I’m Not Living in a Cave! ….. Kinver Edge, Staffordshire

Woolly says – Outside was cold and frosty making my fur stand up on end, just to be on the safe side I tied my scarf round my neck and raced towards the car in the hope that my tusks wouldn’t freeze on the short distance across the carpark.  The rains of Ireland already seemed like a lifetime away and as Jo drove off down the road, I considered whether I preferred being permanently wet or frozen, neither was ideal  however you looked at it. My carer had given no information on our outing except to say that it wouldn’t be a long day, I tried quizzing her but she remained tight lipped on our destination.  I settled in with a snack which was rudely interrupted as we parked under the leafless trees, I peered at the frosted branches overhead and decided to take the being carried method of transport rather than get my paws cold.

Although cold it did make a beautiful picture as we made our way towards an information board, which told me that, Kinver Edge is a remnant of the Mercian forest and has two Iron Age hillforts, living in a fort could work well for us as I prepared to be taken to the top, it appeared that the forts weren’t on the agenda and we started heading in the opposite direction towards the rocks.

Jo says – The area has been a popular local tourist destination since Edwardian times, when an electric tramway, the Kinver Light Railway, connected Kinver to the Birmingham tram system.  It was a place that I hadn’t visited for over 10 years so I was curious to see how the National Trust had continued to develop the site.

Woolly says – The National Trust was given 198 acres of Kinver Edge in 1917 by the children of Thomas Grosvenor Lee, a Birmingham Solicitor born in Kinver, in memory of Lee and his wife, they acquired a further 85 acres between 1964 and 1980 which included the Holy Austin Rock houses, the last troglodyte dwellings occupied in England.

As Jo paid for our tickets, I wandered into the cavernous entrance hall that led from one side of the rock to the other.  The sandstone roof bore the marks of water and tree roots with small holes cut into the walls.

Deciding to check out the furthest house first I wondered if my carer had brought me on a search for a home, I shivered in the cold and rushed into the cave area known as Martindale which had been restored to how it would have been in the 1930’s. The earliest record of people living here is from 1777 when Joseph Heely took refuge from a storm and was given shelter by a “clean & decent family”. He described how the rock houses made good homes: “warm in winter, cool in summer”, and generally dry. It was defiantly cool inside in fact I would go so far as to say freezing, the parlour had a large fireplace which glowed with embers which did little to provide heating.  The area itself was large with a small pantry to one side and a bedroom to the other, a small fire glowed next to the bed which was made and ready for me to get into along with some old fashioned bed warmers, sadly these were cold to the touch but would defiantly have been needed if you were to stay the night. 

It was rather sweet and would certainly make a lovely home with some modern furniture, I looked down at my small companion who’s beady eyes looked up at me, ‘I’m not living here if that’s what you think’ he grunted, I smiled and suggested we look at the cave house that had been used in the Victorian era.

Woolly says – The inside space was determined by how much sandstone could be dug out. So, rooms could be larger and ceilings higher than in the cottages or back-to-backs of towns, no need to build an extension you just needed to dig. Rooms might then be divided as families grew, and often lodgers were taken in. The 1861 census lists eleven families living here, across the three levels.

The Victorian cave was far larger, accessed through a small corridor which led straight into a bedroom that felt as though we had arrived in the Artic, I could feel the tips of my tusks turning to icicles and quickly hurried into the parlour where a large fire attempted to heat the room without succeeding.

The guide for the room told us how in 1903 a gentleman called Alfred Rushton had visited Holy Austin to paint Mr and Mrs Fletcher in this exact place with Sir Benjamin Stone photographing both inside and outside of the astonishing places.

The site quickly became a tourist attraction and the inhabitants, obviously happy to make money from this, served teas from their rock homes to visitors, a café continued until 1967, long after the last occupiers had moved out and once work started by the trust in 1996 it was the first part of the site to reopen.  Hmmm a café sounded warm, I looked at my carer who looked as cold as I felt and pointed towards the sign, she grinned, ‘hot chocolate is it? We can discuss living here while we warm up’, giving her my best glare, I led the way towards the warmth muttering over my shoulder, ‘I’m not living in a cave, even if they serve hot chocolate!’