If you thought people stopped living in caves millennia ago, you might be surprised to learn about these quirky houses less than an hour from Birmingham. Kinver Edge in the Black Country is a large, red sandstone cliff home to a series of houses carved out of rock. As recently as the 1950s, people lived in these rock houses, which today serve as a unique tourist attraction.
There are three separate rocks where people lived, plus an iron age hill fort, with the most famous of these homes in Holy Austin Rock. Restored to Victorian-style cottages (based on a painting of former occupants Mr and Mrs Fletcher) and a cafe open to visitors by the National Trust. Inside you’ll find stoves, a fireplace, furniture, windows and doors – just as they were when people lived here.
The houses at Vale’s Rock aren’t restored but can be seen. While you can actually climb into the houses at Nanny’s Rock and wander around the empty rooms. (Lookout for ‘devil’s chimney’ which leads up through the rock.)
How did people come to live in the rock houses?
Kinver Edge’s first residents are believed to turn up in the early 1600s, likely looking for shelter. Sandstone is relatively easy to carve and rooms could be added quickly. The earliest record of the rock houses comes from Joseph Heely in 1777, however. During a storm, he was given shelter by a ‘clean and decent family’ and described the rock houses as ‘warm in winter, cool in summer’. The 1861 census lists 44 people living in 11 homes at Holy Austin.
Providing fresh air and a great deal more space than living options in nearby towns, they were actually quite enticing back in their day. The rock houses even had water from the well and later they had gas, but never any electricity. Many of those living here worked on nearby farms, or in local industry at the Hyde Iron Works, the Black Country or Kidderminster.
By the 20th century, the fame of these unique houses had grown and Kinver Edge became a major tourist attraction. Many families opened their homes to visitors and used to serve tea and sandwiches to visitors in their homes. After the last residents moved out in the 1950s, a cafe continued to operate until 1967. The area remained largely overgrown and in ruin until the Holy Austin rock houses were restored and reopened in 1997!
What is there to do at Kinver Edge today?
Well, firstly the tea room is back! Tuck into everything from sandwiches to soup, cakes to coffee, in a unique rock-cut café. As much fruit and vegetables from the Rock House allotments are used too, so the menu changes with the seasons. The Book Nook must be the only cave-dwelling, secondhand bookshop in the world!
The Rock House walking trail is the best way to take in all the surroundings, however. It takes you through a heathland abuzz with wildlife, children’s play areas, two explorable areas of rock houses and atop the iron age hill fort. You’ll soon realise why people chose to live out here for so long.
To learn more about Kinver Edge rock houses head here.