Banwell Bone Caves

Banwell Caves

Useful Information

Location: Banwell, nr Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset BS29 6 NA. Zone B. Signposted off A371 to Weston.
Open: Two or three times a year.
25-MAY-2008 14-16:30.
22-JUN-2008 14-16:30.
03-AUG-2008 14-16:30.
13-SEP-2008, 14-SEP-2008 10:30-16:30.
Fee: free, donations welcome.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: electric.
Guided tours:  
Bibliography: Andrew Currant, Roger Jacobi (2001): A formal mammalian biostratigraphy for the Late Pleistocene of Britain, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 20, Issues 16-17, October-November 2001, Pages 1707-1716, European Quaternary Biostratigraphy
Address: Banwell Bone Caves & Tower, Banwell, Weston-super-Mare29 6NA, Tel: +44-193-4820516.
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.


1824 bone cave discovered.
1827 cottage built.
1840 closed as a show cave.
1963 notified as a geological and biological Site of Special Scientific Interest.


Banwell's Bone Caves were once more visited than nearby Cheddar Caves, which are now the famous show caves of the area. The caves are located on private property on the western end of Banwell hill, a property once owned by Dr George Henry Law, Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells, and lord of the manor of Banwell. He and the then vicar of Banwell, Dr Randolph, needed funds for a charity school which had just been opened in Banwell, and they had the idea to use the fees of guided tours into the cave for this purpose. Bishop Law developed the site, near the entrance to the caves he erected some stones similar to a druidical circle and he laid out the park. The cottage, built in 1827, was used to accommodate distinguished guests.

The farmer William Beard from Banwell was self-educated and had read about the discovery of prehistoric animals' remains in various parts of Great Britain. It was the era of Professor Buckland from Oxford, who talked about the bones of extinct animals which were used to explore the story of life on Earth. At this time, the general theory about bones in caves was that they were of diluvial origin, meaning they were the result of the flood descrobed in the Bible. Buckland now had the idea that the bones could be the result of natural processes and tell us about the situation many thousand years ago.

At that time the area was mined for lead on various locations. William Beard had heard lead-miners talking of a huge cavern they had struck on Banwell hill, and guessed it could be of importance. John Webb, an old miner, showed him the spot where the shaft had been sunk many years before. William Beard and the miner Colman removed some 35m of debris and discovered a natural cave.

The newly discovered cave was a huge chamber, 35m long, 10m high and 20m wide. It contained fine speleothems, stalactites and stalagmites, with a floor of huge rocks covered by stalagmites, which was called Stalactite Cave. The Bishop and the vicar, planning a show cave, saw the need of an easier access. A fissure lower down the hill, which ran in the direction of the cave, was explored. After some excavations the fissure widened and opened into another cave. This one was even more extraordinary than the first one: it contained bones, the reason why William Beard originally started his search. The floor was covered by more than a metre of bones of prehistoric animals, so the cave was named Banwell Bone Cave.

The discovery became a national sensation, mainly because of the skull of a great cave lion, which was said to be the best specimen ever found in Britain. As typical for the era the bones were sorted and stacked neatly against the wall of the cave. The finest specimens were removed by Beard who became the official guide. He received the parties when they arrived, guided them through Bone Cavern explaining how the discovery was made. Then he proceeded to the Stalactite Cavern which was reached down a crude flight of steps. Highlight was a huge stalagmite known as The Bishop's Chair, which resembled the ancient stone crowning chair at Winchester Cathedral. Returning from the cave the parties rested at the summer house, then walked across the hill to Winthill, to the cottage of Beard. Here he had collections of speleothems and bones. The massive cabinets also contained bones from the Hutton, Sandford and Uphill caves, which Beard had also explored.

After the discovery of the caves, Beard read every line available about palaeontology. He became remarkably informed and so after some time the Bishop started to call him Professor. This title sticked, although Beard never visited university. Beard became almost a national personality, obviously because he guided many distinguished visitors into the caves.