Archaeologists and historians from the University of Nottingham have launched a new project to bring the city’s hidden history to life as part of the regeneration of the Broad Marsh area – currently one of the largest city centre redevelopment projects in Europe.
The AHRC-funded City of Caves project brings together archaeologists and experts in urban history and landscape, to work with the consortium of partners currently leading the multi-million-pound redevelopment of the 20-acre Broadmarsh area, including the old 1970s shopping centre.
It follows the unveiling of the new 10-year vision for the area, designed by Heatherwick Studio, to create a bio-diverse ‘green heart’ of the city incorporating some of the structural frame of the old Broadmarsh centre. The vision includes lushly landscaped public areas, new homes, workspaces, high quality hotel accommodation and a tourist trail from Nottingham Castle to a dramatic new entrance to the city’s caves network.
The City of Caves project mission is to make Nottingham’s famous underground caves a signature feature of the new development and to highlight Broadmarsh as a leading example of heritage-led place-making, vital to the growth of tourism and the visitor economy.
A team of researchers will carry out extensive work on historical records and maps, archaeological data, photographic archives, and existing 3D laser scans of the caves which could be used in a new immersive VR caves experience.
They will also identify gaps in historical and geographical knowledge of the area that need to be filled.
The work will feed into the plans being drawn up by the Broad Marsh Development Partnership which includes Nottingham City Council, the Nottingham Project*, Nottingham Museums and Galleries Service and the National Justice Museum.
The partnership aims to capitalise on the city’s rich history in the design of the new public spaces and visitor attractions.
From humble roots as an Anglo-Saxon settlement and later a Danelaw borough, Nottingham became an important royal outpost with its medieval castle which was eventually demolished in 1651.
The city’s extensive network of manmade caves dates back 1000 years. These were carved into the soft sandstone underground and used as dwellings, workplaces, and storage spaces for many centuries.
The medieval ‘Broad Marsh’ was an important and busy waterside zone with a Franciscan friary and burial ground, but it later declined into an area of slum housing.
These ancient streets were only cleared in the 1970s to make way for the modern Broadmarsh shopping centre, now partly demolished amid the ongoing development of the southern city centre.
Part of the regeneration plan is to restore some of the long-lost medieval street networks to increase pedestrian accessibility to the area.
Dr Chris King, from the university’s department of Classics and Archaeology, said: “We’re very excited to start this project and hope our input in the regeneration will put Nottingham firmly on the map as a centre of historical interest like York or Chester. The caves will be a major focus of our work as we will be advising the developers on new ways to present the Broad Marsh’s history to residents and visitors.
“We also want to work with community groups and societies, such as the Nottingham Historical and Archaeological Society, Nottingham Civic Society and The Thoroton Society, to map local knowledge of the caves and the city’s street system before the 1970s Broadmarsh centre was built. At the moment, the knowledge and archive resources are scattered, and we want to bring it all together to embed this fascinating aspect of the city into the regenerated area.”
The City of Caves project is due to submit its findings in January 2023. The team will deliver a comprehensive report to put history and archaeology front and centre of the regeneration by directly feeding into the strategic direction and planning of Nottingham City Council and the Nottingham Project (*the council’s place-making and branding initiative.)
City of Caves is one of nine cultural regeneration projects announced today by the AHRC, part of UKRI, with funding totalling £850,000. The investment is part of the AHRC Place Programme which uses arts and humanities research to inform policy decisions and help enrich lives all over the UK.