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Committee Members

Hon. Secretary: Nigel Taylor (772)
Hon. Treasurer: Mike Wilson (1130)
Membership Secretary: Henry Bennett (1079)
Caving Secretary: Toby Maddocks (1310)
Hut Warden Jane Clarke (983)
Tacklemaster: Bob Smith (1203)
Hut Engineer Henry Dawson (1313)
Bulletin Editor: Nick Harding (1289)
Floating Fiona Crozier (1305), Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)

Non-Committee Posts
BEC Web Page Editor: Henry Bennett (1079)
Librarian: Phil “MadPhil” Rowsell (1275)
Auditor Chris Smart
Club Archivist Sue Dukes

Club Trustees:
Martin Grass (790), Phil Romford (985), Nigel Taylor (772) and Mike Wilson (1130)

Cover Photo:    Exit to Peilklieng Pouk, Meghalaya, India. Taken by Henry Dawson who assures me that the entrance is around 70m high.

The Belfry Bulletin is the official journal of the Bristol Exploration Club.  It is available to distribution via printed media, html or pdf. The BEC website offers the full archive of every single BB every published. The last years BBs are only available online to subscribed members of the club.

Ave Cavers!

Welcome to a packed issue of the BB.

Well firstly I would like to thank everyone who, through their prestigious use of tactical voting kept me in the position of BB editor. Once again I offer my apologies to the committee for not attending the 2007 AGM due in part to circumstances beyond my control. 

I must pause here to thank the BB editorial team i.e. Jrat and Henry B for polishing up this (e)steamed organ before it goes to press. Their skill enables most of my mistakes to be ironed out making me look better than I am… 

Although some do slip by, namely:

Master Audsley has asked me to point out to fellow followers of the bat that there is an error in BB528 in the Caine Hill article, I quote, ‘the photo of a bod at the bottom of the shaft is named as Dudley Herbert, it should be Mike Thompson.’

The editorial team have been delicately chastised, six of the best trousers down. Me included.

Lastly, here’s wishing everyone a splendidly fine Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Yer Ed.

Look out! It’s…. The Committee

To bring everyone up to speed here’s how the new committee looks.

Hon Secretary                           Nigel Taylor
Treasurer                                   Mike Wilson
Caving Secretary                      Toby Maddocks
Tacklemaster                            Bob Smith
Hut Warden                               Jane Clarke
Hut Engineer                             Henry Dawson (see below)
Editor                                          Nick Harding
Membership Secretary            Henry Bennett
Floating                                      Fiona Crozier,
                                                    MadPhil Rowsell,

Non-committee posts:

Librarian                                    MadPhil Rowsell
Hon. Auditor                             Chris Smart
Club Archivist                           Sue Dukes

The Hut Engineer will be Henry Dawson but due to the mechanisms of the constitution we could only appoint an existing committee member. Toby Maddocks was placed here but will not function in this role.

Tribute to "Alfie" - Stanley John Collins

Stanley John Collins, known to all his friends as "Alfie", passed away at his home in Litton, near Chewton Mendip, on 16 October 2007 aged 83. He had been a member of the Bristol Exploration Club for sixty years.

In his eulogy at the funeral in Litton Parish Church, Tony "Sett" Setterington explained how Stanley became "Alfie" - At the start of the Second World War, Stanley Collins was a pupil at a school in Maidstone, Kent, which for safety reasons was evacuated to Dorchester. While there he joined the Junior Training Corps, a precursor of the Army Cadets, and he found that he had to conform to Regular Army rules and wear a greatcoat in winter. Wartime rules required that brass buttons were clean but not shiny, a difficult condition to achieve, especially so if the buttons were not a matching set, which was true in "Alfie’s" case. At the time there was a film entitled "Alf’s Button", which told the fictional tale of a soldier, named Alf, whose greatcoat had one button made when Aladdin’s lamp was melted down and which retained magical properties when it was rubbed. "Alfie’s" odd button didn’t have any magical properties but it did earn him his nickname!

From school, "Alfie" progressed to the University of Bristol where he studied radio science, or in today's terms, electronics. He became an active member of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, demonstrating his fitness by cycling 100 miles in a day and posting cards en route as proof.

In due course he was directed to work at Kolster Brands in Sidcup, Kent, where he was a member of the team designing the first, post-war, 12 inch, black and white television set.

During his stay in Kent "Alfie" regularly travelled to Mendip on long weekends, and when wartime restrictions on jobs were lifted he moved to Bristol to work in the aircraft industry. When he was living in Clifton he married Jean and they had a daughter Sue, now living in North America. Unfortunately Jean became unwell and had to move into a care home where she eventually died.

"Alfie" joined the Bristol Exploration Club in 1947 and was soon actively caving and digging, especially on Eastern Mendip where he was involved with Pat Browne and his father in work in Stoke Lane Slocker and Brownes' Hole. He gave his name to Alfie's Room in the latter cave. After trial excavations in the late 1940s, he became a key member of the digging team which eventually opened up St. Cuthbert's Swallet in July 1953, but the tightness of the original Entrance Rift restricted access at first to only the smallest members of the BEC. The Rift was progressively enlarged and "Alfie" was able to join the exploratory trips and later assisted Don Coase with a preliminary survey of the cave.

On Saturday evenings the BEC would enjoy another of "Alfie’s" talents, playing the piano for sing songs in the Hunters’. At this time, he began composing his "Spelaeodes", lengthy comical recitations describing the travails of such fictional caving characters as Percy Pound, Dennis Drain and Kenneth Lyle. With cartoon illustrations by fellow BEC member Jock Orr, a collection of them were published as "Reflections" in 1971.

"Alfie" was a very capable DIY builder and, assisted by Jill Rollason, he erected the stone tackle shed at the Belfry. He also bought a pair of miners' cottages in Bishop Sutton near Mendip and, with some help from friends, converted them into a single house. For some years "Alfie" edited the Belfry Bulletin and when relieved of this duty following a Committee dispute he edited an alternative newsletter "The Bulletin", publishing it twice yearly for some 30 more years. He also continued to organise annual dinners for the older section of Mendip cavers.

With his second wife, Sally, and children, Jacqueline and Deborah, he moved to Long Roof Barn in Litton, but later "downsized" to a smaller cottage in the village when Jacqueline left home and Deborah sadly died.

A subsequent decision to build an extension for Jacqueline, her husband, Steve, and their family ended in disaster when a mistake by a builder caused a fire which burnt down the house, taking with it furniture and contents including computers, archives and musical instruments. A much-enlarged house was eventually rebuilt and both families moved in, but tragically Sally contracted septicaemia from which she never recovered. This was a terrible blow to "Alfie", who was already suffering with breathing problems and deteriorating health and he never really recovered. Although he planned to attend the recent "Veterans" dinner he didn’t manage it and died at home on Tuesday 16 October.

"Alfie" was a man of many talents, and any caver who was fortunate enough to hear him recite one of his famous Spelaeodes in the Belfry or the Hunters' will vouch for his wonderful command of the English language and his sense of humour and fun.

Based on the original eulogy read out during the funeral service by Tony "Sett" Setterington, amended and enlarged by Rich Witcombe

Membership News

In the last few months we’ve had a number of new members. Please join me in welcoming the following: Mark Stephens, Kate Humphries, Jo Hardy, Maxine Bateman, Jinni King, Sissel Balomatis.

Meghalaya - International Expeditions From a First Timer's Perspective

by Henry Dawson

I'm sure you have all read through expedition reports and have been adequately informed about the various different caves found, their lengths, locations and general characteristics, so for this article I would like to give a bit more of a first hand, human perspective of an expedition.

This was my first expedition. I had most generously been invited by Tony Jarratt. I thought about it for about half a second and accepted, then drove home figuring out how I would explain to the missus and my boss that I wanted to vanish for a month to go down holes in the ground.

I managed to get time off work and my girlfriend was disturbingly eager for me to go away for so long so all I had to sort out was the monetary side of things. I had plenty of warning and advice on good airlines to use from J'rat so booked tickets to places I had never heard of and counted up what I had left. This was disappointingly little but I got by for most things by extending the overdraft (and being a true Yorkshireman). I came unstuck with my insurance and jabs. Prior to the trip I got an e-mail from the organiser giving details of some companies. Being inexperienced I got the BCA all singing all dancing insurance and in retrospect I could happily have got away with the German equivalent of the RAC (The ADAC) who do a travel medical insurance that covers you for accidents and medical repatriation in the event of an accident and does not exclude caving. To gain this cover you need to join the ADAC (22 Euro) and pay an additional charge (11.70 Euro) for the medical cover.  The ADAC Website has further information www.adac.de (most of it in German with some English).  If you take this option you will need an additional travel insurance to cover delays and loss of baggage etc.  A normal travel policy that is likely to cost between £50 to £60 will cover this. I would recommend this to anyone going to remote locations where your friends will pull you out of the cave, as there is no rescue team.

Starting to panic a bit about the costs involved I was informed of what the Ian Dear Memorial Fund was. Once more I thanked myself for joining the BEC and made an application. Those controlling the fund were flexible and extremely helpful when considering my application. All I needed to do to apply was write a letter explaining who I was, what I was doing and why I needed the money. I gave this to a member of the committee and the application was dealt with expeditiously. The fund was very generous and made a substantial difference for me. To the fund and those looking after it I am very grateful and would recommend that all young members of the BEC consider applying for this help when going on expeditions.

The time came and I picked up Tony who insisted on going to the Hunter's before we did anything. We later climbed on the plane and Tony promptly set about harassing the stewards to get a supply of gin and tonics going. Numerous hours later we landed in Kolkata (Calcutta) and walked over to the domestic terminal fighting off taxi drivers and hawkers.  Here we met a few of the others and sat down for a seemingly interminable time period in an airport where everything closed overnight.

The next flight to Guwahati was quick and then we were in a Sumo 4x4 and settled in for a 4-hour journey through some really pretty hills covered with jungle. Feeling shattered I was reluctant to drop off as there was so much to see. We got into Shillong and I was glad of Tony's company as he navigated the cab to Brian's house. A lovely little compound right in the middle of town.

The next day we went for a wander around the market. This maze of tiny stalls had everything we needed so we stocked up on digging gear and blankets and I set about trying to get some warm clothes to replace the coat I had left at Kolkata airport. Indian airways seemingly indiscriminately confiscate whisky (fluids) and batteries from hand baggage. Its worth going with just a book in your hands on internal flights. I found Tony and Neil in the Centrepoint's Bar. The two of them had been going at it since before lunch and were not interested in leaving for such distractions as an evening meal. Having chosen the strangely ubiquitous Chinese food for tea I returned to find Tony and Neil in quite a state chattering away to some rich locals who had paid for their tab. Must have been rich! It got late and Tony fell over and whacked his head. We got him and Neil back to Brian's and crashed out. A fairly disturbed night followed and I was woken at one point as J'rat tried to get into Neil's sleeping bag by mistake!

The next day we piled into an old bus (the Meghalaya expedition is very organised) and settled in for 5 hours of driving past piles of coal and chatting to Phillippa Glanvill to get out to a patch of large tents on the side of a hill in the middle of nowhere. I wandered into what I would come to call the 'Bamboo Belfry' feeling like a novice amongst experts and feeling not a little trepidation. I had been to such remote places plenty of times before but never had I been amongst such a collection of cavers, for a whole month. The ice soon broke as we complained about the tea made for us by the cook (his name was Swer). Base camp was quite a luxurious place with long-drop toilets, people cooking and washing for you, warm water for bathing and an infinite supply of beer. Apparently we got through about 1000, 1 litre bottles!

Next day and I was put with Mark Brown and a few others. A great chap who did a brilliant job of managing the expedition for the majority of the time we were there. It was Simon Brooks who started the expedition and headed it up each year but after several years of attendance Mark had taken over a lot of the management. Most of the Meghalayan caves around base camp drop down 90-100m of pitches and then get into enormous trunk passages. It is hard to wrap your head around the volumes of water that flow through some of the passages. Photos do not really do them justice, as I was to find out.

My first cave had a 9 pitch SRT section followed by some level passage then we were straight into surveying. This surprised me as I am used to the idea of there only being a minority that get to push caves whilst the majority 'entrance bash' and carry out support roles. Not in Meghalaya. There is such as wealth of passage and such easy access that everyone on the expedition got to survey a reasonable amount of virgin cave.

We left the cave and were pressed into playing hula-hoop with a big gang of cheering village kids. I was pretty happy to find that those on the expedition were of a similar level to me and not the mega-cavers I was expecting. I also had a great opportunity to learn new skills such as surveying and setting bolts. Apart from a few SWCC courses this opportunity is sadly unavailable in the UK.

On my return to camp I found out that Tony's injured head had become worse and one of our expedition's four doctors had carted him off to Shillong for a brain scan. Thankfully this showed that he did indeed have a brain and that there was no lasting damage.

The days progressed and I was surprised to find that I woke every day really happy to go caving. Although rather wet, Meghalayan caves are warm and usually spacious. A set of thermals and a lightweight oversuit will do any caver in this type of climate. A shorty was enough for most wet caves and a Petzl Duo or similar AA battery run light will do in even very remote areas. Make sure you get good batteries though as fakes and local brands tend to be dreadful.

Just as I was getting used to everything at base camp I found out I was being sent away with some Germans to a little village in the jungle called Sielkan. Rather concerned at leaving all the people I knew I put my kit together and set about introducing myself to these new people. Then disaster struck! The Meghalaya Adventurers' Association had been pursuing an action in the high court to get better control of the illegal mining on the ridge. Lafarge was trying to turn the mountain into cement and some small-scale coal miners had got caught in the crossfire. These turned up en-masse looking rather menacing and ordered us off the ridge. Having found several dead people allegedly due to a squabble between the miners we took them seriously. Tempted to face it out, our minds were made up when they started threatening the villagers. We pulled all our gear out of the caves and sat in base camp looked over by a load of coppers armed with machine guns. Meanwhile Simon did some clever negotiating with the miners and after a few days sitting out some pretty persistent rain we got the go ahead and set off for Sielkan.

Sielkan consisted of about twenty bamboo huts two hours walk from the nearest 'road.' The village's water supply was from a huge doline through which a river flowed. This cave required life jackets and Henry Rockcliff generously lent me a wetsuit. I have to say that whilst I thought the caves on the ridge were beautifully decorated, nothing had prepared me for this! The main passage was a huge 40m by 30m river passage 3km long with a bat colony part way through numbering about 1 million bats. The side passages were various but the main one, appropriately called Perfect Passage (again large) was both varied and intensely decorated. This wonderland of gypsum, sandstone, limestone and every type of formation you could think of all in a plethora of ways, shapes and forms left me gaping. We netted about 3km of newly surveyed passage and exchanged a few anxious glances when we found both bear and big cat footprints down there with us!

On later trips we used the Bamboo Maypole to access high-level passages. For this technique you asked the village chief for the largest piece of bamboo he could lay his hands on and dragged it underground. The bamboo had to be fresh and green as it lost strength quickly once cut. Underground you tied a ladder to it with slings and had two ropes to steady it if necessary, then propped it against the aven and climbed up the ladder. It was all rather wobbly but worked brilliantly and saved many hours of bolt climbing.

