East Stonehouse,
The Devon Karst Research Society.

The Society's Homepages for the
Battery Hill, East Stonehouse, Plymouth, Devon, England, U.K.

Text and images throughout the Stonehouse Pages is by B. Lewarne, Honorary Science Officer.
© 2006 The Devon Karst Research Society, Stonehouse Bone Cave Web-pages all original text and images.

Updated on 17 November 2006.
(under initial construction)
Stonehouse Bone Caves Webpage Contents :

Foreword (opposite);
Sect. 1. Contemporary Press and Other Reports;
Sect. 2. Information Sources & References Contemporary
.................with the Bone Cave Discoveries;
Sect. 3. Stonehouse Caverns Bibliography & Further Reading.

Click on the underlined Links.above to move down to the Sections quickly.

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It is as much to the interest of the General Public more than any other factor that we owe a debt of gratitude to the record of cave discoveries at East Stonehouse in the 18th and 19th Centuries. No doubt in their interests to support as wide a circulation in their newspapers as possible, the popular Press of the day pandered to this interest by keeping their readers abreast of the latest discoveries in what was long known to be a cavernous area or district. The relevance of this to our present interests here in this Web Page is easily explainable, when we realise that without this general interest and its accompanying historical record inadvertantly made by the Press, we would know very little about what was discovered, when it was discovered and what we have since allowed to be destroyed.
The cave discoveries in the East Stonehouse area also had the benefit of the direct involvement of such an eminent notary as R N Worth, who so indelibly carved his name in the history of early speleological investigations at Cattedown, elsewhere in Plymouth, a half-century or more later.
This is a largely un-illustrated section of our Web-pages, drawing on information accumulated in the Society's Archives from research over many of our early years. Unfortunately, the ravages of Victorian quarrying connected with urban civil and military developments in Stonehouse, has reduced the limestone landmass of Battery Hill to an almost zero metres-above-sea-level elevation. What the Victorians did leave behind, the current Plymouth City Council is now destroying in what they regard as being a re-generation of the area.

For those who are interested, East Stonehouse is that part of the former Borough located within the Plymouth City boundaries on the eastern side of the River Tamar. The former "West Stonehouse" is an area located on the western side of the River Tamar, now in Cornwall. At one time, the Edgecumbe Family had extensive property interests in both East and West Stonehouse.
Locally, Stonehouse was one of the "Three Towns", comprising Stonehouse, Sutton and Dock". As "Sutton" developed and grew inland, it later became Plymouth, whilst "Dock" or "Plymouth Dock" as it was sometimes referred to, developed and grew as "Devonport". The modern-day useage of the toponym "Stonehouse" refers only to the area within the Plymouth City boundary in Devon, the western sector no longer retaining the use of the name.

Ussher (1907) offers us a retrospective description and the location of Stonehouse Bone Caves. He writes thus:-

"In the Stonehouse Limestone an ossiferous cavern is said to have been discovered about 1835, and another "while the works of the Great Western Docks were in progress." The most important, situated in the southern face of a quarry on the Battery Hill spicuous from the hill top to the quarry floor, a depth of 60 feet or more, running along the line of north and south nearly perpendicular joints in the limestone, and subsequently turning to the north-east. This cavern and its ramifications was investigated by Worth, 1879-1882 ¹. Its width varied from two to twelve feet, and it was filled with earth partly clayey.
In the fissure and side chambers communicating with it obscure osseous fragments and imperfect bones were scattered. A comparatively numerous proportion of teeth enabled the following identifications to be made :
Rhinoceros (R. tichorhinus), horse, hyæna, bear (Ursus ferox), fox, wolf, cat, dog, probably boar, hare, black rat---one individual of each, only. Teeth of sheep or goat, bones of several species of deer, including teeth of two reindeer (C. tarandus); of ox, Bos primigenius, B. longifrons, and perhaps Bison priscus.

