This recently-completed project has provided a widely-based assessment focused of a representative sample of Nottingham’s c.800 caves, and 65 laser surveys. These surveys has have generated ground plans, 3D images and video flythroughs. This work has advanced significantly our understanding of the caves and disseminated this information widely. The archive report includes a synthesis of current knowledge and details of the laser surveys, and provides a valuable springboard for further research, publication and community engagement. The results of this project have also facilitated compilation of a Supplementary Planning Document, linked to the Nottingham City Local Plan, which will be published in 2018 as best practice guidance for use in the planning process.

We summarise here the development of the project, the geological and topographical background, and the evidence for the distribution, origins and developing forms and functions of Nottingham’s caves. We consider also opportunities for visiting the caves, management of the subterranean resource within the planning process, and public engagement in additional recording and research.

Summary descriptions, two- and three-dimensional plans and flythrough videos have been compiled for each of the laser-surveyed caves, and can be accessed viewed by reference to from the map included here.

Discover more about the Caves of Nottingham Survey

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The project was conducted in three stages under the management of David Strange-Walker (2010–15), Paul Johnson (June 2015 – Jan 2017) and David Knight (Feb 2017 to completion). David Strange-Walker led the fieldwork with the assistance principally of Julia Walker and conducted most of the survey processing. Further work was conducted by Emily Stammitti (analysis and reporting), Tiago Querioz (survey processing) and Norma Oldfield (survey processing, georeferencing and illustrations). The Full analysis, enhancement of the GIS and archive, and writing of the archive report were conducted provided from from March 2017 by Gavin Kinsley of SLR Consulting Ltd, with final review by David Knight.


Stage 1: GIS Database.

Caves have been incorporated into a Geographical Information System (GIS) and cross-referenced to the Register of Caves prepared by the British Geological Survey (BGS), Nottingham City Council’s Historic Environment Record (NCHER) and an archive prepared by Scott Lomax of over 4000 digitised documents and images relating to the caves. The GIS has been deposited with the NCHER, together with the documentary archive, and will be updated by NCHER as new discoveries are made. All laser survey data are being curated by the BGS with the assistance of Dr Marcus Dobbs.


Stage 2: Laser Survey.

65 cave systemssurveys were recorded in three dimensions by a laser scanner and subsequently by rectifiable photographs, following the methodology described in the Stage 3 archive report [internal link]. All surveyed caves have been georeferenced accurately located on modern mapping and correlated have been assigned awith the NCHER by its reference numbers reference number derived from the NCHER to ensure correlation with that record.

Scanning in Peel Street.jpg

Stage 3: Analysis and Report.

Survey data were processed into full-colour point cloud models which were then animated and rendered to video. Flythroughs, 3D survey plans and descriptions of the caves can be accessed by clicking on sites shown on the map of laser-surveyed caves [internal link]. Outlines of the surveyed caves were digitised from the point cloud data and were transferred to the project GIS. A copy of the full archive report has been deposited with the Archaeology Data Service [internal link] and may be downloaded here [internal link].  


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The distribution of caves falls almost entirely within the Chester Formation (previously Nottingham Castle Sandstone) of the Sherwood Sandstone Group. The origins of this formation may be traced to the Triassic period (c.250-245 million years ago) when sands and gravels were deposited in a northerly flowing braided river.  These fluvial deposits were buried and cemented by anhydrite, gypsum, dolomite, calcite and quartz, raised to the surface by erosion and uplift, and subjected to further weathering and erosion. The result is a thick sequence of interbedded sediments that are strikingly exposed in the interiors of caves and in several cliffs and man-made cuttings (such as the Park Tunnel).

