N ottingham has the UK’s largest network of caves hidden beneath its streets. The number of caves is currently estimated to be over 800, and they have been developing for millennia. 

The oldest caves are believed to date to the Prehistoric period. However, the first documentary evidence for caves dates to 893, when Asser wrote about Nottingham in his “Life of Alfred, King of the Anglo Saxons”. In this book, Asser records the name for Nottingham in Old English, Latin and Welsh. The Old English name for Nottingham was Snotengaham which means ‘the settlement of Snot’s people’ and formed the basis of the modern name for the city. However, the Latin name was given as Speluncarum Domus and the Welsh name was given as Tig Guocobauc, which both translate to mean House of Caves. This suggests that the use of caves was well established and considered of particular interest before the 9th century. In the later medieval period, there is also reference to Edward III’s soldiers marching through Mortimer’s Hole at Nottingham Castle to capture Roger de Mortimer.

The caves reflect their former uses. Some were used as tanneries in the medieval period or as cellars for pubs and houses. During World War II, many were also used as Air Raid Shelters. At locations such as Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem and Castle Gate Maltings, caves were used for brewing beer. Below Shire Hall, caves were used as dungeons for criminals. According to legend, even Robin Hood was held in them.

These caves can create issues for property owners and developers alike because the network is so extensive, and because it is likely that many more caves exist beneath the city which have not yet been identified. In many instances, it has only been by chance that caves have been discovered. For example, in September 1915 a cave was discovered when a sinkhole opened up near Friar Lane. This shows that without proper due diligence, development has the potential to create dangerous and expensive problems.

Nottingham City Council adopted the Management of the Caves of Nottingham SPD in 2019. This SPD supplements Policy HE2: Caves from their Local Plan, and provides guidance on the management of development proposals with the potential to affect caves. This SPD states that when developments are taking place within the City Centre Caves Area or within 10 metres of a cave identified by the Council’s HER, it should be assumed that caves are present on the development site until demonstrated otherwise. It goes on to state that a Caves Assessment is required for any development proposals in areas with potential for caves.

If you are considering undertaking development work within Nottingham, please get in contact with us at Fuller Long. We have experience producing Caves Assessments, and will be able to assist you with your project.