The Discovery of Victoria Cave

Tom C. Lord

The confusion late in the nineteenth century as to whether Joseph Jackson or Michael Horner discovered Victoria Cave can be explained by the presence of an inner chamber being first entered and named by Jackson, then his name being associated with the whole cave system, including the outer main chamber first entered by Michael Horner. Today we can credit Horner with the discovery of the main chamber in May 1837, and Jackson with the discovery of the inner chamber in June, and quite likely on the 20th June, 1837. The following account is the story in detail.

Charles Roach Smith's initial description of the finds in Jackson's cave in 1840 refers to Victoria Cave simply as "the Caves near Settle" (Smith and Jackson, 1842). Smith wrote a report in 1844 which describes and illustrates more finds; Victoria Cave is referred to as caves in King's Scarr near Settle and there is a view of the outside of the cave. The name Victoria Cave seems not to appear in print until 1850 (Howson, 1850). It is, however, recorded on the first Ordnance Survey Map of the locality surveyed from 1847-50 and published in 1852.

The first report linking the date of the discovery of Victoria Cave to Queen Victoria appears in Henry Ecroyd Smith's 1865 article on the archaeology of the Craven caves. It contains interviews with Jackson about Victoria Cave and Dowkerbottom Cave, as well as first hand descriptions of these and other caves. Smith must have examined Jackson's collection of finds for he illustrated for the first time several brooches found by Jackson in Victoria Cave. It is reasonably certain that Smith must have spent some time with Jackson, and had every opportunity to discuss with him the history of the cave.

Smith wrote in 1865: "Occurring upon the very day of the accession to the throne of these realms by our beloved Sovereign, the discovery of this cavern, an invaluable one to geologic and archaeological science, is well commemorated in the name bestowed upon it by the loyal finder, Mr. Joseph Jackson, of Settle, viz. Victoria". The key word in this text is 'accession'. Victoria became queen, the meaning of the word accession, on being told of the death of her uncle King William IV in the early hours of the 20th June 1837. This is the date of the discovery of Victoria Cave implied by Smith's text.

The word coronation, however, is substituted for accession in Boyd Dawkins' first report of the excavations at Victoria Cave undertaken by the Settle Cave Exploration Committee in 1870 (Dawkins, 1870). Dawkins retained 'coronation' in his final report in 1874 of the Settle Cave Committee's excavations published in his book 'Cave Hunting' where he wrote "The most important historic cave in this country is that discovered by Mr. Joseph Jackson, near Settle, in Yorkshire, on the coronation day of Queen Victoria in 1838, and which has therefore been called the Victoria Cave". The problem with this account is that the coronation of Queen Victoria took place on the 28th June 1838, just over a year after her accession to the throne. It was also several months after the first record of archaeological material being found in the cave which was during the autumn of 1837 (Smith and Jackson, 1842).

Dawkins' substitution of the word coronation for accession must have placed Jackson in a difficult position. Dawkins was the Scientific Director in charge of the excavations for the Settle Cave Committee; Jackson was merely the site superintendent. Moreover Dawkins was a member of the sub-committee which had appointed Jackson site-superintendent. What should he do? To state openly that the Oxford educated Dawkins, Fellow of the Royal Society, Professor of Owen's College, Manchester, had made such a simple mistake could be seen as a challenge to Dawkins' social and intellectual authority. Jackson evidently decided to keep quiet. There the matter may have ended, but for the publication of the Victoria Cave part of Dawkin's book of 1874 in the Settle Almanac for 1875. This brought the matter to the attention of a wider local audience, and they were of the opinion that Michael Horner and not Jackson had found the cave.

