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Temporary Exhibition 2012: "Victoria Cave Revisted" Panels

Below is a summary of the text of each of the ten display panels from the temporary exhibition "Victoria Cave Revisited". You can view a higher resolution copy of the panel in image (JPG) format or PDF format by clicking on the thumbnail image of the board, or the PDF link at the foot of each section of text. A PDF containing all ten boards is also available: pdf (23Mb)

Copyright in all text and illustrations on the following exhibition panels (with the exception of the Cave Rescue panel) resides with Tom Lord, Lower Winskill

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Victoria Cave revisited

Victoria Cave, located on high limestone ground about 1 miles north east of Settle, is an extraordinary place with a fascinating history and a unique record of climate change going back hundreds of thousands of years

At different times in the Ice Age it was used by spotted hyaenas, brown bears and wolves. Stone Age hunters explored the inside of the cave and left objects in the dark. Much later in Roman times people again went into dark parts of the cave leaving behind jewellery and other personal items including mysterious perforated bone spoons.

The story of Victoria Cave begins in more recent times with the accidental discovery of the main chamber by Michael Horner in the spring of 1837. Joseph Jackson named the cave in honour of the new Queen Victoria after he found the inner chamber in June 1837.

In the 1870s a remarkable series of excavations by the Settle Cave Exploration Committee turned into one of the first scientific attempts to investigate climate change during the Ice Age. New work based largely on the 1870s investigations has provided the first well-dated framework for the deposits in the cave. These are now known to span more than 600,000 years with evidence of four glacial episodes - a unique record for a British cave.



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Joseph Jackson 1816-1886

Joseph Jackson was involved with Victoria Cave for most of his adult life

In 1830 aged fourteen Joseph Jackson was apprenticed to Richard Harger, a plumber and glazier in Settle. He took over the business after Harger died in 1833. Michael Horner was working for Joseph when he discovered the outer chamber of Victoria Cave in the spring of 1837. Michael showed Joseph objects that he had found in the cave and took him there a few weeks later.

Joseph began the first systematic excavations of Victoria Cave in the autumn of 1837. He was only 20. In 1840 he contacted Charles Roach Smith, an expert in Roman history. Together they published reports describing Joseph's investigations, which provided the first evidence for people using caves in Britain during Roman times.

Joseph found much older bones in Victoria Cave including a spotted hyaena jaw in the 1840s



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Settle in Victorian Times 1837 - 1901

In Victorian times Settle was a thriving market town providing a wide range of shops, trades and services

The imposing new Town Hall, opened in 1832, contained the library of Settle Literary Society, a savings bank and newsroom as well as space for public lectures. The Music Hall, now the Victoria Hall, opened in 1853 for concerts and theatrical performances. The Mechanics Institute opened in 1855. These public buildings reflected an increasing sense of civic pride and the willingness of local people from all ranks of society to contribute to the development of the town.

The caves and the fascinating limestone landscape around Settle had been a draw for well-to-do travellers from the late eighteenth century. The arrival of the first railway in 1848 opened up new opportunities for travel and tourism, making the area accessible to a wider range of visitors from all over the country.

In the 1830s and 1840s James Farrer, a wealthy landowner, and John Birkbeck, a partner in the Craven Bank in Settle, began to explore caves around Ingleborough. Their interest in caves was shared by artisans and tradesmen in Settle - men such as Joseph Jackson a plumber and glazier, Michael Horner a tinsmith and mechanic and Lawrence Hodgson a stonemason.



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Settle Cave Exploration Committee 1869-78

The appearance of Victoria Cave today is the result of the large-scale excavations by the Settle Cave Exploration Committee in the 1870s

The Settle Committee was set up in 1869 by Thomas McKenny Hughes, a geologist working for the Geological Survey in the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. He succeeded Adam Sedgwick as Professor of Geology at Cambridge University in 1873.

The Committee was chaired by Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth, the liberal politician, educational reformer and a governor at Giggleswick School. It included eminent geologists and archaeologists such as Adam Sedgwick, John Phillips, Charles Lyell, and John Lubbock, as well as James Farrer, John Birkbeck and other prominent local figures such as Walter Morrison, a wealthy financier and landowner with a mansion on the shore of Malham Tarn.

William Boyd Dawkins was appointed Scientific Director in overall charge. Joseph Jackson as Site Superintendent was responsible for the day to day running of the excavations which were undertaken by paid workmen. Photography was used for the very first time to record a cave excavation, with Anthony Horner of Settle taking photographs as the work progressed.

The excavations ran for several months each year from 1870 to 1878 with a break in 1871. The work cost around 200 annually, a considerable sum at that time.



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Cave Rescue

The limestone landscape is spectacular and beautiful, but can also be challenging and deserves the respect of the thousands of walkers, cavers and climbers who visit every year

The Cave Rescue Organisation, based in Clapham, provides both cave and mountain rescue services in the Three Peaks area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It also extends its activities westwards into Lancashire and Cumbria and eastwards as far as Malham and Gordale.

In 1934, a group of local potholers used a farm hurdle as a stretcher to carry out the 26-hour rescue of a man with a broken leg from Gingling Hole, beneath Fountains Fell. A month later, representatives of Giggleswick School, Settle St John Ambulance Brigade and five potholing clubs met to discuss the formation of what is claimed to be the world's first cave rescue organisation.

Since its first rescue from Gaping Gill in 1935, the Cave Rescue Organisation (CRO) has changed out of all recognition. It now goes to the aid of walkers, climbers, cavers, mountain bikers, fell-runners, parapentists, canyoners, and stranded livestock, as well as people from the local community, where aid is beyond the reach of the statutory emergency services. In 2011, its members helped 116 people.

The CRO is a charity run by volunteers, and depends on public donations for its finance. It currently has more than 80 volunteer rescuers, comprising an operational team of 52 with a further 36 in a support role. It is called on regularly by the authorities to perform mountain and cave rescue duties, and to assist in incidents of a public service nature such as searches for missing persons.



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Looking after Victoria Cave in the 21st century

Victoria Cave is a designated Scheduled Monument and part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The cave and the surrounding scar are now owned and looked after by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, having been purchased by the West Riding County Council in 1972 to protect it and to secure public access

Looking after Victoria Cave has been made difficult because the 1870s investigations were brought to a sudden end through lack of funding. The sides of the excavations were simply left as they were and fragile deposits remained exposed.

Recent research has demonstrated the continuing scientific importance of the cave deposits and their vulnerability to disturbance by both rabbits and visitors.

The size of the cave entrance means that physically preventing access is difficult and unsightly as well as incompatible with one of the reasons the cave was purchased - public access. Instead an internal low barrier installed in 2012 lets visitors walk on a rocky surface a short distance inside the cave enabling them to see much of the interior. It carries a message asking them not to go further. It is hoped this will be self-policing and considerably reduce trampling damage to fragile areas. If this does not reduce damage however, more restrictive measures will be needed.



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Dawkins v Tiddeman

The 1870s excavations were the focus of intense argument between two career scientists William Boyd Dawkins and Richard Tiddeman

Dawkins directed the excavations from 1870 until he resigned in 1873. He was succeeded by Tiddeman who remained in charge until the excavations ended in 1878.

Dawkins (1837-1929) was hugely energetic and ambitious. Elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1867 for his work on Ice Age mammals, he became Professor of Geology at Owens'College, now Manchester University, in 1872. He was knighted for 'services to geology' in 1919.

Tiddeman (1842-1917) was an Oxford graduate who joined the Geological Survey in 1864. He was promoted to geologist rank in 1870 and remained a field geologist throughout his career.

Dawkins and Tiddeman held opposing views about the Ice Age. Tiddeman believed the deposits in Victoria Cave showed that the climate in the Ice Age underwent cyclical changes - alternating between cold and warm episodes, with glacial events in the coldest phases. Dawkins was having none of it. To protect his professional standing he cast doubt on Tiddeman's observations and accused him of making things up.

By force of personality Dawkins got his way. Tiddeman's excavations were dismissed as flawed. It was to take another thirty years before Tiddeman's views were widely accepted and in the meantime Victoria Cave was forgotten by the scientific world.



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Tot Lord 1899 - 1965

It is thanks to the vigilance and enterprise of Tot Lord that so much evidence from the excavations at Victoria Cave has survived

Born in Upper Settle, the son of a greengrocer, Thomas (Tot) Lord enjoyed the outdoor life from an early age. He had an adventurous spirit and after leaving school joined the army at the age of 15 and spent the rest of the Great War in France. On his return, Tot's instinct for collecting led him into the world of buying and selling.

Tot was a keen cave explorer, by then known as 'potholing', and became a founder member of the Cave Rescue Organisation in 1935. His interests led him to excavate in a number of caves.

He began a quest to re-unite finds from Victoria Cave and tracked down pieces originating from Joseph Jackson's investigations some seventy years earlier. He saved material from the Settle Cave Exploration Committee's excavations after the museum at Giggleswick School closed in the 1930s. In 1948 he bought Town Head, a mansion overlooking the town, and converted the ground floor to a museum to display the collections he had assembled from Victoria and the other Settle caves.

The anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith wrote about Tot Lord "You have been a great pioneer in what you have done for the 'Prehistorics'of Settle. We are all your debtors".



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Recent Research

Thanks to Tot Lord there is a wealth of material to study from the early excavations at Victoria Cave

Exciting new discoveries are being made by re-examining the finds from the early excavations using modern scientific techniques. Most of the crucial deposits in the cave were removed in the course of the 1870s excavations. We will never have the opportunity to excavate on such a large scale again. The Settle Committee's excavations did not match modern standards, but the investigations were well recorded for the time.

Layers of stalagmite first described in the 1870s were recently dated in Canada by a new radiometric technique. The results show that the deposits in Victoria Cave span more than 600,000 years with evidence for six warm interglacial events and four glacial periods. This is a unique record for a British cave.

Stalagmite dating also reveals that spotted hyaenas used the cave as a communal den around 125,000 years ago. Amongst the bones they brought into the cave are a few specimens of hippopotamus and extinct elephant and rhinoceros. New analysis of hyaena dung preserved in the cave has recovered ancient pollen showing the area was at that time mostly open grassland with small areas of deciduous and conifer woodland.



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The Human Story

Using scientific evidence and new ways of thinking about the past we can understand more of the human story at Victoria Cave

New radiocarbon dates on specimens found in the 1870s reveal that people who hunted wild horses visited the cave around 14,400 years ago. They explored the inner, dark parts of the cave. Why? Was it because bones of brown bears that had died in hibernation lay scattered over the floor? What did these bones mean to the hunters?

New research about the use of the cave in Roman times suggests it was the scene of rituals by people with connections to the Roman army. Small personal items were left in dark and wet places deep inside the cave. Making contact with the spirit world was probably central to what went on, but there is much we do not know.

Going into the dark is a recurring theme in the history of Victoria Cave. From 1837 to the 1860s we know Joseph Jackson worked entirely inside the cave. Can we be certain that he and Michael Horner were the first people in this extraordinary place to look for objects from another age?

Searching for objects from a previous time might prove to be another significant theme running through the human story at Victoria Cave, beginning more than 14,000 years ago.




Temporary Exhibitions for other years may be found by clicking on the relevant links below:


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