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The Comedy of Errors

The Nottingham Hidden History Team Have Saved Many a Cave From Destruction

7 December 18 words: Joe Earp
illustrations: Jay Wilkinson

The Nottingham Hidden History Team, fittingly, have been around for yonks. Uncovering all sorts of tales about this city of ours, the organisation has saved caves from being destroyed in local redevelopment, and has held the torch up to many-a past goings-on. LeftLion Street Tales columnist and current member of the organisation, Joe Earp, gives us a little look-in to the origins of the team, and what’s driven them to lift the lid on Notts, for the past fifty years...

The original Nottingham Hidden History Team was formed in 1965 with the purpose of saving, or at least recording, the cave sites that were continually being discovered during major city redevelopment in the sixties and onwards. Almost every day, new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was officially notified. The last thing contractors wanted was someone telling them to stop work on a project. Time is money, after all.

At the time, the ten-strong team recorded, cleaned and helped preserve many cave sites that would’ve been lost forever.

In the early days, we mainly found ourselves involved with the exploration of caves. Groups like ours were the first to excavate and record the many that existed under the city, including Daniel in the Lion’s Den and the Colonnade in The Park Terrace, plus the caves under the Old Angel Inn, Judge’s Restaurant on Mansfield Road, Long Row, and the old Flying Horse Hotel.

Perhaps the highlight of the team’s work was in 1979. Shops along Goose Gate were being demolished and, while the land was being levelled, it was decided that the site would be excavated before further development. On Thursday 30 January, while scraping a section around twenty yards in from Goose Gate, a large hole was found containing an opening into a cave system.

Paul Nix, the team’s founder and leader, was called in to excavate and record what was discovered to be Nottingham’s first brewery, Simpson’s, and an underground slaughterhouse once used by a pork butcher’s shop. By the end of the team’s dig, the Council’s Department of Technical Services decided to preserve the caves.

In 1982, the team was officially recognised by the City of Nottingham’s Arts Department. It was agreed that we’d record various aspects of Nottingham’s history: features and functions of old buildings, caves, cellars and underground lairs all included. We’d also work in collaboration with the city’s museums and advise on any possible archaeological investigations.

By the late eighties, the team involved Paul Nix, Robert Morrell and Syd Henley. They went all over Nottinghamshire recording and photographing discoveries, and publishing various local history booklets under Robert Morrell’s APRA Press. The team’s major works included material on the Hemlock Stone at Stapleford, Nottinghamshire’s holy wells and springs, Nottinghamshire mazes and, of course, Nottingham caves.

NHHT also started a quarterly magazine, Mercian Mysteries, in collaboration with respected publisher and writer Bob Trubshaw. Trubshaw remembers his days with Paul: “I’d help him put together each issue of Mercian Mysteries. Loads of computer equipment was squeezed into his bedroom. I’d sit on his bed, surrounded by paperwork, while he beavered away on the keyboard. Hours would go by and I’d return home near to midnight. The following Saturday, we’d drive the artwork up to Trinity Square, and spend ages in a stationery shop photocopying about 100 copies of each.”

Almost every day, new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was officially notified. The last thing contractors wanted was someone telling them to stop work on a project.

Later in Paul’s life, he met Peter Woodward while researching a village near where Peter lived in 2002. After their first meeting, the pair spent many hours, days and nights together, with Paul teaching Peter about manipulating images and building web pages. The pair eventually designed a web page which developed into a vast site called My Broxtowe Hundred and, atop that, they extensively researched everything from Huntington Beaumont’s first railway line at Wollaton, to the history of Nottinghamshire villages.

In 2008, Paul Nix passed away and the team lapsed for many years. Luckily, Bob Trubshaw and Frank Earp managed to save some of the Hidden History Team’s vast collection of photographs, postcards, slides and research. The result of the recovery and preservation of the collection made me decide to reform the team back in 2011.

We now have six people working for the team and have a long list of groups, individuals and organisations we network with to share ideas and, most importantly, promote Nottingham history. Since 2011 we have: written seven books, including Secret Nottingham and Nottingham From Old Photographs; written dozens of articles; run a successful blog which now has nearly 1 million views; worked on many projects; and given numerous talks to groups and organisations.

The most enjoyable part of the work we do is being able to inform historians, researchers, students, groups, councils, organisations and the general public. The Nottingham Hidden History Team has helped many people with their questions. We’ve been around for over fifty years now, and hope to keep going for many more.

The Nottingham Hidden History Team website

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