Caving in new areas seems mostly to involve going and seeing the village head-man and asking permission to go down their caves. Then local kids are recruited to find entrances for some small remuneration, these are logged with GPS and many notes taken due to the lack of satellites then quickly checked to see if they go, a machete was essential.

The next few weeks passed with some good progress and quite a few comments made about J'rat's remarkable fortune at finding connections (although he puts it down to 40 years of caving and several years of thought). I learnt how to do survey book and got started on bolt placements. I was really enjoying myself and all too soon the expedition ended. We returned to Shillong for more drinking and shopping, then to Calcutta from where we flew home.

I would have found it very difficult to do this expedition had it not been for the generous support of the Bristol Exploration Club. To them and those on the expedition I would like to extend my profound and sincere gratitude.


Apologies to Jrat but the map below was left out of BB528.

Please cut this out and staple it, in a slapdash and crude manner into BB528.

Hutton Update: New Pit Opened…then closed again

Nicks Harding and Richards have opened up another pit on Hutton Hill. What at first seemed to be a rather uninspiring depression turned out to be a striking bedding feature. After a series of digging sessions including one with the antipodean Ray Deasy they have cleared this feature out.

But exposing the back wall and emptying out more material has revealed that the pit, one in a line of three, is in fact a dead end. Initial excitement, as is often the way, has now turned to disappointment. The pit is being closed down and their attentions are shifting to another collection of holes nearer to the entrance of Bleadon Cavern. 

Attempts are being made to open one of the two shafts in Upper Canada Cave. Both were blocked from above, which suggests upper passages somewhere between May Tree and UCC. 

Your Flexible Friend ... the Ladder

by the late Dave Irwin, in his memory

The use of wooden rigid ladders in cave exploration, including cane ladders of the Far East, is probably as old as The Mists of Time, but the use of the flexible ladder is another story. Whilst looking for references relating to this subject Ray Mansfield mentioned to me that he believed that the Chinese were using such ladders in caves during the 14th - 15th centuries but he could not relate to any particular source. Published accounts of exploration have stated that the first use of a flexible ladder was during the exploration of the Macocha Chasm in the late 18th century.   So it .may come as a surprise when it will be shown that a Mendip caver can claim the honour some 105 years earlier!

John Beaumont [c.1650 - 1731]

Details of the early exploration of Lamb Leer Cavern are well known to most Mendip cavers based upon four letters sent by John Beaumont to the Royal Society between 1676 and 1683. Due to the misleading Lowthorpe abridged reprint in 1705, together with several later editions of this work, the included errors were perpetrated by many later authors including Herbert Balch. Very few later researchers consulted the original documents; investigative work by Trevor Shaw resolved the problem correctly identifying the original documents. The references given here will relate to the original sources, namely the Royal Society Transactions and Collections to which Beaumont sent four letters, two in 1676; the others in 1681 and 1683. The topics were wide ranging but included details of 'rock plants' [Crinoids] he had investigated; an account of the ailments afflicting both miners and cattle, and he also submitted detailed descriptions of some of the Mendip caves he knew at Wookey Hole and Cheddar. His descriptions of the caves were based upon first hand knowledge the largest of which was located on Harptree Hill above the village of West Harptree. The exploratory trips into this cave were carried out by Beaumont accompanied by local miners and the published account of its exploration is a revelation. It is factual and, allowing for the presentational style of the time, his account would be readily accepted as an exploratory report in modern caving publications. The cave - Lamb Leer Cavern.

The then entrance shaft, now known as the Beaumont Shaft, was passed without comment implying that this was done using the miners’ techniques of the day, fixed wooden ladders or stemples or a combination of both. However, on reaching the head of the 20m pitch into Main Chamber he describes the descent in great detail- This is important for it implies that the technique was not commonly used by the miners. Beaumont wrote that:

... a vast Cavern opens it self, so that by the light of our Candles we could not fully discern the roof, floor, nor sides of it; I encouraged the Miners by offer of a double Salary to any that would go down in to it, they all refusing, I fastened a cord about me, and ordered them to let me down gently after the Rocks, but being down about two Fathom  I found the Rocks to bear away from me, so that I could touch nothing to guide my self by, and the rope began to turn round very fast, whereupon I ordered the Miners to let me down as quick as they could, and upon the descent of 12 Fathom I came to the bottom, where untying my cord I went about to search the Cavern ... This Cavern is about 60 Fathom in the circumference, above 20 Fathom in height, and about 15 in length, it runs along after the Rakes, and not crossing them as the leading Vault does. At the breast of this Cavern, which terminates it to the West, I discovered some good Lead-Ore, and all other kindly sorts of Earth and Stones which usually lie with it...

Not wanting to repeat the discomfiture experienced on the first descent and wishing to get his miners down into the chamber to work for ore and Bole earths , Beaumont

... got a Ladder of Ropes to be made for an easy descent into this great Cavern, and caused Miners to sinck ten Fathom deep in the bottom of it, just before this breast, and we had always some leading of Ore in our working, but finding often little Caverns in our work, which are not so kindly for one as firm ground, we at length desisted. ...

The discomfort referred to by Beaumont during the descent was also experienced by McMurtrie when he made the same descent by rope soon after its re-opening in 1880.

The 18th and 19th centuries

Though the publications of the Royal Society were widely read throughout Europe the use of ladders in cave exploration was not common practice for some time. Absolon relates that rope ladders were used to explore the Macocha Chasm or Abyss near Brno in southern Moravia in the Czech Republic during the 18th century .  Shaw refers to a 'proto-ladder' devised by Lazarus Schopper in his attempt to descend the chasm in 1723. The hair-raising design was that '... he drove pegs through his rope to serve as footholds.'

A rope ladder proper was used to descend into the main chamber of Grotte des Demoiselles in France in 1780. However, from the mid 19th century the flexible ladder was in common usage for cave exploration in Europe. Edward Hanke von Hankenstein devised a “folding ladder to aid his exploration of the Macocha Chasm in the 1860s”. Shaw notes that the 

... earlier use of ropes followed the then established mining procedures but Hankenstcin used folding ladders. Each was approximately 5 m long and could be assembled to a length of up to 60 m. The contraption weighed some 100 lbs.

How it was constructed and from what it was made is not stated.

Meanwhile in Britain ...

During the first quarter of the 19th century a large number of caves had been or were being explored. On Mendip the Banwell caves were accessible to the public during 1824-25; in 1837 Cox's Cave was accidentally found and opened for the public a year later. In the north some fifty caves were explored during this period including Goyden Pot [1832] and Ingleborough [Clapham] Cave in 1837.

It was not until the 1840s that the two best known shafts in the Dales, namely Gaping Gill [Ghyll] and Alum Pot received the attention of the 'curious'.  To explore these required a very different technique to that already used to explore the 'easier' caves. The first attempt at Gaping Gill was made about 1842  when John Birkbeck [1817-1890] was lowered down the shaft on a rope. How he clung to the rope is not known but it is possible that the end of the rope was lashed to a wooden bar upon which Birkbeck sat. Be that as it may, it was a hairy escapade.  William Howson, a local schoolmaster, was to later write that:

... this chasm has been descended to a depth of one hundred and ninety feet and there is no landing place until this depth is reached.  ..

According to Beck, Birkbeck made another attempt in the following year when, though not proceeding beyond the ledge, now known as the Birkbeck Ledge, he was able to plum the lower section of the shaft determining that the depth to the floor of the shaft was a further 150 ft.

Slightly earlier, through the 1830s and 1840s, Alum Pot created some local interest for guides could be hired for a descent into Long Churn Cave. The trip ended beyond Dr. Bannister's Handbasin at the head of the 12m Dolly Tubs, which had yet to be descended. On their return, the visitors climbed a short wooden ladder to avoid a wetting in the Handbasin.

Intrigued as to what lay at the foot of the Alum Pot shaft, Birkbeck and William Metcalfe [1815-1888] led a party of 10 including Howson into Long Churn with the intention of descending Dolly Tubs. For the trip they brought with them ropes, pulleys and a fire-escape belt. Ropes were used to descend Dolly Tubs and from The Bridge Howson was strapped into the fire-escape belt and lowered to the floor some 18m below but due to lack of adequate tackle to explore beyond this point the trip was called off.

Another attempt by the same group was made a year later but this time the descent would be by means of a winch slung from beams placed across the top of the main shaft. Of these attempts Howson recorded that the first down to the rock bridge was unsuccessful for fatigue

... and wet prevented the party from doing more than reaching the bottom, but next year the same adventurous spirits descended from the summit of the Pot by means of a windlass fixed on two baulks of timber laid across the chasm. ...

The timber beams were left in place until 1893 when they were declared to be rotten.  On the second occasion the final sump was reached. The situation remained thus until 1870 when Birkbeck and Metcalfe were joined by William Boyd Dawkins and three ladies. In all 10 persons went down making a successful descent to the bottom.  Short lengths of ladder and ropes was lowered enabling the shorter pitches below The Bridge to be tackled.  What type of ladder is unclear, some believe that they were rigid structures, lashed together for the longer pitches.

By the 1890s the exploration of caves in the Yorkshire Dales became a regular activity of the members of the Yorkshire Ramblers Club [YRC] and many of the entrances were by then well known though the caves were not explored until the early years of the 20th century. To undertake the exploration of Meregill, Juniper and other notable classics rope ladders were regularly used.

The YRC was formed in 1892 and one of the earliest projects was another attempt to bottom the Gaping Ghyll main shaft; the first since Clibbon's unsuccessful descent in 1882, though he too reached Birkbeck's Ledge.  In 1895 one of YRC founding members, Edward Calvert, investigated the top of the shaft determining that rope ladders would be the right choice of equipment in order to make the descent. Knowing that the measured depth of the shaft was about 360 ft he and others set-to and commenced building manilla rope and wooden rung ladders.   For various reasons the planned trip was delayed and, as Beck commented this was to cost Calvert “ ... the honour of the first descent, ...”

Meanwhile Eduard Martel [1859-1938] had planned a visit to Great Britain to address the 6th Geographical Congress in London, in August 1895. He took full advantage of the invitation and transformed his visit into a tour of various caving regions in order to collect information that was later published in his Irlande et caverns anglaises. This included a tour of the northern caves and investigations of the deep potholes that were known to exist not far from Enniskillen in Ireland. The site of special interest was the as yet un-descended Gaping Ghyll. Consequently he communicated with James Farrar, the landowner and obtained permission to make another attempt. Martel brought with him some 300 ft of ladder and some length of rope.  The ladder by itself would not reach the floor of the shaft some 360 ft below. This was achieved by lowering the whole ladder 60 ft down the shaft. To reach the ladder Martel had to first climb down the holding rope complete with telephone and its cable and lifeline. That day, 1st August 1895, made caving history by bottoming the shaft and recording initial details of the great chamber.

Though bitterly disappointed at being 'pipped to the post’ Calvert and his companions finally made the first British descent in the following year on the 9th May 1896 using a Bosun's Chair.  YRC also used ladders for the exploration of Long Kin West during October 1896 and for the exploration of Rowten Pot in July 1897.

Ladders used by the cave explorers at the end of the 19th century were of mixed design. Some explorers were using rope sides with a combination of wood and rope rungs. The wooden rung being introduced to stabilise the ladder during the climb preventing the awful closing of the rope sides making it very difficult to climb unless they were belayed separately. Others preferred to pay the weight penalty by having their ladders made up of rope sides and all wooden rungs.  In 1898 the 1st edition of Encyclopaedia of Sport included a section on cave exploration. 

... As the sport of cave exploration and the descent of potholes is a comparatively new one, and as little is known about it in England outside those districts where it is practised, a few words on its evolution are necessary to the understanding of its methods.....

This section was written by John Green, Edward Calvert, Frank Ellet and Thomas Gray; all 'first wave' YRC potholers. By 1910 YRC had 480 ft [146m] stock of ladder, which was probably a mixture of metal/rope rung combination as well as the accepted design of wooden rung/rope ladder.

So by the 1890s flexible ladders were in common use by cave explorers. But what of the design? A ladder with sides and rungs of rope would be extremely difficult to climb and not least tiring. Furthermore the rope would stretch and the sides collapse together so that the rungs hung in loops. A nightmare to say the least. To overcome the problem each side rope would require a separate belay point. The well known lifeline signals were introduced to caving about this time.

However ladder design had progressed by this time and two basic designs were regularly used; the pros and cons of each were obviously the subject of much discussion. The most rigid - stable of these designs was the rope sides and wooden rung configuration but they were heavy and extremely bulky. Martel used this design for his Gaping Ghyll descent.

In order to reduce both weight and bulk a compromise design between the true rope ladder and the wooden rung configuration was developed. It took the form of a ladder comprising rope sides but a mixture of rope and wood rungs thus keeping the ladder stable for the climber. It is well described in the Encyclopaedia of Sport, 1898:

ROPE-LADDERS — The ladders used are made with sides of half-inch rope, and rope rungs of slightly smaller material spliced in.   A wooden rung in every four or five may be added to keep the sides apart, but to have all the rungs of wood is too great an increase in weight and the bulk to be recommended, though some explorers prefer them. The ladders are most useful in lengths of 40 or 50 feet, made to join either by spring hooks or by lashing. One of the ladders should have its top bar made of wrought-iron and provided with three rings or eyes, the use for which will be seen later. ... Another method of descent is by rope-ladders. This is suitable for places which descend in a series of drops or "pitches," where there are ledges of varying widths. With a total length of 150 feet of ladder much may be done.

Having plumbed a depth of, say, 100 feet from the surface, the ladder is tied to two ropes (or to both ends of one rope) of not less than ½ inch diameter, one at each end ring of its top bar.  If possible, a plank should be fixed across the mouth of the shaft, over which the ropes attached to the ladder may hang, in order to avoid knocking down any loose earth or rock. The ropes carrying the ladder should be made fast to a couple of stakes driven into the ground a little distance from the lip of the "pot," and then, secured by a safety rope, paid out by hand over a pulley fixed into the plank, the exploring party will in turn descend. It may be found that the place the party have reached is not the bottom, and that the plumb-line is again required. Assuming it reveals another considerable drop, the ladder will have to be lowered until its head is level with the ledge occupied by the party, and then either be made fast there or, preferably, above.

The raising and lowering of the ladder will be facilitated by a length of sash cord being tied to the middle ring of the top bar of the ladder, passed through a pulley on the beam, and allowed to hang down the hole. Then the men on the first landing place will be able to help, by steadying and holding it while the ropes on the surface are being secured. This procedure may be repeated until the actual bottom is reached.

It must be remembered that the descent and ascent by rope-ladders is a very toilsome proceeding, and that practically no rest can be taken while on the ladder itself beyond getting breath, as the ladder swings away from the vertical line, which throws the man's weight almost entirely on his hands and arms.

For this reason, if for no other, a windlass is to be preferred for a deep descent which cannot be negotiated by a series of drops where rests may be taken. ...

