The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Wookey Hole

Cave / Rock Shelter


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.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
19th August 2009ce
Edited 19th August 2009ce

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