A piece of Bristol's history is hidden in the sandstone cliffs behind the warehouses at the edge of the Floating Harbour. History has it that these caves were excavated both for the sand which was used in the Bristol glass industry, and for ballast for ships. The caves were extended and used in the Napoleonic Wars as prisons for prisoners of war. The rings in the roof are not for attaching the shackles of prisoners as one is often led to believe, but to casry electric cables, for these caves have been used intermittently as warehouses, and as air raid shelters during the last war.
The caves consist of man-made passages, excavated without any order or symmetry. They have a practically constant floor level and roof height, with irregularly spaced and undercut pillars. This gives the impression of a complex maze.
The caves are lit by hurricane lamps placed at strategic intervals throughout the cave. The conducted tour is organised by an employee of the corporation who is fully conversant with the history and layout of the caves, so there is no chance of getting lost.
The expedition makes a fascinating evening's entertainment for the whole family. Individual persons are not taken down, and parties should be organised on a group basis, application being made to the address above well in advance.
It will be appreciated that the guides are giving up their valuable free time to escort visitors, and it is therefore customary for a collection to be made at the end of the tour. This is a very worth-while excursion from both the historical point of view and to appreciate some of the devious uses man has found for caves.
Text from: Tony and Anne Oldham (1972): Discovering Caves - A guide to the Show Caves of Britain. With kind permission by Tony Oldham.