The Widecombe-in-the-Moor Website
Widecombe Group History Talks
Nick Powe – Stepping out of the Stone Age
Nick gave an interesting talk on the history behind Kents Cavern. Kents Cavern is a Unesco Global Geopark, one of 30+ in the UK. It has the world’s only geological themed children’s park. It was back in 1825 that Fr. John MacEnery started to explore the caves. His interest having been sparked by studying the ruins at Torre Abbey. It was William Pengelly who started the Great Excavation. This started in 1865 and carried on until 1880. Pengelly and his team removed the 1st floor which was 12,500 years old and then the 2nd floor which was 430,000 years old. They discovered that three species of man had used the Kents Cavern. In 1926 the Arthur Ogilvy Excavation discovered a human jawbone which was 41,000 years old. It still had three teeth in it. This proved to be the oldest human bone in NW Europe.
Over 1 million years two important ice ages impacted Kents Cavern, the Devonsian and the Anglian. It is possible to see evidence at Torquay of changing sea levels. Near Berry Head sea shells can be seen in the rocks. Berry Head was such an important headland that the guns based there during the Napoleonic wars pointed inland to stop Napoleon capturing it, had he landed in England. Caves underneath Berry Head have stalactites and stalagmites. These can only form above water level.
Kents Cavern was never ‘discovered’ it was always there. Roman coins from 21,000 years ago have been found. The oldest inscription dates from 1571. Kents Cavern formed 2.5 million years ago and a river ran through it.
Agatha Christie mentions Kents Cavern (under another name) in her book The Man in the Brown Suit. Nick Powe felt that originally the name would have been Kentis Cavern and over the years it has become Kents Cavern.
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