Going underground

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.

Kinver Edge I

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.

Kinver Edge II

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.

Kinver Edge III

and

Kinver Edge IV

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.

Troglotyes a la France

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.

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5 responses to “Going underground

  1. I’ve also seen the Saumur dwellings and it looks like the English ones are a lot prettier – very Mrs Tiggywinkle in fact. Perhaps Beatrix Potter was also inspired by Kinver Edge.

  2. Oh very interesting, Mme. Behn. I loved “our troglodyte village is prettier than their troglodyte village.” And the pictures made me remember how much I loved those stories of little people living in cozy hiding places. Thank you.

  3. This makes me want to live in a little cottage carved out of a cliff. Someplace else to put on my list of places I really need to visit.

  4. Thank you ladies. I hadn’t thought of Mrs Tiggywinkle, Charlotte, but you are quite right. I know that Beatrix Potter ended up in the Lake District, but I am not entirely sure how she got there.

    I’m glad you enjoyed, Lily. I suspect they weren’t as cosy as I make them sound – my house is damp in the winter and it’s uncomfortable at times. Having to have a fire every single day would be an additional labour in a laborious life.

    Do say what you think of them, if you do ever see them, healingmagichands.

    Thank you all for reading and writing.

    AB

  5. Just thought i would pop a little note here myself. Being from the West Midlands area, i have today been for a stroll around Kinver edge (if you can call 1 1/2 hours of hill climbing a stroll). The whole area in which these houses are situated is beautiful, tranquil and peaceful and yet very popular. You think when you first park your car that the place will be crowded but since the site is so large once you start to walk you get a feeling of solstice. The upper caves have, as you say decayed somewhat in recent years, I remeber as a child (just some 25 years ago) being taken to Kinver edge and exploring the caves, i was somewhat suprised today when i took my own children to the site of many happy memories to find how much of the upper caves had simply dissapeared. However my children had wonderful fun running in and out through small passageways deciding which room would have been used for what purpose.

    An area well worth a visit if you ever have the chance, i intend to return soon, i’m certainly not going to leave it another 25 years till i go again!

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