Last weekend the one who takes me places took me to Kinver Edge in Staffordshire. It’s an odd and interesting place, now owned by the National Trust. There is a large hill formed out of sandstone; the sand was originally desert sand-dunes and the rock is friable. Friable, as in rub it with a finger-tip and it wears away. As a result, people lived in houses wormed into the rock right up until the 1960s.
These houses were cute as buttons, whitewashed, with doors and windows fitted into brick which was used to square-up the holes in the rock. They look like hobbit houses, apart from the lack of round windows and BBC radio speculated that they may have contributed to Tolkein’s vision of Middle Earth. The rooms were limewashed, and the damp was kept at bay because the families who lived there had fires going day and night. The houses were warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
The place is, as I said, now run by the National Trust, who have done a complete restoration of the lower houses. There were a total of 11 households and up to 40 people living in them. They were luxurious by 18th century standards, average by 19th century standards but primitive by 20th century standards and were condemned as unfit for human habitation after the Second World War. The last inhabitants were moved out in the 1960s. There is gas, but no running water, and no electricity. The wells broke when the water-table was lowered as a result of newer houses in the valley below.
You realise the extent of the work done by the National Trust and just how much the houses had decayed in the 40 years since they were last inhabited when you look at the places where there upper houses were.
I’m not really sure what to make of this. I rather wish I’d taken some interior photos to show you the tiled floor, white walls and ceilings, rag rugs, oil lamps, candles, tables and chairs, bed and eiderdown which the National Trust have put in place. They look very cosy. I wanted to go home and strip out three quarters of my posessions and put down rag rugs.
This is of course the familiar challenge between conservation, restoration and re-creation. On balance, I think that the National Trust have got it right, they’ve restored enough so that you get the idea, they’ve left enough un-restored for you to see how quickly the place will decay if not looked after.
It’s an interesting place, and it made me wonder why there are in fact so few troglodyte dwellings. I’d seen some about 20 years ago near Samaur in the Loire Valley in France. One can, it seems, now rent one of the Loire dwellings as a gite. The French troglodyte dwellings are not as pretty, or have not been restored as prettily.
Our Troglodyte Village is prettier than their Troglodyte Village.
Or maybe ours is just more restored; it was certainly inhabited more recently. And maybe the answer to why there were so few of them is that there weren’t that few, but they decay very fast indeed.
Anyway, not very thoughtful today but hopefully interesting, and both sets are well worth visiting, if you are near them.