The Anonymous Historian, previously quoted, who wrote his account of Nottingham in 1641, fails not to take credit to the town for its characteristic feature:—"One Benefit this Town has, not match- able by any other, and that is the great Store of Cellerage. The Townsmen are persuaded that in the greatest Part of that Town they have as much in their Cellers cut out of the Rock under Ground as in their Buildings above, many of which are 20, 24, and 30 Steps deep, which serve them for many necessary Purposes generally. They serve for keeping Beer and Ale in summer, where you shall have it as cold in June and July as above ground in December and January. To serve some Tradesmen for Warehouses for the Stowage of the Surplus of such Wares as their Shops cannot receive. Some use them for the Storeing of their Wood and Coales, others use them instead of Barnes for harbouring of Brakes got in Summer to drye malt withall in Winter, and some that have floors yt are large and level use them for making Malt, having in them Wells and Cisterns for steeping of Barley. In these they will make Malt as kindly in the Heat of Summer, as above Ground in the best Time of Winter; by Reason whereof there is great Abundance made in this Town, which they vend in Lancashire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, and the Peak of Derbyshire, by Badgers, Carriers, or Hucksters of those Countries, which fetch it from them dayly," &c.

Of course the Anonymous Author refers to the usual sights of the castle:—"Within the old Tower there is another Court, though somewhat lees, in the Middle whereof there is a Stair Case of Stone, about six or seven Foot above the Ground, in which there is a Door to enter and Steps to lead down, though of late much worn, through the main Body of the Rock to the Foot thereof, and there a Door to come out upon the Level near the Bank of the River Leen. This some say was made by the Lord Mortimer, for a secret and private Passage into the Castle, which is the more probable because to this Day it carries ye Name of Mortimers Hole. This Castle is the more famous by being made the Prison of David, sometime King of Scotland," &c.

Civil War times.

Mrs. Hutchinson, in her well-known life of the Governor of Nottingham Castle, describes that place at the time of his entry, 1643, with some notice of Mortimer's Hole. She further says:—"In the whole rock there were many large caverns, where a greate magazine and many hundred souldiers might have bene disposed, if they had bene cleansed and prepared for it, and might have bene kept secure from any danger of firing the magazines by any morter-pieces shott against the castle. In one of these places, it is reported that one David, a Scotch king, was kept in cruell durance, and with his nayles had scratcht on the wall the story of Christ and his twelve apostles."

This latter tradition continued current, apparently, until the demolition of the castle, at the end of the Civil War.


John Evelyn, who visited Nottingham in 1654. recorded that the town "seems to be one entire rock."

Dr. Peter Heylyn, who died in 1662, wrote:—Of Mortimer's Hole there, who was thence haled to his execution, and of the long imprisonment which David King of Scots hero suffered, the people are as good as a common chronicle, and intermix, too, not a few fables with the truth of the story."

Thomas Baskerville, who passed through the town in 1675, says:—"It is upon a pleasant rook of freestone, in which everyone that will may have cellars, and that without the trouble of springs or moisture, so that, excepting Bridgnorth, in Shropshire, you cannot find such another town in England. It is divided into the upper and lower towns, for when you have a mind to leave the large and more spacious parts of this town on the plain of the hill, and will go down the lower streets near the river, you must descend right down many stairs ere you get to the bottom, and here you find, as it were, another town full of shops, and people, who have a convenience to cut in the rock warehouses, stables, or what rooms else they please for their own peculiar uses." A lady commended the traveller to the White lion. "This she did on the score of good ale, and, indeed, we found it so, for he [the landlord] had a cellar cut under the rock. 46 stairs deep, bv which means, though it was then after St. James' tide, and hot, sultry weather, the beer and ale was rarely good; and drank excellently well."

Thoroton, the Notts, historian, 1677, goes no further than to repeat the old error as to the origin of the name of Nottingham. "Nothing can be more manifest than that this is of Saxon original, importing a woody, or forest dwelling, or habitation in Dens or Caves cut in the Rock, whereof there are very many still to be seen."

