Cave dwelling with all mod cons makes an ideal home for two: Oliver Gillie reports on an historic home refurbished by the National Trust

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The Independent Online
CAVE people have quietly returned to Britain after 30 years. The cave house at Kinver Edge, near Stourbridge, where they are living, was condemned in the 1960s as unsuitable for human habitation but the National Trust has refurbished it.

Julian and Judith Thompson, who took up residence at Holy Austin Rock, Kinver, three weeks ago, have modern conveniences in their cave house and already feel at home. They have lived in 17 different houses as Mr Thompson's job in the Army took him round the world but never before in such a strange place.

In fact their dwelling is as much a conventional house as it is a cave. The facade resembles an early Victorian house while the rear wall is carved out of the sandstone cliff.

The cave house was acquired by the trust in 1964, along with some six other cave dwellings carved from solid sandstone. Vandals had destroyed parts of these simple dwellings - on one occasion a vital sandstone pillar was cut away with a chain saw and the cave was made so unsafe it had to be demolished.

The trust decided that the only way to prevent further damage was to have someone live on the site. Most of the dwellings are cut into the thickness of the rock and would require acceptance of true troglodyte living. But the Thompson's home, which was converted from three artisan's dwellings, allows a sensible compromise. 'It is completely modern inside with mains drainage, electricity and telephone,' Mr Thompson said. 'But the utility room, a cellar, staircase and cupboards are cut out of solid rock.'

The trust has aimed to rebuild the outside of the house in its original form while creating a modern house inside. But first the architect had to excavate the site so he could measure the wall dimensions.

'We found a lot of the materials of the old building dumped in the cellar,' the architect, John Greaves Smith, said. 'A team of archaeologists helped me with the excavation. We found some of the old stone, the old chimneys, quarry tiles and bricks. This told us what materials to use. But we also had to work from old photographs which showed us the style and approximate dimensions of the building.'

Mr Smith found some red sandstone, matching the Kinver stone, which came from a demolished barn. It was painstakingly cut to size so that each course of stone exactly copied those of the original as seen in photographs.

Although the aim was to recreate an authentic exterior, logic suggested that details should be followed through to the interior.

'It made sense to put quarry tiles on the floor inside and to continue the details of the windows inside. But we have built a cavity wall and the staircase is not like the original which was very steep and would not meet modern safety standards,' Mr Smith said.

(Photograph omitted)

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