Park Tunnel, dug by the Duke of Newcastle in the 19th century to provide carriage access to the Park Estate, displays spectacular sections through the deeply stratified fluvial sands and gravels which were deposited by Triassic rivers flowing through the area now occupied by Nottingham (© Trent & Peak Archaeology)

Park Tunnel, dug by the Duke of Newcastle in the 19th century to provide carriage access to the Park Estate, displays spectacular sections through the deeply stratified fluvial sands and gravels which were deposited by Triassic rivers flowing through the area now occupied by Nottingham (© Trent & Peak Archaeology)

Caves do not form are not naturally in  formations of the Sherwood Sandstones, and their spatial distribution is entirely a consequence of human activity. The local sandstone bedrock is sufficiently weak to expedite permit excavation by hand, but on account of its widely spaced joints and faults it is structurally very sound, permitting maximum unsupported roof spans of up to c.5m. It is, therefore, ideally suited to cave construction, and since at least the medieval period has been excavated to create a wide variety of spaces for domestic, industrial, leisure, religious and other uses.)

There is no evidence that topography influenced the distribution of caves. It is, however, an important factor in determining whether the cave was entered down a passage from the surface or from a building basement or cellar, or whether it was entered on the level through a cliff face or other topographic feature. Topography may also have affected the choice of cave location and type of activity: for example, the medieval tanneries at Broadmarsh, which were located at the base of a steep cliff overlooking the River Leen, on the southern edge of the town periphery of the urban area and close to essential water resources.


Go back to the index or scroll down to view the Spacial Distribution section.

The distribution of known caves reveals a pronounced focus in central Nottingham, principally inside the walls of the medieval town, with outliers to the north, west and east.


Distribution of caves in Nottingham. Contains Ordnance Survey data:

Crown Copyright and database right 2018[G1]  [image may be replaced]


The Dating dating of caves remains problematic, but important clues to the sequence of cave construction are provided by plotting cave locations relative to the boundaries and street patterns of the expanding built-up area of Nottingham and surrounding settlementss recorded in maps of 1609, 1744 and 1844 (derived from Bankes, Badder and Peat, and Dearden respectively). We have proposed, bearing in mind their frequent association with standing buildings, that caves are much more likely to have been dug within rather than outside established urban built-up areas. It follows that – and that caves located  beyond each the development area at any given date mapped are likely to be of a later periodboundary, apart from mines or other caves with functions unrelated to the overlying context, most likely relate to later urban activity. Exceptions include the rare sand mines which are unrelated to the overlying context. This working hypothesis provides a useful framework for determining the probable date range of caves beyond the medieval core, and thus chronological for analysis.


Recorded caves and built-up areas in 1609, showing the close association of caves with houses and other buildings

Map based with permission on redrawn Crown Survey map of Nottingham printed in Mastoris, S and Groves, S (eds) 1997 Sherwood Forest in 1609: a Crown survey by Richard Bankes. Thoroton Society Record Series 40 [image to be replaced]


The value of historic maps is enhanced further by their potential for elucidating cave development within the boundaries of the Anglo-Scandinavian Borough [internal link]. The cave distribution in the pre-Conquest Borough mirrors closely the rectilinear pattern of streets, many with Danish names, that is thought to predate the Norman Conquest, although no cave necessarily dates from that period. It also reveals an interesting contrast between cave densities either side of Stoney Street : (the NNW-SSE axis of the pre-Conquest Borough). The distribution of known caves is a combination of continued use since formation and rediscovery during redevelopment. Might the comparatively low density of caves to the east of Stoney Street signify the loss without record of many caves when the gentry houses and gardens of the 18th century were being replaced by the textile warehouses and other buildings of the Industrial Revolution? Or, as But if so, why the higher cave density in the western half of the Anglo-Scandinavian Borough? Aarchaeological and historical sources imply contraction of settlement in the early Borough during the High Medieval period, . Mmight then this suggest that caves were not regularly constructed in the earlier High Medieval periodrelative paucity of caves to the east of Stoney Street reflect spatial variations in the density of settlement prior to expansion in the Industrial Revolution? There are currently no firm answers to these questions, but they raise interesting themes for study.


Go back to the index or scroll down to view the Laser Survey section.