Though the above was written by YRC members,  the first journal published by that club in 1899 contained a review of the caving section written by one 'L.M.'   The reviewer noting that the authors of the article called caving "mountaineering reversed" took issue with this and also on the matter of ladder design. 

... Frankly describing it as a sport, its writers make no apologies for pursuing it, regardless of public opinion, which always condemns climbing more or less, and cannot too utterly abhor the more apparent futility of its allied sport. ... The technical side is dealt with at some length, and the article gives a careful explanation of the most successful methods of exploring caves and descending potholes ... If there is a point upon which it is possible to join issue with the authors it is upon the form of rope-ladder best adapted for this work. In spite of its extra weight, a ladder with alternate rungs of wood and rope, or at least every third rung of wood, is to be preferred to the ladder with one wooden rung in every four of five recommended. Climbing a rope-ladder for even a short distance is exceedingly arduous, and the stiffness and rigidity imparted by the additional wooden rungs more than balance the increased difficulty of getting the ladder to its point of usefulness. ...

By the time of the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia of Sport the section relating to ladder design had been completely rewritten stating that:

... ladders used are made with sides of half-inch diameter rope with hardwood rungs. Experience shows that it is very important that the rungs should not be more than eight or nine inches apart - a longer step becomes excessively fatiguing on a long ascent. ...

The article included several interesting photographs including the work of Cuthbert Hastings. How many editions of the encyclopaedia was published is unknown.

Noon's Hole in the north of Ireland

YRC visited northern Ireland to explore one of the two famous shafts, the 80m Noon's Hole entrance shaft at Whitsun, 1907. Only armed with 20m of ladder the YRC team

... turned their attention to Noon's Hole or Sumera,  a deep pot-hole with a grisly reputation due to the fate of an informer who was thrown down about a century ago.  ... Our rope ladder was only 70 feet long, and as we could hardly make up more than 200 feet of life line, Mr. Lemon ... kindly lent us two 120 feet ropes, which we need to raise and lower the 70 feet ladder. It was the lot of our London member to make the first and only descent...

The London member was none other than Ernest A. Baker who reached a depth of 44 m [143 ft] before the return climb to the surface. A magnificent achievement.

Martel made his famous descent down the Gaping Ghyll [Gill] Main Shaft, excepting the first 70 ft which he climbed down on the rope holding the ladder, by climbing the rest in much the same way as he did when descending the great shaft at Padirac. The same shaft was bottomed by YRC in the following year.

A Novel Design

In 1894, Harold Dawson of Bradford, who “... possesses a complete apparatus for the descent of these pot-holes ...” made a descent of Alum Pot via Long Churn using 

... a wire-rope ladder, 42 feet long, divided into three sections (of 14 feet), fastened and unfastened by means of 'dog -clasps', so that in bearing a great weight it was utterly impossible for the clasps to come unloosened. This ladder was invaluable, it was flexible, and each one of the party of three had a section wound round his body, (immediately under the armpits) the ladder being of such width that it rested on the hips, and required no fastening over the arms, thus leaving them quite free; it was carried this way, and when any depth of a drop was encountered, one, two, or three sections were unbound and clasped together as the occasion required ...

The use of wire-rope is significant for this is the first mention of any deviation from the standard rope sides in common use at this time. How the rungs were constructed is not stated, it is probable that Dawson used wooden rungs but he could have used metal rungs which, if so, would probably have been made of steel. The structurally sound duralumin was not in common usage in large scale manufacture until metal aircraft structures became commonplace during the 1930s. It was, however, a significant advance in ladder design that was, for a time, a ‘one-off’ and not followed up by his contemporaries.

...and on Mendip

The early Mendip pioneers have often been criticised for not using ladders when descending the pitches in Lamb Leer Cavern, Swildon's Hole and Eastwater Cavern. Balch in particular came in for severe criticism for seemingly staring progress in the face. It must be pointed out, without going into detail, that the rope technique adopted by the Mendip pioneers, in particular in Eastwater Cavern was similar to that used by Mendip miners. Baker, who was a well respected alpinist would never have agreed to work with Balch under these conditions had he not thought it safe; however this is another story and is the subject of another paper.  Ropes were not completely replaced by ladders for some time. An account of a descent of Eastwater, in 1942, clearly illustrates the manner by which some cavers explored this cave.

Visiting Mendip from the north one Simpson and his friend joined up with two cavers from Bristol including one Fisher [the leader]. Ready for the descent they  

had ... a good long rope, which Fisher said we would use on the verticals. ... The only thing I remember after this was a continual scramble along narrow passages and down vertical rifts with the rope getting in the way most of the time. Eventually we came to a series of verticals down which the rope was necessary. Fisher belayed on a convenient boulder and proceeded to climb down, using the rope as a hand rail. We followed one by one and found ourselves at the head of another short pitch. Down we went again still cling[ing] to the rope, only to find another steep pitch following. This time we had to abseil down, and what a laugh Fisher and I had. We had safely reached the foot of the pitch and Holt [Simpson's friend] prepared to follow. Somehow or other he got the rope around his knee about halfway down and finish[ed] the latter half of the pitch almost head first. The last man fared better, as he wound the [rope] twice around his waist, presumably for safety's sake, only to find himself securely hung up about 6 ft. from the floor with the rope getting ever tighter around his waist. Fortunately we were able to ease him up whilst he extracted himself from the coils of rope, his only injury being his pride. We had now finished with the rope and continued on our scramble down to the sump, which we reached safely.

The return route was vastly different up a series of short water-worn verticals, which we climbed with ease. This brought us out at the bottom of the second rope pitch which we now had to climb. Fisher led the way and we followed one by one with little delay. We were now at the bottom of the first pitch and it looked a very tricky climb. Fisher made a very determined effort, and after a terrific hand over hand scramble on the last few feet, safely reached the head of the pitch. With Fisher at the top, we used the rope as a lifeline and after much panting and cursing reached the top without mishap.

Suffice to say that the party returned to daylight all in one piece!

Balch first used ladders in 1903 during his exploration of the upper series and opening up of the western extensions in Wookey Hole.

In 1914 Baker, made an attempt to bottom the Swildon's Hole Forty Foot Pot. Using a rope ladder he reached the bottom and progressed a further 60m before reaching another wet pitch, the Twenty Foot Pot. Lack of tackle prevented further exploration of the cave. Wet conditions foiled Baker's second attempt in 1915 and the weather intervened again in the exceptionally wet years of 1919-1920. Even so a number of groups attempted to reach the Twenty Foot Pot but the volume of water flowing down the Forty Foot Pot was again too great to enable a safe descent to be made. British weather can often be one of extremes. The wet conditions of the two previous years gave way to one with the longest drought of the 20th century during 1921. Breaking his journey to Europe for an Alpine holiday, Baker accompanied by his son, Gerard and cousin, Alan Baker, met Chandler and travelled to Mendip. Taking full advantage of the dry weather the party descended the cave and it was not long before they stood at the top of the Twenty Foot Pot.  The way on was clear and eventually a “... curious double fall, ... “ was reached. The party, ready to beat a retreat remained at the top of the pots whilst Baker continued   down the passage stopping just short of Barnes' Loop. After building a cairn he returned and the party left the cave. It was only after the event that Baker informed Balch of what had been found.   The furious Balch sprang into action and organised a large party which descended the cave on the 1st August.  Baker's cairn was reached and a section of the party continued down to the sump, known to them as The Trap. The weather remained dry well into late Autumn enabling a series of trips to be arranged principally to survey and photograph the new passages. Instead of the leisurely approach to caving on Mendip, perhaps three or four trips a year, Balch organised at least eight trips during that period. Rope and wooden rung ladders were borrowed from the small stock that had been built up by the recently formed UBSS enabling several of their members, including E.K. Tratman, to join the Balch teams.

Rope ladders in the 20th century

Ladders as described in the Encyclopaedia of Sport were widely used by YRC and the Yorkshire Speleological Association (YSA). The latter was formed in 1906 by Eli Simpson and others, and by about 1910 both clubs had accumulated sizeable stocks of ladder sufficient to undertake all the known northern caves. However, though all ladders were built from rope and wooden rungs there was no standardised width of rung.

Inspecting early photographic material taken between c. 1908 and 1921 a variety of rung widths were used. As early as 1889 Martel used a wide rung ladder to descend the Padirac shaft. However, by 1910 photographs taken at this time of Gaping Ghyll [Gill] show a narrow flat rung with a side rope pitch of about 7 inches. Even in the early 1920s UBSS were using ladders with 30 cm wide rungs.  This can be clearly seen in the Savory photograph of Edgar Tratman at the bottom of the Swildon's Forty Foot Pot. Another photograph of the Twenty Foot Pot, c. 1922, from the Molly Hall collection at Wells and Mendip Museum also shows a similar width of rung in use. The wide rung ladder design remained in use for some considerable time and was part of the ladder stock during the early years of the Bristol Exploration Club, 1935- c. 1940. A photograph of BEC members, including Harry Stanbury outside Lamb Leer Cavern, c. 1938, in his photographic collection clearly shows how bulky this equipment really was. During the post 2nd World War years rung width was reduced to a standardised length of about 20 cm. Quite apart from the rung width the wooden rung design took on two forms: a circular or rectangular section. They were made from seasoned straight grained hard wood. Round rungs were frequently used, the rung end being pushed through the rope strands which locked into a shallow groove close to the rung ends. The rung was then permanently locked to the rope sides by whipping above and below the rung. Though this design was widely used it was acknowledged that the rope was extremely vulnerable to severe chafeing when hung close to the rock face. Another problem caused several climbers moments of discomfort. The round rungs would rotate and unless the boot was well located on the rung the climber would find himself coming off the ladder!

The rectangular rung overcame the two basic disadvantages of the circular rung. As for the circular design the rectangular rungs were frequently located by whipping or lashing and in other cases a wooden peg was driven through the rung and rope, a method much favoured by CPC during the 1950s. In the north most were built in lengths of 20 or 25 feet to minimise the problems of transportation, bulk and weight; the 25 ft ladder weighing in at about 10 lb. (dry) and about 13 lb. (wet). For long pitches the ladders were linked by knotting or eye-thimbles were threaded into the rope ends and clipped together by karabiners among other techniques.

In the post 2nd WW years many designs emerged as a result of clubs developing their own designs and build standards. The Cave Research Group published details of the more commonly used methods of ladder construction in its various editions of British Caving and in the 1962 Some Technical Aids for Cave Exploration.     Clubs too published articles discussing the merits of various designs typified by one written by Plowes of the Orpheus Caving Club.   Their ladders were built in 15 ft and 30 ft length and were built from 1¾" manilla rope (approx. ½" diameter) and the rungs were made of oak or beech measuring 7½" x 1½" x ½"

... though the thickness, if the wood is not such good quality, might be increased to 5/8". Choose from straight grained pieces, avoid the 'sap wood" which is softer & be wary of possible splitting.

Half inch diameter holes, drilled in the rungs at 6" centres, carry the ropes. The rung protects the rope from damage by abrasion ... The rungs are secured by a method of lashing. The effect of this method is to thicken the rope ... Over riding of [the] rungs being practically impossible. ...

The ‘Electron’ Ladder

By the start of the 1930s French caving had emerged as a significant force in the speleological world and many cavers and there came about a major reassessment of caving equipment generally being used. Much of it was bulky, heavy and required large parties to transport the gear to its point of use. During the late 1920s the famous French caver R. de Joly began constructing a number of specialised tools as aids to cave exploration. Among these 'inventions' was a device known as the 'Galet', a folding frame in the form of a triple trestle, that allowed ladders to be kept away from sloping surfaces reducing abrasion to the ropes and rungs.    About this time another innovation was a major redesign of caving ladders where he replaced natural fibre rope with wire rope. The life of the ladder was considerably improved and the concept was quickly adopted by many cavers not only in France but throughout the rest of Europe and remained in general use up to the early 1960s.

De Joly's major breakthrough came in 1930 when he introduced the 'Electron' ladder which was an all metal construction.   This was revolutionary for it eliminated nearly all the disadvantages of the rope-wooden rung combination at a stroke. The ladder was constructed using flexible wire rope to which were attached duralumin tubes.   The whole assembly was some 75% lighter than the conventional rope ladder and much less bulky enabling smaller parties to work as a team. Being of metal it was much less susceptible to abrasive damage and, though it still required regular inspection, corrosion was a relatively minor problem.

During the pre 2nd WW years cavers were fully aware of the de Joly design but still clung to the wood rung ladders. In fact the debate relating to the various ladder designs continued into the 1950s. In the event it was not until the 1960s that the Electron ladder was in regular use. The difficulty of climbing the ladder was a reason but the root cause of cavers shunning the structure was simply perception. The slightness of the design gave little encouragement to those used to climbing the seemingly more substantial outlines of the rope ladder. Secondly, it was generally acknowledged that rope ladders were easier to climb. Their extra bulk held it in a vertical position enabling the climber to move up and down on the same face of the ladder whilst holding the side ropes which meant that the centre of gravity of the climber was close to the ladder. Attempting to climb an Electron ladder in the same manner causes the climber to lean back, placing the body weight onto the arms and hands. To bring the centre of gravity position of the climber closer to the ladder a new climbing technique was devised where each boot is on different sides of the ladder - popularly known as 'making love to the ladder’! Basically the technique is still used today.

Writing in the Craven Pothole Club Journal Smith reviewed methods of manufacturing caving ladder and at the end made some comment on the Electron ladders built by a fellow club member, Brindle.

... At this stage I ought to say something about the de Joly / Brindle type metal ladders. But words fail me! We tried out this ladder on the open pitch at Rift Pot and after this experience I would recommend that it should not be used on any pitch greater than 25 feet. To give them their due, they are light, fairly strong (although I have some reservations on this score) and they are easy to handle in confined spaces. But in my view they tend to put the whole weight of your body on the wrists and particularly so when you have been used to climbing wooden ladders where the weight of the body is taken by the upper part of one's arms. ...

However, after much discussion and debate the rope ladder eventually lost out to the lightweight Electron structure. By the 1960s cavers had broken away from the regular formal club meet and were now caving more frequently and in smaller groups. The increase in personal transport; the extensions to the motorway system saw cavers' habits changing dramatically. The increased freedom of mobility saw groups caving in most caving regions in the country on a regular basis, whereas previously it had only been possible on Bank Holidays or during their Annual Holiday. As a consequence of this change, the lightweight ladder and light synthetic ropes then coming onto the market swept the old equipment aside enabling small teams to undertake quite extreme caving trips.

In Britain the idea of building an Electron ladder was first taken up by Harry Stanbury of the Bristol Exploration Club about the time of its reformation in 1943. Scrounging materials from all manner of sources, remember it was during the middle of the 2nd World War, he built an 'electron' ladder using 5/8 inch [1.6 cm] diameter 20 SWG [0.9mm] duralumin tubing. The 0.08 inch [2 mm] diameter wire rope was passed through holes drilled close to the tube ends, round a 2 BA bolt [approx 4.5 mm dia] shank and looped through an aluminium spacer and out of the other hole [see photo]. Together with C. Drummond and Dan Hasell the trio tried the ladder out on Swildon's Forty Foot Pot on 3rd April 1943. Harry wrote in the BEC log book that the “ …ladder exceeded all expectations.”   The ladder still exists and was given to the Club a few years ago for safe keeping. It is an important piece of caving history and is now kept in the Club library.

