Sunday, 29 June 2014

Micah Morey's Cave

John Ptak's blog Ptak Science Books has a very useful category - "History of Blank, Missing and Empty Things"- and this handily covers a now-lost Isle of Wight cave connected with a grim story.

I ran into this story of minor misadventure while browsing the Isle of Wight County Press archive:
Boys' Adventure on Arreton Down
Marooned in Michael Morey's cave
Five boys who went to explore and picnic in Michael Morey's cave on Arreton Down on Wednesday week had an alarming experience, two of their number being weather-bound in the gloomy interior for over four hours.
The cave is a weird place, where many years ago Michael Morey, fleeing from justice after murdering his grandson, took refuge and for a time lived on turnips. He was, however, caught and hanged on a gallows erected on the down and buried under a mound surmounting the cave, some 30 feet from the ground in the side of the chalk pit.

The boys, who had provisions, arrived at the spot about 11 a.m., and it was not until 3.30 p.m. that they were on their way home again after an adventure which might have proved more serious than being overtaken by hunger. The heavy rain had made access to the cave more than usually difficult, the chalk being very slippery. William Rossi and [Harry] Brooks managed to clamber up the cliff and enter the cave, where they had to remain for several hours, owing to the heavy rain making their descent impossible without assistance.

The other boys were unable to reach their companions and tried to throw some food to them, but were unsuccessful. The imprisoned boys subsisted on an orange and some chocolate.

In the meantime [Percy] Knight went for help to Quay-street Police-station. A telephone message was sent to P.C. Floyd, of Arreton, who, with pick and shovel, cut steps in the cliff face and thus enabled the boys to escape from the cave before darkness set in.
- Isle of Wight County Press, Saturday, January 5, 1935, p10 (reproduced as fair usage, IWCP Archive
This cave appears repeatedly in IWCP discussions of Morey, a figure of Isle of Wight folklore. For instance:
A correspondent asks me if I can tell him the history of what is known as “Micah Morey’s Cave,” in a chalk-pit on Arreton Down?

It is to the effect that ???? years ago an old man named Micah Morey and his grandson were living in a house in what is now known as Burnt-house lane, bordering on Pan and St. George’s Downs.

Micah fled and hid himself in a cave on Arreton Down
[Morey’s] body was taken, so the story goes, and hanged on a gibbet on the Down, “where it remained frightening by its creaking those unfortunate people who had to cross the Down at night. At last some who were bolder than the rest unhooked the gibbet and buried Micah’s remains where they themselves only knew.” The gibbet was placed on an ancient barrow, near the cave and close to the road-side, and the eminence was afterwards locally known as “Micah Morey’s Hump.” Such is the story of Micah Morey and his cave as far as I have been able to gather it, my information being principally derived from a small sheet printed some 35 years ago and signed “W. Cole, jun.” The cave is still a familiar object to all who pass by. Recently a friend of mine managed to clamber up and explore it, and what struck him most were the names and initials which he discovered cut into the chalk walls of the cave, showing that many visitors had been drawn to the spot by the weird traditions associated with it. Of course, Micah has been “celebrated” in verse, one of the poets who found “inspiration” in this direction being the late Mr. John Dore, of Newport.
… Occasional Jottings, by ‘Stylus’, Isle of Wight County Press, January 29, 1916, page 5 (reproduced as fair usage, IWCP Archive
... and a couple of decades later:
Human remains found at Arreton
Are they Micah Morey’s?
While excavating yesterday (Friday) on the top of Arreton Down, at the spot known as Micah Morey’s Hump, a workman named Charles Reynolds, of newport, unearthed a human skull and other remains, thought to be leg bones, at a depth of about two feet. The remains, which were in a good state of preservation, were carefully collected and placed in a sack. The hump, or mound, which is situated near what is known locally as Micah Morey’s cave, is about 30 feet in circumference, and rises some seven feet above ground level. Reynolds and another man, named Burt, were digging the mound to prepare for the erection of masts for the new short-wave transmitting station to be established there and operated by Messrs. Sherratt and Son, of Newport and Cowes.