65 laser surveys of the caves within the City were completed laser-surveyed as part of the Caves of Nottingham [G1] Survey, following the methodology described in the archive report. These are shown in the map below. Clicking on each of these will open up a window displaying the cave name, laser survey number, descriptive sentence and a link to each of the following:

  • description of the cave and any associated standing buildings
  • 3D plan of the cave and any associated standing buildings
  • caves flythrough

Comparison with Superimposition on the Ordnances survey 1:50,000 map of the boundaries of the built-up areas shown in maps of 1609, 1744 and 1844 (known as Built Development Zones or BDZs) assists study of the chronology of cave excavationformation. As noted in our discussion of the caves’ spatial distribution [internal link], caves within the area encompassed by of the 1609 BDZ boundary could be of any date from the medieval period or later; there is a high probability, however, that caves lying outside the 1609, 1744 and 1844 boundaries of Nottingham’s built-up area BDZs are likely to postdate 1844postdate the most recent of the mapped boundaries that they lie beyond.

 Distribution of laser-surveyed caves and historic urban areas. Contains Ordnance Survey data

© Crown copyright and database right 2018 [image to be replaced]


Go back to the index or scroll down to view the Cave Origins section.

Despite sustained survey and description of Nottingham’s caves, stretching back to the early 18th century with William Stukeley’s investigations at Lenton Hermitage, many questions remain regarding their origins. This is due in large measure to the use of many caves over successive generations, with structural modifications, demolition and natural processes of weathering and erosion erasing all or part of earlier structures.


Secure archaeological evidence for the formation excavation of caves in Nottingham has yet to be recorded before the High Medieval period (AD 1066–1485), but an earlier origin for some may be postulated from a documentary reference to Nottingham by the monk Asser. Writing in the year 893 on the overwintering of the Danish army at Nottingham in 868, he reported that Snotengeham was called Tig Guocobauc in the Welsh (British) language and Speluncarum Domus in Latin. Tig Guocobauc may be translated as ‘cavy house’ or ‘house of caves’, suggesting a single habitation rather than a more extensive settlement. The use of the singular is intriguing, and in an Early Medieval context (c.AD 410-­1066) might signify a monastic rather than domestic establishment; this in turn might explain its particular interest for Asser.

An Early early monastic foundation is recorded s have been suggested in Nottingham at both Lenton and a hermitage at Sneinton. E, but although ither or both might have been established by the time of Asser, but their origins and character and correlation with surviving caves remain uncertain. The name ‘Lenton Hermitage’ is a 19th century late creation, and , but in the Middle Ages the site was known as the monastery of St Mary de la Roche. Romanesque architectural details in the ’chapel cave’ at Lenton hint at early origins, but whether usage can be traced as far back as the time of Asser remains a matter for debate. Sneinton Hermitage is first mentioned to in a document of 1544, which refers to a house under the ground in a ‘roche of stone’ sometime called the hermitage. Its location cannot be established with certainty, but the site is thought probably to may coincide with cave system 0367 (illustrated below). The greater part of this cliff-edge site, which would have overlooked the River Leen and the wide floodplain of the River Trent, has been lost due to cutting back of the cliff. However, a tight cluster of interlinked rounded chambers does survive. Similar rounded forms have been observed elsewhere in the city [internal link], most often in contexts where a medieval date seems likely, and their presence here, therefore, is of particular interest.

Cave-system 0367 (Sneinton Hermitage): 3D laser survey, showing a complex of small circular chambers to the west and the sandstone cliff extending eastwards. Such small chambers are typical of medieval cave systems in Nottingham, although it should be emphasised that none of the chambers recorded here has been securely dated (© Trent & Peak Archaeology)


Plan view of Cave-system 0367, showing the larger chambers cut into the sandstone cliff that can be seen extending eastwards in the 3D laser survey plan (© Trent & Peak Archaeology)


Go back to the index or scroll down to view the High Medieval to Early Post-Medieval 1066 to c.1650 section.

