Friday, 4 October 2019

Beard’s Stone, Banwell Hill

In 1842 a skeleton was discovered close to Bishop’s Cottage at Banwell Caves.  A local amateur archaeologist called William Beard had the bones reburied at the eastern end of Banwell Hill.  He had a large stone placed at the spot with the following poem inscribed on it:

Beard with his kindness brought me to this spot 
As one unknown and long forgot 
He made my grave and buried me here 
When there was no kind friend to shed a tear 
My bones are here, my spirit is fled 
And for years unknown numbered with the dead 
Reader as I am so shall you be 
Prepare for death and follow me.”

The stone is located on a public footpath at grid reference ST 394 587.

William Beard was born in 1772 at Woolvershill, Banwell.  His father was a farmer and he too became one.  He purchased a small farm at Wints Hill, Banwell.  A cave had been discovered by accident by some ochre miners on the west side of Banwell Hill c1757.  In 1824 Francis Randolph, Vicar of Banwell from 1808 until his death in 1831, took the initiative in exploring the same cave.  This became known as the Stalactite Cave.  He hoped to attract fee paying visitors and thus to raise funds for the local school.  

During an unsuccessful attempt to create a more convenient entrance to the cave, a second cave was discovered.  This cave contained a large number of animal bones and became known as the Bone Cave.  The bones were identified as belonging to bear, bison, reindeer, and wolf.  The Banwell caves were located on land which was owned by the Lord of the Manor of Banwell, who was also the Bishop of Bath and Wells.  The Bishop of Bath and Wells at this time was George Henry Law.  He believed that the bones were the remains of animals that had drowned during Noah’s flood.

William Beard began giving guided tours around the caves and collected donations for the school on behalf of George Law.  He renamed his house Bone Cottage.  He let out his land and concentrated on the guided tours and on exploring and collecting bones and other items from caves at Hutton, Bleadon, Sandford and Uphill with other local enthusiasts.  Bishop Law nicknamed him “Professor” and this nickname remained with him until the end of his life.  He continued to give guided tours at Banwell Caves until shortly before his death in 1868 at the age of 95.  His collection of bones was bought by the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society.

Inscription on Beard's Stone

Beard's Stone, Banwell Hill

Beard's Stone, Banwell Hill

Beard's Stone, Banwell Hill

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