David McKie, 2006.
James VI of Scotland “took such a fancy to Royston that he built what was called a palace (though it was really not much more than a hunting lodge), knocking down at least two pubs in the process. … an account of the king’s devotion to Royston: ‘King James finds such felicity in the hunting life that he hath written to the council that it is the only means to maintain his health, which being the health and welfare of us all, he desires them to take the charge and burden of affairs, and see that he be not interrupted or troubled with too much business.’ This must be one of the grandest sick notes in history. But not everyone wanted him there. In 1604 a petition was prepared by people ‘adjacent to the town of Royston’ telling him, in effect, to behave himself better. The king sent the petitioners away, but he allowed them to present their address to his council. Later the king’s favourite dog disappeared, and when it returned a message was found attached to its collar. ‘Good Mr Jowler,’ it said (that was the name of the dog), ‘we pray you speak to the King (for he hears you every day, and so he doth not us) that it will please His Majesty to go back to London, for else the country will be undone; all our provision is spent, and we are not able to entertain him any longer.’
Dug out by hand – probably in the 13th century (the chalk can’t be carbon dated) – it’s like being inside a huge underground bell.
However, it’s the astonishing array of carvings that send a shiver down the spine: St Katherine, holding the wheel on which she was martyred; St Lawrence grasping the gridiron on which he was allegedly burned alive; multiple crucifixion scenes. But look closer and there’s something odd going on. Is that the Grand Master of the Knights Templar being burned at the stake? Why does a queen have a crown hovering above her head? And what’s a brazen sheela-na-gig doing there?
The cave may have been anything from a storage place to do with the market to a religious site. This later article is about the caves being at risk. This article is interesting about the reaction in the eighteenth century to the cave.