Shropshire History

Shropshire Caves &

Rock Shelters

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There are only two naturally formed cave systems in Shropshire located near Oreton. Apart from these, there are a number of features called caves which are actually rock shelters. A rock shelter is a natural hollow in a cliff face and often enlarged by humans to create a room large enough to live in.  There are a few to be found in Shropshire, where they have been made in soft sandstone.  The traditional sort of person associated with such a habitation is the hermit but other people used them who wanted isolation, eg where they had broken the law.  Some may have been used in the  Stone Age but certainly they were used from the 18th Century right up to the mid-1950s by poor people who could not afford a house.

 

Caradoc’s Cave, All Stretton (SO478254)

File:Caer Caradoc cave - 2007-04-15.jpg

 

This is a short excavation in volcanic rock and may have been made when the hill was a Bronze Age hill fort. Local legend has it that this was the site of the last stand of Caractacus against the Roman legions during the Roman conquest of Britain and that after the battle he hid in the cave near its summit. However, it is more likely that this battle took place elsewhere.

 

Castle Hill Caves, Bridgnorth (SO717929)

 

The caves are at the base of a sandstone cliff and have been used as habitations for many years. They were owned by Bridgnorth Corporation, who issued leases as follows :-

15 June 1642 - To yeoman Owen Meredith “one hovell or hole in the rock called Brand Hole on the east side of Castle Hill”. Meredith was bound to Thomas Colbourne, yeoman of Bridgnorth, for 30s to observe covenants and rent of 6d per annum was to be paid to Bridgnorth Corporation.

26 Dec 1673 - To shoemaker Edward Burne a cave on the side of Castle Hill bounded on the east by a way leading to the Church of St Mary Magdelene and on the north by a place called Brand Hole or Smoakey Hole. Rent was 1s per annum.

Jul 1693 - To widow Cecily Lewis a cave and garden under Castle Hill in New Town measuring 44ft north to south and 48ft from the cave to the Bridgnorth-Eardington road.  The lease was for 99 years or 3 lives and rent was 6d per annum.

10 Mar 1706 - To pot maker Edward Legas a “meese place” or cave in the rock and associated waste ground, lately belonging to shoemaker Edward Munslow, on the west side of Castle Hill bounded on the south by a cave and garden lately in the possession of Cecily Lewis and on the north and east by a footway leading from Oldbury to the Castle church and on the west by a common portway from Bridgnorth to Eardington. Rent was 1s per annum.

4 Feb 1715 - To pot maker Edward Legas a “meese place” or cave in the rock, leased by the Corporation on 10 Mar 1706. Legas had built a new house and other buildings on part of the premises lately occupied by spinster Mary Browne.

22 Feb 1724 - To tanner Robert Corser a hole or cave in the rock on the east side of Castle Hill lately occupied by William Rawlinson alias Prew, now deceased. Rent was 2s and 2 fat hens per annum.

10 Mar 1725 - To spinster Hester Burne, executrix of shoemaker Edward Burne, a house with shop and cave adjoining on the east side of Castle Hill between the way leading from Low Town to St Mary Magdalene and the tenement of Francis Asbury. Also a garden above the house and part of a second garden on the east side of Castle Hill between the Churchway and the gardens of James Haslewood and Thomas Broughton. Ash trees growing near the hedge in the last mentioned garden are not to be cut down. Rent was 2s and 2 hens per annum or 1s in lieu of the hens.

29 Nov 1725 - To Roger Haslewood a house at the south end of Castle Hill near Farthing Meadow, also leases of a malthouse and rooms belonging to it at the Stone Head formerly occuped by Francis Haslewood and now occupied by Samuel Stephens, also 5 gardens near the above house under Castle Hilland a pigsty in a hole in the rock near the Castle. Rent was 4s 6d per annum for the house under Castle Hill, 6d per annum for the other property and 1s per annum for the malthouse.

15 Sep 1727 - To widow Margery Nott a house with garden and cave on the west side of Castle Hill, bounded on the north and east by a footway from Oldbury to the Castle Church and on the west by a road from Bridgnorth to Eardington, formerly occupied by Richard Stockall. Rent was 1s per annum and 2 hens.

1 Feb 1728 - To  widow Constance Deacon a cave or hole in the rock on the east side of Castle Hill. Rent was 6d per annum during her life and then for the remainder of the term 1s per annum and 2 hens or 1s in lieu of the hens.

22 Apr 1730 - To locksmith William Wilson a house with garden and caves on the west side of Castle Hill now occupied by Samuel Wilson father of 2, bounded on the west by the Bridgnorth-Eardington road. The parents of Wilson to have possession for life. Rent was 1s per annum and 2 fat hens or 1s in lieu of the hens.

