Hidden Earth 2023

Forgotten Voices Speak: Recording Historic Graffiti in Kents Cavern

30 minute Lecture|Linda Wilson

Forgotten Voices Speak: Recording Historic Graffiti in Kents Cavern


In January 2023, a pilot project to record the historic graffiti in Kents Cavern, a showcave in Torquay, was carried out in the area of the cave known as the Bear's Den as part of the cave's Conservation Plan. The chamber contains the earliest dated inscription in the cave, William Petre 1571, and a vast wealth of other names and initials. The aims were to test the proposed methodology for the photographic recording, to measure outputs against expectations on behalf of both the cave management and the recording team and to attempt to find the 16 inscriptions recorded by William Pengelly for this chamber noted in his excavation diaries for 1877.

The pilot was extremely successful, obtaining a comprehensive photographic record of the graffiti in the chamber, and finding 13 of the 16 inscriptions noted by Pengelly. The team's work also obtained some unexpected results from a combination of observation underground and archival research with the discovery that some of the candle smoke graffiti on the ceiling, previously unknown even to the management and experienced cave guides, is of considerable antiquity, and that although no reference is made to this by Pengelly in his diaries, he does mention this in an obscure 1874 paper.

This talk will show some of the results from the project, look at the methodology for recording historic graffiti and demonstrate how projects such as this can let forgotten voices speak again.