We are very pleased to announce that our third Men in Sheds shed has officially opened in Worksop! Nottingham, Britain's ninth-largest city, is not only famous for Robin Hood and his Merry Men and its lace-making, bicycle and tobacco industries, but it's also famous for its plethora of caves. There are 544 known man-made caves throughout the city, with 100 of them only -re-discovered within the last four years.
Over the years these caves have been used as everything from dungeons to WWII bomb shelters; and from bicycle sheds to even a pub's dining room. In 1330, the young King Edward III and a group of conspirators crept through a secret tunnel into the city's castle and took prisoner Roger de Mortimer, a nobleman who had until then effectively been England's ruler. The tunnel later became known as Mortimer's Hole, but this daring coup was made possible by the city's network of man-made caves within the sandstone rock. Archaeologist Dr David Strange-Walker, project manager of Nottingham Caves Survey, has been mapping the city's caves for the past four years and has recently discovered scores more than were previously known. He said cave dwelling had been an intrinsic part of the city's history, particularly during the Industrial Revolution when an influx of people arrived to find work. Despite the 1845 Enclosure Act, which made it illegal for people to live in caves within Nottingham, many still had to find somewhere to live. Deep beneath the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre are the last remnants of Drury Hill, one of the streets in the former 19th Century slums of Narrow Marsh, where poor sanitation led to the spread of cholera, tuberculosis and smallpox.
Whole families would sleep and eat in one room, with some even living in grotto-like caves below in a desperate attempt to solve the problem of overcrowding.
Near to the ruins is the UK's only known underground tannery where eight-year-old children lived and worked in appalling conditions, filling vats with human excrement to create ammonia for the tanning process. Today, the area is used as the City of Caves tourist attraction and is the only part of Nottingham's vast subterranean network that is open to the public to explore and learn the grisly truth about the city's cave dwelling heritage.
Andy Fowler, one of the attraction's tour guides, said conditions were particularly nasty for the child workers, who also had to live in the foul-smelling caverns, during the 1500s. However, despite their poor life expectancy and the wretched conditions, the one thing they were immune from was the bubonic plague. As part of the tour, visitors can pass through an old pub cellar which has a hole the size of a golf ball in its ceiling. Legend has it that D ick Turpin, or even Robin Hood, were the plotters in different eras, but it was more likely to have been members of the Luddite movement in the 19th Century.
Lenton Hermitage, or Park Rock, a network of caves cut into an outcrop of sandstone in Castle Boulevard, was used as a dwelling during the 13th Century and later became a hunting lodge, a bowling club pavilion, a World War II air raid shelter and even a caravan showroom in 1985.
The large caves, which are protected as a scheduled monument by English Heritage, are hidden from view by several apartment blocks overlooking Nottingham Canal. However, residents like Paul Watkins are putting them to good use today as a secure area to keep bicycles but also to fight Gotham City's villains. Many caves around Nottingham were created for brewing, and storing, beer and ales due to their consistently cool temperature all year round. The owners of the Hand and Heart, in Derby Road, use their ancient structure as a restaurant and said their customers love the novelty of dining in the caverns. He contacted Dr Strange-Walker who at first thought it was probably a cave he knew about but a shock was in store. Dr Strange-Walker believes it was used as a cellar for a long lost pub known as The Old Milton's Head which dated back to the 1840s. The first Nottingham workhouse was set up by St Mary's parish in 1723 on land between York Street and Mansfield Road.
In 1819, at a time of depression and high unemployment in Nottingham, St Mary's parish appointed Absalom Barnett as its full-time Overseer (Caplan, 1984). The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 50,680 comprising St Mary (39,539), St Peter (5,447) and St Nicholas (5,694).

