A cave and Christian shrine thought to date from the 14th century has been discovered by rail workers delivering landslip repair works near Guildford.
The sandstone cave was discovered during work to stabilise and protect the railway embankment. The cave may once have been much larger, but only this small piece survived the digging of the railway cutting through the hill in the early 1840s.
Initial findings by a specialist archaeological contractor suggest that it was a later medieval shrine or hermitage associated with the early 14th century chapel of St Catherine, the ruins of which are situated on the hill nearby. It may even have earlier origins as a site of cult activity, due to its pre-14th century name of Drakehill – ‘Hill of the Dragon’.
Mark Killick, Network Rail Wessex route director confirmed that “A full and detailed record of the cave has been made and every effort will be made to preserve elements where possible during the regrading of the delicate and vulnerable sandstone cutting.”
Images taken from the site show the presence of a Gothic niche decorated in dots with a Calvery cross nearby.
There are a total of around seven or eight further niches and experts found considerable evidence of writing and other markings across the cave ceiling. The cave is partially covered in deposits of black dust, which is believed to be soot from lamps. The remains of two suspected fire-pits were also uncovered in the cave floor.
Tony Howe, historic environment planning manager and county archaeologist at Surrey County Council, said: “The discovery of this cavern is tremendously exciting. It’s very early in the process of understanding its full significance, but the potential for knowledge acquisition is huge.”