Nestled in the picturesque Mendip Hills of Somerset, less than an hour's drive from Bristol, Wookey Hole has captivated the imaginations of visitors for generations. This enchanting destination, deeply ingrained in the hearts of Bristolians, is as iconic as Banksy, hot air balloons, and the Suspension Bridge. From school trips to family outings, Wookey Hole is a cherished part of our regional identity, and its rich history is a treasure trove waiting to be explored.

Visitors have been drawn to Wookey Hole for centuries, but until the 1920s, the main business was the paper mill. Before the commercial show cave opened in 1927, guided tours were less formal, often led by local farmer George Adlam, who also served cream tea. In the 1920s, Gerald Hodgkinson, the caves' owner, saw potential in transforming the area into a tourist attraction, despite initial controversy.

Old picture of Wookey Hole mill - credit Wookey Hole

The site remained popular under Hodgkinson's management until it was sold to Madame Tussauds in 1973. Over time, more chambers were opened, and additional attractions were developed. In 2003, circus legend Gerry Cottle bought Wookey Hole, preserving its history while adding new features, including a theatre and circus training academy. 

To offer a glimpse into Wookey Hole’s fascinating past, we’ve chosen five remarkable objects that capture the essence of this magical place. These artefacts each tell a unique story, weaving together the fabric of Wookey Hole’s history.

1. The Witch of Wookey Hole

One of the most legendary figures associated with Wookey Hole is the Witch. According to local folklore, a stalagmite within the cave is the petrified form of an ancient witch. The tale tells of a Glastonbury monk who turned the witch to stone to protect the villagers from her malevolent powers. This eerie formation continues to intrigue visitors, adding an element of mystery and wonder to the caves.

Silhouette of witch in a cave - Credit Wookey Hole

2. Prehistoric tools

Wookey Hole's history stretches back to prehistoric times, as evidenced by the archaeological discoveries within the caves. Tools dating back to the Palaeolithic era, have been uncovered, shedding light on early human habitation. These artefacts reveal that our distant ancestors used the caves as shelter and workspace.

Old picture of Wookey Hole mill - credit Wookey Hole

3. Diving equipment

In the Wookey Hole Museum, the cave diving exhibit showcases the pioneering equipment used in 1935 by explorers Graham Balcombe and Penelope ‘Mossy’ Powell. Their daring expedition marked the world’s first recorded cave dive, leading to the discovery of previously unseen chambers and tunnels. This groundbreaking achievement not only expanded our understanding of the cave system but also set the stage for future explorations. Today, visitors can experience the thrill of exploring these hidden depths for themselves.

Mossy and Balcombe 1935 dive at Wookey Hole
Image - Mossy and Balcombe at the 1935 dive in Wookey Hole

4. Cheese

Among the more unusual items linked to Wookey Hole is cheese. The caves' constant temperature and humidity create perfect conditions for maturing cheese. The presence of cheese in Wookey Hole is a testament to the cave's ongoing utility and the resourcefulness of those who have called this area home over the centuries.

Cheddar in cave at Wookey Hole mill - credit Wookey Hole
Image - Cave-aged cheddar at Wookey Hole

5. The mill

The history of milling at Wookey Hole spans over a thousand years, with the site becoming a paper mill in 1610. The building that visitors explore today, constructed in 1900’s, was once the largest and most profitable paper mill in Europe.

Children making paper at Wookey Hole near Bristol - credit Wookey Hole
Image - Paper making museum at Wookey Hole

Welcoming you back this summer

Wookey Hole is far more than just a series of caves; it is a living museum of human history and natural wonder. From the haunting stalagmite of the Witch to the vibrant attractions of the Mill, the objects associated with Wookey Hole tell a compelling story of our past. This summer, the team invite you to revisit this beloved landmark, to relive the nostalgia of your memories, and to create new adventures as you explore the caves and their legends anew.

For those eager to delve deeper into Wookey Hole's history before their visit, the Wookey Hole YouTube Channel offers a wealth of information and fascinating insights. We can't wait to welcome you back to Wookey Hole, where the past and future intertwine in a journey through time and wonder.

A family in a cave at Wookey Hole in Wells, near Bristol - credit Wookey Hole

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