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.