.....Rhinoceras tichorhinus......C. capreolus. (?)
.....Ursus ferox.............................Bos primigenius.
.....Hyæna spelæa......................Bos longifrons.
.....Canis lupus.......................... .Bison priscus. (?)
.....C. vulpes.................................Equus fossilis.
.....C. (small variety)..................Sus scrofa.
.....Felis catus.............................Ovis or Capra.
.....Cervus elaphus.....................Lepus timidus.
.....C. tarandus............................Mus rattus.
.....Fragment of dermal skeleton of a fish. (? sturgeon).

In the same locality, but in a disconnected fissure investigated by Spence Bate in 1865, probably since quarried away, remains of tichorhine rhinoceros, horse, ass (Asinus fossilis), ox (Bos longifrons), deer (small pieces and Cervus elaphus), were obtained.
Worth was informed that, in 1861, during "the construction of the battery adjoining the grounds of the General's house, Mount Wise," fissures were revealed in which bones were found. Only remains of deer (Cervus elaphus) and of horse were mentioned².
.....¹ Trans. Plymouth Instit. and Devon and Cornwall Nat. Hist. Soc. 1881.
.......Trans. Roy. Geol. Soc. Corn., 1882.
.....².Journ. Plymouth Instit., 1879."

We begin this e-record of events connected with the discovery of the subterranean world at East Stonehouse with a series of contemporary articles illustrating the general cavernous nature of that part of the Plymouth Limestone Group. Although not all these references are directly related to speleo-palaeontological discoveries, they are connected in the general context of bone cave discoveries in that district and in this respect are included for completeness. The "colourful" use of words often makes for amusing, if not delightful reading !!

Contemporary Account No. 1.1.
"An Account of a Subterranean Cavern lately discovered at Stonehouse, near Plymouth."
as :  a letter from one Francis Geach to the Right Honourable Lord Edgecumbe,
as printed in the EDINBURGH MAGAZINE AND REVIEW, June 1776.