Significant documentary evidence has survived for the excavation of caves in the High Medieval (1066-1485) and early Post-Medieval periods, as described in the archive report [internal link]. Notable examples include a land grant of 1168 for ‘digging the rock for making a cellar without injury to the house above’ and a reference by Leland (c.1540) to caves beneath the southern cliff where building stone had been excavated. Attention should also be drawn to the use from the 13th century of terms such as cellarium (cellar) or celaria subterranea for below-ground stores for wine, coal, firewood or foods. Most of these descriptions cannot be tied to specific locations, but in rare instances documents refer to sites that may be identified and may still survive. These include a reference by Leland (c.1540) to Mortimer’s Hole and a mention in 1544 of a subterranean house in a ‘roche of stone’ at Sneinton Hermitage.

Mortimer’s Hole (0070):  medieval passage linking Nottingham Castle with the River Leen floodplain (© Trent & Peak Archaeology).

By 1641, an anonymous account of Nottingham states that the town had a ‘great store of cellarage’ with as much storage below ground as above. Stored products are known to have included beer and ale, wood, coal and fuels of fern, bracken, brushwood and briers for use in malting, but the range of uses must have been much wider. Importantly, many caves that may have been associated with malting have been recorded, and together these provide the largest body of evidence from Nottingham for surviving medieval structures. They have been studied in detail by Alan MacCormick, whose work has been reviewed in the archive report.

8 Castle Gate: 3D laser survey of malt kiln complex (0080; © Trent & Peak Archaeology)

One of the best examples of a High Medieval malting kiln is provided by the well-preserved cave system at 8 Castle Gate. The laser survey shows to the south the circular malting kiln (06) which preserves intact the wide ledge that would have supported the beams of a grain-roasting platform extending across the fire-pit. Remains also survive of the fire-pit flue (in Chamber 07), a well (05) and two rectangular chambers (08 and 09) that may have been used to dry the grain before roasting.

Caves are also known to have been used for tanning during this period, and discoveries prior to the development of the Broadmarsh Centre in the 1970s yielded in the Pillar Cave (0045) an unusually well preserved group of tanning vats cut into a layer incorporating 14th and 15th century pottery; these could potentially date from the late High Medieval period, although tanning is not documented on the site until 1639. These caves had been dug into the steep cliff overlooking the River Leen and today form the focus of the Caves of Nottingham attraction

Broadmarsh Pillar Cave: late High Medieval or early Post-Medieval tanning vats (0045; © Trent & Peak Archaeology)

Attention may be drawn finally to the discovery of a significant number of small and typologically distinctive rounded or D-shaped chambers that, been observed consistently in early contexts ­and, from evidence discussed in the archive report, have been identified as potentially indicators of High Medieval or Early Post-Medieval activity. The distributions of these chambers and of known malting kilns is shown in the map below; this shows a significant overlap in their distributions and, importantly, their strong focus within the 1609 Built Development Zone built-up zone that may be deduced from study of the 1609 map of Sherwood Forest.

Distribution of malt kilns and of small rounded or D-shaped chambers possibly dating from the High Medieval or early Post-Medieval periods (contains OS data; © Crown copyright and database right 2018) [image to be replaced]

These chambers commonly occur as elements of more elaborate systems, notably at Sneinton Hermitage [internal link] and in the complex system of subterranean chambers and passages that is known to extend beneath the Old Angel Inn on Stoney Street.

Old Angel Inn: 3D laser survey of cave systems 0378 a (top right: Chambers 09 and 12) and 0378b (© Trent & Peak Archaeology)

The 3D laser survey of the Old Angel Inn shows two small, approximately D-shaped chambers (09 and 12) of the early type noted above inviting comparison with distinctive High Medieval to early Post-Medieval cave forms. These are entered from the west by a stair (10); a passage (13) leads further down to a roughly cruciform arrangement of subrectangular chambers (14, 17, 19) that was fitted skilfully into the undisturbed bedrock. The later chambers appear to have been dug as pub cellars, probably in the 19th century, and were converted for use as air-raid shelters in the Second World War.


