Downton Abbey meets the Flintstones: England’s Abandoned Rock Houses

By

25th Jun, 2013

Holy Austin Rock, Kinver, Staffordshire

I don’t watch Downton Abbey, but if it were set inside houses like these, I think I probably would! Welcome to Holy Austin Rock in Staffordshire, England. These medieval cave houses carved from sandstone were abandoned by the last residents in the 1960s, but people were living happily inside them for over three centuries before that, possibly even earlier.

(c) Gethin Thomas

Holy Austin Rock, Kinver, Staffordshire

Today the National Trust has faithfully restored the houses belonging to the last near dozen families that lived in the community, using early photographs, postcards and records to re-create what the houses would have been like in the late Victorian-era.

Kinver Edge Holy Austin Rock, around the 1890s via here

The first official records of the Rock Houses appears in an 18th century book with a very long-winded tite, ‘Letters on the Beauties of Hagley, Envil and The Leasowes with critical remarks and Observations on the Modern Taste in Gardening‘ by Joseph Healey. In the book, Joseph gets caught in a thunderstorm when he finds the cave homes and asks to take shelter. He describes the homes as well-furnished,  “curious, warm and commodious and the garden extremely pretty”.  Joseph also notes that the residents had access to water and were extremely welcoming, and proud of their homes, delighted even to recount the stories of their ancestors who had built them.

Holy Austin Rock House - Kinver Edge - Staffordshire

(c) Nick Garrod

With stunning views over the woodland from the rosy sandstone ridge, these white-washed houses are something out of a storybook. In fact, the Britain Explorer website believes they might just be part of a vert well-known storybook published in 1937, The Hobbit.

Britain Explorer recalls the opening line of Tolkein’s book:

“The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors.”

Cave House

(c) El Bingle

The English author “was famously reluctant to name the places that inspired his stories”, notes Britain Explorer, “There are so many similarities between the 18th Century Holy Austin Rock Houses and Tolkien’s description of the Hobbit holes that it becomes an obvious assumption that he must have seen or read about these remarkable dwellings.”

Being the last occupied troglodyte dwellings in Britain, Holy Austin rock has been an off-beat tourist attraction since Edwardian times. Residents would welcome visitors and serve refreshments like an unofficial café, right in their living room or in their front gardens with views of the English countryside.

(c) Beautiful England

Sadly, there are no cave dwellers to welcome tourists today. A single cafe remained open until 1967, by which time all other families had moved away and their homes had already begun to decay. The majority of residents left their homes between 1900 and 1935 to find work in cities following several years of an economic crises in the area which halted the local ironworks production.

Graffiti taggers and local teenagers made their mark on the empty caves until 1968, when they were sealed off, deemed a safety hazard and a seemingly forgotten by England. Over 20 years later, funds were made available by the National Trust to embark on an ambition restoration project as the caves were declared a national treasure.

There is one resident however who never left the caves of holy austin rock: the Lesser Horshoe Bat. According to Britain Explorer, some of the caves have been colonised by the rare species which has been declining in recent years but found a new home in the sandstone dwellings. But fear not (unless of course you have a deathly fear of bats), because their habitat is being carefully protected alongside continued restoration of the nearby houses.

Holy Austin Rock Houses

(c) Andrew Boxall 

Sources & images: Britain Explorer, Beautiful England, History of Things to Come, Flickr via Kateoplis

:::

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

.

 

You Might Also Like

Comments

More in Don't Be A TouristLost & FoundNostalgiaOff-Beat & Little KnownTime travel

Hot Off the Press

Editor's Picks

SONY DSC

10 of the Most Fantastical Burning Man Creations

This week, an otherworldly gathering in the desert is taking place in the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada. A celebration of life, earth and all the incredible things we're capable of building and...

Trending 5,133
johnies

Hollywood Ghost Diner

I've been on the lookout for a truly authentic 1950s diner since I arrived in California. I finally found it, driving down Wilshire Boulevard and screeching to a halt as soon as I locked eyes o...

Trending 6,114
featureclub

My LA Boogie Nights Bar

After 24 hours in the city of Angels, I had yet to find the perfect LA hangout I was looking for. I have this romantic vision of Angelinos hanging out on seventies lawn chairs in their backyards wi...

Trending 3,146
phantomlake

Unmasking the Parisian Phantom of the Opera

What if I told you there is a lake under the Paris Opera House, just like in The Phantom of the Opera? Down, down, down, deep underneath the Garnier Opera in a dingy room with a square-shaped hol...

Trending 16,555
mecaniquefeature

The San Francisco Antique Playground

This might sound odd, but I'm not really a museum buff. I generally find that if something is behind a barrier or kept in a glass box where I can't pick it up or touch it, I won't linger very long i...

Trending 4,263
featurebyron

Trespassing Hotel California

We heard a rumour that there was an abandoned 1930s hot springs resort hotel on the road to San Francisco, that may or may not still be there. Of course I had to go see for myself. We pulled up to t...

Trending 14,995