In 1946, UBSS members, John Pitts and Charles Barker, co-discoverer of G.B. Cave in 1939, spent a holiday in Ireland with the intention of exploring Dunmore and Mitchelstown Caves. In a speech given in 1998, Pitts talked of their wanderings and of the caves they explored. Travelling around the countryside on Barker's motor-cycle, caving kit had to be kept to an absolute minimum and so instead of taking a standard rope ladder with them they constructed a light-weight ladder

... of wire and duralumin tube tailored for the pitch in the Old Cave at Mitchelstone (sic). We spaced the rungs as far apart as we dared in order to reduce the weight and took the minimum amount of rope that we hoped would be enough for tethers. Rope in those days of course was hemp.

A couple of years later Luke Devenish of the MNRC and WCC attempted to developed his own lightweight ladder. The problem was that Luke, who was always brimming over with enthusiasm, was no engineer. His first efforts used one or two duralumin plates for the rung between which a 3/16 in diameter wire rope was sandwiched, all of which was held in place by a bolt passing through the plates and strands of the wire rope. The weight of this was 10lb. for 25 ft of ladder. He made a variant which reduced weight further by omitting the second plate, the nut being clamped against the wire rope separated by a washer.

None of these trials made it into club 'production' but Devenish persisted. He next devised a tubular rung configuration using ½ inch diameter, 18 SWG duralumin tube and 3 mm diameter galvanised steel wire rope which was passed through holes drilled at the ends of each rung. To fix the wire to the tube each tube end was plugged with Plaster of Paris just beyond the drilled holes - the reason will soon become clear. The wire rope was then passed through the tube at which point the strands exposed inside the tube were separated using a screwdriver then was poured molten solder to fill up the void between the Plaster of Paris and the outer edge of the rung in order to prevent the cable slipping. Unbelievable! Even Devenish commented that it “... proved unsatisfactory.”

Don Coase of the BEC, an engineer, improved on the Stanbury design during the late 1940s by evolving a system whereby two plugs were inserted into both rung ends, the outer being a tapped hole for a 2 BA Allen screw which, when in place pinched the wire rope to form a locking device. This worked well but had the disadvantage of damaging several strands of the wire rope.

About 1951-52 a simple construction was devised by Ralph Lewis of the Westminster Spelaeological Group and remained in common use for the next two decades. The construction was simple in that a taper pin, specially ground at its smaller end, enabled it to be passed through the gap between the wire rope and one side of the duralumin rung trapping the wire against the opposite side of the rung wall. The design was first described in detail by Bryan Ellis in January 1957 , another appearing in 1967 by Cedric Green.   An in-depth article on ladder construction published in 1963 outlined the technology as it was at that time.

By the late 1960s two popular designs of ladder construction had been established once cavers had realised the disciplines associated with each type. The first used “Talurits” that were swaged above and below the dural rung and were extremely effective providing the right dies were used. The other being a combination of plugs, steel pins and epoxy resins.   The methods are still in use today

For some time there was no accepted rung pitch except that it was somewhere between 25cm and 30cm but the larger rung pitch made climbing tiring. In 1959 a caver was trapped in a narrow vertical tube in Peak Cavern. Although a ladder was being used it became impossible for the man to climb back up as the rung pitch was 12", too far apart to allow him to place his boot on the rung above and so start the climb out and free himself. From that time it became an accepted rule that rung pitching should be 25 cm. Today the commercial ladders have the rung pitch set at 25 or 30 cm.

Colour coding of ropes and ladders

During 1962 the Mendip clubs agreed a colour coding system for club equipment. Problems had occurred following a number of cave rescues where considerable trouble had to be taken sorting out which piece of equipment belonged to which club. During 1961 BEC circulated the other major Mendip clubs suggesting a colour coding scheme. Though one or two clubs used the same colour it was eventually sorted and the following system adopted : ACG -Yellow ; BEC - Blue ; Cerberus SS - Grey ; MCG - Pink ; MNRC - Green ; SMCC - Black ; UBSS - Orange ; WCC - Red and WSG - Brown.

When this article was started it was thought that it would be just a couple of pages of notes but in the end it became a semi-major undertaking to check as many references as possible. A discussion on the rope techniques used by the Mendip pioneers is an article just about completed that runs in parallel with this on ladders. Where it will be published is at the moment undecided.

Dave Irwin, Priddy. December, 2003


My thanks to Ric Halliwell [CPC], Ray Mansfield [UBSS], Don Mellor [CPC], Martin Mills [SMCC] and Graham Mullan [UBSS] for help obtaining details and copies of notable articles and books relevant to the topic.

Ed’s note:         This article was provided on paper and had to be scanned in. Further Optical Character Recognition work was undertaken to convert it to text. 

News from the Belfry

Work on the extension has proceeded at a furious pace over the last few months. Considering that the planning application went in back in June 1999 it will be good to get it finished.

The downstairs will be a new tackle store and workshop befitting for a club that prides itself in exploration. Upstairs will be a members’ bunk room.

Work is also underway on a feasibility study to extend into the roof space to create a Wig Memorial Library. Clearly this would be another massive undertaking and we are carefully reviewing the possibilities.

As most of you will be aware the Mendip Farmers Hunt has purchased Underbarrow Farm behind the Belfry. The Committee and Trustees are hard at work looking at the implications of this.

Ravens Well

A Collectors Evening Trip With Jeff Price

By Mike Wilson.

One evening, the first of October 1997 to be precise. Jeff kindly asked me if I fancied a trip into Ravens Well, he just said it is a bit of a collector’s piece. I readily agreed to join him and we met up at the Three Lamps junction where the Bath and Wells road meet.

Very roughly the entrance is situated down a winding lane opposite the three lamps finger post [see photos] and then over a wall into a concealed entrance slot. Ravens Well, I have subsequently found out, is also called the Temple Pipe. The system is basically a maze of underground man made tunnels arched in local stone linking several underground springs, designed to feed water to the Friary at Temple Gate. The Conduit was laid in 1366 and worked right up to the advent of the Railway at Temple Meads in the late 1800’s.

Whilst constructing the railway line the pipe was severed and then dried up .We spent a very interesting few hours in the system and at one time stood directly under the Three Lamps themselves. Since then I have discovered that there are several such systems under Bristol, One of them being the Redcliffe Pipe which runs from Knowle all the way to Redcliffe Church.

The outlet for this conduit still exists in Colston Parade close to the church. This ceased to work when it was struck by a German bomb during the war.

There are many more documented in the Central library, and the publication Underground Bristol. Zot and I have already taken canoes into part of the old Bristol Castle Moat and are hoping, to round trip the whole system in the near future. 


My thanks to Jeff for showing me this interesting little gem.


Forest of Dean Meet May 2007

By Emma Porter

A grand total of 65 adults, 4 kids and 1 dog ...................................

From BEC:        Emma Porter, Mike and Hilary Wilson, John Christie, Nick Gymer, Peter Hellier, Sean Howe, Tim Ball, Faye Litherland, Phil Coles, John Noble, Ruth Allen, Rich Smith and friend.

From Craven Pothole Club: Mike Clayton, Mike Bertenshaw, Arthur Champion, Gordon Coldwell, Graham Coates, Neville Lucus, Simon Parker, Perce Lister, Rob and Linda Scott, Tom Thompson, Andrew Wallis and Mike Whitehouse.

From Dudley Caving Club: Pete Anstey, Keith Edwards, Andy Grimes, Brendan Marris, Carole and Ellie Northall, Mel Wakeman and Dea Wilkins.

From Shepton Mallet Caving Club: Keith, Amanda, Tom and Poppy Batten, James Begley, Anthony and Cassie Butcher, Marian Challis, Hayley Clark, Phil Collett, Sarah Crofts, Andy and Kirsty Davey, Ivan Hollis, Chris Molyneux, Neil Walmsley, Ed Waters and Richard Webber.

Others: Chris “Zot” Harvey, Richard Dearden (WMCEG), Tibor “Dino” Dianovszki (Hungary), Bill Griffiths (WMCEG), Lisa and Brooke Hall, Iain Heald, John and Laura Haynes (ULSA), Amina Kasar, Heather Simpson (NWCC) and Rachel White (WMCEG).

Forest cavers: Dave Appleing, John “Mole” Hine, Gareth Jones and Paul Taylor.

In 2003, Mike Clayton and I organised a meet in the Forest of Dean primarily for Craven Pothole Club, in 2005 cavers from BEC, Dudley CC and SMCC joined the CPC for a long weekend in the Forest and this year, we were joined by even more cavers.  I have to admit; I started to get a little nervous receiving a barrage of emails advising me who would be there for the weekend! 

Friday 4 May 2007

The troops started to arrive on Friday night to Rushmere Farm Campsite near Coleford where we took over half the field, complete with sign advertising “Cavers’ Event” provided by Dea Wilkins.  John Christie arrived in good time with two barrels of excellent beer, so excellent that the second barrel of beer was started on the Friday evening!  A great evening was had by all, sipping beer around the fire till the early hours.

Saturday 5 May 2007

Saturday saw 6 underground trips to Miss Graces Lane (MGL), Wet Sink (Slaughter Stream), Big Sink, Otter Hole, Redhouse Lane and Westbury Brook Iron Mine. Paul Taylor led a mixed team of BEC/CPC/DCC for a “warm” trip in MGL (not recommended for hangovers!). Meanwhile, two teams consisting of CPC/BEC/SMCC headed down Wet Sink, a team of two SMCC/ two ULSA ventured down Big Sink (and seemed very happy when they were out!), and a team of DCC/BEC tried not to get lost in Westbury Brook Iron Mine (getting further than last time!) with the benefit of some local knowledge provided by Gareth Jones.  The Redhouse Lane Swallet team had a delayed start, after some location problems, which was not a bad thing as Jan Karvik and Andy Harp, both from Royal Forest of Dean Caving Club, had hoped they had timed it right and the entrance would be dug out for them – instead they were there first and had to dig it out for our team! Despite the open passage newly dug out once again, Arthur Champion still decided that the trip was a “once in a lifetime experience”.

Meanwhile, above ground (although perhaps not above water), Zot and Mike Clayton were having fun canoeing on the River Wye, which runs through Symonds Yat, and others were off exploring the Forest by bike and on foot.

We eventually all got back to the campsite to meet Dino from Hungary who had heard about the meet through some Hungarian friends of mine and once the Otter Hole team were back we settled down for a large Chinese takeaway, arranged thanks to Hilary and Mike Wilson. The weather held off as we socialised into the earlier hours once again.

Sunday 6 May 2007

Only three underground locations were explored on the Sunday, with three mixed club teams including a caver joining us from Chesterfield CC as they happened to be staying at the campsite, with trips into Wet Sink, Wigpool Iron Mine and the long descent into Robin Hood Iron Mine.

Due to the numbers interested in the Robin Hood Iron Mine trip and the time required for the entrance pitch, Mike Clayton and I decided to have some peace and quiet from all of the organising and enjoy the sun, relax (so we thought) and be surface support.

In recent years, Mike and I have been surveying this mine with some of the Forest cavers.  The entrance is a brick-lined shaft with a 65m free hang.  In order to safely rig the rope and as members of GCRG, we were kindly lent the GCRG tripod and Land Rover on which to transport it.  The tripod was rigged, only to discover that we did not have the right key.  A few calls later and a trip back to the GCRG depot and the lock was opened and the team descended.  The team went off to explore the mine, whilst I decided to avoid meeting the wild boar and went back to the campsite to sort camping fees and Mike went off canoeing with Mike Wilson and Zot.  I went back to meet the team a few hours later with some alcoholic refreshments and discovered that the entrance speed record had been beaten!

Once all were back from the day’s above and below ground activities, we spent the evening in the Kings Head, sampling the real ales.

Monday 7 May 2007

Monday was wind-down day with some threatening black clouds but which were fortunately just threatening. Several lost or unfortunate key incidents occurred and Mike Wilson had the group at the campsite putting into practice search techniques, although two calls to the AA had to be made anyway!

Meanwhile, a small group of DCC and WMCEG day-trippers headed to Wet Sink for some photography. However, the main trip of the day was to Wigpool Iron Mine, once again led enthusiastically by Mole.  It was an excellent trip and a real surprise at just how pretty it is (see Pete Hellier’s report in the previous BB).

The Forest multi-club weekend was a real success, with a large number of underground and above ground activities taking place and a great social event.  We raised through donations and beer profits, over £75 for GCRG which has been used to pay for two sleeping bags and thermo rests for a Surface Comms Kit, so thank you all!

Thanks to: Everyone that attended and who made the weekend such a success!  John Christie for collecting the beer, Mike Whitehouse and Dea Wilkins for selling raffle tickets and pouring pints, Mike and Hilary Wilson for meeting Mike Clayton and I to check suitable campsites, sorting the Chinese takeaway and helping with camping fees.  A big thank you must go to the Forest cavers who went out of their way to help us; Paul Taylor and Steve Tomalin for checking pubs in advance for real ale, Paul Taylor for lending us keys (and forgiving us when a key was lost!), permit assistance and a great trip into MGL, Gareth Jones for ensuring that the team got a little further on than last time in Westbury Brook, Mole for providing two entertaining trips into Wigpool which were one of the highlights of the weekend, Dave Appleing for sorting and leading the trip into Otter, Jan Karvik for access to MGL, Dave Tuffley for sorting the permits, Andy Clarke for permits for Wetsink and GCRG for lending us the tripod and Land Rover. 

Hope to see you in the Forest in 2009!

Emma Porter

Martian Caves

Caves have been discovered on Mars near the Arisa Mons Volcano. NASA believe the caves, named The Seven Sisters may contain ice and / or water. Some of the openings are said to be the size of football pitches. Rumours of a BEC expedition have yet to be quashed.

            “The bars are crap though

                        , no atmosphere”  JRat

A BEC sticker on the next Beagle expedition might be a start. Er…then again, maybe not. Ed.

Caine Hill Shaft - One of Britain’s Deepest Caves?

By Tony Jarratt

       “To some, digging is a fairly tedious chore, and they are only sustained by the hope of triumphs to come. To others the digging operation itself is fascinating. It is seldom simple.”

       Digging for Mendip Caves – W. I. Stanton – Studies in Speleology, Vol IV, 1983

Continued from BB 528. Photos by Sean Howe.

Further Digging 20/5/07 – 27/10/07

     Errata: The photo of “Dudley Herbert” on page 21 of BB 528 is actually of Mike Thompson.

     Robin Main of Priddy has confirmed that Caine Hill is the name of the steeply sloping field behind Manor Farm but has no idea of its derivation. A character met in the Queen Victoria Inn claims to have dug the foundations for the adjacent house and stated that the open hole found was not as big as we were led to believe.

