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Famous caves celebrate a milestone
Caves at Kents Cavern
Ancient monument: Kents Cavern
Kents Cavern in Torquay celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

Of course, the caves themselves are very much older then that...but it's a century since they were bought and turned into a visitor attraction.
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FACTS

There are remains at Kents Cavern dating back half a million years.

The caves have been inhabited for 700,000 years.

The caves are Britain's oldest scheduled ancient monument.

The Powe family bought the cavern in 1903, and 23rd August is the official centenary.

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It seems odd to say that Kents Cavern's caves in Torquay are 100 years old in 2003 - because we all know that they've been there for hundreds of thousands of years.

In fact, the cavern is the oldest recognisable human dwelling in Britain, with artefacts and remains dating back half a million years.

The caves are a scheduled ancient monument and historical site. The surrounding woodlands and the inside of the cavern are also a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

But the cavern's life as a visitor attraction didn't begin until the early 20th century - 1903 to be exact. The official centenary day is 23rd August, when special events are being held to mark the anniversary.

The caves
These caves were first lived in 700,000 years ago

1903 was when the Haldon estate - including the caves - was sold to the Powe family.

Francis Powe initially used the caves as a workplace to make beach huts for nearby Meadfoot Beach.

It was his son, Leslie, who spent his life turning the caves into a major attraction.

He laid concrete paths, put in electric lighting, and added all the usual visitor facilities.

Then his son John Powe carried on the work and added modern facilities. John died in 2000 and his father died in 2001. So now, John's eldest son Nick Powe is at the helm.

Excavation work is still as important as ever at the caves, and exciting new finds are regularly unearthed.

When the digging began...

Excavation work really got under way in earnest at Kents Cavern in the 19th century.

Remains on show at Torquay Museum
One of the exhibits on show at Torquay Museum

Bones and flints were dug up in the 1820s, before archaeologist William Pengelly set to work in the second half of the century.

He found hand axes dating back 450,000 years.

Importantly, he kept meticulous records of his discoveries and made a note of which layer of rock they were found.

Then, between 1925 and 1941, Arthur Ogilvy unearthed many ancient finds.

Among them was a piece of bone, which was in recent years dated as 31,000 years old - making it the oldest piece of bone from modern man in Britain.

In fact, the advent of modern dating methods - such as carbon dating - is helping us to build a better picture of who and what lived
in the caves and when.

Kents Cavern has been inhabited for around 700,000 years, and the digging will continue in the hope that remains and artefacts from the very early days can be found.


For those wanting to see the finds, the biggest display is at Torquay Museum, which is just half a mile away from the caves.

Article first published: 31st July 2003


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