In a little book in our possession, about two centuries old, but lacking the title page, occurs:— "In Nottingham town there are (in good houses) many lower rooms, which the door-cases, fire- hearths. stairs, windows, window-jams, and soils, have all been hewed out of the solid rock." In immediate juxtaposition occurs the following manuscript note:—"There is cellers very many and large, hewn out of ye same rocks, on which ye greatest part of ye town stands, but ye rock is no harder than a scythe stone."

Miss Celia Fiennes, who visited the town in 1697. placed on record a reminiscence that is interesting, although scarcely what a lady would be likely to write nowadays:—"Nottingham is Famous for good ale, also for Cellars; they are all dugg out of the Rocks, and so are very Coole. Att ye Crown Inn is a Cellar of 60 stepps down, all in ye Rock, like arch worke over your head: in ye Cellar I dranke good ale." No wonder a local brewery has adopted the trade mark "Rock Ales." This Crown Inn, demolished not many years ago, stood on the Long-row, where now is the new street. Respecting the excavations pertaining thereto, Mr. W. Stevenson is of opinion that they "were one of the seven, wonders of Nottingham. They were the Castleton Caves, so to speak, of the town, and no traveller had seen Nottingham unless he had explored them, and there quaffed the nut-brown ale." Probably Mr. Stevenson is right, for the Crown cellars must have comprised the principal ones on the same area lately sketched by Mr. Clements, and subsequently destroyed. Probably, also, it was the same range of underground works that were visited by the Archaeological Association in 1852, headed by the Duke of Newcastle, when they were dubbed "habitations of the early Britons." The corresponding Archaeological Journal says:—"Situated in Bell-yard, nearly opposite the Exchange Rooms. It is a subterranean passage, reaching from Bell-yard to Parliament-street, formed of a number of caves perforating the rock in every direction, but extending in length no less than one hundred and seventy-three yards, and, being sixty feet beneath the level of the ground."


Deering, the Nottingham historian, circa 1745, as might have been expected, furnishes many notes connected with our present subject, including a detailed account of Mortimer's Hole. He also mentions that in 1720 the then Duke of Newcastle made an unsuccessful search for the reputed dungeon of the Scottish king. (During modern excavations for the Museum cellarage, &c., it was hoped that some clue might be found to the long talked of dungeon, in search of which the 5th duke caused several unsuccessful borings and excavations to be made, about 1864). Deering, of course, reproduces much of the information on Nottingham excavations recorded by the local writer of 1641, adding:—"Nay,  in some Places, there are Cellars within Cellars, deeper and deeper in the Rock; but of all the Rock Cellars those which his Honour Willoughby not many Years ago caused to be hewed out deserve the principal Notice, for several reasons, and it is a question whether there be any Rock Cellars to be compared with them in the whole Kingdom. From the paved Yard, even with the Brewhouse, which is about 12 Feet below the Level of the Ground Floor, these Cellars are 16 Feet perpendicular in depth. The Passage leading down to them opens to the North, is arched, and has 32 easy Steps, cover'd with Bricks, and receives light enough to make the descent pleasant. At the bottom you meat with three Doors: that which faces you leads to the greatest Cellar; the other two on each side give entrance into two lesser Cellars. All three describe exact circles, having hemispherical Roofs. The Center of each is supported by a proportionable round Pillar of Rock. The lesser have Bings all round them; and what is peculiarly remarkable is, that in so large an extent of Rock, requisite for such considerable Excavations, there does not appear the least Crack or Flaw." These rock workings, constructed in the early part of the 18th century, are worthy of note, if only on account of their comparatively modern date. Indeed, excepting Ross's Cavern, they may truthfully be described as the only excavations in Nottingham of which the origin is accurately known.

