Site Records

SiteName: Barons' Cave

Reigate Castle
Reigate, Surrey

Sub Brit site visit July 1990

[Source: Peter Burgess]

Photo:1799 - One of many dates in the long passage
Photo by Nick Catford

Further up the cave, below the flight of steps to the upper entrance, is another side passage, which has a totally different appearance from the rest of the cave. This section is believed to have been dug in the 19th century by sand diggers, who were also active elsewhere in Reigate at that time. Throughout the cave, the work of sand diggers can be seen. Many alcoves have been dug into the otherwise well-shaped walls.

The walls of the cave have attracted graffiti artists. Apart from the many initials, names and dates from 1644 onwards, a number of other carvings have been made. The most notable of these are a series of large heads, each one different, and possibly meant to depict real people. There are also a number of horses' heads and a bull's head to be found in the cave.

Photo:Two of the large heads
Photo by Nick Catford

The cave has a long history as a local curiosity. The earliest account of guided tours found so far dates from 1860, when a lady from a nearby cottage had to be summoned to conduct curious visitors around the cave. Visits continued until the 1970s, the Castle Grounds' gardener acting as guide. In 1991 the Wealden Cave and Mine Society re-opened the caves f or the public after a period of restoration.

There have been many ideas put forward to explain why the cave was dug. It is very unlikely that it was the castle dungeon. The quality of workmanship also rules out the idea that it was just the castle cellar, or a sand mine. The through passage could have been dug as a sally port, which is an escape tunnel to allow the besieged inhabitants to surprise their attackers, or to escape unnoticed. This does not explain why the large side passage was dug.

Photo:The bottom of the steps in the main passage
Photo by Nick Catford

The effort and skill used to dig The Barons' Cave, and the size of its galleries, suggest that it was a special and important feature of the castle. The story which gave rise to the name "Barons' Cave" is that the barons met there to draw up the Magna Charta in 1215, before making King John sign it. Unfortunately, this is a romantic story that is certainly not true. Equally unlikely are the rumours of tunnels that go from the castle to Reigate Priory, and to Blechingley and Betchworth Castles.

In the 18th century, the Castle Grounds were "tidied up"; the mock gateway was built, and the remains of the curtain wall disappeared from the inner bailey. It may be that it was at this time that the caves were opened up for curious visitors, as there are very few dates to be found in the cave from before 1770.

Photo:Looking down the main passasge towards the lower entrance
Photo by Nick Catford

Further information and pictures about this site continues here

[Source: Peter Burgess]

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