In 1896 George H. Brown of Settle, Congregational Minister, and author of several pamphlets about the area, recorded the discovery of the cave as follows: "So far as we are aware, the true account, well-known to many of the older inhabitants of Settle, has not yet been published. From an old and authentic writing in our possession we are able to give the correct particulars. The discoverer of the cave was not Mr. Joseph Jackson, but Mr. Michael Horner, who then lived at Langcliffe. In 1838, in the month of May, he and two other young men from Langcliffe were rambling about the hills, when they met with one John Jennings of Settle. Jennings had with him two terrier dogs, which had worried a hedgehog on the flat field below the cliff. Jennings said, 'Let us go up to the Fox Holes' - two holes that were thought to be the dens of foxes, and near which traps had been set. One of the dogs was put into the lower hole, and after a while came out from the higher. A week afterwards the same parties again visited the place. A large stone was dragged away, and an opening was made by which Michael Horner was able to enter. The other two remained outside. This was three weeks before Mr. Joseph Jackson, the reputed discoverer of the cave, even knew of its existence. Michael Horner was at that time working for him. He told Mr. Jackson of what he had found, and offered to show him the place and the way into the cave. The two went up together, and paid many a nocturnal visit to the cave, before the fact of its discovery became generally known" (Brown, 1896).

This is written with such an eye for detail that it must count as the definitive statement about the circumstances of the first entry into the cave. There is still a problem, however, with the date, because May 1838 is again several months later than the report of finding archaeological material during the autumn of 1837 (Smith and Jackson, 1842). Perhaps by the time the events were recorded by Brown the date had been confused. Is there any evidence that the events Brown described took place on the hills above Settle in May 1837 not May 1838?

In his lecture the 'Caves of Craven' at the Mechanics' Hall Settle on the evening of the 9th December 1862, J.R. Burrow described the discovery of Victoria Cave (Burrow, 1863). The report states "The lecturer then describe in detail Victoria Cave as the best instance in the neighbourhood of the chambered cave. This cavern which is about two miles from Settle, was discovered by Mr. Joseph Jackson of that town in 1837. The mouth had been blocked up by great stones, which were very like the rock itself. A dog, which after following a rabbit through a chink, had crept out through these stones, first excited suspicion and caused their removal. The cave consists of four chambers, one of them about 120 feet by 30 feet but very low, and another (in which the antiquities were mainly found) about 70 feet by 25 feet, and 15 feet high".

The basic elements of Brown's account are that the dog entered through one hole, and reappeared through another which was subsequently opened to give access to the cave. Burrow in 1862 gives the date as 1837 which suggests that Brown, writing some forty years later, had confused the date. Burrow, however, credits Jackson with the discovery. This was of course refuted by George Brown who insisted that Horner was the first person to enter the cave. Is there a scenario to reconcile these two apparently conflicting accounts? The clue is Burrow's observation that Victoria Cave consisted of a number of chambers. On entering the cave through the opening which the dog came out, Horner would have found himself in the main chamber, the one described by Burrow as about 120 feet by 30 feet but very low. This is the First Cave of the 1844 survey (Smith, 1844) and Chamber A of the Settle Cave Committee's 1870 excavation. Taking the sequence of events recorded by Brown, but not the year, Horner entered the main chamber in May 1837. Then, according to Brown, there was an interval of at least three weeks before Horner told Jackson (Brown, 1896).

With Horner first entering the main chamber in May, the three week interval recorded by Brown is very important, for it means that Jackson most likely heard about the cave in June. Jackson could have entered the main chamber for the first time as late as the beginning of the third week in June. Assuming that Jackson then explored the main chamber more thoroughly than Horner, it is possible that Jackson found the small opening in the north wall leading into the inner chamber. It was a very small opening and possibly partly obscured by fallen roof blocks, Smith (1865) describes it as "cumbered by masses of rock".

Jackson described how "The entrance into the inner cave had been walled at the sides, and two upright stones also, all embedded with clay...I pulled the wall down, and the aperture is now about a yard wide and two feet high" (Smith and Jackson, 1842). Judging from photographs Jackson was a man of medium build yet he had to enlarge the opening to get through into the inner chamber. That it was Jackson who enlarged the opening reveals he was the first to enter and so discover the inner chamber. Jackson could have entered the inner chamber for the first time on the day of the accession of Queen Victoria, the 20th June 1837. On discovering the large, inner chamber which was profusely decorated with calcite formations, it is possible that Jackson gave it the name the Victoria Cave. Writing about Victoria Cave in the late 1840s William Howson records that "the large chamber on the left was discovered about ten years ago" (Howson, 1850). Howson's comment supports the notion that the discovery of the inner chamber was a separate event.