History in Peril: The Carved Cave at Royston
Beneath the street in the little town of Royston lies an unusual cave filled with medieval carvings that appear to date mainly from the 14thc, although some may vary. Discovered only in the late 18th century, Royston Cave has been ascribed to pagan cults and to the Knights Templar–however, I think, much more prosaically, it was probably a hermit’s cell or, as has been suggested, connected in some way with the nearby Augustinian Priory. Whatever the case, it is full of mysterious and evocative carvings, including the Holy Family, St Lawrence with the gridiron that killed him, a St Michael (or George) with an impressive sword, and a very fine crowned St Katherine. The carvings were at one time painted; in the 1800’s traces remained of yellow in Katherine’s dress and flecks of red paint on the Holy Family. Niches in the wall below the figures would have contained candles or lanterns.
Sadly, this ancient and evocative cave has now been placed on the ‘at risk’ register with Historic England, as water is seeping from the street above and causing noticeable new damage to the carvings. An earlier infestation of worms that caused erosion of the figures was successfully eradicated several years back.
The owner is hoping that bringing attention to the latest plight will enable restoration work and new repairs and conservation work to be done.
Hopefully, this will happen in the near future, and perhaps an upside of the added publicity might be easier, more frequent access to the cave. At present it is only open for a few hours on a few select days per week, mainly during the summer months.