Philp's Cave

Windmill Hill Cave - Brixham Cavern - Brixham Bone Cave

Useful Information

Location: Brixham, Torbay, South Devon.
At the top of Windmill Hill, in the basement of No. 107 Mount Pleasant Road.
(50.394080, -3.514273)
Open: closed for the public.
Fee: closed.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave Devonian limestone
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=96 m, VR=30 m.
Guided tours: L=37 m, D=15 min.
Bibliography: Eric Delderfield: The Brixham Cavern.
English Heritage (1993): The scheduling of Windmill Hill Cave, Brixham - Devon (Brixham Cavern), William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust Newsletter nr.67 / Dec 1993: 16-20 (map).
Wm. Pengelly, George Busk, John Evans, Joseph Prestwich (1873): Report on the Exploration of Brixham Cave, Conducted by a Committee of the Geological Society, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 163, pp. 471–572, Royal Society of London. webarchive
Patrick Boylan (2008): The 1858 Discovery and Excavation of the Brixham Bone Cave, Devon, Studies in Speleology, vol. 16, pp. 1-12. researchgate
Address: Philp's Cave, Mr. Winifred Slack, 107 Mount Pleasant Road, Brixham TQ5 9RU, Devon, Tel: +44-1803-857391.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


15-JAN-1858 discovered by Mr John Lane Philp, a builder, in the course of erecting a terrace of houses in Mount Pleasant Road.
1858-60 excavation of Philp's Cave by William Pengelly.
1977 show cave closed because of 'insurance issues'.
30-JAN-1992 scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act.


Philp's Cave was discovered by Mr. John Lane Philp and named after him. He was erecting a terrace of houses on ground he bought for this purpose in Mount Pleasant Road. During the works, a pickaxe disappeared into a hole in the ground. The search for the tool revealed an underlying cave. When the cave was entered for the first time, it was completely undisturbed because it was sealed at both ends and thus not accecible for a very long time. How long this time must have been proved the fact, that the stalagmite floor was found to be intact.

This was an extremeley important find at this time, so William Pengelly (*1812-✝1894) tried to lease the cave from Mr Philp. A committee of the Geological Society of London was set up, chaired by Dr. Falconer and numbering Sir Charles Lyell, Professor Owen, Joseph Prestwich, Professor Ramsay and William Pengelly among its members. They obtained a grant of GBP 100 from the Royal Society, leased the cave and begun in May 1858 with the excavations.

During this excavation, William Pengelly developed several important techniques of modern archaeology, like the introduction of a grid system which ensured that every artifacts was permanently recorded in its rightful position. A second novum was, that the dig should follow the lines of the strata.

Windmill Hill Cave has been entered in the schedule of monuments compiled and maintained by the Secretary of State for the Environment under Section 1 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. Although it has been open to the public most of the 20th century, it is not open at the moment. Plans to reopen the cave 20 years ago were never carried out.

This cave is five minutes walk from the picturesque harbour of Brixham. In 1858 a Mr. Philp purchased the land where the cave is, to work it as a limestone quarry. During the course of excavation, the cave was uncovered. As soon as he was able Mr. Philp squeezed down into the cave, and found a large reindeer antler. This excited considerable interest in archaeological circles, and great care was taken by experts to excavate the cave. The bones of cave bear, red deer, hyena, wolf, fox, hare, rabbit, oxen and horse were discovered. Some of the bones had been split to remove the marrow, and this fact, coupled with the finding of flint implements, suggests that prehistoric man also knew of the cave. It is unlikely, however, that he lived in the cave which can be seen today, as the visitor will appreciate, but it is thought that today's cave is the remains of a much larger cave.

Visitors are permitted to wander round the cave without a guide. The cave is prettily decorated, and the visit is made even more pleasurable by the friendly attitude of the lessees, who are never too busy to answer questions put to them by their younger visitors, and to foster their interest.

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