The cave house, previously considered an 18th century madness, has been identified as one of the oldest intact interior interiors ever found in Britain. Archaeologists believe that it was the home of an exiled Anglo-Saxon king.
In the 18th century, the Anchor Church Cave in the south of Derbyshire was used by local nobles as a party place, and is still officially believed to have been from the days of its existence.
But now archaeologists believe the cave house may be 1,200 years old, probably home to Eardwulf, who was overthrown as King of Northumbria in 806 AD and died in 830 AD.
Edmund Simons, the project’s principal investigator, grew up in an area surrounded by cave houses. “They are very difficult to understand and date, and I have been fascinated by them all my life,” he said.
He usually works abroad, but due to the inability to travel in the last year, he decided to “pamper himself and put together a project to understand what the hell it is.” The project is looking at 170 sites, but this is the Anchor Church Cave, where “everything just came together in a way that never happens,” Simons said.
The 2nd degree cave house is listed as a natural cave expanded in the 18th century. But it can’t be, ”Simons said. “This is not a natural cave, I cannot imagine a natural process that creates walls, doors and windows, let alone pillars.” Everything in the cave – the narrowness of the windows, for example – indicated Saxon architecture.
The team of scientists believes the caves were modified in the 18th century, including widening the holes to allow well-dressed women to pass through.
One local legend links the site to St. Hardulf, formerly King Eardwulf, and Simons believes this to be true. He is convinced that Eardwulf lived there as a hermit, where his enemies could follow him, in caves that were built or expanded to accommodate him.
The word “hermit” can conjure up images of a ragged, bearded old man eating nuts and fruits alone. In fact, Simons said, “this is someone who would have disciples with him and would be revered as a saint, perhaps as a saint during his lifetime. He no longer has his own large banquet hall. “
Hardulf was buried at Bridon on a hill in Leicestershire near these caves.
According to Simons, this discovery makes it “probably the oldest surviving interior decoration in the UK.” “We’ve had churches since then, but we don’t have anywhere where people slept, ate, prayed and the like. Here we have it. It is wonderful”.
Simons said that the cave dwellings have often been ignored by historians, but they “may be the only intact residential buildings that have survived from the Saxon period. So far, this project has identified more than 20 other locations in the West Midlands that may date back to the fifth century. ”
The team believes the caves were changed in the 18th century when Sir Robert Burdette “adapted them so that he and his friends could dine in his cool and romantic chambers.” This included widening the holes through which well-dressed ladies could pass.
Simons led a team of archaeologists from the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) and Wessex Archeology. The findings are documented in a study published in the Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society.