A fortress has occupied the natural promontory rising above Nottingham city since the time of William the Conqueror. The present day ducal mansion that occupies the site is home to an art gallery, extensive museum, and gardens. However, Nottingham Castle has a long and tumultuous history, especially during the Middle Ages when it was an important royal residence.
There are 549 human-made sandstone caves under Nottingham city (according to the most recent 2015 survey). A tour called the City of Caves under Broadmarsh Shopping Centre features dramatic reenactments of cave history from different periods of time up to the present day. Not surprisingly, there is a specific network of medieval passages connected to Nottingham Castle, which have a special history all of their own.
Entrance to Nottingham Castle. Photo by Erin Connelly
The cave tour begins inside the Castle with a brief history of the site. One of the historical features is an easily overlooked stone wall in the garden area. This wall is the oldest extant part of the current structure. The wall was originally part of the medieval fortress constructed by Henry II in 1170 to replace the wooden castle built by William the Conqueror.
The guide also points out a grated hole, about forty feet deep, known as Mortimer's Hole, which will feature prominently in the story of the Castle's caves.
A short walk through a door on the side of the Castle Rock leads to the subterranean environment. The caves have played a role in Nottingham city from Anglo-Saxon times (and probably earlier) to the present day. The caves are the perfect temperature for storing beer, so many pubs and restaurants in the city still use their medieval caves. The main story of the Castle caves involves Roger Mortimer, who was briefly King of England in the early fourteenth century between Edward II and Edward III.
The grated hole which was viewed from above is now viewed from below. The hole extends into a long cave passage, which would have been much steeper and narrower in medieval times. Roger Mortimer was a nobleman who had an affair with Queen Isabella, Edward II's wife. It has been suggested that the couple ordered the murder of Edward II in 1328.
The rule of Mortimer and Isabella did not last for very long. While they were staying at Nottingham Castle in 1330, Edward III (son of Edward II) and his men gained access to the Castle via the cave passage, seized Mortimer, and dropped him forty feet into the hole. Mortimer survived the fall and was transported to London where he was executed for treason.
The tour ends in the Brewhouse Yard at the base of the Castle Rock. Overall, the tour is about 45 minutes. There is a lot of walking involved and not a lot of space with a large tour group. The caves are made of slippery sandstone and set at a steep decline, so good shoes are necessary for the tour.
Tours take place:
15th February to 2nd November:
Monday to Sunday: 12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm
3rd November to 14th February:
Wednesday to Sunday: 12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm
Cost: £5.00 per person, under 5s free (this is in addition to the Castle entrance fee: Adults: £6.00, Concessions: £5.00, under 5s free)