Go back to the index or scroll down to view the Late Post-Medieval to Modern c.1650 to present


Development work in Nottingham continues to uncover additional caves, as shown here by recent work in Convent Street, undertaken by Trent & Peak Archaeology on behalf of Nottingham Trent University. This revealed a hitherto unrecorded cave complex that may originate in the medieval period, and has provided a valuable opportunity to advance understanding of the morphology and use of caves through detailed recording and analysis.

Caves recorded during building work on Convent Street (© Trent & Peak Archaeology)

Deveopment work impacting upon the caves is monitored closely by the City Archaeologist as part of the planning process, with the aim of ensuring that work is conducted according to the requirements of the Nottingham Local Plan. The 2005 plan is currently being revised by the City Council, and as part of that process we have prepared in collaboration with SLR Consulting a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) focusing specifically upon procedures to be followed prior to developments in areas of the City that may preserve chambers or passages. A revised version of the Local Plan will be published on the Nottingham City Council website towards the end of 2018, together with the SPD.

All new discoveries of caves are added to the Nottingham City Council Historic Environment Record (NCHER), which includes an up to date record of caves recorded in the City. It also curates incorporates the GIS database and documentary records of caves that wereas prepared during the Caves of Nottingham Survey. Members of the public are encouraged to report any new discoveries of caves or of documents, photographs, artefacts and other material relating to Nottingham’s caves directly to the City Archaeologist (, independently of the planning process. This will ensure that information is made publicly accessible and by contributing to our knowledge of caves will expedite further research into Nottingham’s unique subterranean resource.


Go back to the index or scroll down to view the Visiting the Caves section.

Ten caves of exceptional tourist potential have been linked in a trail that was developed as part of this project. These caves were selected on the grounds of their morphological, architectural, archaeological, historical and geological interest, with consideration also of their accessibility. Together, they form elements of a comprehensive tour of Nottingham’s historic core, while the accompanying leaflet signposts nearby eating, drinking and other facilities. Laser scans of key sites may be downloaded via a smartphone app [link to:] that was developed as part of this project, and users may access flythrough virtual tours of each cave.

The current cave trail is described in a gatefold leaflet which includes the following elements:

  • A brief introduction to Nottingham’s cave resource.
  • Details of how to use the associated smartphone app.
  • A map of the Cave Trail showing the locations of ten caves of particular interest.
  • Brief details of the sites on the Cave Trail map, including information on associated above-ground buildings.
  • Information on which of the Cave Trail sites are publicly accessible. Some caves, such as 8 Castle Gate, are only open for occasional tours. In such cases, visitors must rely upon the app for a virtual tour of the caves.
  • Brief details of other attractions and facilities that may be visited en route.

Go back to the index or scroll down to view the Further Reading section.

General surveys of Nottingham’s caves:

  •  Hamilton, A 2004 Nottingham’s Caves, 2edn. Nottingham Civic Society
  • MacCormick, A G 2001 ‘Nottingham's underground maltings and other medieval caves: architecture and dating’. Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire 105, 73–99
  • Waltham, T 2008 Sandstone Caves of Nottingham, 3 edn. East Midlands Geological Society


Reviews of Nottingham’s archaeological resource:

  •  Beckett, J V (ed) 1997 A Centenary History of Nottingham
  • Knight, D, Lomax, S, and Young, G 2012 ‘The origins of Nottingham: archaeological investigations in the medieval town from 1969 to 1980’. Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire 116, 45–52
  • Lomax, S 2013 Nottingham: the Buried Past of a Historic City Revealed. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books Ltd
  • Young, C S B 1982 Discovering Rescue Archaeology in Nottingham. Nottingham: Nottingham City Council


Web resources: