Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter


By Scott Lomax, Nottingham City Archaeologist

The demolition of the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre continues, having commenced last year. The western half of the structure has now been reduced to rubble and funding is now being sought for the demolition of the eastern half. A ‘vision’ for the Broad Marsh (as it will once again be known) has been published and the works offer an exciting opportunity to revitalise this important part of the city. The plans also offer an opportunity to promote and celebrate a fascinating history.

Located on the edge of the town, adjacent to the River Leen (which is culverted beneath Canal Street) the Broad Marsh was dominated by the presence of the Greyfriars (Franciscan) Friary, founded there by 1230. A burial ground was associated with the friary and excavations in the 1930s and 2019 have revealed a number of human skeletons of medieval date, and it is highly likely that there are still medieval burials present, at depths of up to 4m below ground level. Following the Dissolution in 1539, the friary was seemingly unoccupied until 1548, when it was granted to Thomas Heneage. Although Speede’s map of 1610 shows houses on the site of the friary, this is likely to be an error arising from the stylistic nature of that map. It was almost certainly undeveloped for housing until the 19th century. However, the friary buildings themselves existed well into the 18th century and are shown on Badder and Peat’s map of 1744. By 1724 a white lead works was in operation within the friary’s grounds, probably utilising some of the friary buildings. Housing, St Peter’s workhouse and the substantial Collins Hospital (the latter built between 1830 and 1834) occupied much of the site. In 1831 St Peter’s burial ground was founded, at the eastern side of the former friary’s grounds. The eccentric character Benjamin Mayo, known as the 'Old General', was buried there in 1843. At some time between 1861 and 1881 burials ceased and a school was built over part of the site. Excavations in 2019 showed the presence of a number of burials of 19th century date.

In anticipation of the outbreak of war, very substantial air raid shelters (of the underground trench shelter variety) were created at Broad Marsh. One, at the junction of the former streets of Broad Marsh and Newbridge Street, consisted of numerous trench passages each forming a rectangle in plan. These were linked together by additional trenches, and contained five entrances and 10 emergency exits. The shelter was so large it could accommodate 1000 people.

The demolition works have included removal of ground slabs, underground services and pile caps. Due to the known presence of archaeological remains, archaeologists from Allen Archaeology have been monitoring the works in this part of the site. This ensures that any remains which are encountered are investigated and recorded in accordance with a methodology agreed with me. Results of this work will be made available in due course. Any future development in the western side of the site is likely to require substantial archaeological fieldwork, which will offer a fantastic opportunity to discover much about the development of a large part of the medieval town.

Discussions are ongoing relating to the archaeological requirements for the eastern side of the shopping centre, where the nationally significant and legally protected (Scheduled Monument status) caves can be found. Demolition works in this area need to ensure the preservation of these caves and that they are not harmed in any way and to this end I am working closely with colleagues in the City Council, as well as Historic England. These caves, which were first archaeologically investigated by the Thoroton Society Excavation Section in the 1930s and later by Nottingham City Museums and groups of volunteers (including the Nottingham Historical Arts Society) in the 1960s and early 1970s, consist of an extensive system of interconnected chambers, only parts of which have been publicly accessible. It is hoped that opening up more of the caves may be possible as part of any future plans for the area. The caves include medieval and post medieval tanneries, beer cellars, and cellars for houses fronting Drury Hill. During the Second World War, parts of the cave system were used as an air raid shelter. It is possible that some of the chambers date as far back as the mid-13th century and may have been utilised by a wool merchant living at Vault Hall on Low Pavement. The ancient name for Drury Hill (Vout or Vault Lane) may have arisen from the presence of caves in this location. However, it is also possible that the ‘vault’ was the 13th century undercroft excavated by Nottingham City Museums Field Archaeology Section in 1970.

During inspections I made in March 2022, it was apparent that numerous cave chambers thought to have been destroyed by the shopping centre do in fact still survive, which is a significant discovery, although some are filled with large amounts of sand and rubble.

Large-scale archaeological excavations at Drury Hill and Middle Pavement were undertaken by the Nottingham City Museums Field Archaeology Section between 1969 and 1971, with the results of these excavations summarised in an article I wrote in volume 123 of the Transactions. The remains included 9th century defences of the pre-Norman Conquest burh of Snotingeham, with the defensive ditch having been enlarged probably during the early 10th century, medieval buildings, the aforementioned undercroft and a number of caves. Severns Building which now stands on Castle Road, and timbers of which have been dated to c. 1335, originally stood on Middle Pavement but was carefully disassembled and rebuilt in its current location so that it was not destroyed during clearance of buildings for the shopping centre.