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#307239 - 6th Apr 2009 8:22pm Caves 'popular site for children'

Caves 'popular site for children'

Bridgnorth's bright red sandstone dominates the town.

And the caves which surround parts of the Shropshire community have for many years been played in by children.

But after decades, this could now be at an end.

A 16-year-old boy, Aiden Brookes, was killed and another teenager was hurt when a roof at the Hermitage Caves partially collapsed.

Rocks and rubble fell on to the pair, along with their friends, who were camping at the site.

Site for parties

Residents have told how they used to play at the caves in their childhood.

Tim Ball, 38, who lives nearby, said he had never worried about his safety years ago.

He used to spend many hours at the caves and remembers people lighting fires there.

Another resident, Matthew Winwood, said the site was a popular location for parties.

The origin of the caves is unclear, but it is known that they were occupied for many years.

The area got its name, The Hermitage, because it is believed that Aethelward, a Mercian Prince, lived in one of the caves as a hermit before his brief reign in about 942 BC.

There are also legends linking the caves with witchcraft.

Caves 'man-made'

In 1989, extensive research was carried out on the caves by members of the archaeology unit at Birmingham University.

They tried to establish their uses and methods of construction, but were hampered because many of Bridgnorth's town records had been destroyed.

The archaeologists concluded that the caves were probably man-made and some had been used as homes.

Others had commercial uses and some were believed to have been linked by tunnels.

They also believe that some of the caves have yet to be discovered.

Over the years the condition of the caves has deteriorated, although the one known as the chapel is still fairly intact.

It is thought that homeless people using them as temporary homes may have weakened the roof structure by lighting fires inside.

The sandstone from which the caves have been carved is a soft stone, and plants and tree roots have been able to penetrate the rock, further damaging them.

Some of the caves lie within the Apley Estate at Bridgnorth and because of their poor state have not been open to the public for some time.


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#307376 - 7th Apr 2009 12:40pm Caves sealed off after fatality [Re: ]

Caves sealed off after fatality

Caves in Shropshire have been sealed off after a teenager was killed and another seriously hurt when part of a cave roof collapsed.

Aiden Peter Brookes, 16, of Bridgnorth, died in hospital following the collapse at Hermitage Caves, east of the town, in the early hours of Monday.

An 18-year-old woman was taken to hospital with back injuries but is thought to be in a stable condition.

Police have issued a warning about entering caves following the death.

Rocks and rubble fell on a group of friends who were camping inside the sandstone caves, off Lodge Lane.

They form part of the 8,500 acre Apley Estate owned by Lord and Lady Hamilton, and are adjacent to a public right of way.

'Inherent dangers'

The caves were sealed off by West Mercia Police on Monday and the Health and Safety Executive has been informed.

Chf Insp Martin Whitelegg said: "We are still investigating the full circumstances and the reason why the upper parts of the cave collapsed.

"But this tragedy clearly demonstrates the inherent dangers posed by caves, old quarries, mines and the like. Great care is obviously required when entering such places and people should stay well clear unless they are properly equipped and know exactly what they are doing."

"We have to learn from this tragedy and recognise the dangers."

A spokesman for the estate said it "would like to express its sincere condolences at the loss and injury which appear to have been a tragic accident."

Police said it believed that a group of youngsters had lit a fire inside the caves but was still investigating the cause of the collapse.

West Midlands Ambulance Service said Aiden, of Paulbrook Road, had gone into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing after the rock-fall. He died later at at the Princess Royal Hospital, in Telford.

'Loved rugby'

A post-mortem examination has been held and the South Shropshire Coroner is expected to open an inquest later this week, police said.

A Facebook page set up in tribute to Aiden has already attracted more than 150 members.

The teenager had been a pupil at Oldbury Wells School in Bridgnorth.

Head teacher Sarah Godden described Aiden as an excellent student, who was popular with staff and pupils and would be sadly missed.

Five friends of the dead teenager visited the caves to lay flowers.

One teenager said: "He loved his rugby and he was a lovely lad. He will be hugely missed - he was funny and always made everyone laugh."



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