I am visiting Chris the story reading ape’s blog with a post about the medieval tannery at the Nottingham City of Caves. Thank you, Chris, for hosting me with this post.
About the medieval tannery
The City of Caves in Nottingham comprises of a network of caves, carved out of sandstone, that have been put to various uses of the years including as a medieval tannery, public house cellars and, during World War II, as an air raid shelter.
Two of the caves in this intricate network historically housed the only underground tannery in Britain. The Pillar Cave was originally cut in approximately 1250 AD, but had been filled in as a result of a rock fall by 1400 AD. In 1500 AD it was cleared and reopened as part of a tannery. Circular pits were cut into the floor to hold barrels. A second cave was also cut with rectangular clay-lined vats. The smaller size of these vats indicate that they were probably used for tanning sheep or goats skins rather than cowhides.
Picture of the circular pits cut into the caves used as a medieval tannery by Robbie Cheadle
The medieval tanning process
Tanning, in medieval times, was a dirty and smelly process so tanneries were located away from towns and villages. Tanners sourced the hides from butchers, who delivered them with the horns and hooves still intact and stiff with dried gore, dung and dirt. The tanner removed the horns and hooves and then soaked the skins in water to clean and soften them. The medieval tannery in the Nottinghill Caves had an opening out to the River Leen in order to facilitate this washing process. This river also provided the town’s drinking water.