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Royston cave and related caverns

Bob Trubshaw

The Mercian Mysteries field trip to Royston cave last summer has generated considerable interest from several readers. At the same time, new information regarding Royston cave and related structures elsewhere has been published in a book entitled Royston cave - used by saints or sinners [1]. The author, Sylvia P. Beamon has been researching Royston cave for over 25 years and has already published a number of articles and booklets about the place. I am very grateful to Mrs Beamon for permission to quote extensively from her book and, furthermore, for a latest update on archaeological activities in Royston.

The title of her book reflects the main content, which is to argue that Royston cave was used as an oratory or chapel by the Knights Templars, who had a number of preceptories and houses in the immediate area and owned property in Royston. What is not clear, however, is whether the Templar rituals were truly christian.

Of particular interest is Mrs Beamon's comparison of Royston Cave with the very few man-made underground structures which can be considered similar in shape and size. Indeed, Royston Cave seems to have only one parallel. In an obscure German ancient mysteries magazine, Germanien, of 1935 there is a description of 'bottle-shaped cave in the Burgstein, by the village of Svojkov'. This is about 5 miles north-north-east of Ceska Lipa in central Czechoslovakia. However, until the very recent opening up of frontiers with eastern Europe it has not been possible to check this statement.

Sylvia Beamon has visited the Svojkov cavern twice last August and provides the following description, augmented by information from Vasek Cilek in 1989:

'Just some 2 km from Svojkov is situated the most important "underground" castle in Bohemia, called Sloup, which has a bottle-shaped cavern with strange inscriptions which could be compared to Royston Cave. The castle lies in isolation 30 metres high and 100 metres long in the sandstone rock. This rock has had a long history of habitation since neolithic, bronze age and Hallstatt times. The castle was established during the end of the thirteenth century. Its history is complex. It was several times defeated, robbers lived there, etc.. During the sixteenth century the castle was abandoned. In 1639 Swedish soldiers burnt the castle. Between 1690-1785 hermits lived in several of its underground rooms. They even had an underground washroom.

'The bottle-shaped cave is a former prison built in the thirteenth century or the beginning of the fourteenth century. In Britain we would call this an "oubliette". In 1699 a new "surface entrance" was made, before that the only way in was through the "neck of the bottle". The walls of this former prison, "then probably a hermit house" are covered by many symbols: small heads, crucifix, (?)sun symbols, etc.. In another underground room of the castle there are stone reliefs depicting a lion, lioness, frog, Cavalry, etc..'

In any early guide book for the site it was suggested that some of these carvings may have been made by the Templars, but this has been dropped from the latest edition.

Royston entrances

In Nigel Pennick's article in Mercian Mysteries No.15 he states that the cave in the Ceska Lipa region '. . . is very similar to that at Royston, even as far as having an entrance at the top and another cut during the eighteenth century for access by the curious.' Sylvia Beamon notes that, although the Czech cave was originally only entered at the top, this is not true for Royston. When the Royston cave was discovered in 1742 the opening at the top was non-existent and entry was by the northern entrance. However, the top was opened up to the surface some years later probably as an air vent. There is a second, eastern, shaft which was found 'bricked up' with clunch blocks but later reopened. The entrance in current use was constructed in 1790.

Other underground structures in Royston

Ground-probing radar has confirmed the work of two dowsers and the use of another electronic device. It seems there are two adjoining cavities in the centre of the crossroads of the Icknield Way and Ermine Street which, based on old photographs, are likely to be the cellars of former public houses. A tunnel seems to run under the crossroads too, which was expected (although denied by the Council Surveyor some years ago). It appears there there is an unaccounted chamber some 50 yards from the cave close to the new pedestrian crossing, almost in the centre of the road. It is anticipated to be some 11 feet in diameter and 18 feet deep. Mrs Beamon has obtained permission from the local council to use a drill and boroscope to locate the cavity.

Reference

1: Royston cave - used by saints or sinners, S.P. Beamon, Cortney Publications, hardback, A4, 336 pages, 111 illus., 10 colour plates, signed and numbered limited edition, 1993, 39.50.

Originally published in Mercian Mysteries No.18 February 1994.


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