Found quoted in 'History of the parish and manor of Wookey' by Thomas Scott Holmes (1885).
William of Worcester visited this neghbourhood with Symon Simeon about the year 1470, and gives a description of [the river Axe...] The wonders of the cave at Wookey-hole seem to have especially struck him, his account of it being as follows:
Below the parish at Wookey-hole, about half a mile from Wells, there is a certain narrow entrance (into the rock) where at the beginning is an image of a man who goes by the name of the porter, and it is the duty of the people who desire to enter the hall of Woky to ask permission of the porter, and they carry in their hands torches, which are called in English 'shevys of reed-sedge,' for the purpose of lighting up the hall. The hall is about as large as Westminster Hall, and there hangs from the vaulted roof wonderful pendula of stone. The passage from the entrance to the hall is about half a furlong long, and is arched with stones of plane work hanging down from the roof. And there is a certain broad piece of water between the 'tresance' and the hall for the distance of five stepping stones, which stepping passage is about twenty feet wide, and if a man goes beyond the stepping stones he falls into the water, which is on all sides about five or six feet deep.
There is a kitchen in a chamber near the entance to the hall of immense breadth, and roofed in stone. There is also a chamber called an ost, for the purpose of drying barley grain to make beer, &c., and the figure of a woman is there clad, and holding in her girdle a spinning distaff.
And thence people pass on a hundred paces, and a man may go along it with dry feet over the stones. And then the chamber called the parlour follows, which is a round appartment built of huge rocks, about twenty paces broad, and in the northern part of the said parlour there is what is called in English a 'holie-hole', and in the said well, which is fairly arched over, there is abundance of the clearest water, the depth of which water no one is able to say. Moreover, from the said Woky-hole comes forth a great torrent, which runs into the mere, near Glastonbury, for the space of two miles.
It sounds like the tourist trade was doing well even then, even if the stone figures hadn't been interpreted as witches. I'm not sure why he would be saying "in English" but that's no doubt just my ignorance. Reverend Holmes insists that the locals call the hole from which the water flows 'Wookey Hole Witch', with witch / wych being a local word for a break in the rocks. But is this his reluctance to deal with unChristian goings-on? I dunno. I can't see this use of the word in the OED. But then it's not a dictionary of Somerset dialect.
It's all very well being scared of the Witch, but what about the 30ft long conger eel that lives in the caves? To use the standard unit of measurement in these situations, it is as long as a double decker bus.
A long time ago it swam up into the Severn estuary and set itself up as King of the River. Naturally most creatures weren't prepared to argue. But after watching the eel repeatedly ruining fishing nets, splashing about and flooding the land, and generally stuffing himself with fish, the local fishermen had had enough. They lined up their boats and drove him towards Brean Down, forcing him up the narrow River Axe. The eel had no choice but to keep swimming, and eventually squeezed himself into Wookey Hole, where he'll probably be stuck forever. He must get pretty hungry.
It's possible you know. Some mad cave divers set the British record by diving down nearly 80 metres, and the cave system still isn't fully explored.
(mentioned in the collection "Reader's Digest 'Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain'")
A small cave immediately adjacent to the Hyena Den (ST 54 NW 18), one of a small group of Pleistocene cave sites in the Wookey Hole ravine. A small-scale excavation was undertaken circa 1900 by HE Balch, and more extensive investigation occurred between 1970 and 1976. No material survives from Balch's work, though records suggest that bones of rhinocerous, horse and hyena were present. The bulk of the sediments within the cave were removed during the 1970s excavations, uncovering a thick sequence of Devensian sediments with associated fauna and artefacts. The artefacts in particular seem to confirm two phases of cave use, the principal finds comprising a Middle Palaeolithic handaxe plus 3 handaxe trimming flakes, and a retouched blade of probable early Upper Palaeolithic date.
Wookey Hole Cave represents the upper course of the River Axe, and has been extensively developed in the 19th and 20th centuries as a show cave. Originally, the cave comprised a small entrance way and a tunnel circa 85 metres in length, which led to four chambers. Three of these are partly occupied by the River Axe. The fourth is submerged, but was examined in the 1970s. The cave has been excavated on a number of occasions. Casual finds were made by Buckland during visits in the 1820s. William Boyd Dawkins conducted an investigations of sorts in the later 19th century. HE Balch intermittently undertook excavations during the first half of the 20th century, and some minor excavation has occurred as recently as the 1970s. The bulk of finds belong to the Iron Age and Roman periods. Finds include pottery, Iron Age and Roman coins (including a possible hoard), and numerous other objects including an ear ring, finger rings, a spoon, an ear scoop, spindle whorls and so on. A considerable quantity of human remains have also been recovered, including a cemetery of Romano-British date excavated in the 4th chamber in 1973-7. At least 28 individuals were present in the cemetery, accompanied by pottery, coins and other items. Investigation of the river bed in 1947-9 by divers produced Romano-British bowls and lead ewers, part of an 11th-12th century cooking pot, and two late 17th century glass bottles.
