The name derives from an outlaw, Poole, who reputedly used the cave as a lair and a base to rob travellers in the fifteenth century. Archeological explorations in 1981 and 1983 have suggested that the cave was occupied from the Bronze Age. Some of the finds have been interpreted as suggesting that one of the chambers was used for religious purposes by Romano-Britons; an alternative explanation is that the cave was a metal-workers' workshop.
Officially opened as a show cave in 1853 by the 6th Duke of Devonshire, the cave was already a tourist attraction, being listed as one of the Wonders of the Peak by Charles Cotton in 1683. Early tour guides would attempt to extort money out of visitors by threatening to extinguish the lights and run away, leaving the visitor in darkness, if more money was not forthcoming. Mary, Queen of Scots, is claimed to have been an early visitor. Under the management of the Duke's overseer, Frank Redfern, the entrance was widened and, in 1859, a system of gas lamps was installed to light the caverns (one of the earliest uses of gas in this context), which remained in use until the cave closed in 1965. It reopened in 1976.
The region currently open to the public is around 310 metres (1,020 ft) in length, and includes chambers named the Roman Chamber, Great Dome, Poached Egg Chamber and Sculpture Chamber. Features of interest include large stalactites/stalagmites called the Flitch of Bacon and Mary Queen of Scots' Pillar, as well as stalagmites with a porous texture and "poached egg" colour, which has been attributed to minerals leached from lime-burning on Grin Low above. Part of the cavern is accessible to wheelchairs.
The cave system is believed to extend further, but has not been explored. In 1998 a video camera lowered down a borehole revealed the existence of a further chamber, branded "Seventh Heaven".
There is a visitor centre including a cafe and shop.
- The writer Daniel Defoe dismissed the cavern as merely "another of the wonderless wonders of the Peak".
- "Geology". Poole's Cavern/Buxton Civic Association Limited. Retrieved 25 May 2012.
- "Poole's Cavern and Grin Low Wood SSSI: Citation" (PDF). Natural England. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
- Oldham, Tony (2002). History of Poole's Cavern. Show Caves of Great Britain. Archived from the original on 9 October 2017. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
- Myers A. An archaeological resource assessment of Roman Derbyshire. The East Midlands Archaeological Research Framework Project Archived 27 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
- "History of the Showcave". Poole's Cavern. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
- Hone, William, ed. (1838). "Natural Curiosities of Derbyshire". The Table Book. III. London. p. 11–16. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
- Ford, Trevor D. (2002). Rocks & Scenery of the Peak District. Landmark Publishing. ISBN 1843060264.
- "Unexplored Chambers". Poole's Cavern/Buxton Civic Association Limited. Retrieved 25 May 2012.
- "Café and shop". Poole's Cavern. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
- Defoe, Daniel (1724–27). "Letter 8, Part 2: The Peak District". A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, Divided into Circuits or Journies. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
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