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Strange Rock Houses Of Old England

By James Donahue

Nobody knows who built them or when they were constructed, but there exist the remains of numerous ancient houses cut from the sandstone cliffs near the town of Kinver, located in the heart of England.

Once dubbed The Rock Houses of Kinver Edge, the homes were said to have been cut into the solid rock where their occupants lived comfortably in an almost unknown rural setting, in what was once a great forest.

It was such a unique concept for living that once discovered, the Rock Houses became a major tourist attraction after a tramway was constructed linking Kinver to Stourbridge in 1901. Some believe British author J.R.R. Tolkien got his inspiration for his novel, The Hobbit, at Kinver Edge.

Progress and change happened in England as was inevitable. When the iron-age came along, at least two iron mills began operations in Kinver. But when hard economic times came the Whittington Forge and Ironworks closed in 1879, followed by The Hyde in 1888. Most of the people who worked at these plants moved on. By 1935 the unique blocks of ancient rock houses at Kinver and neighboring areas of Bridgnorth and Nesscliffe Hille in nearby Shropshire were all abandoned and over the years they fell into ruin.

Some of the homes were stripped for building materials. By the 1960s they were described as no more than square shaped caves that became hangouts for teenagers to hold secret drinking parties. Some of the caves were declared unsafe so the government sealed them in 1968 to protect the public.

Since 1990, however, a major restoration project has begun after the Kinver Edge Rock Houses were determined to be of great international historical significance. The team of volunteers working on the homes is using old photographs, copies of postcards depicting the way the houses originally looked, and drawing from memories of local residents that witnessed or actually occupied the homes. Many of the homes have been restored to appear as they may have looked during the Victorian period. There are plans to restore additional homes. The site has become a popular tourist attraction once more.

The origins of this place appear to be very old. Some local historians believe that the first dug caves for occupation may date back to at least 200 BC when the Romans occupied the area. The ruins of a Roman era fort is located on a hill about 150 meters along the same stone ridge.

Historical accounts suggest the rock houses were in existence as early as 790 AD. The nearby community of Kinver was then known as Cynibre, an old name that meant Royal Hill. Historians believe the town existed under the rule of the old Anglo-Saxon kings who pre-dated the Roman rule.

After the Norman conquest of England, the town became known as Chenevare, a name that means Great Ridge. The great forest that surrounded the village was a favorite attraction for hunters. Gradually much of the land was cleared for farming and a road through Kinver became a main route from Bristol to Chester. By 1650 the village was growing in size. One enterprize was quarrying rock from the nearby cliffs. Some believe the early occupants of the rock houses were in some way linked to the people who worked in the quarries.

The first written record of the Rock Houses can be found in The first formal record of the Rock Houses of Kinver Edge appears in a book written in 1777 by Joseph Healey titled 'Letters on the Beauties of Hagley, Envil and The Leasowes with critical remarks and Observations on the Modern Taste in Gardening.' In the book Healey tells how he got caught in a thunderstorm and sought shelter in one of the rock houses after observing smoke coming from a chimney. He wrote that he was surprised at how well furnished and comfortable the home was. He said the occupants told how they had labored to build them.

This suggests that the construction of the rock houses may have been going on for years, or possibly the occupants were turning pre-cut caves into homes by 1777.

A later survey found six families living in the houses in 1830. Later census records show that the houses were handed down to descendents, thus keeping them in the family for years.

Photographs from this later period show that the homes had built in cooking ranges and solid chimney flues carved into the stone walls.