22 Sep 1730 - To carpenter Edward Cheese a newly built house with an adjoining cave (for which he has lately built a good brick chimney) in the New Town occupied by his mother-in-law Jane Browne. Right of habitation was reserved for Jane Browne with liberty of ingress and egress. Also reserved was a right of way through the garden from New Town to a stable and another garden, partly enclosed by a wall now occupied by widow Wylde and Samuel Hager. Rent was 1s per annum.

12 Apr 1736 - To tailor John Cope a newly erected house and cave on the east side of Castle Hill adjoining Castle Hill Walk. Rent was 1s per annum and 2 hens or 1s in lieu of the hens.

20 Sep 1738 - To labourer John Bourne a cave with garden under the east side of Castle Hill bounded on the west by the footway toward the Lower Town and on the east by a footway to the Horseway. Also a further garden.  Spinster Martha Bourne, his aunt, to be allowed to live with him in the cave for life.  Rent was 1s per annum.

25 Sep 1746 - To James Brett a house, barn, cave, workhouse and backside under Castle Hill. Rent was 2s 6d and 2 capons per annum.

15 Sep 1749 - To lather Thomas Haslewood a house, garden and caves in the rock on the west side of Castle Hill bounded on the west by the road from New Town to Eardington. Rent was 1s per annum and 2 hens or 1s in lieu of the hens.

5 Jun 1754 - To spinster Ann Doughty a house, barn, cave, workhouse and backside under Castle Hill, leased by the Corporation to James Brett on 25 Sep 1746. Rent was 2s 6d and 2 capons per annum.

1 Sep 1757 - To sailmaker Thomas Broughton a cave or hole in the rock on the east side of Castle Hill with garden adjoining and enclosed by a hedge occupied by William Tolley. Rent was 1s and 2 hens per annum or 1s in lieu of the hens.

21 Sep 1758 - To William Cureton and John Davies, churchwardens and overseers of the poor for the parish of St Mary Magdelene, 5 caves on the east side of Castle Hill in the tenures of William Stockall, Elizabeth Yate, Thomas Harris, George Malpas and William Malpas. Property also includes waste ground in the front of the caves adjoining the footway from the Water Engine to St Marys Parish Workhouse. In trust for the poor of the parish. Rent was 5s and 2 capons per annum or 2s in lieu of the capons.

2 Jan 1765 - To wherryman John Roberts a house and cave on the east side of Castle Hill. Also a garden over the same, fenced with a hedge and adjoining Castle Hill Walk Rent was 1s and 2 hens per annum or 1s in lieu of the hens.

2 Aug 1784 - To innholder John Bourne a cave house in the rock under the east side of Castle Hill where John Bourne senior formerly dwelt and bounded on the south by the new road leading from the bridge to the High Town. Also two gardens between the cave and the road and a further garden bounded on the north, east and south by the road leading from the bridge towards Oldbury. Rent was 1s per annum.

21 Jun 1785 - To surgeon John Beale two gardens with associated cave on the east side of Castle Hill bounded on the east by the Hill Rock and on the west by Castle Hill Walk. Rent was 1s and 2 capons per annum or 2s in lieu of capons.

2 May 1786 - To barge owner John Barnes and Mary his wife, wherryman Wiliam Roberts, Sarah the wife of wherryman James Collins Jones, baker Thomas Roberts, spinster Margaret Roberts and Edward Roberts (younger children of the late John Roberts) a house and cave on the east side of Castle Hill. Also a garden over the same, fenced with a hedge and adjoining Castle Hill Walk, leased to John Roberts on 2 Jan 1765. Rent was £18 and package included original lease of 2 Jan 1765.

28 Sep 1787 - To Thomas Percy, Lord Bishop of Dromore, Ireland a house with garden, cave and waste ground on the west side of Castle Hill occupied by James White, excise officer. Rent was 1s and 2 capons per annum or 2s in lieu of capons.

30 Apr 1789 - To mercer William MacMichael a house with garden and caves in the rock on the west side of Castle Hill occupied by widow Sarah Evans, bounded on the west by the road from New Town to Eardington. Rent was 1s and 2 capons per annum or 2s in lieu of capons.

4 May 1850 - To George Potts of Broseley for the use of John Bache, Thomas Charlton Whitmore of Apley Park, William Sharington Davenport of Davenport House, William Wolryche Whitmore of Dudmaston, George Mackenzie Kettle of Dallicott, Thomas Smythe of Hilton, James Brazier of Bradney, George Pritchard of Broseley, John Pritchard of Broseley, Rev Samuel Marindin, late of Chesterton but now of Shanks House Somerset, Rev Cornelius Farnworth Broadbent, Vicar of Worfield, John Jasper of Stableford, Thomas Smith of Bromley, Joseph Thomas Parkes of Wyken, Samuel Ridley of Rindleford two cottages, formerly one and the Rock dwelling, with all appurtenances etc in Worfield, bounded on the east by the highway from Worfield to Hallon's Ford and Masserdine Field and on the west by Pound Lane, on the south by property in the occupation of John Evers, formerly in the possession of Thomas Bennett but now of Benjamin Pritchard, John Lewis and Sarah Hall.