....."To the Right Honourable Lord Edgecumbe.
........"My Lord,
........................."Plymouth Dock, March 1. 1776.
"I have the honour of communicating to your Lordship an account, which I took on the spot, of a subterranean cavern, lately discovered in your Lordship's demesne at Stonehouse. The place, at a considerable extent round, as your Lordship well knows, belonged formerly to the Monks. Part of the wall that enclosed their garden is still to be seen. [Ed. This is an error; the wall is that of the house of the Durnford's]. The cavern was accidentally discovered by some miners in blowing up a contiguous rock of marble. The aperture, disclosed by the explosion, was about four feet in diameter, and looked not unlike a hole bored with an auger. It was covered with a broad flat stone, cemented with lime and sand; and twelve feet above it, the ground seemed to have been made with rubbish brought thither, for what purpose I know not, unless it were for that of concealment. Here indeed, but here only, we saw some appearance of art, and vestige of masonry. The hill itself at the northern side of which this vault was found, consists for the most part of lime-stone, or rather marble.
....."From the mouth of this cave (through which we descended by a ladder) to the first base, or landing-place, is twenty-six feet. At this base is an opening, bearing N.W. by W., to which we have given the name of Tent Cave. It resembles a tent at its base and in its circumference, and stretches upwards, somewhat pyramidically, to an invisible point. It is, as far as we can measure, about ten feet high, seven broad, twenty-two long :  Though there is an opening, which, on account of its narrowness, we could not well examine, and in all probability it has a dangerous flexure. In each side of this Tent Cave is a cleft; the right runs horizontally inwards ten feet, the left measures six by four. The sides of the cave are everywhere deeply and uncouthly indented, and here and there strengthened with ribs, naturally formed, which, placed at a due distance from each other, give some idea of fluted pillars in old churches.
....."In a direct line from this cave to the opposite point is a road thirty feet long. The descent is steep and rugged, either from stones thrown down into it from above, since the discovery, or from fragments that have fallen off at different times, from different places below. This road is very strongly but rudely arched over, and many holes on both sides are to be seen, but, being very narrow, do not admit of remote inspection or critical scrutiny. Having scrambled down this deep descent, we arrive at a natural arch of Gothic-like structure, which is four feet from side to side, and six feet high. Here some petrifactions are seen depending. On the right of this arch is an opening like a funnel, into which a slender person might creep; on the left is another correspondent funnel, the course of which is oblique, and the end unknown.
....."Beyond this Gothic pile is a large space, to which the arch is an entrance. This space or inner room, (for so we have termed it) is eleven feet long, ten broad, twenty-five high. Its sides have many large excavations, and here two columns, which seem to be a mass of petrifactions, project considerably. On the surface of these pillars below, are seen some fantastic protruberances, and on the hanging roofs above, some crystal drops that have been petrified in their progress. Between those columns is a chasm capable of containing three or four men.
....."Returning from this room, we perceived on the left an avenue thirty feet long, naturally floored with clay, and vaulted with stone. It bears S.S.W., and before we have crept through it, we see a passage of difficult access and dangerous investigation. It runs forward twenty-five feet, and opens over the vault thirty feet high near the largest well. Opposite to this passage are two caverns, both on the right hand. The first bears N.W. by W., and running forward in a straight line about twenty feet forms a curve that verges somewhat N.E. Here we walk and creep in a winding course from cell to cell till we are stopped by a well of water, the breadth and depth of which are as yet not fully known. This winding cavern is three feet wide, some parts five feet high, in some eight. Returning to the avenue we find, adjoining to this cavern, but separated by a large and massy partition of stone, the second cavern running west; and by descending down some small piles of lime-stone or rather broken rocks, the bottom here being shelvy slate, or more properly a combination of slate and lime-stone, we discover another well of water. This is the largest. The depth of it is in one place twenty-three feet, the width uncertain. Opposite to this well, on the left hand, by mounting over a small ridge of rocks covered with wet and slippery clay we enter a vault eight feet broad, eighteen long, thirty high. Here, towards the S.E., a road, not easy of ascent, runs upwards of seventy-two feet towards the surface of the earth, and so near to it that the sound of a voice, or of a mallet within, might be distinctly heard without: In consequence of which, a very large opening has been made into it. At the bottom of this vault, in a place not readily observed, another well of water, the depth of which, on account of its situation, cannot be well fathomed, nor the breadth of it ascertained.
....."While the miners were exploring these gloomy and grotesque regions, they were al;armed at a murmuring sound that seemed to come from the hollows of the cave; and one of them, who chanced to be near the largest well with a candle in his hand, saw at that instant the water rise about half a foot. This phenomenon then could not be explained. But now we think that the several wells are nearly on a level, and that the waters shape their course towards the sea, and mix with it in Mill Bay at the distance of four hundred and twelve feet. It is not certain whether those wells, though they lie below the extremity of the lime-stone, have a mutual communication or not; but it is highly probable, as the bottom of the largest well is clay, and its sides are shelvey slate, that there are springs; and it is certain that this shelvey vein of slate, nearly of the same kind and colour with some seen at Mount Edgecumbe, on the opposite shore, is continued even to the sea, where two openings at low water have been found, through which it is probable the water of the great well discharges itself. When the tide rises, it is presumed that the pressure of the sea without retards the course of the water within; and this may account for the rise and fall so manifest at different times of sounding: And the same circumstance is observed also in a well near the old French prison, in the environs of Plymouth.
....."Each cavern has its arch; each arch is strong, and in general curious. The way to the largest well is, in one part, roofed with solid and smooth stone, not unlike the arch of an oven. No one seemed to be affected by the damps till he came hither, and then the candles grew dim, and one of the investigators, as well as myself, felt unusual and uneasy sensations. However, since an opening has been made near the arch of the great wall [sic] and the air has had a much freer access, no such symptoms have been perceived. It is very likely that the hill itself is hollow; some of the caverns have reciprocal communications; but the clefts are often too narrow for accurate inspection or minute inquiry. The water here and there is still dripping, and incrustations, usual in such grottos, coat the surface of the walls in some places. There are some whimsical likenesses, which the pen need not describe, nor the pencil delineate. Mr Cookworthy of Plymouth, a very ingenious man, and an excellent chymist, has been so obliging as to analize the water of the three wells, and has found, by many experiments, that it is very soft, and fit for every purpose.
....."I therefore beg leave to congratulate your Lordship on the discovery of this water, which, though there was no want before, cannot fail to be a valuable acquisition to your town of Stonehouse; a place very delightful, and superior to most for the beauty of its prospects, and the elegancy of its situation, and, what is still better, for the goodness of the air; as the longevity of the inhabitants sufficiently evinces.
....."I have the honour to be, my Lord, your Lordship's most obedient and obliged humble servant,


