Troglodyte wanted for cosy home in `Transylvania'. Damp course not provided

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The Independent Online
Would-be troglodytes have inundated the National Trust with applications to become become the live-in custodian of a collection of "rock houses" in the West Midlands.

The cave dwellings are cut into the redstone of Kinver Edge, a prominent wooded escarpment which has earned the quiet corner of south Staffordshire comparisons with Switzerland and Translyvania. On a damp January day, the Translyvania tag seemed more apt. Most of the "houses" are empty cavities in an outcrop with all the solidity of a decayed tooth.

However, the custodian's two-bedroom home on the upper tier of the rocks is cosy enough and viewed from the front looksmore a cottage than a cave. Rebuilt in 1993 at a cost of pounds 180,000, it incorporates three old cave homes. Some walls have been plastered but others are rock, bare but for graffiti.

Such is the attraction of living in a Hobbit hole that despite only very local advertising more than 140 people have applied to the trust to become the new occupants.

In return for free accommodation and a nominal salary, the custodian has to liaise with visitors, explain the site's history to booked parties, and keep an eye out for vandals - until recent years a big threat to the caves.

In their heyday in the mid 1800s, Holy Austin Rocks above the village of Kinver were home to 12 families. Some worked in the booming iron industry and there were also farm workers, besom makers and a mole catcher.

An earlier occupant may have been Holy Austin himself, a 16th-century hermit. A traveller who stumbled upon the rocks in a suitably Gothic thunderstorm in the late 18th century wrote: "I found this exceedingly curious rock inhabited by a clean and decent family, who entertained me during the violence of the tempest with what had been done, how long they had lived there, and the immense trouble they had been at in excavating the rock for their purposes. The rooms are really curious warm and commodious and the garden extremely pretty."

The area around Kinver contains the largest concentration of rock houses in Britain. The Holy Austin dwellings were on three tiers; most had more than one room and all had fires.

The last troglodytes did not leave until 1964 - moved out by environmental health officers and rehoused in Kinver.

Only honeycombed rock remains of the homes on the lower tiers. The trust will begin work in the spring on making ceilings safe, reinstating doors and windows, and fitting out one room as it would have been in 1870.

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