The making of the Vortigern legend

The making of the Vortigern legend

On 31 August 1854, when Northumberland House is sold at auction, we find the first brief written reference to the Caves in a Notification of Sale Notice. It states: “Under a portion of the garden is a curious cavern, part of which is fitted up as a wine cellar; it also contains an ice-well, and well of excellent spring water, &c. &c.

The Caves are subsequently let to Mr John Norwood, a local postman and bill-poster, who also keeps a grocery and hardware store in Cecil Square. Norwood is something of a character and a natural salesman. (His nickname is ‘Don’t Forget’ because of his oft-used catchphrase admonishing the public ‘Don’t Forget to go to Norwoods in Cecil Square’.)

He opens the Caves as a show place, and employs his best marketing style to give them the fanciful name of ‘The Vortigern Cave’ and claims they date to 454AD – all for threepence admission! An account of the opening on 2 April makes the first reference to the Caves’ wall paintings, describing the elephant, the crocodile, the lion and two works which haven’t survived of a tiger and some Chinese prisoners in chains.