     On the 20th May Trevor Hughes, Jane Clarke and the writer, assisted on the surface by Tim Andrews, Darryl Instrell and Bob Smith removed 64 loads of spoil and loaded Tim’s truck with over 1½ tons for disposal. Tim also donated another section of alloy ladder, which your scribe used next day to replace that on the entrance shaft – fixed to a shorter section. This was done as he had deepened this shaft and cleared clay from the ledges below to make a better bag stacking area. He hauled out 16 loads from here and then continued digging in Root 66. Tim later went to the end for a look and was suitably impressed. He was delighted that he now owns an actual cave as well as a mineshaft! 27 more loads came out on the 23rd when Jake Baynes, Paul Brock and the writer attended. The second pitch was re-rigged with an alloy builders’ ladder to ease bag hauling and digging was continued at Root 66. More work was done here, by your scribe on the 25th but the poor quality of the air drove him out after an hour. Conditions had improved on the following evening, possibly due to a change in atmospheric pressure, when he carried on with this project. On the 27th, despite atrocious weather, 55 loads were hauled out by Bob, Jane and the writer – all from Root 66 – and next day Jane, Bob and Hannah Bell stacked lots of clay on a convenient ledge ready for bagging and hauled 1 token load out. This clay was bagged on the 30th when digging continued at the end and 35 loads reached daylight; Henry Dawson, Bob and the writer making up the team. Several more small airspaces were revealed. Further digging and bag-filling was done here by your scribe on the 1st June and on the following day he concentrated on the dig in the main rift below Boxwork Passage where a tiny airspace was revealed on the NE side. A return was made next day when he cleared the remaining clay and a large rock step from the entrance shaft. 18 loads were hauled out. Another solo trip on the 4th June resulted in re-positioned entrance ladders, a scaffold bar and pulley on the second pitch, more digging below Boxwork Passage and 20 loads out – warm work in the prevailing fine weather. 50 more came out on the 6th when Hannah, Helen Stalker, Pete Hellier and your scribe cleared the cave – temporarily!

     Jake and the writer were back at the Boxwork dig on the 8th June when 19 bags were filled and hauled out and an arm-sized phreatic tube opened up on the SW side of the main rift. Next day the latter dug and filled bags at both sites. He returned on the 10th with Bob, Trev and Hannah to haul out 50 loads, some of these being freshly dug from both sites – where the diggers both got surprisingly cold. 1 token load came out on the 11th June when the writer concentrated on the Boxwork dig. A palm-sized slab of galena (lead sulphide PbS) 1-2 cms thick and weighing 800 grammes (1½ lbs) was disinterred from the clay floor indicating that the Old Men could well have been prospecting for this as well as ochre. Derived from a primary   hydrothermal vein deposit located many metres above the present land surface or from limestone dissolution around a minor “stringer” of ore, this residual, secondary galena has been smoothed and rounded during its downward progression from its original position – indicating the extreme age of the in-filled cave passage in which it was found (Barrington and Stanton, 1977, Stanton, 1991). A whitish coating may be cerrussite (lead carbonate PbCO3). Thick “veins” of sandstone-like rock in the walls of the rift here may be red-brown, silty mudstone, Triassic neptunian dykes formed from either seafloor or desert deposits which were washed or blown into open joints and fissures in the underlying bed rock and often associated on Mendip with primary mineralisation. Another airspace was revealed on the NE side with a void visible a couple of metres away but inaccessible without banging or chiselling. The airspace opened on the 2nd June connects with this so further removal of the clay floor was planned in the hope of entering it from below. Lots of bags were filled and stacked and even more added to the pile on the 12th ready for the Wednesday night team on the morrow. This turned out to be limited to Bob, Hannah and the writer but being of tough stuff they managed to load Tim’s truck two thirds full and haul out another 50 loads. 14 more came out on the 15th when Bob and your scribe continued digging in the floor. Further digging was done by the writer next day and on the 17th a strong team comprising Bob, Fiona Crozier, Trev, Duncan Butler and your scribe worked at both sites until poor air conditions drove them out after 55 loads had been removed. Bob came up with a name for the second drop – Son of a Pitch! A solo digging session by the writer next day was soon halted by the atrocious lack of oxygen but several bags were filled at the base of Son of a Pitch and 2 reached the surface. A walk around the field to the north on a quest for other mine workings revealed little of interest.

     New digger (and New Inn barman) Keith Creagh joined Jake and the writer on the 20th when the air was improved by the use of the vacuum cleaner to allow further digging in the pitch floor and the removal of 23 loads. Two days later the vacuum cleaner pipe was replaced with a longer length of greater diameter giving plenty of spare at Root 66. Here Fiona filled nine bags and used a valve and 1.5 litre bottle of compressed air to avoid the unpleasantly claustrophobic effects of the poor air conditions. The bag supply was kindly donated by interested villager Mark Glover. Meanwhile the writer filled lots more bags at the base of the ever-descending Son of a Pitch – having no bad air problems. The duo returned to their respective digs on the 24th in relatively excellent air conditions. Thanks to the timely arrival on the surface of Steve Woolven and Gary Cullen the total hauled out today was 47 loads. The atmosphere was much poorer next day when your scribe dug at both sites and removed 4 loads but when he returned with Fiona on the 26th conditions had dramatically improved and both sites were dug further. 1 load came out – the rock on which the first section of the entrance ladder was perched and erroneously thought to have been holding up the ginging! On the 27th the air was again poor but Hannah, Bob, Jake, Keith and your scribe dug a little at Son of a Pitch and removed 50 loads. Tim helped load up his truck with a ton or so of clay and the team accompanied him to the, as yet unseen, spoil dump where they were relieved to find that there is ample space for another 1,000+ tons. Unfortunately, in the fullness of time it will all get washed down Swildon’s!

     Solo digging becoming popular, Fiona did a stint at Root 66 on the 28th June and stacked about ten bags. She filled   another six on the following evening while the writer dug and drilled at Son of a Pitch.  A small, fragile lump of mineral weighing 340 grammes (12 ounces) was recovered from the clay floor. This was identified by Nick Richards as goethite (brown hematite – Fe3+O), an iron oxide associated with limonite (yellow ochre) and derived from the degradation of iron pyrites. Like the galena this is a residual deposit that has worked its way downwards from the primary veins way above. He also explained that the, sometimes powdery surface of the cave walls indicates that some of the limestone has been transformed to dolomite. More digging was done here by the writer on the 30th June and next day he returned with Fiona, Duncan, Trev, Bob, Helen Brook (S.W.C.C. – now also B.E.C.), Jinni King (Cardiff U.C.C.) and Kate Humphries (C.U.C.C.) to haul out 56 loads and continue digging at both sites. A passable route was dug to connect the bottom of Son of a Pitch with the continuation of the main rift and a small cord charge was fired in an attempt to gain access to the void in the NE wall near the base of the pitch. On a solo trip next day the writer was delighted to find that the bang had done a surprisingly good job and produced a vast amount of broken rock. Another bang was required to reach the void but air conditions did not encourage a lengthy stay today. Wednesday 4th July saw 7 bags out, mainly filled with bang debris. Hannah and Bob both put up with unpleasant fumes lingering at the top of Son of a Pitch while below, in more pleasant conditions, your scribe laid another charge. This was ready just as Sean Howe arrived – for a very short trip – before the bang was fired.

     The writer returned on the 6th intending to fire up the vacuum but Tim was at Priddy Folk Fayre so he nipped down to check the air and was amazed to find it good. More bang spoil was removed and another two shot-hole charge fired. The novelty tonight was the sound of live folk music heard from the dig face! Assisted by Bob your scribe cleared the spoil on the following evening and placed yet another two shot-hole charge. After firing, the duo savoured the delights of the appropriately named Potholer bitter at a very conveniently located marquee. The air was then left to clear for a few days and on the 11th July the writer filled and stacked bags at the banged bedding where it was now possible to crawl in and look down a small rift to the north. Suffering from a cold and with the air tasting unpleasantly metallic he clambered out to meet latecomers John Noble and Paul. The former went for a brief look around while the latter hurled obscenities from above. Not a particularly productive Wednesday evening!

     The next visit was on the 14th when your scribe drilled one shot-hole at Son of a Pitch and filled bags at Root 66. Next day he and Trev continued work here and on the 16th he was back with John. More bags were filled and stacked and another two shot-holes drilled but the air was atrocious so they persevered and hauled 24 loads to surface before retiring – leaving the vacuum cleaner running to refresh the place. This worked well and on the 18th July Fiona and your scribe enjoyed the conditions while filling bags at both sites. A charge was fired at Son of a Pitch and a token 2 loads reached the surface. A brief visit was made by the writer on the 21st when the air was found to be good enough to clear some of the bang-debris and next day Trev continued with this while Fiona dug at Root 66 and Duncan enlarged the connecting rift between the two sites. Your scribe acted as bag hauler for the three diggers. The worsening air quality and bang fumes released from the mud eventually stopped play but not before 50 loads went out. Another 30 reached the surface next day when John finally cleared the blasted rock and the writer dug at the other two sites. This was only possible because of the use of the vacuum cleaner and it was actually far more pleasant underground than on the monsoon-drenched surface. Another 23 loads came out on the 25th when all three sites were dug by your scribe and Henry D. arrived in time to struggle with the full bags after pioneering the use of the vacuum hose as a speaking tube! 1 load – a phreatically sculpted rock flake – came out on the 28th when the writer filled bags at Root 66, partly with vivid orange ochre. 34 loads came out next day when Paul and Fiona dug at Root 66, Jane and your scribe continued clearing the connecting rift and Nicks Harding and Richards hauled from the surface with the latter briefly studying the geology of the cave in preparation for another visit on a less hectic occasion. Bob assisted on the surface due to alcohol-induced cracked ribs – the second team member whose underground exploits were curtailed by over zealous cycling!

     Root 66 was dug again on the 30th July by enthusiastic new digger, Sissel Balomatis (Cheddar C.C.) and the writer. 21 loads were hauled out and a two shot-hole charge was fired in the dig just above the floor of Son of a Pitch. Much of the bang-debris was cleared by Siss and Paul on the 1st August when they also assisted Jake, John and your scribe to load over three tons of spoil into Tim’s truck which he took away to the dump. On the 3rd the writer filled thirteen bags at Root 66. He was back on the 5th with Fiona when much digging took place here and 18 loads came out. A solo visit next day saw more digging and rock removal at the same site. Mike Willett joined the team on the 8th and dug at Root 66 while Helen S. and your scribe shifted bags, 48 coming out in total. A power cut stopped the vacuum cleaner for a while and later, in the Hunters’ the culprit was revealed as a local who had chain-sawed a tree branch which, dropping on to the cable severed the village electric supply. He wishes to remain anonymous so we will call him “J.C.B”.

     On the 9th Tony Audsley commenced work on pointing the entrance ginging in preparation for the replacement of the rusting Acro-prop with a permanent lintel. He noted possible traces of original lime mortar. Some token digging was done by your scribe in Root 66 on the 11th and next day he returned with Duncan and Ray Deasy (on his annual visit from Australia) to continue with this until stopped by an apparent rock pillar in the middle of the passage. Duncan concentrated on enlarging the bottom of the main rift. On the 13th Tony continued fettling the entrance shaft while the writer laid a five shot-hole charge in Root 66. After firing this the duo retired for lunch then returned to continue with their projects. The morning’s bang had done a good job so a two shot-hole charge was fired to enlarge the squeeze from the main rift into Root 66. A total of 6 bags of spoil came out today. The spoil from the banged squeeze was cleared on the 15th  by Mike, Helen, Jeff Price and the writer when a total of 34 bags and skips reached the surface. The bang had brought down a vast amount of rock - far more than it should have - indicating that the roof here was potentially unstable and

that blowing it down had been a wise move! Two days later the writer bagged up much of the spoil from the bang at the end and this was hauled halfway out on the 20th, when he was joined by Jeff. 12 loads came out today, mainly rock and clay cleared from the banged squeeze. Tony measured up the entrance shaft. On the 22nd August the banged squeeze was finally cleared by your scribe when a possible way on behind clay infill was revealed to close down. Mike continued digging at the end of Root 66 and Bob took CO2 samples with an expensive electronic gadget. He recorded percentages of 0.5 at the bottom  of the entrance shaft, 1.3 – 1.6 near the banged squeeze and 2.34 at the Root 66 dig. A flame safety lamp used in conjunction dimmed as he descended the cave and expired at the banged squeeze. He was only able to re-light it on the surface. 16 loads were hauled out and many more left for future removal.

      2 loads of spoil from Tony’s ginging repair project came out on the 27th August when he prepared the entrance shaft for the casting of the concrete lintel. Meanwhile the writer cleared the terminal Root 66 dig and laid a four shot-hole charge. Unfortunately this misfired so was left for a day as a precaution. Being a bank holiday there was a plentiful surface support team of Rich Witcombe, Paul Weston and the two Nicks. The charge was rewired on the 28th but again failed to fire – as it did twice more next day when all connections were changed and the firing cable tested. Even Tim’s lawnmower battery was tried in vain and your scribe, baffled, gave up the attempt preferring to return on the 30th with a fresh detonator and length of cord to join the two sets of double shot-holes. This thankfully did the business and on the 2nd September Trev and the writer bagged up lots of spoil and moved full bags towards the entrance. 1 load came out. Tony continued with his entrance fettling next day and drilled the “solid” walls while your scribe got rid of much of the blasted rock dumped on the surface by adding it to the drystone wall across the road and bringing it up towards its original height. Root 66 saw action again on the 5th when Mike and the writer filled bags at the end and, aided by Jeff, hauled 35 out. A clay-filled and easily diggable phreatic tube was opened up beyond the banged section and hope was restored. On the 8th September the writer filled and stacked lots of bags here until the air went stale. Digging did not reveal the ceiling of the tube thus ensuring that it was pleasantly spacious. “Free diving” was almost necessary to regain the surface through the hordes of mosquitoes now infesting the main rift! Next day he returned with John to continue digging and hauling. 53 loads came out. Bob and Jane briefly assisted on the surface. The two returned next morning and pushed on into the phreatic passage – now almost of kneeling height. John poked upwards with a crowbar to reveal a phreatic ceiling and your scribe then went in for a look. A lip of ochreous clay was pulled down to reveal a lengthy and (allegedly) draughting airspace. Jane arrived to fill more bags and confirm the draught. Tony, assisted by Paul, continued with lintel preparations and Rich professionally repaired more of Robin Main’s drystone wall opposite Tim’s house – an excellent PR job. They continued with these projects in the afternoon whilst the writer filled more bags at the end and decided that the dig now looked more promising than ever before and almost certain to yield significant cave.

