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Cheddar Cheese

Gough's Cave

Like many a great geological discovery, Cheddar’s most impressive cave, Gough’s, was found by a gifted amateur who was actually looking for something else.

Gough's Cave
Gough's Cave
© courtesy Cheddar Caves & Gorge
Richard Cox Gough was born in Bedminster, Somerset, in 1827 and died at Cheddar in 1902, aged 75. He married Frances Jones and the couple had seven children: Amelia, Arthur, Edward, James, Llewellyn, Minnie and William. The family lived at Lion Rock House in Cheddar.

Gough was the nephew of the developer of Cox's Cave, George Cox, and spent many years in the Navy, rising to the rank of captain. When he retired, Gough started working for his uncle, showing visitors round Gough's Old Cave. By 1881, Gough listed his occupation as “cavern proprietor”.

In 1890, Gough started exploring the mouth of a cave that had been the home of an elderly woman and discovered the first “Gough’s Cave”. In 1892 he discovered that there was a bigger cave, a quarter of a mile long. From 1893 to 1898, Gough and his sons worked their way through the mud and boulders, to reveal the spectacular chambers as seen today.


Cox's Cave
Cox's Cave
© courtesy Cheddar Caves & Gorge
Gough named the largest of the caverns he discovered St Paul’s, because he thought it resembled a cathedral. When he first discovered the chamber, he took his entire family down into it, where they sang hymns and prayed. The two caves he unearthed became known, respectively, as Gough’s Old Cave and Gough’s New Cave. The latter became the first British show cave to be lit by electricity, thus improving its accessibility and attractiveness to increasing throngs of visitors.

With the opening of Gough’s Cave, and the expansion of the railways bringing increasing numbers of day trippers to the Gorge, Gough was able to fully exploit its tourist potential and make himself and his family wealthy – at the expense of his Cox cousins, who still ran the now-eclipsed Cox’s Cave.

The 9,000-year-old skeleton discovered in 1903 is now the subject of a new attraction in Cheddar Gorge, housed in the cottage that once belonged to Gough.

Ironically, the famous cave which Richard Gough discovered, and that still bears his name, wasn’t actually the one he set out to find: he was seeking a “lost” cave that had been described by an Elizabethan writer:

“Cheddar Hole, whereinto many men have entered and walked verrie fare. Howbeit as the passage is large and nothing noisome, so divers that have ventured into the same could never as yet find the end of the wai, neither see anie other thing than pretie riverts and streams which thay have crossed as they went from place to place.”

The Mendip caver HE Balch believed the cave was situated beyond Cooper's Hole in the gorge, while others are convinced it might be adjacent to Gough’s Cave.

To this day, the cave that Richard Gough sought, but never found, remains undiscovered.