Site Records

SiteName: Barons' Cave

Reigate Castle
Reigate, Surrey

Sub Brit site visit July 1990

[Source: Peter Burgess]

The Castle

The Barons' Cave is part of Reigate Castle, which was probably built by the second earl of Surrey, William de Warrenne, soon after 1088. This castle consisted of a central mound surrounded by a dry moat, with timber buildings and defences on the mound, or motte. In the 12th or 13th century, the timber structures were replaced with stone ones. The castle was extended to the north and east by the creation of the outer ward, or outer bailey, the original mound being the inner bailey. This new addition to the castle was protected by a new wet moat, part of which survives, and by an extension of the existing dry moat.

The castle was briefly held by Louis the French Dauphin in 1216, on his march from Kent to Winchester. The castle became the property of Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, in 1347, and from 1397 was owned by a variety of Lords of the Manor of Reigate, including the influential Howard family. It was occupied until the 16th century, but began to fall into disrepair thereafter.

During the time of Oliver Cromwell, the castle was briefly garrisoned by followers of a Royalist uprising in 1648, and then by parliamentary troops after the insurrection had been put down. There was no fighting at the castle, it was just a convenient camp for the troops. None of the original castle buildings have survived, with the exception of The Barons' Cave.

Upper entyrance on the castle mound
Photo:The upper entrance on the castle mound
Photo by Nick Catford

The Cave

Nobody knows how old The Barons' Cave is. The oldest reference to it dates from 1586 when Camden describes "an extraordinary passage with a vaulted roof hewn with great labour out of the soft stone." Doors and windows with a similar profile to the cave passages were being built from about 1200 onwards, but we must be careful before drawing any conclusions from this. Nobody is really sure why the cave was dug. It has been made with great care - this can be seen in the way that the roof is so uniform and smooth. Where sand diggers have been at work, the walls are much rougher.

Looking towards the lower entrance that was still blocked in 1990
Photo:Looking towards the lower entrance which was still blocked in 1990
Photo by Nick Catford

The cave is in three sections. There is a passage which runs straight through from the centre of the castle mound to the bottom of the dry moat. At the top end this is lined with Reigate stone, and it emerges via a chamber roofed with brick vaulting, into the centre of the castle grounds, under a stone pyramid. Bricks were not widely used in England until the 14th century, so the brickwork at the top of the cave cannot date from a period earlier than this. Near the bottom entrance, a short flight of steps drops down into a long and tall curving passage, which ends suddenly in a solid wall. A curious stone bench has been built around the base of the wall at this point.

The long curving passage
Photo:The long curving passage
Photo by Nick Catford


The end of the long passage with the bench and much graffiti
Photo:The end of the long passage with the bench and much graffiti
Photo by Nick Catford

Further information and pictures about this site continues here

[Source: Peter Burgess]

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