Wednesday 24 July 2024
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Remains of 19th Century Nottingham Prison found in city cave system

‘Substantial remains’ of the 19th century Nottingham Borough Prison have been uncovered by archaeologists excavating a cave as part of preparation work to build a student accommodation block.

A huge number of caves are built into the underbelly of the city, including in areas such as Peel Street, where one system was used as a sand mine and later an air raid shelter.

Remains of 19th Century Nottingham Prison found in city cave system

Others sit under significant sites such as Nottingham Castle, which is home to ‘Mortimer’s Hole’, a medieval tunnel used by King Edward III to capture his mother Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer.

On a section of land in King Edward Street and Kent Street, where Nottingham’s Central Market was hosted for more than 40 years after 1928, developer Fusion Nottingham Devco Limited was given the green light to build a 552-bed block for students and 89 residential apartments.

200 year old cave system

Beneath the site is a 200-year-old cave system, and the developer’s plans came with a condition it would be protected.

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Little was known about the cave and a full survey took place to learn more about it.

City archaeologist Scott Lomax, whose team has been working on the site for the past few months, revealed that substantial remains of the former prison have now been found.

“Excavation revealed substantial remains of walls of the former Nottingham Prison, built in the 19th Century,” he said.

“Close to one of these walls was a shaft extending down into the cave.

“Unfortunately, that shaft was filled in 1928 and it is not possible to remove the material in order to gain access due to the nature of the filling and the significant depths involved.

“Indeed the cave is in excess of 10m below ground level, so it cannot safely be excavated and entered.

“Nonetheless, I have been working with the developer to ensure that the cave is fully preserved.

“The foundations of the new building will be constructed in such a way that there is no impact whatsoever on the cave.

“The precise location of the cave has been established through the use of deep probes which have been drilled to depths of 12m below ground level.

“This enables the foundation design to be modified to safeguard the cave.”

St John the Baptist Hospital

Before it was home to the market, the area above the cave system was home to a hospital dedicated to St John the Baptist.

House of Correction

This went on to become the House of Correction in 1610, which served the purpose of putting the destitute to work as part of a new law imposed during the Elizabethan period.

The House of Correction was typically home to those who were poor or homeless and sought to encourage them back into work through manual labour and similar punishments.

Nottingham Borough Prison

In around 1806 a new wing was built to improve the accommodation and poor conditions, and in later years it was renamed as the Nottingham Borough Prison.

Public executions were moved to the site and took place until around 1864, when they ceased entirely, but private execution events continued thereafter.


By the late 1800s it was considered the site was no longer fit for purpose and the Bagthorpe Gaol was established in Perry Road, Sherwood, in 1890, which is today home to the contemporary HM Prison Nottingham.

Screenshot 2022 12 31 at 13.16.00

Those being held at the Nottingham Borough Prison at the time were transferred to Bagthorpe Gaol.

The correctional facility therefore fell into disrepair and it was largely demolished after 1900 to make way for a new road in the form of King Edward Street, as well as the Palais De Danse dance hall, which is now home to the Pryzm nightclub.

Most recently the parcel of land above the cave system was occupied by office buildings, built in 1985.

These have already been demolished as part of the new student block development.

Mr Lomax said: “It is unfortunate the cave could not be accessed during the investigations, and every effort was made to obtain access.

“However, given the very significant depths, the material filling the cave, and the stability of the shaft, this was not possible.

“I had hoped to be able to explore in order to enhance my records of the cave.

“It is pleasing that caves can be preserved despite substantial development taking place.”

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