Scott Lomax, Nottingham: The Buried Past Of A Historic City Revealed (Albright)

Scott Lomax,

Nottingham: The Buried Past Of A Historic City Revealed

(Pen & Sword Archaeology, 2013) 176 pp. $24.95


In reading this book, it quickly becomes clear how important it is that the author himself has been involved with the archaeology of Nottingham from 2008 in both the public and the private sector. He created the Nottingham Urban Archaeological Database, worked as a researcher at the Nottingham Caves Survey Project, and is currently working on a project called the Origins of Nottingham for a local archaeology company, all of which inform this present work. This background informs both the author’s assignment of all royalties from this book to the furthering of archaeological research for his beloved city and also his occasional comments about the low priority of archaeological research when it comes to government funding, such as his statement: “Now the role of archaeology in the planning process is less clear and has been weakened. Cuts to local government have compounded the problems. It can only be hoped that the already massive cuts of the past two decades do not threaten any further the already massively reduced archaeology team at the City Council which now consists of only one professional archaeologist. Cuts to university funding and the lack of commercial archaeology opportunities are threatening the survival of archaeology field units. There is little or no income but staff require payment after all and so a large number of redundancies have taken place and archaeologists have, where they can, changed career (166).” In light of this gloomy picture, the book’s focus on never-before published archaeological research in Nottingham is a cri de coeur from someone passionate about the past of Nottingham and the value of making known and further researching its historic past.

The organization of the contents of this book assume that the reader is familiar with the general outline of the stories about Robin Hood, and in providing a touchtone to that story cycle and a glossary and timeline at the very beginning, it is clear that this book is being aimed at a more general audience than is common for books on archaeology, providing a context in language and in chronology for those with only a vague or incomplete understanding of either as they relate to field research. The author then moves to a discussion of the importance of both amateur and professional archaeology in providing the understanding we have about Nottingham’s history. Most of the book is made up of a discussion of various sites, time periods, and questions about Nottingham’s history, ranging from a lengthy and detailed examination of the Tiggua Cobaucc (Place of the Caves) which shows the importance of the caves as residences for the poor, places for storage and sand mining, and even as places for the production of malt and prison cells to a discussion of Nottingham’s role in the English Civil Wars, its place in the history of the Viking raids and invasions, and what secrets may still lie under the feet of Nottingham’s residents and tourists and the question of the identity of many human remains that like in the Cranbook area of the historic city.

Given the fact that the book is written by someone who is both familiar with and deeply passionate about the archaeology of Nottingham, it is little surprise that the author should frequently include helpful explanations for the reader as well as discussions that reveal his insider knowledge, such as the following: “Much excitement has been aroused at the Galleries of Justice thanks to media reports of a cave said to be used as ‘oubliette’ (meaning ‘forgotten place’) in which Robin Hood may have been kept prisoner before being rescued by Little John, as featured in one of the Ballads of Robin Hood. The chamber exists beneath the extant building and is difficult to gain access to. Consequently it has not yet been excavated and so its function remains uncertain. However, probing of the fill of this cave chamber has shown it does not extend very deep whereas oubliettes have generally been deep pits in which a prisoner could be forced into and forgotten about until they did, with the body remaining in the feature. Nonetheless some of the caves at the Galleries of Justice were used as cells and can be viewed today. What the chamber was used for remains uncertain but hopefully an archaeological excavation may one day solve this puzzle (133).” Those readers who appreciate this sort of discussion and have an interest in the history of Nottingham will find a great deal of worth in this book, which manages to combine sound archaeological reporting with an examination of notable texts and even a discussion of tourism in examining the question of the identity of the oldest pub in Nottingham, for which there are three contenders.

Given the fact that the book is aimed at a wide audience and discusses matters which will not be known by many of the book’s intended audience, it is noteworthy and creditworthy that the book should contain a healthy collection of maps and black and white photos that help to illuminate the material discussed by the author, including drawings made by amateur antiquarians in the 18th and 19th centuries before the development of professional archaeology and its application to the history of Nottingham. In general, Lomax has a helpful explanatory tone concerning history, and even where he finds fault with the interpretations of previous archaeologists, he does so without rancor or hostility. Where he makes speculations, including the claim that a site as desirable to build upon as Nottingham is was almost certainly occupied during the bronze and iron ages, even though evidence of these occupation layers is scant because of the tendency to raze previous layers of occupation all the way to bedrock before starting again in new settlement layers, he does so with a clear statement of his layer of confidence about such speculations. Likewise, where the author quibbles with the speculations of others, he does so based on evidence as well, and admits a suitable degree of ignorance based on how many questions exist about the archaeology of the city. The result is a work that is both deeply informative about state-of-the art historical research of Nottingham as well as a book that seeks to encourage a greater degree of knowledge and interest in the archaeology of Nottingham for an audience in the United Kingdom and far beyond.

Nathan Albright
Norwich University

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