We visit creepy Nottingham pub cave where dolls are left for ghost of young girl

Toys left in the cave under Ye Olde Salutation Inn
Toys left in the cave under Ye Olde Salutation Inn -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

Rock music is pounding out in the bar but you can hear a pin drop in the silence deep below ground in the caves beneath a Nottingham pub. Ye Olde Salutation Inn, which dates back to medieval times, is said to be one of the most haunted pubs in the UK.

A landlord once claimed to have witnessed the presence of 89 resident apparitions. Reports of ghostly goings on include sightings of Roman soldiers, a highway man, pirates and a young girl.

All kinds of myths surround the caves below the pub, which has one entrance in Maid Marian Way and another in St Nicholas Street. Tales include Jews hiding to escape persecution, lepers living in a colony there and stories about the underground chambers being used for satanic rituals.

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We went along to explore the man-made sandstone caves that are part of a huge network under the city. If you visit at a quiet time and there's sufficient staff working to accompany you, you can venture down below via a door in the lobby near the King Charles Snug.

The 20 or so steps lead you into the caves, that are dimly lit by wall lights, dank and chilly, although the latter is most likely due to the ambient temperature. Some sections are roped off with no public access. More steps lead to the biggest chamber.

But it's another part of the caves that attracts the most attention. While you might expect to see a aged bottle or a piece of pottery, there is a row of dolls and teddy bears sitting on one of the thralls (a low-level stone bench). There's something about them that's quite eerie. I feel like I'm standing in the middle of a horror film waiting for someone - or something - to emerge from the shadows. I wouldn't want to be down here alone.

The biggest cave underneath Ye Olde Salutation Inn
The biggest cave underneath Ye Olde Salutation Inn -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

Some of the toys look new but there's one knitted doll that's particularly grubby and looks like it's been there for decades. Another doll has her eyes closed, wild hair and a dirty lacy outfit. She's the creepiest of them all. Fortunately there's no Chucky, Annabelle or ME3GAN - the latest horror firm killer doll.

We're told the toys have been left for Rosie, a young flower seller, who is perhaps the most infamous of the Sal's resident spirits. Local legend says the young Victorian urchin was struck by a carriage in the courtyard when she was four or five years old.

After the accident, she was carried down to the caves to keep her cool and comfortable until the doctor arrived but, tragically, she died before the he could get there. Soon afterwards, customers at the pub started to complain about being scratched. They all had four small scratch marks, as though they had been scratched by a child.

This continued over a two-week period until the landlord of the pub took a doll down to the caves and left it there for Rosie. The scratching stopped and since then dolls and teddy bears have been left down there as presents for Rosie.

However, woe betide any landlord who removes the toys, as one found out to his peril years ago. The Sal's events manager Sam Brown said: "Apparently the beer started going off and customers were getting agitated and people stopped coming in because they got this bad vibe about the pub. He put the toys back and it calmed down apparently."

The oldest and grubbiest doll in the caves
The oldest and grubbiest doll in the caves -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

A plaque is dedicated to Rosie next to the entrance to the caves. Sam said: "People brought in little mementoes for her. A lot have been left by ghost hunters but one really old one has been a very long time, I'm not sure how long.

"The room with all the toys is where the ghost hunters say they've experienced the most stuff. A lot say they can sense a small wandering child."

During Sam's time working at the pub there's never been anything sinister but he has had a couple of strange experiences. He said: "I was upstairs once working on the bar, loads of people, and I got pulled by my belt loop backwards. Then years later as I walked past the boss's flat something about 3ft tall, pure white, just ran into the flat. I poked my head in and there was nothing there."

Other spooky tales include a pirate who is said to have fallen into the well and drowned when he was hiding in one of the caves, and a highwayman who can sometimes be seen drinking at the ground floor bar. Another story tells of Roman soldiers who have been seen emerging from the wall, marching through the cellar and disappearing into the wall on the opposite side.

Although it was quite creepy in the caves the only sign of spirits during our visit were the ones behind the bar. Nottingham archaeologist Scott Lomax, who has delved into the history of the city's caves, said the largest of the Salutation's caves dates back to medieval times and was created as a beer cellar for the pub.

The rear of Ye Olde Salutation Inn
The rear of Ye Olde Salutation Inn -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

He said: "Timbers in the Salutation building have been shown to date to 1440-1441, and it is my belief that the cave is probably of 15th century date too. It has thralls around parts of the cave, which are a common feature of beer cellars. The cave contains a well, as many caves do.

"This well was investigated by divers in 1985 and more than 100 coins and some medieval pottery was recovered. Curiously the cave has a small set of steps which lead to nowhere. It was long speculated that these steps lead to a further cave which has yet to be excavated. There is no truth in this. I once took a tour group into the Salutation caves and we were told that these steps were used to capture thieves. It is an interesting and entertaining story but there is no evidence for this.

"It is likely that there was the intention to create another cave chamber but for whatever reason that idea was abandoned. The cave itself is sufficiently large for the purposes of a medieval beer cellar, that any extension would have been unnecessary. Furthermore, the steps are positioned very close to the property boundary and any additional lower cave would have been beneath St Nicholas Street and someone else’s property.

"Although later caves did occasionally extend beneath other people’s property, and beneath some highways, this does not appear to have occurred during the medieval period. So I suspect the person carving out the steps eventually realised that they were too close to the property boundary and so decided not to go further.

"There are a lot of claims about the cave, and features within it, which have been created by paranormal event organisers. One is that there is a pit within the cave, beneath the bedrock floor of the largest chamber, containing large numbers of skeletons of people who were sacrificed during Satanic rituals. I have attended events where this claim was made. There are no such pits. Nor was there any association between this cave and the Hellfire Club.

"Ignoring the myths, this cave is nonetheless one of the most interesting medieval caves in the city, containing some original features as well as features that reflect the evolution of this cave as the building above was enlarged and changed in form. Its function is clear, its age is certainly medieval and it contains well-preserved features that make it a very important heritage asset."

Nottingham City Council’s Local Plan recognises the Salutation caves as being of national importance and equivalent to a Scheduled Monument.