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Did Anglo-Saxons live in Cave Homes? - An introduction

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

I thought that early Britain’s had stopped living in caves by the time of the Anglo-Saxons. Instead, they were living in wooden abodes or the left-over remnants from the rule of the Romans. Turns out though, I was very wrong! ‘How so?’ I hear you ask in shocked whisper at your screen of choice. Fear not dear reader of these words, for I shall tell you. Right now! But first an advert.

Okay, I lied before. But it will be right now. Promise.

The Ex-King who lived in a Cave

A Cave house is a cave in which people lived. The confusing thing is, even though it is a cave, it’s entirely different to your bog standard cave that hunter gatherers would have sheltered in during the Stone Age. What makes an ordinary cave a cave house is the fact that doors, pillars and rooms are carved into the wall to make it a more pleasant environment. And the surprising thing is, that there’s loads of these caves houses all over Britain. Why don’t we hear about them? Because few archaeologists have taken the time to investigate them. That is until man of wonder Edmund Simons embarked on an epic mission to do just that.

Bored and stuck at home during lockdown, Edmund decided to explore the many cave houses dotted around the place. “I’ve been fascinated by them all my life,” Edmund told the Guardian newspaper “I remember falling off one when I was three.” That premature plummet didn’t put toddler Edmund off cave houses thankfully. Indeed, adult Edmund is now leading a project investigating 170 of the things. See, I told you there were loads of ‘em.

Anchor Church Cave. Courtesy Royal Agricultural University

Edmund’s latest archaeological discovery involves Anchor Church Cave, a cave house located in the county of Derbyshire. Anchor Church Cave used to be considered a natural cave that was later customised and enlarged in the 18th Century, but, according to our pal Edmund, that is total tosh. Edmund again: “It’s not a natural cave, I can’t think of a natural process that makes walls, doors and windows, let alone pillars.”. So, if it’s not a natural cave, then what is it?

Well, after examining the architecture – the windows, doorways, walls and floors – Edmund and his team believe that the cave was carved by the Anglo-Saxons to be a cave house. Edmund’s theory is that it was the home of Saint Hurdulph. Before becoming a saint, Hardulph was previously known as the King of Northumbria, King Eardwulf. Unfortunately for Eardwulf, his was reign was cancelled by the invasion of the Vikings and their Great Army, forcing the erstwhile King to surrender his crown and go be a hermit instead.

But don’t worry about Eardwulf/Hardulph, being a hermit wasn’t so bad. “This is somebody who would have had disciples with him and would have been revered as holy, probably as a saint in his own lifetime.” Edmund explained to The Guardian, “He doesn’t have his great feasting hall any more but it is quite a nice gaff.”

Anchor Church Cave. Courtesy Royal Agricultural University

The true nature of the Anchor Church Cave is a phenomenal discovery. Says Edward: it’s “probably the oldest intact domestic interior in the UK. We have churches from this kind of date but we haven’t got anywhere where people slept and ate and prayed, all that kind of thing. Here, we’ve got one. It is quite remarkable.”

Normally when archaeologists uncover the remains of Anglo-Saxon homes they are no longer intact. That’s because they were made from wood and have long since rotten away, leaving behind only a few foundations and the occasional spoon. But with a cave house, archaeologists have access to an entirely intact Saxon home.

What next for Edmund and his team then? Well, the “project has so far identified more than 20 other sites in the West Midlands that could date from as early as the fifth century.” So there’s plenty of opportunity for Team Edmund to have loads more brilliant historical discoveries. And don’t worry about missing any of them as we’ll let you know all about the best bits, right here on the Imagining History Blog.

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