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Mystery Medieval Cave Discovered Below Guildford’s Historic St Catherine’s Chapel

Published on: 31 Mar, 2020
Updated on: 31 Mar, 2020

Areas of the hill near St Catherine’s Chapel have been fenced off while the railway work, which uncovered the “cave”, is underway.

By Martin Giles

A mysterious cave, possibly medieval, has been discovered by workmen on the historic St Catherine’s Hill, by the Portsmouth Road, on the southern edge of Guildford.

Mention of “murals” may indicate a find of major significance and has spurred deep interest from historians and archeologists.

St Catherine’s Chapel, on top of the hill, was built in the early 14th century in the reign of Edward I. An annual fair, also dating from the Middle Ages, was held every year until after the First World War.

14th century St Catherine’s Chapel

But over the years evidence has been discovered of more distant human activity on the hill in the Iron Age, Bronze Age and even Mesolithic (middle Stone Age) periods.

After a landslip in December which closed the Guildford to Portsmouth line, regrading had started on the sandy slopes above the railway tunnel that was bored through the greensand in the mid-19th century.

Network Rail’s work camp providing a base for the extensive work.

A Network Rail spokesperson told The Guildford Dragon NEWS exclusively: “We can confirm that we discovered a small cave on railway land.

“We will be able to share more details in the near future. The security-protected site is extremely dangerous and should not be visited for any reason.”

It is not known if the discovery will affect the work schedule but Network Rail was keen to report their discovery correctly to the appropriate authorities. Officers from Surrey County Council are known to have been alerted.

Martin Giles

Martin Giles, editor of Guildford Dragon, said: “This is potentially a very exciting discovery which could be of significant historic importance.

“The Guildford Dragon takes its name from the hill which in pre-Christian times was called Draco or Drake Hill, Draco meaning Dragon. In ancient English mythology, dragons were thought to guard or protect important sites.”

David Calow, a member of the Surrey Archeological Society, said: “The information that a small cave has been discovered on St Catherine’s Hill and that more details will be shared soon is of great interest. St Catherine’s Hill is a very prominent landmark in the Wey valley.

David Calow showing Heritage Day visitors around St Catherine’s Chapel in 2007.

“The siting of a well-built medieval chapel dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria on the top of Dragon Hill and in full view of Guildford Castle and Royal Palace was a dramatic statement. Let’s hope the hidden cave will tell us more about the hill and the chapel and the part they played in Guildford’s rich medieval history.”

See also: Lockdown Might Delay Completion of St Catherine’s Railworks

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Responses to Mystery Medieval Cave Discovered Below Guildford’s Historic St Catherine’s Chapel

  1. Keith Francis Reply

    April 1, 2020 at 7:48 am

    When I worked at Langton Priory it was reported that the builders had found an escape tunnel which went from it to St Catherine’s, also, a well in the basement.

  2. Alan Cooper Reply

    April 1, 2020 at 3:19 pm

    How exciting and fascinating. Not uncommon as we know of other tunnels and caves in Guildford. Look forward to more information and maybe some photographs.

  3. Marcus Agor Reply

    April 1, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    Hopefully, more details about the findings will appear on The Dragon.

    Editor’s response: Yes, all Network Rail could do initially was to confirm the discovery but we hope to bring our readers more information on the cave as soon as we can.

  4. Creighton Redman Reply

    July 12, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    I went to visit yesterday Saturday, July 11 (2020) for the first time and fund it quite fascinating. Do not attempt to drive off the main road but park somewhere and walk up to the chapel – a very steep walk.

    If you drive down the lower road which is really confined to traffic for the residential houses the road is very steep and narrow; almost impossible to reverse back up. There is a mass of construction company equipment, diggers, generators etc and, of course, it is fenced off for safety reasons, so it is really only possible to walk around the railings protecting the chapel. Tremendous views. Worth a visit but go by foot.

    Once the excavations are finished it will be extremely interesting to read the history going back to 1308.

  5. Patricia Martin Reply

    August 30, 2021 at 10:13 pm

    Fascinating, when I was married, aged 20, we lived for two years in the house at the top of the lane above which were St. Catherine’s ruins.

    Every time a train went under the tunnel, our room seemed to shake and the loose fixture on top of an old stove rattled like hell! But we had a lovely view across the meadows which iced over in winter, attracting hundreds of skaters.

    This was in 1964/5. I wish I’d made an effort to find out more about St Catherine’s but was too busy reporting for the Surrey Times, then the Surrey Advertiser.

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