1869 - Notices by the Borough Surveyor to owners of defective propeties, ie caves , including Richard H. Boycott.

 

It is interesting that most of the leases stipulate payment to include 2 chickens or payment in lieu. Why this should be is unknown. The other intersting fact is that there was a wide variety of trades among the people living in the caves so it was not just the very poor who were forced to live there. All of the caves are now grilled and there is an interpretation board outside. See separate entry for Lavington’s Hole.

 

Caynton Temple, Ryton (SJ775028)

   

 

This is an underground folly cut out of sandstone to create a temple.  It is not known when or why it as built but it was probably created as a folly in the mid-19th Century when this sort of thing was fashionable. The landowners used to allow the public to explore the temple but damage and litter caused by visitors finally made them seal up the entrance.

 

Dracups Cave, Bridgnorth (SO716930)

An excavated sandstone cave at the back of Dracups Cottage, 30 Railway Street. Greatly extended and enhanced by artist Anthony Dracup when he lived there. He levelled out the floor and built 24 pillars and arched vaults by hand.

 

Foxholes, Oreton (SO641803)

This is the swallet for a natural cave system where a stream disappears under a low cliff. Unfortunately the passage is blocked by a boulder choke and flood debris after a few yards. A shaft sunk near the entrance choke has now collapsed. The resurgence at SO657803 is totally unenterable as the water issues from fissures in steeply dipping limestone. The stream passage was entered by an incline at SO656804, driven by the late Duncan Glasfurd, from which it could be explored for about 45 metres upstream to a sump pool. The Birmingham Enterprise Club attempted to blast a way round the sump but without success. The entrance now appears to be blocked.

 

Hawkstone Grotto, Weston-under-Redcastle (SJ573297)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/shropshire/content/images/2005/09/28/inside_grotto_470x300.jpg

Created in the 18th Century as a folly by Sir Rowland Hill and his son Richard. Possibly based on an old copper mine.

Hermitage, Bridgnorth (SO728933)

 

 

The Hermitage Caves are located in a cliff to the east of the town and the first record dates from the Saxon period. Aethelard (a Mercian prince and grandson of King Alfred) retired here in 924 for solitude and contemplation. During the 14th Century, the caves came under the patronage of King Edward III and one hermit who lived in the caves at this time was John Oxindon. The Magna Britannia of 1727 records an old cave here that was inhabited by a hermit. The land was enclosed as the Forest of Morfe in 1806 and one of the caves was converted into a cottage to house the custodian, who patrolled the nearby forest in a bid to prevent poachers. In 1877, the Town Clerk Hubert Smith recorded that there were two cottages in the Hermitage Caves and one  had a fireplace, chimney, window and door. His records show that the Hermitage consisted of 4 carved caves, one of the caves being 33ft in length and used as a Chapel. Legend has it that there is a witch trapped in a large cave beyond the chapel and that at night you can hear her groaning.

 

    

 

The legend of the witch tells that, in the old days, carters using the road had to drive their horses up the hill past the caves but, no matter how hard they tried, the horses would stop half way up the hill, right next to a cave where a little old lady lived.  She dressed all in black, had a hooked nose and a croaky voice that sounded like a rusty hinge. Word went around that the old lady was a witch and that she was hexing the horses, freezing their hooves and not letting them by. They first offered the old lady money but she refused. "What do you want?" they asked, "We'll give you anything, just ask." She didn't hesitate and, quick as a flash, she said. "I want half your load." She wouldn't be swayed and It didn't matter whether the load was gold and jewels or muck and dung, half the load was her demand and that's what she got. So the carters took off half the load and gave it to the old lady and miraculously their horses began to move, albeit slowly, up the hill again. It was definitely magic, they thought, the old lady had lifted the hex. Cyril Taylor was born in the caves in 1928 and raised there. In 1939, he moved out to live at a cottage at the bottom of Hermitage Hill. The other cave neighbours, Bill and Jinny Norton and Jack and Dora Jarrett, moved into new houses on Stourbridge Road.

 

    

 

The caves were then visited for many years and were a popular play area for local children but, after a fatal accident in 2009 when part of a roof fell, the caves were fenced off.