The following interesting paragraph is extracted from Woodward's "Eccentric Excursions," 1796:— "The rocks on which the town is built, from the various rude formations of dwellings in the cavities Fashioned into chimneys, windows, and other conveniences, were undoubtedly originally inhabited by the ancient Britons. Many of the modern houses are so situated that the inhabitants literally go down stairs to their garrets and up stairs to their gardens. From the walls of the latter the eye of the spectator is frequently directed to a crowded street at a great depth beneath him. It is scarcely possible to dig a foundation for a house without meeting with subterraneous passages, which are in general used as cellars, some of which have a descent of 40 or 50 steps, and others much deeper. The most remarkable are those of the White Lion and Blackmoor Head Inns, which are usually visited by travellers, if possessed of any curiosity. In the former is a large reservoir for keeping fish alive, for which article the town is much famed, particularly for its salmon taken in the Trent."

Throsby, in 1797, dealing with Sneinton, says:— "Some of the inhabitants here dwell, as it were, in dens and caves of the earth, called the Hermitage. This romantic scene, if it lay in regions seldom explored, would afford a wonderful scope for fanciful relation."

Among 19th century adaptions of otherwise obsolete Nottingham rock-holes or cellars, there are those now living who well remember cases of gardrobes of dwelling-houses being affixed over them. It is not remembered that these were ever emptied; hence they probably defiled the wells, and otherwise contributed to the former high death- rate of the town.


In the course of this sketch, we have not dealt with the very extensive hewings on Nottingham Forest (part of which yet exist in what is now the Church or Rock Cemetery), nor with the roadside habitations and caves formerly bordering the Mansfield and Derby-roads, some distance outside the old town. All these, to the best of our knowledge, were void of ornament and character, and were associated only with the poorest section of the population. No doubt many of these humble roadside tenements were ancient enough, although abstract proof of antiquity was lacking. Some of those on Mansfield-road, indeed, must have been associated vvith a hamlet that flourished there in Norman times, together with a leper hospital and a church, the latter standing on an early Anglo-Saxon burial- ground. The Derby-read rock-houses were destroyed in 1740, by Lord Middleton, who improved the hitherto "deep and narrow hollow-way" at his own cost.

During later centuries quite a different influence led to the multiplication or extension of rook excavations in the districts under notice, viz., the demand for material excavated. It should be remembered that the whole surface of the Sand Field was protected by common rights. It was "Lammas land," and the owners only had exclusive use of it for half a year, that is, while the crops were growing, and it was thrown open as common pasture during the remainder. Hence no permanent enclosures could be made, no houses built, and no sandpits worked thereon, as any such procedure would be prejudicial to the common rights. It thus followed that all sand required for the housewives, the building trade, &c., must be obtained either from the roadside wastes or from the public sandpit and workings on the Forest. These latter excavations, during modern times, have been the subject of a good deal of ignorant conjecture, in connection with Robin Hood, the ancient Druids, and suchlike nonsense.


Blackner, a Nottingham historian. 1815, says: — "While on this subject it may not be improper to speak of a cave of modem formation, which runs under a hill called Dog Kennel Hill, on the west side of the road leading from St. Mary's Workhouse to the Gallows Hill. This cave, which is the largest in the town, is the work of one James Ross, or Rouse, who, during thirty years, got sand in it. which he- sold to good housewives to scatter upon their floors. Old age and infirmities compelled him, a few years ago, to cease from his labour; and he retired to spend the remainder of his days in St. Nicholas's Workhouse. The hills about the gallows, and those on the south side of Derby-road, leading hence to Radford, have all been perforated to a considerable extent by persons getting a livelihood in the manner as did poor Ross; but the caves near the gallows were chiefly filled up, and the scattered fragments of hills and rocks removed, in 1811, by the distressed mechanics and artisans of the town, who were employed to do the work by the overseers of St. Mary's parish, rather than take them and their families into the Workhouse. While these poor fellows were at work on these hills they found more than thirty human skulls, and many other bones, but in so scattered a state as to justify a supposition that they had been brought thither at the lowering of some one of the churchyards."