     Tony spent six hours working in the entrance shaft on the 11th September, assisted from the surface by Alice Audsley. He constructed a timber former, intending to install this at a future date. On the 12th Mike and your scribe continued with the magnificently easy dig at the end and, assisted by Jeff, Pete, and Tim Ball on the surface, hauled out a total of 60 loads. Mike was perplexed by the disembodied voice of Tim issuing from the vacuum pipe, as it appeared to emanate from a blank rock wall! More bag-filling was done by the writer next day and on the 14th  Tony continued fettling the shaft while Tim Andrews went almost to the end to check on progress. The following day Mike moved all the full bags to Son of a Pitch and filled another eleven before poor air stopped play. In the evening the writer, Henry D. and Barry Lawton filled a few more bags at the working face and then hauled out 74 loads, clearing the cave. Life was much improved by the use of an electric leaf blower provided by Tim A. to blast fresh air down the vacuum hose. The 16th saw your scribe, Duncan, Barry and Bob removing 26 loads – all freshly dug from the end. Two shot-holes were drilled in the side passage just above the floor of Son of a Pitch. Two more were drilled next day when the writer and Henry Bennett dug at the end and brought out 4 loads. Tony laboured in the entrance shaft and on the surface to complete the lintel framework and could be heard, as if above, from the end of Root 66. Mike, Jane and your scribe were back at the working face on the 19th to dig and haul bags and the following evening the latter banged the four outstanding shot-holes, Judy Andrews actually firing the charge. He returned to clear these on the 24th but was not encouraged by the tiny way on so continued digging at the end. The almost 2m high passage here transpired to be a choked roof joint with the main phreatic tube continuing at the same level below – good news. He was joined on the surface by Tony whose open-topped Land Rover was commissioned to deliver a rigid steel ladder from the Belfry.

On the morning of 26th September Tony washed down the entrance shaft walls, getting soaked in the process and later Mike and the writer hauled 22 loads out, moved full bags towards the entrance and filled many more at Root 66. Phil Coles arrived providentially at knocking off time and was impressed with the progress made since his last visit. Three shot-holes were drilled in the walls of the main rift as the commencement of a project to create a skipway between Root 66 and Son of a Pitch. Study of the geological map indicated that the cave is south of the Priddy Fault and running parallel in the direction of Cowsh Aven Series in Swildon’s Hole to the east. The estimated depth puts the current end of the cave almost at the level of Swildon’s / Priddy Green Sink entrances - indicating that a connection with this system is more likely than the hoped for breakthrough into ancient fossil passages heading towards Cheddar. Rich has suggested that the phreatic Tubledown dig on the western side of the Swildon’s Five streamway may be a possible contender. A link would add 15 metres to Swildon’s current depth resulting in a system 169 m (554.49 ft) deep and a connection to Wookey Hole would make the total depth, at the present state of exploration, some 279 m (915.39 ft)  – one of the deepest in Britain; the Wigmore Swallet – Gough’s Cave potential being 296.4 m (972.4 ft) . Time and hard work will tell but it’s nice to know that B.E.C. explorers are heavily involved with both! Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, incidentally, is at least 308 m (1010.55 ft) and will probably forever be Number One. At least one cave in northern England has similar potential to the Mendip systems but the writer has no information on this to hand.

     More digging took place at the end on the 30th when Trev and your scribe also moved full bags towards the surface. Tony and Pierre Abastado (Marseilles via Estonia) then arrived and the rest of the afternoon was devoted to transporting all the full bags on the surface to the spoil dump, utilising both available Land Rovers – an estimated six tons! On the following day your scribe filled more bags at the end and drilled three more shot-holes in the main rift, which were later charged with cord and fired by Pierre (as a recompense for Waterloo). Tony, assisted by Pierre and Alice and Rosie Audsley laboured to install the lintel shuttering in the entrance shaft. Further work was aborted due to a duff cement mixer. Weather conditions were atrocious but 10 loads came out today. The writer also surveyed the cave resulting in a current length of 22.90 metres and depth of 12.41 metres. Tony and his team returned next day in better conditions and with a working cement mixer and successfully constructed the lintel with a bag of cement and five bags of ½” to dust. He was back on the 5th to reduce the shuttering. On the 7th October 33 loads came out courtesy of Trev, Carole White and the writer. One detonator from the last bang had misfired but the problem was resolved by Trev. Lots of B.E.C. dinner survivors visited but failed to dirty their hands! Your scribe and Carole were back next day to take a Land Rover load of bags to the dump, clear the latest bang spoil and drag bags around the cave until driven out by residual fumes. More lintel work was done by Tony next day - a magnificent construction bearing the inscription BEC 2007, above which is a Scandinavian runic carving doubtless intended to curry favour with the gods of the cave (or it could be a sort of mason’s mark!). A drag tray was installed in the widened main rift on the 10th and Carole, Mike, Jake, Phil and the writer hauled 60 loads to surface, most of which were dumped by Land Rover on the following evening. On the 12th your scribe returned to widen the skip-way, shift bags and dig at the end but was a little dismayed to find the terminal passage trending to the right (south east) and indicating that the way on may be in the floor. On the 14th, accompanied by Trev, he moved bags throughout the cave.43 loads reached the surface. 2 more came out on the 15th when the writer filled lots more at the end and took a Land Rover load to the dump. The 17th October saw Mike, Siss, Paul, Sean, Pete and your scribe moving bags throughout the cave and Phil and Jake hauling 90 loads to the surface in a magnificent team effort. Some digging was done at the end. Jane and your scribe filled more bags here on the19th and reached a smooth limestone floor. All full bags on the surface were dumped. The writer returned next day to fill many bags and reveal much more of the floor. When finally cleared this will give the passage a superb cross section. 

     On the 21st October Trev (as a birthday treat) and the writer hauled bags throughout the cave and attempted to break up a large rock obstructing the south-easterly way on but decided that bang was needed. This was done by your scribe next day after lots more bags had been filled. More bag-hauling was done on the 24th by Mike and the writer. 22 loads came out and the bang debris was cleared to reveal the passage seeming to turn to the left beyond the site of the late rock and following the general trend east-north-east. The latter filled more bags here next day and on the 26th and 27th he was back continuing this work. Vast amounts of ochreous clay need to come out but plenty of small airspaces are encouraging and there is no shortage of room in this stunningly pleasant and easy dig.

Thanks are due to Henry Bennett and Madphil Rowsell for computing the survey figures.


     BARRINGTON, N. and STANTON, W. I.    1977.  Mendip, the Complete Caves and a View of the Hills. Pp. 228-229.

     STANTON, W. I.      1991.  The habitat and origin of lead ore in Grebe Swallet Mine, Charterhouse-on-Mendip, Somerset     Proc. Univ. Bristol Spelaeol. Soc., 19 (1), pp 43-65.

To be continued in BB 530.

Vale:  Mervyn Hannam

Mervyn Hannam passed away at 4 am, 2nd.January 2008, at the Royal United Hospital, Bath. Mervyn was a long standing BEC member, and the proud holder of BEC membership number 104.

On behalf of the BEC , we extend our deepest sympathy to his wife Dorothy and his family. Further to all those who caved and knew him with him over the years.

At his funeral the following Eulogy was delived:

I speak on behalf of the BEC, especially the older members. Mervyn joined the club in the late 1940's and has remained a life member ever since; although he gave up active caving when hobby time became in short supply due to work, including working in Canada, and family pressures.

During his active period he was especially involved in opening up and exploring Cuthbert’s Swallet. It was during this period that Mervyn was allocated the initials T.B.C.O.M. , ‘the best caver on Mendip’ from his habit of ensuring that every new member of the club recognised his, self appointed, status.

Some special meetings come to mind.

When Mervyn reached retirement age he found time to organise a lunch at the White Hart in Trudoxhill, which has its own brewery, thereby proving that he could organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery.

Mervyn missed a visit to the air museum at Kemble when he was North Africa lecturing on oil and gas pipe-line protection but he did help by finding information on the internet, for a visit to Woodhenge. Regretfully plans for future visits to sites will have to be reconsidered.

Mervyn had an infectious laugh, was a great friend and will be sadly missed.

Tony Sett

Rose Cottage Cave - Despondency Sets In

By Tony Jarratt

         “Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed”

                                                                   Kate Fox, Watching the English.

Continued from BBs 522-528.

Further Digging 28/5/07 – 26/9/07

     On the 28th May Jake Baynes, John Noble and Phil Coles took down extra scaffolding for the spoil rift and continued clearing and wall building at Halfway Dig in preparation for the last, desperate push at this site.

      Plan B Dig was partly cleared on the 6th June by Henry Dawson and Henry Bennett but another session was needed to bang a large, peeled-off boulder and to remove the last of the spoil blocking the rift and cutting off the draught. Henry B. and Barry Lawton (Aberystwyth U.C.C.) attempted this on the 10th but a broken power cable near Halfway Dig defeated them. They were not amused. The cable was replaced on the 13th June when an eleven-hole charge was fired at Plan B Dig and a one-hole charge on a rock at Halfway Dig. Tonight’s operatives were the brace of Henries and Helen Stalker. John N. and Phil C. inspected the results on the 16th and reported that it “Will be a close run thing between entering open space and running out of stacking room”.

     On the 4th July Henry D. and Tim Ball continued clearing Plan B Dig to get a better view of the potential but were not over enthusiastic and didn’t like the air conditions. Above, at Halfway Dig Henry B. joined Jake B, Phil C. and later Sean Howe for another clearing session but this team also became despondent at the prospect of dragging spoil all the way out to the surface.

Things were not looking good in Rose Cottage Cave! There was an improvement a week later when Henry B, Hannah Bell and Helen S. cleared more spoil at Plan B Dig and were enthusiastic after investigating possibilities for following the elusive lost draught in the upper part of the cave. On the 18th Henry D, Sean H. and Pete Hellier finished clearing Plan B Dig before drilling five shot-holes and firing a cord charge. 

     The submersible pump and lots of redundant tools were recovered from the new entrance by the writer on the 30th August when it was noted that the pitches had been thoroughly cleaned by this year’s excess of rain water. Hannah and the Henries were back clearing at Plan B Dig on the 5th September when they decided that another charge was needed before they gave up. This was laid as an eight shot-hole charge by the duo on the 12th September and left for a couple of weeks for the fumes to clear.

     As an alternative project the Henries took a draught testing device down the cave on the 19th September with the intention of finding the best place to dig in the boulder ruckle but were defeated by a distinct lack of airflow. They returned to Plan B Dig on the 26th and, despite lingering fumes were able to drill and fire a nine shot-hole charge in the rift as a third person was now needed to allow spoil clearing.

Continued in BB 530.

Rose Cottage Cave – Plan B dig abandoned

By Henry Bennett

When Prancers Pot was first found in March 2006 the bottom of the cave ended in a muddy pool back underneath the final descending rift.  A quick investigation of this looked like it might go with a concerted digging effort. In order to dig it we need to bail the pool and it was noticed that a flood rim mark around the passage was at the same level, about 6 ft up, as a small tube entering the rift at the opposite end of the rift passage.

Several trips took place when we established that we could bail all the water down this hole but it was slow work. A manual pump wasn’t much faster (and broke) but running 110v down to the pool and using an electric pump did the job in minutes. Work then began on removing the fine clay from the blocked passage. However it soon became clear that the pool pinched in on all sides with a solid floor. But since the water disappeared down the drain hole and didn’t reappear we decided to give the drain hole a go.

We started this knowing it would be a long term drill and persuade operation.  After approximately a body length horizontally we met a narrow rift going down.  The thinking was that we could follow this rift down and see if it opened out into anything more interesting. Henry Dawson and myself, plus a hoard of eager diggers, started a concerted effort in early summer 2006 to reach the bottom of the rift which always seemed tantalisingly close but too tight to reach. Details of these trips are in the previous BBs to date, but suffice to say that we started off digging every week and in the last few months have had to shift to every other week due to the quality of air.

When we eventually reached the bottom of the rift it was unsurprisingly blocked by debris that had been brought down during our operations. Several feet of this was cleared and a larger section of rift (but still small) was entered with some enthusiasm. Work continued on down, removing the spoil in the rift and expanding the wall dimensions, but it was not exactly fast. Plus the absence of a draught was not encouraging.

Finally after we’d pushed down about 20ft (guestimate from memory) we decided to call it a day. While future diggers may decide that it is worth another look we felt it important to document why we stopped.

Rose Cottage with its close proximity to St Cuthberts could provide substantial passage. The draught at the entrance indicates there is something down there. But the main draught does not go down into the main cave proper. Most of it filters though the massive boulder pile between Mount Hindrance Lane and the top of the Corkscrew. At the other side of this trauma something must be heading off.  Identifying a route through this area is a daunting task and needs some thought, someone very brave or very stupid. Looks interesting…

Down and Out in Paris

By Faye Litherland

It started as most things do with several beers at the pub and a discussion about limestone quarrying techniques.  Having only visited the Wiltshire Limestone quarries up to that point I was very interested in the stone used for other famous cities and that is how the trip to the Paris Catacombs was born.  Tim Ball had wanted to go for ages, but lack of time and planning had put it on the back burner.  I had a mission………

The Paris Catacombs were quarried to provide the stone to build Paris.  Initially Paris was in the centre around Notre Dame, and the catacombs were on the edge of the city.  As Paris grew it eventually started to expand over the catacombs and the government became concerned about the potential for collapses in the area.  Therefore in 1777 a program of consolidation and inspection was started.  Before an area was built over, the area below was filled in and strengthened to support the structure above and passages left for access and ongoing inspection.  This support structure was then marked with a unique designation, which is still visible today.  An example of one of these designations is 29T 1877.  29 is the wall number, T is the designation letter of the inspector for that wall and 1877 is the year of inspection. Therefore we can tell that this particular wall was built in 1877 and was the 29th wall that Inspector Designation Letter T inspected in that year.  We could go even further and look back through the records to find out who held that letter in that year and find out more about them.  This consolidation continued until Paris grew to the point where even its graveyards on the edge of the city were needed for building land.  At this point some bright spark in the city government decided to remove all of the bodies from the cemeteries and transfer them to the catacombs.  This would free up the cemeteries for building.  The lower levels of the catacombs were filled with the bones of the dead and still are.  Opportunities for dramatic poses and proclamations of “Alas poor Yoric, I knew him Horatio - a fellow of infinite jest” abound.  There is a section of the Paris Catacombs which has been converted into a tourist attraction, but that wasn’t what we wanted to see.  We wanted the wild untamed Catacombs experience, not the sanitised for the masses, glass walled tourist trip version.

There are a couple of problems with visiting the non-tourist parts of the Paris Catacombs.  The major one being that it is illegal and getting caught will land you in hot water with the gendarmerie and in receipt of a fine. The other problem is finding an open entrance.  The entrances get located by the Gendarmerie and closed up, and then another one gets opened etc.  Hence it is essential to have someone with local knowledge.

So, the question is, how does one find people involved with illegal and clandestine activities in the French capital?  Obviously they don’t advertise in the Paris equivalent of the yellow pages.  There was only one place to go www.darkplaces.co.uk. I sent a message to “Root” who runs the website and he put me in touch with someone called “Paulo” who put me in touch with a Frenchman who goes by the name of “Oxs” (a nickname from the Asterix cartoons).  After many emails the date for our catacombs visit was fixed and then all Tim & I had to do was get to Paris and wait on a street corner, on a certain date, at a certain time, dressed in old clothes and wellies and with no underground equipment visible.  He would find us.

