Above is a publicity photo of (right to left) Richard Todd, Lawrence Watkin (script writer), Perce Pearce (producer) and Dr. Charles Beard (research advisor)during their fact-finding trip to Nottingham, before making the Story of Robin Hood. One of the historical sights that Disney’s team of researchers saw when they visited Nottingham, was the remarkable rock-hewn caves and passages that are underneath the city. Some of the publicity shots can be seen in the short promotional film The Riddle of Robin Hood, one in particular, included Richard Todd (smoking a pipe) emerging from the small man-made opening of a cavern.
Nottingham’s earliest reference to its caves comes in the year 868 AD in Asser’s Life of King Alfred, when the area is described as Tiggun Cobaucc-Place of Caves. Some of them are natural; others are man-made, cut from the solid Bunter Sandstone ridge (also known as Sherwood Sandstone) upon which the city sits. It is ideal for excavation and those early dwellers used the simplest hand-held tools to cut into the rock to make a dwelling. Gradually extra chambers were added for storage and working in. Soon this remarkable honeycomb cave system spread out for about five miles around the city. The bulk of them produced during the Anglo-Saxon period.
Because Sandstone does not burn, craftsmen and traders soon realized the potential of the Nottingham caves. On Bridlesmith Gate, blacksmiths used the caves for their workshops, the fishmongers in Fisher Gate and the Butchers of Goose Gate used them for storage. The constant steady temperature of the caves was ideal for the brewing of ale. Nottingham ale became renowned. Barley was brought in from the Vale of Belvoir and mixed with Nottingham’s natural gypsum rich water. After the ale was left to mature in the caves it was exported throughout places like Mercia.
Most of the old local public houses use rock cellars. Today, you can still see in The Trip To Jerusalem, cellars cut deep back into the castle rock, ventilating shafts, a speaking tube bored through it and a chimney climbing through the rock forty seven feet above the chamber, all evidence of its brewing past.
During the construction of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre, many of Nottingham’s man-made caves were nearly lost forever. But two caves, originally cut into the cliff face, now form, what is known as the City of Caves attraction beneath the shopping mall. The tour includes a unique medieval underground Tannery and the Pillar Cave, so called because of the large column, which supports the roof. Both caves were used like many of the others, during WWII as air-raid shelters.
It was in the well of the Pillar Cave that a King John groat (a silver coin, worth four English pennies) was found.
These remarkable caves no doubt inspired Carmen Dillon and the rest of the Disney team of researchers during their fact-finding visit to Nottingham for the Story of Robin Hood. So I am sure it is no coincidence that Robin’s camp, in Disney’s Robin Hood is a series of caves, hidden deep in Sherwood Forest.