Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In their halls of stone

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

The cave houses of Kinver Edge/Holy Austin Rock in Staffordshire, England; ridiculously cool.
"To the southwest of the village of Kinver are the lofty cliffs known as The Edge. A key feature of this formation is a huge outcrop known as Holy Austin Rock where enterprising people once made their homes by tunneling into the sandstone to create comfortable and weatherproof rooms. Exactly who carved out the first holes remains a mystery. Similar rock-cut chambers exist at both Bridgnorth and Nesscliffe Hill in the neighbouring county of Shropshire. Both are sited in sandstone cliffs in dense wooded areas and historical accounts acknowledge their existence as early as 790 AD and 1490 AD respectively. Given the age of these and other nearby examples it is likely that the original Kinver Edge caves were cut as early as 700 AD and probably had a religious significance. Many of the rock-cut caves in this area have origins that appear to date back to the arrival of Christianity in England around 600 AD to 700 AD."
One of the many things we've lost - mind you, in exchange for penicillin and food that won't kill you and the ability to stay dry and warm year-round - is this sort of strange and wonderful outlier of human habitation.

I think we don't quite "get" the degree to which people have become more homogenized through exposure to our "modern life", but I think we've already lost a hell of a lot of the sort of idiosyncrasy that produced these cave-homes.

When you can live in a manufactured home in a suburb with bags of potato chips ("crisps", as the Kinver Rock dwellers would have called them) and 280 cable channels why go to the difficulty of gouging out a sandstone cliff way the hell out in the middle of buttfuck nowhere?

Mind you, back in the day the rock houses weren't all THAT far from anywhere else:
"Given that the area was used as a royal hunting reserve from around 1080 AD, it likely that the King's foresters (rangers) would have used the natural highpoints of Kinver Edge and Holy Austin Rock as a lookout to watch for poachers and other outlaws. It also seems likely that they would have used and maybe even enlarged any caves in the immediate area for their own comfort. As with much of Britains local history the actual origins may never really be known. Over the next 700 years Kinver grew larger both as a result of royal favour and the growth of farming in the area. It was also situated on what became a main route from Bristol to Chester which significantly increased its importance in the region. It is during this time that much of the nearby forest was cleared for crops and sheep pastures. By around 1650 AD the village was beginning a period of rapid expansion and there is some evidence to suggest that local people had taken to quarrying rock from the nearby cliffs. It is possible that the first permanent inhabitants of the Rock Houses were the descendents of the local quarrymen."
But "progress" and the change in the local economy eventually drove the families away. The Shaws, one of whom had lived in one of these cave-homes for 150 years, left in 1939. The last residents bunked off about thirty years after that.

Leaving the caves to tramps and the Lesser Horseshoe Bat. Several similar sort of rock-houses simply collapsed. Fortunately for the homes at Kinver Edge the British National Trust now looks after them, and their account of the history, legends, and modern life of Kinver Rock at the link is well worth reading. The quote at the bignning of the post is not a coincidence. The website says:
"Tolkien was famously reluctant to name the places that inspired his stories but openly admitted that many of them were based on his experiences in the English Midlands where he lived as a youth. Some of these have been traced to locations such as the Mill at Sarehole and the nearby Moseley Bog. It's also well recorded that he hated living inside the City of Birmingham and took every opportunity to explore the surrounding countryside. Perhaps the similarities between the area surrounding Kinver and the theme of The Hobbit are no more than a extraordinary coincidence but it is just as likely that they may be some of the deepest inspirations for one of the greatest books ever written."
Whether or not they inspired Professor Tolkien, the cliff-houses are a rather fascinating artifact from an earlier age. Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.


Talyssa said...

This is so awesome!! Hobbit houses do exist!!

FDChief said...

That seems to be the deal, Talyssa. Ridiculously awesomesauce...

Lisa said...

Fascinating, in the way that the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are. Humans are resilient and resourceful. It is sad to see so many losing that knowledge when they curse the slightest inconvenience, like a slow Internet connection, for instance. Hello -- you've got a computer, for gawd's sake, food in the fridge and shelter!

Of course, the Kinver Edge dwellings have that wonderful English sense of gnomes and fairies and wood nymphs. Thank you for sharing.

Leon said...

You can still find cave houses, you just might need some change: