Deepdale revisited

Dragonesque Brooch Thirst House Cave

Deepdale is a limestone valley characterised by its steep sided scree slopes and cliffs.


Overview

A wet weather stream flows along the valley floor and the valley sides are punctuated by deep caves. The biggest of these caves is Thirst House Cave. Excavations in and around Thirst House in the late 1800's, revealed human remains, animal bones, Stone Age tools, and weapons dating back to the Neolithic and Mesolithic eras (around 15,000 years ago). A cache of decorative jewellery and pottery from the, much later, British-Romano period was also unearthed. The cave itself is formed from two chambers with a floor of rocky debris and stalagmite bedding.

Thirst House Cave

Thirst House Cave was first excavated during the 1880's and 1890's by Mr Micah Salt, a Buxton High Street tradesman. His excavations revealed a number of relics dating from the British-Romano period (1st to 3rd centuries) back to the Bronze, Iron and Pre-historic ages.

Among the British-Romano items discovered were:

  • a compact manicure set comprising tweezers, nail cleaner, and ear pick - designed to hang from the belt of a British Roman lady
  • a decorative women's hair bandeau
  • several stylised brooches
  • dress clasps in the shape of dolphins or rounded shields
  • blue glass threading beads
  • bronze hair pins.

Many of these pieces were crafted in bronze with traces of gold, silver, or enamel, decorative plating.

Roman and Etruscan pottery fragments were also found, as were a number of coins. One example is believed to be minted in Gaul during the reign of Emperor Gallienus around 260 A.D. Another is of Victorinus the Elder who was assassinated by his wife in A.D 271. Other finds include the remnants of flint arrow heads, a human tooth, animal bones, and sculpted bone tools, suggesting that the cave was occupied by animals and humans as long ago as the Palaeolithic age.

Human skeletons were excavated from the vicinity of the cave mouth and, more significantly, from a burial cyst located about ten yards outside the cave, on the slope leading up. This skeleton was positioned with the skull pointing north. Samian and imitation Samian pottery pieces, popular with Romano−Brits of status, were strewn about the burial site. Lying next to the skeleton was an eleven inch iron spearhead. A lump of iron pyrites was also located underneath the skeleton.

Perhaps the most beautiful item is an enamelled dragon brooch. Crafted in an S shape, the brooch would have had a dragons head at both ends, although, one head is now missing. It is believed that this brooch is of Celtic craftsmanship and remains uninfluenced by Roman styles.

Myth

Etymologically, Thirst House Cave derives its name from 'Hob's House Hob and Hob Hurst House. Hob, depending on which source being consulted, is a giant, or goblin, who can influence, for good or bad, the crop harvest, and general demeanours, of the surrounding land and its inhabitants. Hurst is an Old English name for 'wood' or 'forest'. According to folklore, Deepdale is prevalent with fairies, which congregate in and around the many caves that pockmark the limestone cliff faces.

We'll soon be developing new digital interpretation for this area and the nearby Monsal Trail, so watch this space for new developments! You can also follow our project blog for more information or find Buxton Museum on Twitter (opens in a new window).

References

Turner, WM. The Archaeological Explorations of Micah Salt, Ancient Remains near Buxton. 1899, Wardley Advertiser Press, Buxton.

Vagi, David L. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, C. 82 B.C.--A.D. 480. 1999. Fitzroy Dearborn, London.