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Three centuries after it was rediscovered, Royston Cave remains one of Britain's most mysterious pla

In a hole in the ground beneath the Hertfordshire market town of Royston, dimly illuminated by flickering light, I was looking at a gallery of crudely carved figures, blank-faced and bearing instruments of torture. Cave manager Nicky Paton pointed them out to me one by one. "There's Saint Catherine, with her breaking wheel. She was only 18 when she was martyred," Paton said, cheerfully. "And there's Saint Lawrence. He was burnt to death on a griddle."



Amid the grisly Christian scenes were Pagan images: a large carving of a horse, and a fertility symbol known as a sheela na gig, depicting a woman with exaggerated sexual organs. Another portrayed a person holding a skull in their right hand and a candle in their left, theorised to represent an initiation ceremony – a tantalising clue as to the cave's possible purpose. Adding to the carvings' creepiness was their rudimentary, almost childlike, execution.

Imagine the surprise, then, of the people who rediscovered Royston Cave, quite by accident, in the summer of 1742. A workman, digging foundations for a new bench in the town's butter market, struck a buried millstone and found that it was hiding the entrance to a deep shaft in the earth. This being an age before the dawn of health and safety directives, a passing small boy was promptly handed a candle and sent down on a rope to investigate, while the townsfolk of Royston chattered excitedly above about the prospect of buried treasure.

*This is an extract from an article written by Daniel Stables for the BBC. To read it in its entirety please visit -

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