Initially the new Nottingham union proceeded with enthusiasm to implement the new principle of denying out-relief to able-bodied applicants. The new Nottingham Union took over the existing St Mary's parish workhouse at the west side of York Street. The slump continued through 1837 and an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner was despatched to assist the Guardians in trying to deal with the crisis. Economic conditions improved in 1838, leading to a fall in numbers in the workhouse, and the re-imposition of the prohibition on out-relief to the able-bodied.
By now, the Commissioners had firmly decided that the long-term answer was for Nottingham to erect a large new workhouse able to house at least 800 inmates. The work has also led to the development of a new smart phone app to allow people to explore the city's caves from above the ground. It is thought the cave was used by criminals or other plotters who could be alerted to the presence of the authorities by someone dropping stones through the hole from the street above.
Property developer Paul O'Shea bought a 150-year-old building in Derby Road, in January, to convert into student apartments, when he found a trapdoor leading deep into long forgotten chambers.
In 1813, it was declared unfit for habitation and a large building at the bottom of Park Row was bought as a replacement.
After this building was demolished, a new workhouse was built on the south side of Broad Marsh. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 24 in number, representing its 3 constituent parishes of St Mary (12 Guardians), St Peter (6), and St Nicholas (6).
Edward Gulson, the Assistant Poor Law Commissioner for the area, was able to report back to his London headquarters that the Nottingham Guardians were carrying "out your wishes in both spirit and letter more rapidly and cordially than any other Board of Guardians I ever saw." Credit for much of this lay with one Absolem Barnett, who simultaneously held the posts of union clerk, relieving officer, and workhouse master. The Poor Law Commissioners reluctantly decided to suspend the rules forbidding the giving of out relief to the able-bodied. However, a further slump in 1839 led to the Guardians requesting the dissolution of the union and a return to the former system of management by the individual parishes. The Guardians grudgingly accepted this proposal and, despite considerable public opposition, construction work had begun by the end of 1840.
The women are separated from the men, except some couples of 60 years of age and upwards, who are allowed to live together in the male part of the building. We had very much pleasure in witnessing the order and regularity with which the three parish schools are conducted, and the attainments of the children in writing and accounts; and needlework among the girls was very creditable, demonstrating the industry and talent bestowed on the pupils by their teachers.
After these are withdrawn to play, the adults come and take their places, when, as in the morning, there is reading the scripture and prayer, before supper, after which they amuse themselves in their proper apartments, and at eight o'clock the day rooms are locked up for the night.
No bread is allowed to this dinner, except what may have been reserved from a previous meal; instead of this being served to them by measure, the stew, which is good, is served without limit.
Initially, a larger site on Dog Kennel Hill was considered, but eventually the replacement was built on the old site at a cost of more than £5,000. The old building was however divided into tenements which became known as Jessamine Cottages and continued in use until their demolition in 1945.
St Mary's parish which is by far the largest, contains by estimation 1,200 acres of land, and about 100 acres of waste. There was an end to all wage supplements, allowances for large families, or the payment of rents. Such support was greatly encouraging for the Poor law Commissioners, as Nottingham had much in common with the Lancashire and Yorkshire textile districts which were next in line for bringing into the new Poor law system. However, this was not sufficient to cope with the effects of a slump in the hosiery trade in 1836. A public relief fund was also established in the city and raised £4,000 allowing hundreds of adults and children to be fed each day at the workhouse. The Poor Law Commissioners refused this request but again lifted the ban on out-relief to the able-bodied, and allowed it to be offered in return for outdoor labour.

The following March, a new Board of Guardians with an anti-Poor Law majority tried to delay completion of the workhouse but were eventually forced to go ahead with it. The day rooms are unlocked at five o'clock in the morning in summer, and six in winter: One low dark room, of very inadequate dimensions, constitutes their eating apartment and chapel.
No bread is allowed with this meal, but instead of weighing the potatoes, they have an unlimited supply. The unemployed were instead offered poorly-paid work including the cultivation of waste ground, stone-breaking and road-mending.
Additional premises were rented for accommodating children and old men, and the former St Nicholas parish workhouse was pressed into service as a hospital. The result was that the union, which felt itself saddled with a workhouse much bigger than the city needed, thereafter offered the absolute minimum of co-operation with the central authorities. The number of boys and girls is fluctuating, but 230, is about the average; in the infant school, about 70. Barnett also adopted the workhouse test with able-bodied unemployed being offered relief through entry into the workhouse, its capacity of 400 was soon exceeded and work again had to be offered instead.
In a few short years, Nottingham had been turned from a model union into a centre of resistance to the New Poor Law. Dinner is served at twelve to the adults, and because of the inadequacy of the eating apartment, the hungry children are obliged to wait till the elders have done, and after a proper time for recreation or play, the former return to their labour, and the latter to school. Several small donations amounting to about £80 a year, are distributed annually to such Poor as do not otherwise receive parochial assistance. Some years back it was proposed to erect a House of Industry for all the parishes, but differences of opinion and discordancy of interest caused the scheme to fail.
No satisfactory reason could be assigned, as the principal stocking manufacturers say the war has not materially affected them, as their chief export is to America.
The rise is generally attributed to the high price of provisions, the scarcity of common labour, and the great number of soldiers and militia men's wives and families who have lately become burdensome to the parish. This disparity is occasioned in some through want of industry, but chiefly from the nature of the different branches of the manufacture.
The women and children are chiefly employed in manufacturing cotton and silk, and earn from 10d.
Hands cannot easily be procured in winter There are 152 ale-houses, and 51 friendly societies, the number of members in which is limited to 41 or 51. There is a society called the Charitable Society, formed to relieve such cases as cannot be reached by general laws, such as relief of strangers in distress, or persons labouring under temporary disease, or other casual misfortune, either in loans or donations or both, the small annual subscriptions to Sunday schools, and in a few instances to the payment for the education of children of poor and deserving families.
The society was founded by Quakers and has been principally under their management, though joined by many others. The Workhouse is surrounded by other buildings, mostly much higher, so that the free current of air is completely obstructed.
A few more beds have been ordered, as in the summer 3 and sometimes 4 persons are obliged to sleep in one bed. This may probably be the reason why vermin prevail here, though the floors, staircases, etc., seem to be kept clean.
There are 168 pauper inmates, viz., 42 boys between 6 months and 14 years, 35 girls under 20, 30 men from 20 to 60, and 61 women from 20 to 80. Most of the women are employed in nursing the young children, and few men who are able to work enter the house. The earnings, therefore, are chiefly from the children who work at the cotton mills, and amount to rather more than £60 a year.

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