The finding of human remains at this spot naturally gives rise to the question whether they may be those of Micah Morey, a grim figure in Island history, who is supposed to have been gibbeted at the spot for the murder of his grandson. Briefly, the story of Micah Morey, familiar to succeeding generations of Islanders, is that he lived along with his grandson at the place now known as Burnt House, so named, it is said, because Morey set fire to his cottage to efface his foul deed. The grandson was possessed of an inheritance which the old man so coveted that he cut off the boy’s head with a hatchet. He eluded capture for many days by hiding in a cave on Arreton Down, but was eventually taken by soldiers, and was hanged and gibbeted at the spot since known as Micah Morey’s Hump. An old writer gives the date of the tragedy as about 1730. Examination of the skull will no doubt prove if its age corresponds with this period. A skeleton found near the spot in 1878 was at the time claimed to be that of the old murderer, but archaeologists expressed the opinion that it was of far greater antiquity.
Isle of Wight County Press, April 29, 1933 (reproduced as fair usage, IWCP Archive
The Arreton Down bones discovery
The Deputy Coroner (Francis A. Joyce, Esq.) was satisfied that the human remains unearthed on the top of Arreton Down on Friday last week were those of a very ancient burial and no inquest was deemed necessary.
This is not the first time that human remains discovered on Arreton Down have been thought to be connected with Micah Morey. "A fragment of Isle of Wight folklore," published many years ago, says that in 1878 some men were digging on Arreton Down when accidentally they found the osseous remains of a man. These men … immediately declared them to be those of "old Micah Morey, who cut off his grandson's head." The scientific hypothesis was against this supposition and favoured the view that the remains were those of an Anglo-Saxon chieftain, whose death was of far more remote antiquity. A poem of the late Mr. J. Dore, of Newport, published many years ago, contained the following:

Old Micah Morey, I've heard say,
His grandson's head cut off one day.
* * *
He was the murderer proved to be,
For which he paid the penalty,
Upon a gibbet he was strung,
Where many days the body hung.
* * *
The house in which the murd'rer dwelt
He set on fire, and then rebuilt
'Twas "Burnt House" called---its name to-day,
Though six-score years have passed away.
Isle of Wight County Press, Saturday, May 6, 1933, page 9 (reproduced as fair usage, IWCP Archive
It's interesting that the story was well on the way to being mythologised by the 1930s, as the authors of these accounts were evidently unaware that Morey's crime and execution are well-documented, though with some differences in detail. His first name is uncertain; it's recorded variously as Michael, Micah and Michal. He wasn't hanged in situ, but at Winchester on 19th March 1737 - see - but the rest of the story is substantially true. His body was hung from a gibbet set in the bowl barrow now called Michael Morey's Hump (a scheduled Ancient Monument ID 1010008); the location is still called Gallows Hill. There are some nice pictures of the Hump at The Modern Antiquarian ("Michael Moorey's Hump"). It appears to be generally accepted that the gibbet was recycled as a roof beam, dated 1737, which can be seen in the nearby Hare and Hounds inn, along with a skull which may or may not be the one found in 1933.

As to the cave where Morey is supposed to have hidden, it would have been somewhere on the north face of Downend Chalk Pit, on the lip of which Michael Morey's Hump is located.

1898 OS map. Historic map data is (© and database right
Crown copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd. (All rights reserved
2009). Low-resolution image reproduced for small-scale non-profit
use under the terms described in the Old Maps FAQ.
It was, however, largely destroyed around the time of World War 2:
Until the last war the cave in the chalk pit was a popular scene of adventurous play by local boys and of visits by interested grown-ups. It could only be reached by a rather risky climb up the face of the chalk pit. Inside, the walls were covered with the carved names or initials of persons who had explored it. Unfortunately only a small part of the cave now exists. Most of it was demolished in mining practice operations by Canadian troops during the time they were training in the Island for the Dieppe raid.
Isle of Wight County Press, An Islander's Notes, by Vectensis, Saturday, September 1, 1956 (reproduced as fair usage, IWCP Archive
I found a couple of mid-1980s references to Isle of Wight County Council discussions about preserving what remained:
Mr. J. Ritchie revealed how 30 years ago he refused to blow up part of the chalkpit below the burial ground that contained what Canadian wartime sappers left of Morey's cave ... Mr. P. Breach warned that the cave was now in danger of being filled in by rubble and soil being dumped on that side of the pit ... the committee asked that steps be taken to try to preserve the cave and to prevent the possibility of further damage to the burial mounds by motor-cyclists.
- Preservation of killer's haunts: call for report, IWCP, Friday, June 21, 1985, p41

County councillors want to preserve the last vestiges of Michal Morey's Cave, Downend, the spot where the notorious woodcutter is said to have hidden while being sought for the murder of his grandson in 1735.
Mr J.C. Ritchie said it would be a "very sad loss" if the cave, on the chalk cliff face below the barrows, was allowed to disapear altogether, for it was "part of parcel" of the story of Michal Morey. Mr D. Tomalin, county archaeological officer, said he had inspected the cave two years ago and found it had become merely a depression in the cliff face, with a vertical drop of at least 18 feet to it. There had been hardly anything to see, and he had thought it was not worth keeping.
- Land containing an historic case may be preserved, IWCP, Friday, September 12, 1986, p47
By now, I'm sure there's nothing at all to see; the quarry, now occupied by some industrial unit, isn't accessible.

Does anyone know of any archaeological / geological accounts of the cave? 

For another lost Isle of Wight cave, see Swinburne, Culver Climber.

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- Ray

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