Anchor Church

Hermits Cave - Anchor Church Cave


Useful Information

Location: Between Ingleby and Foremark, 10mins. walk from each side.
(52.841472, -1.498096)
Open: No restrictions.
[2021]
Fee: free.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaCave House Keuper Sandstone (Triassic conglomerate)
Light: bring torch
Dimension:  
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address:  
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

806-830 according to legend the exiled King Eardwulf of Northumbria lived here.
1648 first written mention of the cave.
1715 description by William Woolley.
1745 cave painted by Thomas Smith of Derby.
1811 description by D. P. Davies.
1845 cave enlarged, door fitted and additional brickwork by the Burdett family.
09-JAN-1967 Grade II listed.

Description

The Anchor Church or Hermits Cave is a cave cut into the cliff face along Old River Trent between Foremark and Ingleby. Such cliffs are called crags in Britain, the Anchor Church Crag is over 100 m long and up to 12 m high. The cave is named after an hermit, anchorite is another word for hermit, derived from the Greek word ἀναχωρέω (anachoreo) which means to withdraw or to depart into the rural countryside. According to legend the cave was originally built by the hermit St Hardulph, who lived here during the 6th and 7th century. The church at nearby Breedon on the Hill is dedicated to him. Hardulph is today thought to have been Eardwulf of Northumbria, a deposed king of Northumbria who died in 830. So if the legend is based on actual events, the cave would be from the early 9th century. But both, its creation in the 6th or the 9th century would make this cave house one of the oldest intact domestic interior in the UK. There is actually no way to determine the age of such a structure, except by dating content, which does not exist in this case. And actually the original structure has been destroyed by the renovation in the late 18th century.

The story of Sir Hugo de Burdett returning from the Crusades. He was tricked into believing his wife Johanne had been unfaithful. He killed her without asking for an explanation and cut off her left hand which bore his wedding ring. Many years later Sir Hugo was asked to visit the dying hermit at Anchor Church. He confessed he had been bribed by the Baron of Boyville to trick Sir Hugo. The Baron planned to marry the dishonoured Johanne. The guilt-stricken hermit had spent the rest of his life at Anchor Church in penance. Children at the Prep School still tell stories of Johanne wandering the woods at Foremark searching for her hand. Until recently stone carvings of Johanne, Sir Hugo and the Baron of Boyville could be seen on the wall of Knowl Hill cottage.

While there is at least some historic evidence on Eardwulf of Northumbria, although its impossible to prove he actually lived here, this second story seems to be a Victorian ghost story. Its quite funny that the truth of the story is proven by non-existent stone carvings. Quite elaborate.

The crag is formed of sandstone from the late Triassic or Keuper. In Europe the Triassic is mostly a series of marine sediments, sandstone, marl, or limestone. This layer here, while resistant enough to form a crag, is also soft enough to be rather easily chiseled. The rock is mostly dry and rather stable, which are good conditions for the construction of a cave dwelling. There are layers of bigger gravels and even small pebbles, which form ledges but easily fall off the cliff face. The rock is not suitable for natural caves, and actually the cave looks like it was cut into the vertical cliff face. If there actually was a natural erosional cave, which was enlarged, its remains are not visible any more. The crack was formed by the erosion of the River Trent, which often changed its bed. It once was the southern bank of the river, or in other words the river was flowing in front of the cave. Currently the river flows further to the north and in front of the cave is a backwater pool, which is an ancient bed of the river.

The cave has a series of openings, which looks like there were numerous caves. Sometimes the plural, Anchor Church Caves, is used. It is unclear if there have been different caves, which were later joined. The cave in its current state is a result of the renovation by Sir Francis Burdett in the late 18th century. He enlarged the cave and used it as a summer dining room for picnic parties. The cool rock made this a pleasant spot during hot summer days. After his death, in 1845, the cave was fitted a wooden door.

The door is gone and the cave is freely accessible today. It is a stop on the Anchor Church Walk.