A wide low arch on the east side of the Wookey Hole ravine. The cave was originally discovered circa 1852 by workmen cutting a water channel for nearby mills. At the time, a coin hoard; consisting of silver coins of Allectus (AD 293-6) and Commodus (AD 180-92) were distributed among the workmen and 'third brass' coins, of Constantius II, (AD 337-61) Valentinian I (AD 364-75) and Valens (AD 364-78); probably deposited in the late 4th century AD and comprising several hundred Roman coins, mainly silver, in a broken pot was found, as was a "bone bed" featuring remains of woolly rhinocerous, hyaena and other Pleistocene mammals. Some human skeletal material was also claimed to have been found, but this has never been confirmed. William Boyd Dawkins undertook excavations from 1859 until at least 1874, uncovering further animal remains as well as Paleaolithic flint and chert implements, this representing an early demonstration of the contemporaneity of extinct fauna and human activity. Further digging occurred intermittently throughout the later 19th century and beyond. The University of Bristol Speleological Society excavated at the cave between 1966 and 1970, encountering mainly disturbed deposits, but no artefacts. Trenching by the British Museum in 1992 located some undisturbed deposits, with finds including the debris from Middle Palaeolithic tool manufacture, further animal remains, and a substantial deposit of Pleistocene fish remains.
A cave with a large entrance which leads via communicating passages to a large inner chamber. The entrance is high in the eastern face of the Wookey Hole Ravine. The cave was first discovered in 1938, and excavated over a number of years by HE Balch. Its interior deposits proved to have been extensively disturbed by badgers. Further excavations occurred in 1958 (C McBurney) and 1968 (J Campbell). Finds include Palaeolithic flints, including scrapers, awls, saws and leaf points; Palaeolithic animal remains, including mammoth, woolly rhinocerous and hyena; and a quantity of Roman finds including pottery, coins, and a bronze fibula. A number of iron objects including nails may be quite recent. Human remains recovered from Badger Hole had been regarded as belonging to the Early Upper Palaeolithic. However, direct accelerator dating of the human bones have produced dates ranging from circa 9000 years bp and 1500 bp.
Janet & Colin Bord's 1978 book, 'A Guide to Ancient Sites in Britain' says that it's a long way back in time from the relatively recent occupation of Wookey Hole to the occupation of the nearby Hyena Den, a small cave which was occupied during the Old Stone Age, 400,000 years ago. Hyena Den, with its 30cm thick bed of bones, was discovered by the workmen digging the canal. Excavations in 1852 brought to light the bones of many Ice Age animals - cave lions and bears, mammoths, bison, hyenas, wooly rhinoceroses, elk and others - as well as flint implements. Archaeologists reckon that the cave was occupied by hyenas and man alternatively between 35,000 and 25,000 BC. It seems that packs of hyenas drove their prey over the cliff edge and then ate the remains. There is also a theory that early man may have done the same.
In several parts of Britain there are caves which are known to have been occupied at various periods during the last 400,000 years. Wookey Hole is easy to visit as it's a famous tourist attraction.
The Wookey Hole Caves site has provided rich pickings for archaeologists and anthropologists over the years, and several exciting excavations have been undertaken.
Only the first chamber, lit by daylight, was occupied. In 1912 an archaeologist Herbert Balch excavated the site. Pottery found there dates this occupation to the late Iron Age and into the time after the Roman occupation. The discovery of the bones of two goats, a pot, and the remains of a tethering post indicate that part of the outer chamber had also been used as a goat pen; and nearby was found an almost complete skeleton of an old woman, plus a dagger, knife, billhook and a stalagmite / alabaster ball (whatever that is!).
Workmen digging the canal in 1857 found the remains of prehistoric man, including flint tools, as well as the bones of animals such as hyenas, mammoths, rhinoceros and lions.
Many of these are now on display at the nearby Wells City Museum, but most were retained and are now housed in Wookey Hole Cave’s own museum. The museum has various displays giving more information about the history of the caves, archaeological excavations (including artefacts) and cave diving.