Mansfield Cave Dwellers

No 1. Old Rock Houses, Mansfield. Posted 1906/8
Private Collection
No 2.Rock Houses, Mansfield
Boots Cash Chemists 'Pelham' Series. Private Collection
No 3. Rock Houses, Mansfield
YMCA Series. Private Collection
No 4. Rock House Subsidence
Chad Dec 1980
No 5. Rock House Subsidence
Chad Dec. 1980
No 6.Rock Hill 1996
D Johnson Private Collection


Today [2011] the early Rock Houses of Mansfield still create a lot of historical interest, and for those interested there is much to be discovered in books, postcards and other sources. Below is just a taster from some of these.


W. Horner Groves who wrote about the Rock Houses in ‘The History Of Mansfield, Part 1’ published 1894, told readers they were at the top of Ratcliffe Gate near to the Reindeer Inn. He refers to their origin as being shrouded in mystery. Groves is of the opinion ‘these places are many hundred years old, and were made by squatters who saw an easy mans of escaping rent and possessing comfortable apartments into the bargain.’

For anyone interested in the Rock Houses, this section of Groves book is worth reading. He  refers to the enclosure of 1850 and mentions names of people who had lived in houses at the top of the rock who were besom-makers, and the names of the squatters in the lower houses.

When Groves wrote his book he stated only one of the houses was still occupied by ‘a man named Bramwell, who has converted  what was formerly the stack-yard of the besom-makers into a litle paradise in the way of gardens.’

Pictorial Books

Bygone Mansfield, Mansfield in Old Picture Postcards all have interesting picture of the Rock Houses and some of the occupiers.

Post Cards.

There have been many post cards produced featuring the Rock Houses and post marks can help date these. Additionally messages on the reverse can be of added information and interest. For example:

Post card No 1 dated 1906/8 sent to Miss Jowett, Morton, Rolleston from Kittie ? who included in her message ‘Thought you would like these interesting relics of Mansfield amongst your collection.’

In April 1910 M.C. sent post card No2 to South Wales and wrote the message ‘the rooms of houses on this card is hewn out of the rock as you will see where some are pulled down, they are very old but really wonderful.’

On a post card produced by Frith not dated, (not reproduced) the writer says ‘I thought you would like this of the old rock houses as we knew them.’


In December 1980 the CHAD newspaper took photographs of workman making safe these properties, the negatives were just recorded as Rock Houses subsidence.

The last photograph was taken by the late Dereck Johnson of Forest Town.


There are various memories about the Rock Houses including when youngster put grass sods on the chimneys creating a rather smoky atmosphere for the occupants, or throwing stones down the chimneys.

Suggestions for further research and photographs:

Books on Old Mansfield to be found in bookshops, libraries. Minute books and early documentation on Mansfield, in Nottingham Archives office.

Newspapers – Mansfield Local Studies Library

Old Postcards can often be discovered at Post Card Fairs

Census Returns


While we will consider people memories and relevant information to this page, we will not add comments of a political nature by action groups.



Comments about this page

  • I believe I am the great great great granddaughter of John Bramwell (via Lydia Bramwell, Elizabeth Lamb and then Ivan Bonser being my grandparent.

    I love the detail about their lives instead of just the pictures!

    I will definitely have to visit when back in the area. I am quite excited to have found this page and find a few very distant relations too

    By Diane Short (24/11/2020)
  • Recently doing research on Ancestry and found that John and Sarah Bramwell are ancestors of my husband, Chris Sands, on his mother’s side. Fascinating story.

    By Kim Sands (29/08/2020)
  • My great great grand parents lived there. John and Sarah Bramwell . Known as Old man Herbie , he made potions for coughs and colds . He grew his own herbs , John was also famous for making the Bissum Broom . John and Sarah collected the tree heathers from the downs above , mixed in his lavender s. His photo is in Mansfield Library.

    By Joy smith (25/04/2019)
  • Does anyone know about the Rock Houses near
    Newstead abbey?

    By Russell coleman (09/04/2019)
  • Great pics of Rock Houses, we spent hours playing there in the fifties, just down the road from where we lived. They are probably out of bounds to the kids now due to the modern ‘elf n safety rulings! Must have another look when next in Mansfield.   

