City Archaeologist, Scott Lomax is back for the New Year with his eleventh column. This month, he explores caves in wartime.
“75 years ago caves at Nottingham Castle were specially modified to help defend the citizens of Nottingham from falling bombs.
In May 1941 the German Luftwaffe carried out an air attack on the city in which 159 people were killed during an intensive bombing campaign.”
Campion’s suggestions – “The amateur archaeologist George Campion who excavated caves across the city and has been mentioned in previous newsletters, suggested at this time that an underground city should be created, big enough for the whole population, so the city’s residents could live and work in safety for the duration of the war.”
Caves as shelters – “The authorities chose not to follow Campion’s suggestion but during 1941 and 1942 the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) did record all rock-cut caves being used as shelters, and made changes to a number of other caves to make them suitable as shelters during air raids. Often carved deep into the ground, these man-made chambers provided protection, in some cases for thousands of people.”
Cosmic Ray Cave (pictured above) – “The caves cut into the Rock beneath Nottingham Castle were among those modified for this purpose. Caves at Brewhouse Yard were intended to be used by staff at the Waterworks Company, and the cave known as the Cosmic Ray Cave was used as a Emergency Administrative Office for the Air Raid Precautions (ARP). Office facilities were installed, as were emergency phone lines. A number of bunk beds provided somewhere for the staff and volunteers to rest.”
Sleeping room only – “New caves were also hewn into the Castle Rock during the war, probably in 1942, to provide sleeping accommodation for the ARP, with 132 bunk beds. Emergency equipment was held here so that it was on hand in case of bombs causing destruction within the city.
Being centrally located, and protected within the base of the 30m high Castle Rock, the caves here were among the most suitable for emergency workers to be based.”
Visit the caves in question – “At the Museum of Nottingham Life, at Brewhouse Yard, visitors can still see and explore some of the caves that were used as air raid shelters. Others exist beneath private properties and pubs, and some unfortunately no longer exist or are inaccessible.
A cave was recently rediscovered just outside the city centre, revealed for the first time in decades. The cave was created in the 18th or 19th century as a pub cellar but was modified in the Second World War so it could be used as an air raid shelter for up to 50 people. Corrugated iron, put in place to strengthen the cave, is still there.
Nottingham’s caves represent important parts of the city’s history from the medieval period through to the modern day and they have important stories to tell.”
Cave stories – get in touch – If anyone has any recollections of having sheltered in any of Nottingham’s caves during the Second World War, or has any stories they have been told by friends or relatives about the use of caves in the Second World War, or even during Zeppelin raids in the First World War, please get in touch.
You can contact Scott at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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