Contemporary Account No. 1.2. (as a Press Report) :
SATURDAY, June 23, 1827.


 A subterranean cavern containing a great quantity of water has been discovered within these past few days, in the limestone quarry on Stonehouse Hill; the cavity must have an abundant spring of water within it, as we understand the depth of the water is above 70 feet."
"The cavern is of vast expanse, spreading as it increases in depth. It has been visited within by a number of persons."

Contemporary Account No. 1.3. (as a Press Report) :
NB : The two Images referred to in the text below, are illustrated in the Image in the top of the left-side column.

SATURDAY, June 30, 1827.


We briefly called the notice of the public in our last, to a Cavern which had been discovered a few days before in a quarry at Stonehouse Hill. We are now enabled to give the following sketches, with further particulars.

[Image No. 1. (Plan)]                                                         [Image No. 2. (Section)]

Another of those curious Caverns so frequently found in the limestone rocks of this neighbourhood, has been discovered in working the quarries at Stonehouse, a plan of which, we have the pleasure of presenting to our readers.  A small upper cavity is found to communicate by three openings with a deep chasm beneath, containing a large collection of water. The largest of these openings is given in plan No. 2, it is about 6 feet across; the others are smaller; one of them communicates with the former behind.  An intelligent builder of Stonehouse, Mr. Prowse, and one of the quarry-men, after being properly slung, were successively lowered down through the large opening.  Mr. Prowse reports, that there are apparently, two Reservoirs of Water, separated by a ledge of rocks, as shewn in plan No. 1, but that on inspection, the water passes freely under the rocks which form a sort of bridge; the largest of these partitions is 21 feet long by 11 wide; the other is 14 feet by 11; the bridge of rocks being 5 feet wide, the whole cavity over the water has a very imposing appearance; the water is ascertained to be 43 feet deep, and 21 feet below the surface of the ground.  The west side of the cavern below the water, has an inclining direction as seen in the plan No. 2., but the east side is perpendicular.  The above sketches represent two sections of this cavern, a vertical, showing the descent, and the probable part below the water as ascertained by sounding, and a horizontal, showing the situation of the bridge of rocks and the two partitions. It is not improbable but that this is merely the upper part of an immense cavern, filled by water from the heavy rains which occasionally fall here; since, at a short distance from the opening of the cavern, there is a pretty large hole through which a vast quantity of water disappears; there have been several other large fissures found near this place, at different periods; we are informed, that some years since two sailors descended by ropes to a depth of 30 fathoms, before the hill had been dug so low as it is at present; the opening was afterwards filled in by rubbish, part of which is again exposed; some accounts also exist of a large fissure filled in to the westward, about 30 years since, which also contained water; it is not unlikely that all these may be parts of a vast cave, which has sundry irregular openings in it; a circumstance by no means uncommon."

Contemporary Account No. 1.4.
Volume ??.,1830. p.37.