    By Steeve Cee. (09/09/2017)
  • My mother Ruth Mary Johnson was actually born at no 1. She is now 85 years old and had 4 siblings (not sure if they were all born there as she was the oldest.)  She still lives in Mansfield and has many memories of her time there

    By Kendall Joel (07/04/2016)
  • I believe the inhabitants of the Rock Houses go back much further than those whom we know about..The caves could well go back as far as the Iron Age, when Rock Hill was just a track leading through Sherwood Forest to Southwell. The insides were carved out of the soft stone to give shelter to the very early settlers to Mansfield, when it was known as the town in the Forest.

    By alan curtis (08/09/2013)
  • I agree with you Tony, it is nice to be a part of so much history, and even knowing that our ancestor was a ‘cave dweller’ is something special, I think so anyway. It must have been a hard existance, especially in the winter months. But the cave house did have chimmneys, so I guess it would have been cosy in there. Are you aware that John Bramwell’s cave still exists? It is on private property, but I can visit whenever I’m in the area and the owner is very interested in it’s history, so we have a good relationship. The cave is in part of his garden and even today it is the most tranquil of places. One can easily imagine how John Bramwell stumbled across this part of town and thought it would make a very good home. Tucked away from the rest of the world he managed to turn it into a little piece of paradise. Which it must have been, as he lived there for most of his life. With regards to a book, I’m not aware of him ever writing a book himself, but he has been mentioned a couple of times in local newspapers of that time, and the artist Albert Sorby Buxton took photos of him and painted a picture which you will find in Mansfield Museum. In Mansfield Cemetery on Nottingham road you will find the gravestone of John and his wife Sarah, which is well looked after by his decendants, and has been visited many times by family from all over the UK and as far away as Australia.

    By Angela Roche (29/04/2013)
  • It’s nice to be part of a family with so much history. You are quite correct Jane and Thomas were my grandparents. Maybe this will urge me to pay another visit as I do still have family there, but even so I do thank you for the history lesson. Its good to know where we come from and it makes more sense of life. By the way, is it true that John wrote a book?

    By Tony Eadson (27/04/2013)
  • Welcome to the Bramwell Clan Tony! I know of your family tree and the connection to John Bramwell. He was your 3 x great Grandfather. His eldest daughter, Lydia Bramwell, married William Lamb, they had a daughter Sarah Lamb and she married William Henry Beastall. They had a daughter Jane Beastall who married Thomas Allies. I believe these last two are your Grandparents? It’s nice to come across new members of my family tree.

    By Angela Roche (26/04/2013)
  • Angela Thanks for the reply. I knew nothing of John Bramwell until I visited a cousin in Mansfield Woodhouse, it appears he was also my forefather. I lived there until the age of five and vaigley remember talk of the herb man but thought no more of it until my visit a few years ago. My mothers maiden name was Allies and I believe this side of my family are decendents of John Bramwell

    By Tony Eadson (25/04/2013)
  • The herb man was my 2 x great Grandfather, John Bramwell. He was born in 1815 and died in 1900. He was the last person to live in the rock houses. I have written a piece about him on this site. See the Rock House Families, in the People category.

    By Angela Roche (24/04/2013)
  • I would like to know something about someone who lived in one of the caves who was supposed to be the herb man.

    By Tony Eadson (23/04/2013)
  • The Mansfield Hostelry booklet states that after the Duke Of Wellington’s Beer-house Act in 1830, thirteen were quickly opened in Mansfield, including one in the Rock Houses which failed to prosper.

    By alan curtis (24/02/2012)
  • I’m not sure that the ale house was actually within the rock dwellings, but there was a beerhouse at the top of Rock Hill at around 1832-35, John Greenwood was the proprietor, and it was known as ‘Rock Houses’. I believe the building was later turned into a school house.

    By Angela Roche (23/02/2012)
  • I believe that I may have read that  one of the Rock Houses turned into an “Ale House ” around the turn of the century ? Does anyone know whether this is true or not? Alan

    By alan curtis (22/02/2012)

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