While 2020 marks the 125th anniversary of the National Trust, one of its most unusual properties of all is Kinver Edge and The Rock Houses, in Staffordshire.
On September 29, 1917 – at a time when the First World War was still raging in Europe – around 200 acres of land on the Staffordshire-Worcestershire border was handed over by the Lee family to the National Trust which, itself, had only been founded some 22 years earlier.
A remarkable pocket of land that endures from the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago, Kinver Edge is possibly best known for its collection of Rock Houses, where a number of families lived in homes carved directly into the sandstone rock until as recently as the 1960s.
They have attracted visitors for well over a century, but mostly from 1901 when the Kinver Light Railway opened and connected Kinver to Stourbridge and Birmingham.
The previously neglected spot, on the edge of the Black Country, suddenly became “an attraction”, with some of the more enterprising residents of the Rock Houses more than happy to offer tea and cakes in a makeshift Rock House Café where a jug of tea and four cups were sold for two shillings, and cakes and jam for “two-and-six”.
The fame of the Rock Houses and their inhabitants spread, with visitors taking the chance to find out “who lived in a place like this”, while enjoying a cup of tea and a walk along the Edge. On Whit Monday, 1905, the tramway carried nearly 17,000 visitors to Kinver.
Locals, too, enjoyed this special place, and when the risk of quarrying became a distinct possibility at the start of the 20th century, the Lee family approached landowner Major William Harcourt Webb to see if he would be willing to sell them 200 acres of land. As soon as the sale was completed the Lee family gifted the land to the National Trust at a handover ceremony on September 29, 1917.
One of the members of the Lee family present that day was Stephen Lee, who was granted 48-hours leave as Captain in His Majesty’s Rifle Brigade.
While the Lee family has been involved in some way ever since, The Trust acquired further land and now looks after 579 acres which incorporate both Kinver Edge and the Rock Houses (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kinver-edge-and-the-rock-houses).
[This feature was prepared for EnjoyStaffordshire: http://www.enjoystaffordshire.com]