Bryan House was put up for auction on 29 July 1807 and Francis Forster, heir to a substantial estate in Northumberland, purchases it as his new family home. He sets about making alterations almost immediately, changing the name to Northumberland House.
Exactly how the Caves are discovered is open to conjecture. Forster’s great granddaughter, speaking a century later, suggested that the gardener “whilst digging, [came] upon a hole which, on investigation, proved to lead down into the Caves…”. Another story includes Forster’s pet rabbits… rabbits that kept vanishing. Keen to solve the mystery, he discovers a small rabbit-sized hole at the foot of a pear tree. When he investigates further the hole reveals a large cave. The story is reported in newspapers around the UK in 1863, the same year a certain Lewis Carroll is writing about another rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
However they came to light – gardeners or rabbits – Forster takes the opportunity to adapt them to suit his aspirational lifestyle. With the addition of a new stairway, the Caves serve as an ice well and wine cellar and can be used to Forster’s advantage to impress friends and influential local residents.
Perhaps while his father is busy entertaining, a young Charles Frances Forster marks CFF 1808 on the walls in the Caves, leaving his mark here forever.