Here we may mention that Rouse's cavern (which appears to have commenced in an ancient excavation), was not broken up in the building of a manufactory, as stated in a directory published seventy years ago. On the contrary, it was rediscovered in 1837, when a man who attempted to explore it had an unpleasant experience, for he lost his way among its many windings, and consumed five hours in finding his way out again. Still more unfortunate were two other men who, the day following, attempted an exploration. Having first lost their bearings, they were subsequently set upon by a gang of ruffians. One managed to hide himself in a recess, but the other was robbed, and severely beaten. Many years ago the late Andrew MacCallum, a well-known painter, produced a curious effect at the extremity of this excavation by the judicious use of white-wash and lamp-black, notably a representation of a recumbent figure on a tomb. The cavern (of which a plan was published some few years ago), is entered at the present day from the cellar of a shop a few doors above the Bluecoat School, on the west side of Mansfield Road.


The last note we shall quote is from the local directory of 1832:—"Many rock-houses are still inhabited within the limits of the town of Nottingham, though a considerable number have of late years been destroyed by the Corporation, and the sites let on building leases. A long range of these singular dwellings are now in ruins on the east side of Mansfield Road, where they were broken up a few years ago by the Corporate body, who are prevented from building a projected row of handsome brick houses upon them, to correspond with those on the opposite side of the road, by the cupidity of the sturdy troglodyte (Samuel Caulton, a super-animated smith), who inhabits the uppermost house in the rock, opposite to which he has erected a blacksmith's shop. Having many years occupied the place without paying any acknowledgment, he now claims it as his own freehold property, and consequently refused to 'budge' when the Corporate officers ejected his neighbours." From a later work, we learn that Caulton's widow subsequently continued to occupy this place until her death, before the Corporation acquired possession.

In bringing this sketch to a conclusion, we ought not to omit passing reference to a wonderful series of modern excavations, carried out in connection with residences in Nottingham Park, by Thomas Herbert, and his cousin, William Herbert, and completed about 1840. These include extensive caverns, flights of steps, balustrades, columns, sphinxes, dogs, grotesque heads, colossal statues, figures of Druids, Scriptural subjects, modern celebreties, &c., &c. We cannot enumerate half their rock-hewn wonders and surprises, which are, however, detailed in "Orange's History of Nottingham."


Leland says: "Southward, as to the waterside, be great clifes and rokkes of stones, that be large and very good to build with, and many houses settle on the toppes of them; and at the botom of these be great caves, where many stones hath been diggid oute for buildings yn the town, and these caves be partely for cellars and storehouses." Hereon Laird sensibly remarks: "Many of these caves and cellars are but of modern date; others no doubt are extremely ancient, perhaps enlarged in different eras; and it is by no means unlikely that a strict antiquarian search into the subterranean part of Nottingham might be attended with some very interesting discoveries."

The caves poetically dwelt upon by Corbett, about three centuries ago, in connection with appurtenant gardens overhead, &c., were perhaps really those of Sneinton Hermitage, to which the description was exactly applicable. It is questionable whether the rhymes could fitly apply to any of the cliff dwellings of the ancient borough—the Park Caverns being then uninhabited. These latter, by the way, owe their present state of ruin to the thorough manner in which the corresponding section of cliff was excavated —from top to bottom and from end to end. The supporting rook that remained only needed the inevitable co-operation of weather, floods, and time, to complete its undoing. The "huge mass honeycombed" then perforce succumbed, leaving the scan fragments artificially preserved to-day.—Milhouse's "relic of forgotten time."

"Excavations, Sneinton, Nottinghamshire" c.1815.
"Excavations, Sneinton, Nottinghamshire" c.1815.

It may not be out of place to mention that a Derby-road photographer has recently removed from his showcase an uncommonly fine series of prints of Sneinton caves, now largely annihilated. We could wish that the series were preserved in one of the public libraries—say that of Sneinton.

Evelyn, who visited Nottingham in 1654, says: "Here I observed divers to live in the rocks and caves, much after the manner as about Tours, in France" (previously visited and described by him).