Tot Lord and Victoria Bone Cave remembered by Bill Mitchell

Tot Lord in his museum at Townhead, Settle (9292311)

Tot Lord and the skull of the Great Cave Bear found in sa Craven limestone cave (9292316)

Tot Lord, of Settle (9292320)

First published in Craven History
Last updated

AN exciting moment for me was one lunch-time when Freda, my wife, met me at the front door of our home in High Hill Grove, Settle, and - with a quiver of excitement in her voice - remarked: “J B Priestley and Jacquetta Hawkes are in the front room.” I chatted with Priestley. His wife excused herself and headed for Victoria Cave. She was keen to see the famous “bone cave” which had been extensively excavated. Its mouth is now a yawning hole.

WHENEVER such caves as Victoria, Jubilee and Attermire come to mind I think especially of Thomas Lord, better known as Tot, who was born in 1899 and died in October, 1965, his ashes being scattered on Attermire Scar.

Former Craven Herald editor Ian Plant, who was a keen caver, recalled Tot’s gamekeeper image. It was augmented by his frequent appearances in plus-fours, tweed hat and jacket.

Tot lived for a time at Townhead. His venerable house overlooked Settle. The main approach to it was along a sweeping road from near the parish church and across a steepish stretch of parkland. That road is now flanked by a Medical Centre and lots of private houses. When I visited Tot I chose a shorter route from the top of Constitution Hill.

The scene, as the house came into view on a summer’s day, was almost oriental. Townhead had a glass and iron veranda. Tot might be sitting on a cane chair, beside a cane table, not far from the massive elephant skull. On summer days, butterflies fluttered around petalled plants.

Tot had a glowing personality, his face being round and ruddy. If Tot was not at home, he might be at the Nuvic cinema – he loved watching films – or striding across the hills, questing for the flint remains of early people. A pothole near Stockdale Farm became known as Lord’s Hole.

A large room at Townhead had been elevated to the status of a museum, displaying a host of fascinating exhibits from ancient times included a reversed barbed harpoon, fashioned from antler, and a collection of dragonesque brooches. The lives of Tot Lord and some of his friends were transformed in 1924 when Dr Arthur Raistrick conducted at Settle some WEA lectures on local history.

Raistrick arranged field excursions to the caves and sites used by Early Man. When they were not at work or “poking about in t’deeard past”, as a local man might say, Tot and his friends would meet informally - no minute book - at the Settle Pigyard Club’s one-up, one-down building in a yard in Upper Settle. I was once admitted to this small room. Arthur Raistrick had recalled it for me. Features included an old coke stove, a table and some chairs. These were unwanted items bought on rounds undertaken by Thomas Lord, Tot’s grandfather, the family having been in business at a shop in lower Victoria Street.

Pigyard Club members, visiting Victoria Cave in 1925, located a stalagmite floor in a cave extension. From beneath the floor came the remains of Ice Age mammals, part of a bone-layer that had been described by an archaeologist in the 1870s. Here were remains of animal life in a remote period - about 120,000 years ago - when the climate was much warmer than it is today.

Included in this find were bones relating to hippopotamus, an extinct narrow-nosed rhinoceros and straight-tusked elephant. There were also traces of an extinct giant deer, spotted hyena and brown bear.

Tot Lord will never be forgotten. A popular local walk, signposted in the market place, is named after him. Whenever I think of the local caves and the images of prehistoric creatures, the name Tot comes into mind. Lord’s Hole lies on the slopes above Stockdale Farm, near Settle. Tot discovered the pothole in 1929 and made a partial descent by rope before returning with a larger party, which was well-enough equipped to make a complete descent.

Tot was “flint mad”. Members of the Lord family had been trained to locate microliths. Through the good offices of DF Peacock, a local solicitor, the club received archaeological recoveries from Victoria Cave that had been housed in the old Giggleswick Grammar School. In 1937, not long before being moved to Townhead, bygones spent part of their time in the town’s first Primitive Methodist Chapel. More imposing premises were now being used.

Tot, a district councillor, was at the gathering mustered to celebrate the anniversary of the awarding of Settle’s market charter. The Duke of Devonshire was shown old books that Tot had gathered. Some were from Bradfer Lawrence, a wealthy brewer. He had the habit of calling his Settle friend “Master Tot”.

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