 

Ippikin’s Cave, Easthope (SO569965)

 

According to legend, Ippikin was a 13th Century knight who led a band of robbers raping and pillaging the area. They used the rock shelter as their base and nobody would go near the cave for fear of being attacked. The cave was rumoured to be full of the gang's haul of gold and precious stones. Ippikin was also supposed to have supernatural powers that allowed him to renew his youth every 20 years. One night, Ippikin and his band were sheltering from a violent storm when a bolt of lightning struck the rock overhanging the entrance to the cave, causing it to fall across the entrance. Ippikin and his men were trapped inside and starved to death. There is what is claimed to be the imprint on the rock of a gold chain he used to wear but it is actually a fossil coral.  Legends say that his ghost still stalks the edge and anyone foolish enough to challenge him by saying “Ippikin, Ippikin, keep away with your long chin" will find him rushing out to push them over the cliff!

 

Kynaston’s Cave, Nesscliffe (SJ385192)

    

 

Humphrey Kynaston (1474-1534) was the youngest son of Sir Roger Kynaston, High Sheriff of Shropshire. He was raised in Myddle Castle and received his "Wild Humphrey" nickname from his outrageous lifestyle, which frequently got him into trouble with the law. Humphrey inherited Myddle Castle from his father but allowed the estate to fall into disrepair. On 20 December 1491, Kynaston was found guilty for the murder of John Hughes at Stretton and declared an outlaw by King Henry VII. He thus moved from Myddle Castle to the rock shelter in Nesscliffe Rock which now bears his name. From 1491-1518, Kynaston supposedly lived a life that would match the fictional character Robin Hood. It seems he had a reputation for robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. In return, the locals protected him and gave food to him and his horse Beelzebub. One time, in an attempt to capture Kynaston, the local sheriff removed several planks from Montford Bridge to keep him from crossing the River Severn but his horse managed to leap and safely clear the distance. It is also said that he was a regular patron at the Old Three Pigeons Tavern at Nesscliffe and his original seat is still there. Some sources claim that he was pardoned by King Henry VII in 1493 but others claim that in 1513 he provided 100 men to aid King Henry VIII in France and in return received a royal pardon. Humphrey died in 1535. Again sources differ with some claiming that he lived comfortably in an estate near Welshpool until he died and others claiming he died of illness in the cave. He was romantically active during his life, having 3 wives and 10 children. The cave has two rooms, apparently he lived in one and stabled Beelzebub in the other. The cave also used to have an iron door for an entrance but this was taken to become the door for Shrewsbury Jail. There is an engraving in the cave which reads “H.K. 1564” but, since he died 30 years before that, it was probably his grandson, Humfridus who left the inscription. The entrance is barred but the inside can be seen with a torch.

 

Lavington’s Hole, Bridgnorth (SO717929)

 

This is one of the Castle Hill Caves but it has an interesting history. In April 1646, during the English Civil War, the Roundheads were beseiging Bridgnorth Castle and the Roundhead Colonel Lavington decided to dig a tunnel under Castle Hill. He knew that the Royalists stored their gunppowder in St Mary’s Church and he intended to blow it up. After they had gone in 70ft, the Royalist Colonel Howard became aware of the tunnel and, since the exposion would have killed everyone in the castle, surrendered.

 

Mount Gilbert Hermitage, Little Wenlock (SJ6408)

 

The hermit of Mount Gilbert (Norman name for the Wrekin) is first mentioned in a document dated 1267. “Grant to Nicholas de Denton, hermit of Mont Gilbert, in order that he may be able more freely to attend to divine service, of 6 quarters of wheat by the measure of 8 bushels in the county of Salop, making one quarter of the city of London, yearly from the issues of the king’s mill of Pendleston by Bruges by the hands of the sheriff of that county: to wit a moiety at Michaelmas and a moiety at Easter for his sustenance for life, so long as he be a hermit in the said mount”. In 1355, Thomas Gamel of Shrewsbury left a legacy of 18d for “the hermit on the Wroeken”.  There was still a hermit living thee in 1500 but the exact location is unknown. It is suspected that he lived in a rock shelter but it can no longer be found and may have fallen in.

 

Rock Houses, Myddle (SJ489240)

A Cave House - Myddle

 

Excavated into the sandstone quarry were dwellings going deep into the rock, with doors and windows showing on the face of the quarry and chimneys showing above in the brambles and bracken. Some of the these were still in occupation in 1920. The area has now been built over and it is not known if the entrances survive.

 

Truck Hill Cave, Oreton (SO657804)

This is a natural cave and the entrance leads to an easy passage 45 metres in length, ending at a sump. At a depth of 3.6 metres, however, there are large boulder obstructions with a possible route around to the left. There is an associated resurgence 61 metres away with a short 1.2 metre length of passage. This also ends at a solid boulder choke.