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However, short extracts from it may be used, for non-commercial purposes, provided their source is fully cited, acknowledged and referenced as:
Bonner, A. (1938) The Chislehurst Cave Myth. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 7 Number 23: pp32-34. Leeds: YRC.

The Chislehurst Cave Myth

By Arthur Bonner, F.S.A.

Reprinted by the courtesy of the Editor of " The Times."

[See Baker's Caving, Chap. V. As an antiquarian Mr. Bonner is well known as the principal author of The Place-Names of Surrey, but best known to us as once an active member of the Club, and as having a wide acquaintance with dene-holes and other chalk workings. Dene-holes (draw-wells) he has restored from legend to science.

The Times in March, 1937, published an account of a descent into old workings at St. Mary Cray (Kent). " No indication that they have been entered since Roman times, when the Druids were driven out," It was suggested the workings were similar to and connected with the Chislehurst Caves where were " 30 miles of explored passages, hewn out of the chalk with deer antlers, the marks clearly visible." There was also a reference to an Elizabethan villa at Chislehurst with a spiral passage to the caves.

The caving world, long familiar with the advertisements of under­ground Druidical marvels, was hugely amused when, two days later, the distinguished anthropologist. Sir Arthur Keith, who has probably never heard of Baker's Caving, wrote to The Times that " of all the great prehistoric works of our country none has been so neglected by archaeologists as the caves of North Kent.—The great circle at Avebury compels us to marvel over the labour that its erection involved, but the evidence of prehistoric toil at Chislehurst is much greater than that to be seen at Avebury." He asked for information.

This was very hard on the archaeologists after all the work which has been put in on genuine sites in Kent, so the reply was as follows, 12th March, 1937-—Editor.]

Sir,—I respond to Sir Arthur Keith's inquiries in your issue of March 6th. From 1909 until 1924 I was investigating the caves and mines in the chalk in south-east England, from Bedfordshire to the South Coast, with special reference to Kentish deneholes and Chislehurst caves. I examined several hundreds of the denehole type and various examples of the more extensive excavations, and I acquired a mass of relative evidence which I still hope to publish.

Chislehurst caves I had known since 1905. In 1921 I, with assistants, completed a survey of the caves which in part had been made by a mining engineer whose partial plan was published in the British Archceological Association Journal for 1904. The caves were discussed in that Journal in 1904 and 1908.

In 1907-08 an energetic investigator, the Rev. J. W. Hayes, of West Thurrock, met with important facts which demonstra­ted a recent date for these workings, which he set forth in a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Volume 39, 1909—facts which I have been able to supplement. Mr. G. W. Miller, the careful local historian, in the " History of Chislehurst " and some later writings, has contributed further facts of a like character.

From these sources I quote the following data :— A local deed of 1737 mentions " the chalk cave " at this spot. Nothing further appears until 1830, when the caves were leased to a limeburner, who sold lime and chalk and supplied gunflints to the Government (I and others found many gunflints in the heaps of flint-chips which lay on the floor of the " inner series " of workings before the War). The caves were then in active working, and about 1840 five limekilns were in regular use, and chalk was also sold to farmers for land-manuring. From the " middle " and " outer" series of workings the chalk was raised through a shaft in each, by winch, and part of the machinery was existing in this century. These two series probably were worked out by about 1850. The " inner or remote " workings had no shaft, as the chalk was trolleyed out on the level to the face of the cliff on the south of the present entrance. This series was in operation until 1855-60, when a succession of heavy roof-falls blocked the headings to such an extent that it was decided to relinquish the mines. These roof-falls are still in evidence at the west end of these workings a little way in from the cliff, and are shown on the plan.

The Ordnance Survey, 25 in., of 1862-63, describes the place as " chalk pit " and marks " engine house " and two kilns remaining then.

In 19211 showed the caves to two of His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines, in a friendly and unofficial way. They were unaware of the facts given above. They dated the workings, by the methods which they promptly identified, as nineteenth century, with features introduced in 1830 and later ; and they were amused at the idea of antiquity for them.

The conclusion is clear—that the caves are chalk mines and show no early date ; and, incidentally, that the so-called " deerhorn " pick marks are fanciful.

There are chalk mines still working at Wickham Lane brick and tile works near Plumstead, and three or four others near there were in active work within this century—all within a few miles of Chislehurst ; and close by was one under Camden Park, working last century. At Totternhoe, Beds., there are several in the lower chalk, disused and closed; one of them was opened by the Government for a few days in 1915, and I went through its lengthy passages, which had seen active work some 50 years ago ; others were of earlier date and provided clunch (hard chalk) for twelfth-thirteenth century churches.

The length of the passages in Chislehurst caves has been greatly exaggerated. I and my colleagues measured every yard and crawled over or along the heaps of debris in choky passages. The actual length is about 3I miles, to which the fully choked up passages, if measured to the nearest property limit line, might add as much as if mile. The spiral ascent from the "middle series" ends, almost vertically above its start, in the garden of Woodlands, a Victorian (and not an Elizabethan) house ; and it was made about 1860 by G. H. Baskcomb, proprietor of brick and tile works, who then owned part of the caves and of the land above. The so-called " Roman " well was made by him about 1864.

Your correspondent of March 4th errs in his direction. St. Mary Cray is not north of Chislehurst caves but south-east ; and as all of the passages on the south-east side of the caves come to a natural end (virgin chalk) there can be no connexion.

Yours, &c,

Arthur Bonner.

[Kent Mushrooms, Ltd., who now occupy the " remote " series, has cut a new entrance tunnel crossing the workings cut off by the roof falls of 1855-60. A liberal estimate of total lengths is now a possible six miles.]