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.