Discovering the darker side of Nottingham… including a 'haunted' pub

Discovering the haunting joys of Nottingham, from a hidden network of caves to an ancient pub known for ‘paranormal’ activity

  • David Atkinson explores the ‘darker side’ of Nottingham’s history  
  • He says the Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem pub is the ‘spookiest’ place in the city
  • READ MORE: The UK’s best and worst hotel chains revealed by Which?

We unlock the heavy iron gate and descend. The temperature cools and the distant chatter of voices above ground fades.

Suddenly my guide comes to a halt. ‘This is Mortimer’s Hole – a place that changed the course of British history,’ says Keri Usherwood, indicating where Sir Roger Mortimer was dragged from his bedchamber and imprisoned in the cave cells beneath Nottingham Castle in 1330. Edward III staged the coup d’etat against his mother, Isabella of France, and her lover ‘gentle Mortimer’, hanged at London’s Tyburn.

The castle later played a pivotal role in the English Civil War when King Charles I raised his Royal Standard in 1642 – only to find Nottingham was a hotbed of Parliamentarian sympathisers.

The Norman castle’s tunnels feel eerie but, I discover, the whole city, founded by the Anglo-Saxons, is built on a sandstone bedrock, leaving a labyrinthine system of 800 man-made caves under the modern city. Tales of use as makeshift prisons and torture chambers lurk in the darkest corners.

‘Rebellious Nottingham has lots of dark stories,’ says Keri. ‘From Robin Hood to the Lace Market Luddites of the 19th-century textile trade, these stories help us make sense of our place in the world today.’

On his visit to Nottingham, David Atkinson explores the ‘darker’ side of the city’s history, with Nottingham Castle (above) one of the stops on his tour 

A bird’s eye view of Nottingham and its castle. The city ‘is built on a sandstone bedrock, leaving a labyrinthine system of 800 man-made caves under the modern city’, David reveals

Enter if you dare: David goes on a tour of Mortimer’s Hole (pictured), which lies underneath Nottingham Castle. It has an ‘eerie’ feel, he says

The darker side of the city’s history is also well represented at the National Justice Museum, allegedly one of the most haunted buildings in Britain. It houses the HM Prison Service collection. Originally Nottingham’s 1375 Shire Hall, the building has been used as a court, prison and police station.

Evening tours for Halloween focus on the building’s dark heritage as Nottingham’s former County Gaol, including the tale of William Saville, who slit the throats of his wife and three children in 1844. When he was hanged, the crowd was so large that 12 spectators also died in the crush for a view.

The exhibits range from the Victoria courtroom to oubliettes, medieval dungeons where people were simply left to die. The story of transportation recounts how, between 1787 and 1868, some 162,000 people were sent to the penal colonies of Australia.

David says that the ‘spookiest’ place in Nottingham is Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, an ancient pub built into the castle cliff 

David visits the National Justice Museum, which is ‘allegedly one of the most haunted buildings in Britain’

Murder was punishable by execution. The exercise yard, where condemned prisoners were buried in quicklime, illustrates the human tragedy with wall-mounted memorials recounting their fate.

But the spookiest place in Nottingham is an ancient pub. Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem dates from 1189 and was a staging point for pilgrims seeking refreshment, built into the castle cliff. In the Rock Lounge with a pint of Olde Trip best bitter, I’m joined by landlord Karl Gibson, who has experienced paranormal activity since taking over in 2012. ‘I’ve come to respect the history of both the pub and the city,’ says Karl. ‘When I’m here alone, I feel these walls are telling me something.’

The crowning glory for ghostbusters is the Cursed Galleon, used by an ancient mariner to pay his bar bill. It sits atop the upper bar in a glass case and comes with a warning: clean the dust-encrusted wooden model of a ship and you will meet a terrible end. I leave well alone and finish my pint. Sir Roger Mortimer may not have survived a trip to Nottingham, but I’m keen to make it home alive.


Doubles at the Lace Market Hotel from £120 B&B; Condemned tours (£15pp; adults only) ran from October 21-29 at the National Justice Museum; Entry to Nottingham Castle costs £12pp; Cave Tours are £5pp extra;

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