St. Clements Caves


Useful Information

Location: Hastings, Sussex. At the top of West Hill, near the Castle.
Open: Easter to Sep daily 10-17:30.
Oct to Easter Mon-Fri 10-15, Sat, Sun 10-16.
[2011]
Fee: Adults GBP 7.40, Children (6-16) GBP 5.40, Children (0-5) free, Students GBP 6.40, Senior (65+) GBP 6.40, Family (2+2) GBP 23.60.
[2011]
Classification:  Tectonic cave  Fissure cave  Sand Mine |
Light: electric.
Dimension: L=800m, T=12°C
Guided tours: D=60min.
Photography:  
Accessibility:  
Bibliography: Anonymous (1960): There is a Cavern in the Town, The Inside Story of St. Clement's Caves, Hastings, published by Hastings Corporation. 19p
Address: Smugglers Adventure & 1066 Story, St Clements Caves, West Hill, Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 3HY, Tel: +44-1424-422964, Fax: +44-1424-721483. E-mail: contact
Last update:$Date: 2013/04/25 23:00:23 $

History

 
1786first written reference, an old couple described as living in the caves after being discharged from the workhouse for bad behaviour.
1812closed as certain elements were using them for "gambling and horseplay".
1825rediscovered by Joseph Golding who wanted to create a seat in a West Hill garden.
1827opened to the public by Joseph Golding with a candle-lit exhibition and guided tours.
1864visited by the Prince and Princess of Wales.
1873visited by Prince Albert and Prince George Frederick.
1940used as air raid shelter.
1946Hastings Borough Council granted £1,000 to convert the caves to a dance hall.
1975ships' figure heads were discovered concealed in the caves.
1989opened as a tourist attraction, telling the story of South Coast smuggling.

Description

St. Clements Caves are named after the nearby parish church St. Clements. They first were natural fissure caves in the sandstone rock, but later they were enlarged by excavation.

Since 1989 St Clements Caves is the location of a very British type of museum, a combination of wax museum with life sized figures, dramatic lighting and eerie sounds. It tells the story of smuggling in Hastings 200 years ago.

These caves are both natural and man-made. Originally there was a series of fissures made by earth movements which were subsequently enarged by man who had a use for the soft white sandstone. They have a rather interesting history. Certainly they were excavated before the end of the eighteenth century, for in 1812 they were closed, as certain elements in the town were using them for "gambling and horseplay". They were forgotten for many years, until a Mr Scott, who owned the land on which the caves were, was excavating a site for a garden seat. Suddenly his pickaxe disappeared and the caves had been rediscovered.

Mr Scott opened the caves to the public, and later they passed into the hands of one of his employees a Mr Golding. He excavated a new passage as a means of entry to the caves and also made a new exit.

These caves are very spacious and well ventilated. During the war they were used as an air-raid shelter, and harboured up to 500 people at a time.

One of the most fascinating aspects of these caves is the way in which they have been lit with coloured lights, to give a most eerie effect. It is suspected that the caves were once the haunt of smugglers, and creeping silently along these mysterious sandy passages, with their strange lighting, one would not be surprised to come across a long forgotten hoard of contraband.

In parts of the caves, hidden in niches and alcoves, are a series of carvings of historical figures and animals. Of special interest are the Dordogne type reindeer, but needless to say these are quite modern. Certainly the rock is soft enough to make it easily worked by a sculptor.

The caves are very popular amongst the local people, for apart from the underground restaurant, the main hall is used as a ballroom, and now the caves echo to the beat of modern pop groups, when once it might have been the muflled voices of smugglers.


Text from: Tony and Anne Oldham (1972): Discovering Caves - A guide to the Show Caves of Britain. With kind permission by Tony Oldham.


See also


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