"......As just stated, there is a small deposit of limestone at the Northern angle, Mount Batten is a hill of the same material; these two outliers forming an east and west line with the limestone projection at Devil's Point, and at the Oreston Quarries. The soil upon the limestone is abundantly productive, in our moist climate. The rock is not metalliferous in any part of this range. It contains numerous cavities, lined in many cases with stalactite of delicate and beautiful forms; in some instances they are partly filled with clay; mixed up in a few cases with bones, having the character of diluvial reliques. A greater number contain water; the largest, under the quarries by the Marine Barracks, forming an immense reservoir of fresh water, into which a stream is heard to pour. Some particulars of this cavern, with a wood-cut, may be seen in the Plymouth Herald of June 30th, 1827. It may be sufficient here to mention, that its extent is such as to require a boat for surveying the interior: at present it is inaccessible."


........In Chronological order of publication-date :
...........[ * signifies a stock item in the Society's Reference Library as an original or as a photocopy.]

Geach, Francis. (1776).."An Account of a Subterranean Cavern lately discovered at Stonehouse, near Plymouth." :  Edinburgh Magazine and Review, June 1776.
Anon. (1827).*."Subterranean Cavern at Stonehouse". :  Plymouth Herald and Devonshire Freeholder, Saturday, June 23, 1827.
Anon. (1827).*."Subterranean Cavern at Stonehouse". :  Plymouth Herald and Devonshire Freeholder, Saturday, June 30, 1827.
Anon. (1830).."TITLE". :  Transactions of the Plymouth Institution, ??, 1830., p..37.
Worth, R.N. (1882).*."Notes on Some Teeth from a Stonehouse Bone Cave." :  Transactions of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, 1882., pp. 1-4.

........In Chronological order of publication-date :

Geach, Francis. (1776).*."An Account of a Subterranean Cavern lately discovered at Stonehouse, near Plymouth." :  Edinburgh Magazine and Review, June 1776.
ibid- (1887).*."An Account of a Subterranean Cavern lately discovered at Stonehouse, near Plymouth." :  Transactions of the Plymouth Institution, 9, 1884-87., as an extract of the Stonehouse Cave Article in the Edinburgh Magazine & Review, June 1776, the Appendix to: Notes on the Early History of Stonehouse, pp..371-374.
Worth, R.N. (1879).*."The Bone Caves of Plymouth and District." :  Transactions of the Plymouth Institution, 7, [Read 9 October 1879.], pp..87-117.
Worth R.N. (1879).*."On an Ossiferous Fissure in the Battery Hill, Stonehouse." :  Transactions of the Plymouth Institution, 7, [Read 9 October 1879.], pp..504-507.
Ussher, W.A.E. (1907) * "Bone Caves and Fissures." :  Memoirs of the Geological Survey -England & Wales :
............Explanation of Sheet 346 : Geology of the Country around Plymouth and Liskeard, Chapter VII. Post Tertiary. pp.120-121.
Anon. (1960).*."The Lost Caverns of Stonehouse." :  The Western Morning News, 13 August 1960.
Anon. (1960).*."12-month Search for Caverns." :  The Western Morning News, 19 August 1960.
Anon. (1960).*."Student Seeks 'Lost' Caves of Stonehouse." :  The Independent, 21 August 1960.
Anon. (1960).*."Have Stonehouse Caves been Found at Last?" :  The Western Morning News, 09 November 1960.
Anon. (1960).*."Drilling Attempt to Uncover Cavern Entrance." :  The Western Morning News, 10 November 1960.
Anon. (1960).*."Drilling Starts in Search for Caves." :  The Western Morning News, 11 November 1960.
Anon. (1960).*."18th Century potholer tells of the Stonehouse Caves." :  The Western Morning News, 12 November 1960.
Anon, (1960).*."18th Century Potholer tells of the Stonehouse Caves." :  The Western Morning News, 12 December 1960.
Reynolds C. (1961).*."Report on the Stonehouse Caves Plymouth." :  Devon Speleological Society Newsletter, 71, March 1961.
Jeffery R. (1965).*."Stonehouse Cave." :  Plymouth Caving Group Newsletter, 15, pp. 9-11. January 1965.
Anon. (1967).*."Factory on Cavern." :  Western Evening Herald, 22 November 1967.
Berry A.K. (1968).*."Lost Caves of Stonehouse." :  The Western Morning News, 02 August 1968.

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