, one of them laying aside his Cloak, having one a black satten Doublett, and upon that a velvet Jerkin without Sleeves, (a Fashion at that Time much in Use) walked in the street and met there accidentally with an old deblanched Fellowe called by a Nickname Dicke a Cow, whom he made his Guide to shewe him the concaves and vaults out out of the rock under Nottingham Castle and servinge for the Habitation of many poor People, which when this Gentleman had narrowly view'd, and exactly perused, he rewarded his Guide, and departed to his Inn. This Fellow as he was at that Time, as he was seldom otherwise, between Hawk and Buzzard, hasted to ye then Mayor of Nottingham, called Arthur Jackson, and with a distracted Countenance and troubled Speech tould him as well as he could that there were two gentlemen strangers at the Bullhead, who he verily thought intended that Night to undermyne and blow up the Castle, giveinge for his Reason the Gentleman's Curiositie in viewinge those Vaults. The Mayor, though he thought ye Fellow worthy of noe Credit in Respect of himself, yet consideringe the Darknesse of the Time and that it was safer to erre one the right than on ye left Hand, sent one of his Sergeants to let those Gentlemen know he desired to speeke with them, who being at supper, returned this faire and friendly. Answer: That soe soon as they had supped they would wait upon Mr. Mayor. This dilatory Answere bredd in the Heads of those jealous Burgomaisters newe Feares lest this Protraction were used but as a Shift, that in the mean Time they might the better conveigh themselves away. The Mayor therefore, taking with him two or three of the wisest of his Society, marched in Haste towards ye Bull-Head, and about the midway, in a fair and open Place called the long Rowe these gentlemen encounter'd him. being soe far on their Way to attend his Pleasure. After a short formal Salutation, the Mayor wishing them to withdraw themselve to a Shopbulke neare by there to have some Conference free from the Concourse of the People. In this very Nicke it fell out before any Conference had that Mr. Atkinson, a Physician of the Towne, passing that Way knew one of these Gentlemen, the same that had viewed the Castle, to be Mr. Cambden, and saluted him by the Name of Clarentine King: of the Heraulds, which indeed he was, by whom he understood that the other with him was that noble Gentleman and learnedst of Antiquaries Sir Robert Cotton, which the Mayor understanding, cryed out peccavi, and prayed their Pardon, and in part of Recompence presented them with a gallon of Wine and Sugar as a Ransome for his Boldness. This undeserved Affront, had not Mr. Cambden been as honest and modest as he was wise and learned, it might worthyly have drawn some lash upon this Towne."


The late Mr. T. C. Hine, of Nottingham, quotes "an old MS. published in 1609," for the statement that "the whole town is in a manner undermined with caves of an amazing depth and extent, go that it is even questioned whether all the buildings on the surface of the rock would fill up the vacancies underneath."

Mr. Hine further says that: "When the question of Sunday recreation was discussed in Parliament in the 17th century, one of the members for the borough, in advocating the same, stated that as most of his constituents lived underground, he thought they at least were entitled to enjoy themselves in the open air on Sunday."

In the letter-press acompanying Speede's map of Nottingham, dated 1610, we read: "Many strange vaults hewed out of the rocks, in this Towne are seene; and those under the Castle of an especiall note, one for the story of Christ's Passion engraven in the Walls, and cut by the hand of David the second King of Scots, whilst hee was therein detained prisoner. Another wherein Lord Mortimer was surprised in the non-age of King Edward the Third, ever since bearing the name of Mortimer's Hole. These have their staires and severall roomes made artificially even out of the Rockes; as also in that hill [on which the town stands] are dwelling houses with winding staires, windowes, chimneys, and roome above roome, wrought all out of the solid rock."


Next we have a highly interesting poetical account of the excavations (evidently those in the town cliff), though clearly written more with the object of exciting curiousity than in the interests of strict accuracy. We refer to the Iter Boreale of the quartette of Oxford students (one of whom was Richard Corbet, afterwards Bishop of Oxford and Norwich) recording details of a northern tour made about the year 1620. The following is a translation of the relevant passage:—

At Nottingham we next arrived, Built on a rock, but ill-contrived; Where we observed the cunning men like moles. Dwell not in houses, but were earthed in holes. So did they not build upwards, but dig through, As hermits' caves, or conies do their borough; Great underminers sure as anywhere, 'Tis thought the powder-traitors practised there. Would you not think that men stood on their heads,. When gardens cover houses there, like leads; And on the chimnies top the maid may know Wether her pottage boil, or not, below; There cast in herb?, or salt, or bread, her meat; Contented rather with the smoak than heat. This was the rocky parish, higher stood Churches and hous-s, buildings, stone and wood.

In dealing with the Castle, allusion is made in the same poem to "King David's vault," and to "Mortimer's dark cell."

At this period Nottingham Castle was largely in ruins, and is so described by a local poet, Huntingdon Plumptre, in a volume of poems published in 1629, wherein is a reference to the Castle Rook,—

Its huge mass honeycombed
By countless caverns,
the delightful home
Of fair chaonian doves.


A Lansdowne MS., in the British Museum, thus records a visit to Nottingham in the year 1634: "The next morninge we found ourselves in a towne nothing but rocke, which way soever we walked. It is sweetly situated on a hill, within a mile of the brave River Trent. All or most of their cellarage, and many artificial dwellings, are hewen and made out of firm rocke; but more than especially of note, at that famous ruinated castle built by William the Conqueror is Mortimer's Hole, into which we descended from the court of the old castle by 150 stayres, all within one mighty huge rocke, on which the castle is founded. After we had tyrd ourselves with clyming up soe high as those commanding towers, and descending down soe low as we did, into those deepe dismall dark vaults and caves, where the King of Scotts was famished miserably to death, and the hole wherein the Lord Mortimer, Earle of Marsh, was surprised, we came marching fayre and easily to the towne," &c.

Taylor, the Water Poet, who visited Nottingham in 1639, says:—"A great many of the inhabitants, especially the poorer sort, dwell in vaults, holes, or caves, which are digged out of the rock, so that if a man be destitute of a house, he has only to go to Nottingham, with a mattock, a shovel, a crow of iron, a chisel, a mallet, and with such instruments he may play the mole, the coney, or pioneer, and work himself a hole and a burrow for himself and his family, where over their heads the grass and pasture grows, beasts do feed, and cows are milked." We may note, in passing, that Taylor's description, and bait held out to poor men, did not, strictly speaking, apply to Nottingham town, where the whole area was in private ownership, and where there were no pastures overhead. It applied to the cliffs and wastes on the roadsides outside the town, in which respect it is otherwise confirmed. But it is certain the contemporary town authorities would be the reverse of grateful for such an advertisement. The vagabond or roving inhabitants, who thus squatted uninvited on the outskirts of the borough, spreading epidemic diseases, and otherwise rendering themselves abnoxious, were a continual source of trouble and anxiety to the municipality.