Tim & I had no idea what to expect, but had been warned to take a few beers to share, but nothing in a glass bottle.  So there we were, on a street corner on the outskirts of Paris, looking like we had crawled out of the gutter with my tatty old rucksack containing our caving helmets, lamps, six beers and my photography equipment.

True to his word, at the agreed time, Oxs arrived accompanied by a large bottle of unidentified spirits, which he insisted on sharing with us as it was in a glass bottle and had to be finished before we went underground.  As you can imagine, we strenuously resisted for all of a few seconds. We then had to wait for his friend “Source” to arrive as he was struggling to park.  Eventually we were all gathered and ready to make our way to the entry point.  There was no messing about for this part.  We were told that we would walk casually towards the entrance and then go down as fast as possible and seal it behind us.  I had expected the entry point to be down a back alley somewhere, but as we were crossing a busy roundabout opposite a bus station, Oxs pointed down and said “we are here”.  I was stunned; we were about to effect an illegal entry into the bowels of Paris in full view of lots and lots of witnesses.  Oh well, I had left a call out for someone to find me and bail me out of jail if I didn’t get into work by the following Wednesday.  Down we went and Source secured the hatch above us.

We made our way down a series of ladders for about forty metres passing through the newer sewer and cable run levels until we reached the catacombs level.  We were standing around sorting ourselves out when we heard someone else coming down the ladder.  I saw a look of amusement in Source’s eyes and then we witnessed the French sense of humour at first hand.  They waited until the other people were on the ladder and committed to the descent.  Then Source blew his whistle as loud as possible and yelled the equivalent of “Stop, Police” in French.  The descending stopped and turned into rapid ascent at which point our French guides burst out laughing and the poor frightened victims made their way down to join us. 

This is the spirit of the Catacombs.  With the exception of a few pairs of explorer friends (they call themselves Cataphiles), none of us had met each other previously, but within minutes we were all sharing beer, wine, food, cigarettes, experiences and other things. There is no language barrier underground.

I had expected the Catacombs to be tunnels full of bones and not much else, but there are open areas too where the first consolidations were made using arches rather than infill. Some of these areas have been beautifully decorated to make “rooms” where the walls are decorated with murals of original art and copies of works by Dali and Botticelli to name but a few. Artists from the surrealists, cubists and renaissance are all represented.  These rooms are where the party happens.  We moved from room to room during the night, joining and leaving various groups as we went, drinking, smoking and partying to the ever present music supplied by someone’s stereo, as our guides Oxs and Source became more and more incoherent and unsteady.

Eventually the party crowd thinned out and soon it was just Tim & I, Oxs, Source and a guy called Oxalite who we had collected at one of the parties.  We made our way to another room where there were stone benches built into the walls.  Candles were lit and lights were turned off.  It was time to sleep.  I was so exhausted that I did manage to sleep quite well on the cold stone although Oxs noticed me shivering in my sleep at one point and put a space blanket over me.

We slept for probably four hours and then we were off again.  Our guides were considerably more sober by this time and I was starting to have some confidence that we would get out alive.

With the night’s party over it was time for sightseeing.  As well as having visited the bone deposits during the night we had also seen the wall inscriptions from the consolidations.  We then visited an area which was used by the Paris School of Mines. Each year the students had painted murals on the walls and these could be traced back through several decades. Unfortunately this practice has now been stopped due to health and safety concerns.  We also visited the site where a body was discovered, now called the Tomb.  A man had become lost in the catacombs about two hundred years ago and was only found twenty years later.  He was identified by his clothes and a key, which was found on the body.  He died only metres from an exit.  His body was removed, but an inscription was placed at the site as a stark reminder of the perils of wandering around without a map and enough light.  During the Second World War part of the catacombs was used by the Nazis and we visited one of the old bunkers, which is still mostly intact.  We also visited the sales room for the quarries and saw the “Bancs de Pierre de Cette Carriere”.  This is a set of display steps, which has the different types of available stone displayed, a bit like a colour swatch but for limestone.

Tired, dirty and happy we decided it was time to leave the catacombs after over twelve hours underground. Here again normal safety practices went out of the window.  We all huddled forty metres above the ground on a ladder of questionable vintage, while Source opened the manhole to the street level above.  Our instructions were clear.  Get out, walk away and take the next right into a side street and then wait. Don’t look back and don’t run.  We managed to exit without being chased by the Gendarmerie, falling off the ladder or dropping any of the good citizens of Paris down our open manhole.  Tim & I said our goodbyes in the safety of the side street and then made our way back to our hotel followed by an interesting smell and a lot of curious stares.

Several nights later we found ourselves on a train bound for Nemours.  We had been accepted into Oxs confidence and he wanted to show us a site, which is unique to Europe, an old underground sand quarry with sand of such purity that it was used for telescope lenses.  Still not sure what to expect, we arrived on the platform in Nemours to wait for Oxs.

He had said he would cook us dinner so we had assumed we would be going to his house before the quarry visit.  How wrong can you be?  I found myself in charge of carrying two baguettes through a sand crawl with the strict instruction not to get sand over them.  Tim was in charge of the cheese.

The sand quarry was truly amazing.  The sand vein was located between two rock bedding planes which meant that there was no contamination from vegetation or soil unlike other open cast sand quarries.  I was amazed by how extensive the workings were. There were very few artefacts in the quarry although areas of pit props were evident and there was one section of railway track.  It was not long before we were tired of walking through the deep sand on the floor and decided to have dinner.  This was cheese fondue with copious quantities of wine.  Oxs had been steadily making his way through the wine all evening and yet, to our amusement, declined some of the beer Tim & I had brought because he was driving!

We got a few hours sleep that night at Oxs’ apartment and he very kindly dropped us off at the edge of Paris the next morning on his way to work.  We made our way back across Paris to our hotel to be stared at yet again by the clean, non-sandy Parisians.

So is Paris the most romantic city in the world?  I am not sure, but it is definitely good for a dirty weekend!


Poetry Corner


Picture a shed on the edge of the Mendips

with lunatic cavers and a dig by the side.

Suddenly someone builds an extension,

with loads of help from mates who abide.

Colourful timbers of varying sizes a wonderful construction to see.

brickie and labourers beavering away,

plus Dany the chippie and me.

I wonder how long it will take to finish,

so we feel the benefits me and you

Visualise the fun, we can have in it!!

our colourful psychedelic room with a view.

Full of suggestions the committee pondered,

on how to make use of this space.

Franks’ view is that it should be a vibrant, colourful

calm and ambient chill out place!!!!

Kaleidoscope murals covering the walls,

with white rugs and cushions on the floor.

Using feng shui for the total space,

thereby ensuring an ambient décor.

Imagine the setting as you lounge on your cushions!

Coolly moonbathing in this heavenly womb.

all the decisions that no one will make,

in the BEC psychedelic room.

Viva the committee.


(Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds anyone? Ed.)




1.          Tony Bamber

2.         Cambell McKee

3.         Dizzie (nee Akers)

4.         Alfie Collins

5.         Frank Seward

6.         Johnny Shorthose

7.         Betty Shorthose

            8.         ?

9.         Possibly Eddie Cole

10.        Jack Brown11. Don Coase

12.        Looks like Pete Stewart       But is probably not

13.        Freda Huchinson

14.        Can’t tell, face obscured

Many thanks to Tony Sett for identifications.

Memories of Mendip in the Forties

I happily slept on the hay in the barn,

with Postle and Don and the rest.

We drank and we swore, and the clothes that we wore

were far from our cleanest and best.

For we went down the caves that ran under our feet

and many a squeeze came my way;

with old carbide lamps and thick ladders of rope,

whilst the darkness chased terror away.

There were chimneys we climbed; there were boulders we scaled;

and the streams that ran swift after rain.

There were times we were lost, when I felt rather scared

‘til we’d sussed out our trail once again.

We’d a car boasting sidescreens, and running boards too,

with a windscreen that folded down flat.

And a neat dickey seat, tucked away in the rear.

There were many who envied us that.

While the others had motorbikes, battered and old,

but lovingly tended with care,

for petrol was scarce, and money was short,

but somehow we always got there.

In the evenings we’d roar down the road to the pub,

where Alfie played tunes that we knew.

And there we heard tell of one “Eskimo Nell”

as we drank our host’s excellent brew.

All too soon, time to go, and we’d climb on our bikes

or crowd in our Lea Francis car.

Then once more we’d roar to the Belfry and bed

and be grateful it wasn’t too far.

For a Club had been formed, with a bat as its badge,

and a hut was soon bought for a song.

To start with we slept on the old wooden floor

but I’m glad to say, not for too long.

Now we’ve benches and bunkhouses, showers and loos,

and places to dry out wet clothes.

I haven’t been caving for twenty-odd years

and I won’t go again, I suppose.

But Alfie plays host to us “oldies” each year

at a Dinner, both happy and sad,

while we think of those missing, who ought to be there,

and talk of the Good Times we had.

Dizzie Tompsett-Clark        21 February 2001


Our Message to Wig

Hello Dave aka Wig

it’s all your pals down here

we’ve trogged down to Cerberus Hall

to serenade you, friend dear

There is no need to say

how sad is this time

but all of us remember you

in your youthful prime.

Full of energy, wit,

and a character to boot

always a warm welcome

and sound advice to suit.

The Cerberus Chamber is yours

for just as long as you want,

like the long shadows of Priddy

and all the trees we plant.

Sadly missed is a phrase

that always sounds quite trite

so we will all raise our glasses

to a great mate goodnight.

vaya con dios Dave

Everything to Excess.

Mike Wilson


We all Likes Bloodywell Caving

When I were a youngster I were good as can be

With me nine to five job and home for me tea

Till a devil with horns and a beer gut or three

Took me caving, bloodywell caving

Caving, caving just you and I

Caving, caving when we are dry

Some does it open and some on the sly

But we all likes bloodywell caving

He said it’s a doddle, a countryside stroll

And I took it for gospel till we entered Cow Hole

I think he mistook me for some kind of mole

Going caving, bloody well caving

Then I did Goatchurch, all covered in mud

And then I did Swildon’s when it was in flood

Manor Farm was the place where I first spilled me blood

Going caving, bloodywell caving

Now Cuthbert’s is dry, I was told it’s a cinch

But the liar who told me that I’d like to lynch

Cos the entrance shaft surely could do with a winch

Going caving, bloodywell caving

Now Otter is fine if you’re watching the tide

And Neath is a squeeze, but it’s pretty inside

You get sodden and wrinkled and do it with pride

Gong caving, bloodywell caving

But the best time of day is when caving is done

And we go to the Hunters’ and drink down the sun

It’s then we tell weegies that caving is fun

Going caving, bloodywell caving


The Shaves Of The Mendip Hills

                 Yer Ed makes some surprising discoveries about caves and beards.


One of the most frequently asked questions by those who do not occupy the underground realm of caving is why are there so many beards? Today, beards and caving are almost synonymous and indeed one only has to frequent the various watering holes populated by those who indulge in that passion to see that beards are far from dying out – as some have wrongly claimed (see Haver’s The Shaved Men of Caving for a description of such misconceptions). It seems there is a long tradition of not shaving in the pursuits of a subterranean nature. Indeed, one may even consider it an act of freethought rebellion to indulge in wanton facial hair expression and rightly so. There is nothing more liberating than being one of the few who venture where the many fear to squeeze bedecked in enough facial hair to startle itinerant spinsters. 

The tradition is thought to have started with Gough whose magnificent facial hair was the talk of Cheddar. Scholars of this subject though rightly claim that beard wearing predates the great man by at least a century. Antiquarian and bon viveur John Pilsbury sported an enormous beard; one that was often reported as being ‘like the sail of a mighty galleon as she battled the storms of the Cape of Good Hope’. Pilsbury was fond of exploring the region in all weathers and a brisk southwester whipping across the Mendips was hardly likely to deter him. While regaling rude mechanicals of his adventures in inns of the area he often claimed that when caught out at night such was the enormity of his whiskers that he could curl up beneath them and sleep soundly, safe in the knowledge that…‘the rain could nought but penetrate the resplendent outpourings of my chin.’ 

Of course it soon became clear to Pilsbury that crawling through the tunnels and orifices of the Mendips was becoming an arduous task hampered as he was by the size of his mat. Although on one occasion he was deeply thankful that he had ignored his wife’s protestations to remove the wretched beast. In short he owed his life to it. While negotiating a squeeze he popped out ten fathoms above a deep abyss (which cave this is in no one is absolutely sure) but was saved from falling after his beard snagged on a knobbly protuberance of stal.

In his diary of 1756 he wrote:

I fell out, evacuated from the perilous opening, to what I deemed was my certain doom. Had I not been in possession of the fibres of my chin I would have that day met my maker. The knobbulous rockform had halted thereon my plummet and to it I made vigorous blessings as well as to my follicles…

Pilsbury spent three long days suspended over the deep pitch, turning lazily at the end of his beard until “certaine men of Priddy” rescued him. While waiting, he occupied his time in the long hours conjuring up caving techniques centred on the use of the beard. Predominant of which was SBT or the Single Beard Technique.  On paper and from his brief experience of it SBT seemed a novel and workable exploring tool but it was to prove, in reality, an untenable idea. Pilsbury finally met his doom during a test run swing off a steeple of rock in The Trousers of the Saint passage in Ball’s Opening just north of Wells. His beardless body was found wedged in the Bishop’s Nuisance Thrutch, now renamed, in his honour, Pilsbury’s Rip.   

His rescued beard, until quite recently, used to hang in the back of a cupboard in Wells museum. The identity of precisely which cupboard though has now been completely forgotten and the item lost to history.  

Another famous Mendip beard was Ezekiel ‘Thatch’ Whackery who facial hair reminded many of a map of Africa. Not only it must be mentioned due to its likeness of that continent but to its sheer size. Thatch had started his career as something of a cur of low moral fibre working near the coast, not far from present day Weston super Mare, smuggling barrels of brandy and other fancy goods in his whiskers. He even, if what was famously reported is true, carried two gentlemen avoiding a gambling debt, to Swindon without once letting them tumble from his face. It can only be assumed they clung tenaciously to his chin throughout the entire journey hidden from the authorities under his voluminous beard. 

Thatch, who incidentally was the first to explore Dripping Hole near West Harptree, had the ability to roll his beard into something that resembled a thick rope from which he could suspend other fellow explorers – in essence a human belay, or use it to scale certain rock formations in the various caves he ventured into. Beard historians (Or Barb-arians to give them their proper name) have rightly noted that Thatch had inadvertently stumbled upon the SBT independently.  Some have disputed this. Although Thatch came along some twenty years after Pilsbury, there is no evidence the men ever met, Thatch spent long hours talking about caves to elderly men of the area – some of whom had rescued Pilsbury’s body from the Bishop’s Nuisance Thrutch. So it is not without historical veracity that Thatch knew something of SBT.

