Wookey Hole Caves is a show cave and tourist attraction in The Village of Wookey Hole on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills near Wells in Somerset, England. Wookey Hole cave was formed through erosion of the limestone hills by The River Axe. Before emerging at Wookey Hole the water enters underground streams and passes through other caves such as Swildon's Hole and St Cuthbert's Swallet. After resurging, the waters of the River Axe are used in a handmade paper mill, the oldest extant in Britain, which began operations circa 1610, although a corn grinding mill operated there as early as 1086.
Nearby is the limestone Ebbor Gorge, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a more tranquil spot than the busy Wookey Hole, which is itself an SSSI for both biological and geological reasons. The cave is noted for the Witch of Wookey Hole – a roughly human shaped rock outcrop, reputedly turned to stone by a monk from Glastonbury. It is also the site of the first cave dives in Britain.
Archaeological investigations were undertaken from 1859 to 1874 by William Boyd Dawkins, who moved to Somerset to study classics with the vicar of Wookey. On hearing of the discovery of bones by local workmen he led excavations in the area of the hyena den. His work led to the discovery of the first evidence for the use by Palaeolithic man in the Caves of the Mendip Hills.
Herbert E. Balch continued the work from 1904 to 1914, where he led excavations of the entrance passage (1904-15), Witch's Kitchen (Chamber 1) and Hell's Ladder (1926-1927) and the Badger Hole (1938-1954), where Roman coins from the 3rd century were discovered along with Aurignacian flint implements. The 1911 work found a 4 to 7 feet (1.2-2.1 m) of stratification, mostly dating from the Iron age and sealed into place by Romano-British artefacts. Finds included a silver coin of Marcia (124BC), pottery, weapons and tools, bronze ornaments, and Roman coins from Vespasian to Valentinian II.
The current paper mill building, whose water wheel is powered by a small canal from the river, dates from around 1860 and is a Grade II-listed building. The production of handmade paper ceased in February 2008 after owner Gerry Cottle concluded there was no longer a market for the product, and therefore sold most of the historic machinery. Visitors to the site are still able to watch a short video of the paper being made from cotton. Other attractions include the dinosaur yard, a small museum about the cave and cave diving, a theatre with circus shows, House of mirrors and Penny arcades. Bear Shop.
In 1956, Olive Hodgkinson, a cave guide whose husband's family owned the caves for over 500 years, was a contestant on What's My Line? The cave and mill were joined, after purchase, by Madame Tussauds in 1973 and operated together as a tourist attraction. The present owner is the former circus proprietor Gerry Cottle who purchased the site for around £6million. At least one ghost, that of a drowned potholer, is said to haunt the cave. There are also uncanny powers associated with the Witch, all adding to the attraction's popularity with visitors.
The cave was used for the filming of episodes of the BBC TV series Doctor Who: the serial Revenge of the Cybermen (1975) starring Tom Baker. The cast and crew reportedly had several ghostly encounters in the cave. This has since been referenced in the comedy of The League of Gentlemen. The cave was also used in the filming of the British series "Blake's 7" (1978) and "Robin of Sherwood" (1983). The caves were used again for Doctor Who The end of Time (2009) Scene includes the Doctor sharing thoughts and visions with the ood.