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
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.