The fascinating story of the hundreds of man-made caves underneath the city of Nottingham is being revealed in a new, free exhibition at the University of Nottingham Museum.
“Fascinating Finds from Nottingham’s Caves” reveals the wide range of objects from many different periods in history which have been discovered inside the caves. For the first time, the public can see collections from across the city in one place, including exhibits from the University Museum, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, the National Justice Museum, and finds excavated by volunteers from the Nottingham Historical and Archaeological Society.
The exhibition is focused on the themes of “work” and “play” in Nottingham’s caves. The earliest known caves date from the medieval period, and they were used for many different purposes over the centuries. Caves were useful storage spaces beneath buildings, and many of the city’s historic pubs still use a cave as their beer cellar. However, caves were also used as workshops for a wide range of crafts such as tanning leather or malting grain for beer. Some of the most elaborate caves were dug by the town’s wealthy elite for leisure and entertainment, as garden follies or drinking dens. In the Second World War, many caves served a more vital purpose as air raid shelters to protect the city’s population from bombing.
The objects on display include evidence for tanning leather and manufacturing objects from bone, as well as brewing beer and a rare survival of a medieval ceramic “alembic” or distilling apparatus. One highlight of the exhibition is a remarkable collection of glass bottles and decorative Venetian drinking glasses from the 17th century, on loan from the National Justice Museum and publicly displayed for the first time. These were discovered in a rock-cut well next to the Shire Hall – this was once the site of the Castle Inn, once one of the finest taverns in Nottingham. They are displayed alongside highly decorative slipware plates and drinking vessels which show how much the town elite enjoyed their fine dining.
“There is a long history of people excavating inside Nottingham’s caves, including both professional archaeologists and voluntary community groups – so it is wonderful to see this variety of fascinating objects brought together for the first time. They range from humble clay pipes and storage jars to exotic imports like the Venetian goblets. Together these objects tell the story of the city and connect us to the multitude of people who once lived and laboured in and around the city’s underground spaces,” Dr Chris King, Associate Professor in Archaeology at the University of Nottingham’s Department of Classics and Archaeology, says.
Dr Clare Pickersgill, Keeper of the University of Nottingham Museum, adds: “It has been a wonderful opportunity to bring these fascinating collections together and work with colleagues across the city to develop this exhibition. Alongside the exhibition there is also a programme of gallery tours, talks and family events”.
On Saturday 17 February there is a free family drop in event from 12 noon – 3.30pm. “Crafts from the Caves” will include painting activities based on the decorative pottery discovered in Nottingham’s caves. It is suitable for ages 7+.
The exhibition is now open and closes on the Sunday 7 July. Opening times are Thursday and Sunday 12 – 4pm. The exhibition is Free.