Either way he became the most famous exemplar of SBT. Scandal dogged his later years when it was claimed that Thatch had returned to his old smuggling ways. In June of 1791 he was apprehended leaving a tobacconists with a hundredweight of rough shag lodged under his chin. He was incarcerated in the local stocks for a week and his beard was cut off in punishment. (It later appeared in an auction house in London where it sold for thirty guineas)

Further scandal would shock the caving world, in the early part of the 19th century, when a series of accidents revealed an underground market of fake beards. Explorers, usually from beyond the borders of Somerset, would purchase chin adornments in the mistaken belief they would aid them in their subterranean quests. It turned out that a shipment of substandard glue from the Far East had rendered the items useless as well as potentially dangerous. The Sheriff of Somerset launched an inquiry and formed a group of facial hair police called The Fuzz to track down and punish purveyors of pseudobarbafollicae.  It was due to his overwhelming success that even genuine caving beards fell into obsolescence - even those distributed to women - without which they were unable to explore the netherworld of Mendip. Thankfully that dogmatically sexist period was brief.

                                                ‘Beard madam?’

                                                            Monty Python’s Life of Brian       

Wetheral Fudge who caved once then retired unmoving to his bed for the remaining sixty years of his life was the last of the Great Beards of the Golden Age. Incidentally it was said that when he died rigor vigorous set in such was his lack of activity over that long period. His beard was the last of the greats to venture beneath the fields of the Mendips albeit on a once in a lifetime excursion. For a while, after his demise his beard hung in a Wells public house above a dartboard. Eventually the wretched thing began to stink up the place due to an inordinate amount of discarded ale and foodstuffs lodged in its hairs. It was laid to rest next to Fudge, beard and one time caver united once more.  

In the early and mid part of the 20th Century the beard in caving circles went into decline due in part to the shaves of the Mendip Hills but thankfully in more recent times the association of caving with facial hair has once more been re-affirmed. Balch sported a fine moustache but never went for the complete Monty.

Anyone interested in beard fieldwork can do worse than visit the Hunters Lodge Inn wherein any number of beards can be espied. One beard watcher (known as a whisker) went undiscovered for a whole month having taken up residence in a hide in the corner of the pub.

It seems that caves and beards are synonymous and who would have it any other way.

Long may they grow.  

See Celia Canth’s By A Whisker for further reading.

One famous Banwell caver, William Beard, actually changed his surname by deed poll in honour of facial hair. His original name was Stubble. – Jrat

Stop – Press  -  Breakthroughs at  Rana  Hole, Assynt,  Scotland

Tony Jarratt

     Over the Christmas – Hogmanay period a minor Mendip Invasion of Assynt took place with Paul Brock, Siss Balomatis, Duncan Butler, the writer and Robin “Tav” Taviner (GSG/WCC) in attendance. Norman Flux, Mark Brown and Anwen Burrows represented both GSG and SUSS and a host of Grampian members, including old Rana lags Julian Walford, Ivan Young, Martin Hayes, Andy Peggie, Roger Galloway, Annie Audsley, Kate Janossy and Derek Pettiglio appeared. Fraser Simpson luckily made a brief appearance armed with his video camera.

On Boxing Day Paul, Siss and your scribe visited Skye-way and the impressive Two A’s Chamber before squeezing down into some 70m of rift and bedding passages found earlier in the week by GSG local Chris Warwick and daughter Shona. A new stream entered on the north side as a 5m waterfall and sank in a boulder choke in the floor of Way On Chamber. A passage above was blasted after a couple of minor extensions were added to the cave.

Next day your scribe, Paul and Siss squeezed into c.20m of choked phreatic passage (Santa’s Grotthole) then joined Julian and sons who were digging in vain at the floor choke. To aid access a charge was fired in the rock wall on the S side of the choke. On the 28th Tav and the writer cleared the spoil and started shifting the choke when black voids appeared below and part of the floor collapsed into a short pitch – much to your scribe’s distress! Leaving it to settle they banged their way into 6m of passage nearby – Misfire Rift. Having optimistically brought SRT kit and a rope they were duty bound to garden and push the pitch so Tav acted as safety man while the writer descended the steeply angled and well decorated Black Rift for some 8m to a c.6m vertical drop into Black Cuillin Chamber where two ways led off. Mark, Anwen and Duncan visited next day and thoroughly emptied the rift of tons of “hanging death”.

A large team were back on the 30th and after Mark rigged Black Rift he pushed into some 50m of narrow, dry phreatic passage into Blue Chamber – named after its resident sump pool and in memory of Paul’s late lamented Border Terrier. Others dug in a boulder blockage in the northerly trending stream sink a few metres from the pitch but decided bang was needed so your scribe was inserted to drill three obstructive sandstone boulders. Drill and rock quality problems prevented this but after a half hour’s work with a crowbar the writer pushed the furthest rock forwards and followed it through into a 2m high stream passage. Mark, Paul, Siss, Fraser and Duncan (a perfect mix of GSG, SUSS and BEC) joined him to traverse over the shallow Flake Rift on a massive and dodgy looking rock flake, ascend a short and muddy climb and squeeze through a low section to the head of a steep flowstone slope in the side of a mighty chamber after a total of around 20m of new passage. Your scribe worriedly free-climbed this as he expected another deep pitch into Belh Aven in Uamh an Claonaite below. To the north a massive and unstable boulder slope (Raigmore Steps as it turned out) led to a wide breakdown passage with a roaring streamway and plenty of scuff-marks and footprints to prove that after 12 years of digging they had made the connection – into the base of Belh Aven and not the top as predicted! For the writer it was almost 32 years since he first dug here! Thoroughly elated they visited the stunning Great Northern Time Machine, inspected the bear bones nearby, posed for Fraser’s video and returned to Two A’s Chamber to imbibe the “Champagne” providentially left therein (and a second bottle with the rest of the team on the freezing surface!). Many tourist trips then followed and on the 1st January, Mark bolted up Belh Aven for some 60m to a horrific boulder choke (Belh End) with the green-dyed Rana stream entering. A magnificent week’s digging and exploration with, luckily, all the right tools and dedicated company for the job. Norman now has to find a new project! The combined system is around 2868m long and 111m deep – Scotland’s longest and deepest by far. Slainte.

Keys and leaders

By Toby Maddocks

A plea from your Caving Sec…

After numerous calls and emails from club members and after checking the members’ key box for quite a few weekends many of the keys are missing in action.

If you have used a key from the members’ box recently, or even not so recently and not yet put it back, please can you do it as soon as possible. Our Hut Warden and other committee members have found it quite embarrassing when keys are missing from the members’ box and members have not been able to the cave of their choice. I will publish a list and put it up by the box shortly so that we know what should be there. If you do use keys from the members’ box, please can you sign them out as well – the book is now pinned to the wall by the front door (left hand side as you come in). Many thanks to the members that have been doing this.

On a lighter note, though I would like to ask if anyone who might be interested in being a Cuthbert’s leader please email me. I’m currently training up myself with a couple of other BEC members so that we can share the load of trips into our cave with the current leaders. At present to become a leader you need to:

Have completed a minimum of 15 trips with current leaders

Be able to have sufficient knowledge of the cave so that you are able to protect the cave formations.

Have completed your training / validation trips with a wide range of current leaders and have gained secure knowledge of the main tourist trips.

If you would like to know more then please email me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   Happy caving!!


Another  Cave  Theme Beer  Label  and Associated  Ephemera

By Tony Jarratt

      In keeping with the fine traditions of the B.E.C. every now and then the Belfry Bulletin features a short article on “speleobooze” ephemera (see BBs 505 and 506 – Armchair Caving for the Alcoholic). The latest British item to come to the writer’s notice is from a very fine bottle-conditioned golden ale brewed locally by Cheddar Ales and rejoicing in the name “Potholer”. Many members will already be familiar with the excellent draught version (4.3%) frequently available in the Hunters’ and New Inn, Priddy and which recently won a silver award at the Tuckers Maltings Beer Festival in Newton Abbot.

Having been generously given bottles by Mike Hearn and Milche your scribe duly sampled it (Simply Gorgeous) and attempted to remove the label for his collection, being totally defeated by the quality of the glue. Mike, now part of the brewing team, then arranged with owner and head brewer Jem Ham for a small supply of labels, one of which is reproduced here. Its colouring is yellow ochre darkening to brown for the cave walls. The name of the cave illustrated is unknown, as it apparently originated in a photo library, but somewhere in S.E. Asia seems a good bet – it certainly isn’t on Mendip! For a Mendip brew the name “Potholer” may seem inappropriate though it was meant to be “…synonymous with Cheddar and the local area.”  Perhaps in the future we will see “Cave Digger” brown ale or a watery, gaseous brew called “Cave Diver”!

     Another local brewery is producing “Cave Bear” draught ale but this has been neither seen nor sampled and it is doubtful if there is a bottle label to collect.

     To accompany the ale Ford Farms of Ashley Chase Estate, Dorset are making a very acceptable Cheddar cheese, which is matured in the artificial tunnels in Wookey Hole Cave (as illustrated) and recently a similar operation has been set up in Gough’s Cave, Cheddar. Alas, the latter does not have a collectable, cave ephemera label.   

Ed’s note: Cheddar Ales are in the process of brewing a new beer called Totty Pot.  (see next BB --- JRat)


Vale Mark Jones

Once again we have to report the sad loss of one of our members, Mark Jones.

Mark joined the BEC in 2000 (membership number 1272) and was also a leader of the Midsomer Norton Scout Group. He was a talented IT teacher and about a year ago he moved to Bahrain in the Middle East to teach at an English school there. He was originally booked to stay at the Belfry for a week before Christmas but changed his plans after being offered a place with one of his local caving friends.  Sadly it was on his way back to the airport on 4th January when he was involved in an accident.

The funeral was at St Crust Church, Llanrwst, North Wales on Monday 14th January. Many of his friends and family convened in the the Eagle Hotel, Llanrwt Market Place, afterwards to celebrate his life.

A local Memorial Service for his Mendip friends is due to take place as this BB goes to press at Somervale School.

Donations to the MRO please.

On behalf of the BEC, we extend our deepest sympathy to his family.


Dave “Wig” Irwin’s Plaque Unveiling.

By Martin Grass.

On Saturday 10th November a large team in assorted caving kit assembled at the Belfry to descend St. Cuthbert’s Swallet for the unveiling of the memorial plaque to Dave Irwin in recognition of the work he had carried out in the cave over the years and specifically the survey of the cave.

However the event goes back some months to when Dave passed away and a few of us along with the BEC committee thought it would be a great idea to place one final plaque in Cerberus Hall to commemorate Dave’s life. Already plaques to the cave’s main discoverers, Don Coase and Roy Bennett are in the hall and it was felt this would be a fitting tribute to a caver who had done in excess of 750 trips into the cave, mainly for surveying and digging purposes.

Initially we decided to have a plaque the same size as Roy’s so it could sit on the other side of Don’s and balance everything out. This should have been 12 inches by 12 inches but as we added Cave and Surveyor to the original wording of Dave Irwin and his year of birth and death Wells Stone masons changed the size to 17 inches by 17 inches without telling us. Thus when I collected it I did think it was slightly larger than what we had ordered! It was also on the slightly heavy side and when Mac weighted it we found it was 30 kilos, Dave was still giving us headaches from beyond the grave!

Mac put it in a wooden frame and it was padded out with carpet and tape slings were secured to the frame for hauling. Now all we had to do was get it down the cave in one piece. So a cunning plan was hatched, Mac, Dany, J’Rat and myself would go in and drill the holes, tidy the wall and direct operations while Greg Brock and a team of young fit cavers would carry it down the cave with us giving encouragement! As it turned out Greg carried it most of the way with it slung over one shoulder and his whole body bent over and leaning to one side. He looked like Christ carrying the cross!

Still, we had our problems. Despite Mac making a wooden frame with pre-drilled holes and Dany’s expertise in drilling straight holes, on our second visit to put the plaque on the wall the holes did not quite line up and then one bolt sheared off! Now to plan B. So on the third visit Mac and Dany drilled bigger holes and very carefully drilled holes all the way through the stone. Everything was then set in epoxy resin and Dany held the whole lot on the wall while it set as it kept slipping forward even though it was on a metal bracket that Mac had made.

On the last trip we removed the bracket and Dany cemented in the gaps and it was at last complete. Big thanks to all the cavers who helped on the various trips into the cave over a very short period of time. On the 10th November we assembled a motley crew of 49 cavers in Cerberus Hall. These ranged from old stalwarts like Pete Franklin and Mike Palmer now in his 68th year down to young Helen who is 20. It was a truly representative bunch. John Irwin, Dave’s nephew, unveiled the plaque and we toasted Dave with his favourite tipple of lager and lime. We did have a bit of a wait as Pete Glanvill, who entered the cave last, had come along with a friend of his daughter Sally, a violinist called Bridget. Pete told her that as she had been down Bakers Pit she would not have a problem with Cuthbert’s! Terrified as she was we did eventually get her to Cerberus Hall with her violin and she played a few tunes for Dave before the damp air made all the strings on her bow come off! Finally Dave’s ashes were placed in the stream and a slow exit was made. This quickened considerably once Mr Nigel had popped like a cork out of the entrance rift!

On the surface a great team had produced hot soup, Indian snacks and of course a barrel of Potholer. An excellent day was had by all and in true BEC style it was “to excess”. Big thanks to all those that made it possible, by putting up the plaque, cooking food and sending hot soup down the cave (how did you get it past Nigel in the rift?). Those in attending the unveiling underground were:- 

John Irwin, Bob Cork, Barry Lawton, Alex Jones, Alison Ball, Pete Glanvill, Sally Glanvill, Bridget and the violin, Greg Brock, Helen Brock, Martin Faulkner, Martin Webster, Pete Hellier, Phil Coles, Jake Baynes, Greg Villis, Justin Emery, Mike Palmer, Mac, Martin Grass, Cheg Chester, Darrell Insterell, Phil Romford, Pete Franklin, Alison Moody, Jamie Wonnacott, Pete Hann, Graham Price, Chrissie Price, Nigel Taylor, Butch, Andy Chamberlain, Sean Howe, Steve Neads, Estelle Sandford, Mike Wilson, Crispin Floyd, Robin Gray, Damian Butler, Trevor Hughes, Bob Smith, Chris Smart, Mary Damson, Helen Brown, Stu Gardiner, Robin Lewando, Sue Dukes, Nick Gymer

Dave Irwin, in memoriam


The unveiling of the plaque

By Sue Dukes.

On Saturday 10th November nearly 50 cavers kitted up to slither down the entrance rift of St Cuthbert’s Swallet to pay homage to their old friend, and unveil the plaque which had been placed there earlier by some stalwart club members, including the honourable hut warden (who took a nasty tumble in the Wire Rift, and as a consequence of which was unable to join the wake).  I won’t list the names of the worthy at this time, but she has a list, which will no doubt go into the BEC annals for all time.

I met Wig, who was never called Dave, many years ago, when I was 23.  We frequently jaunted down Cuthbert’s to take measurements or draw profiles of passage for his long-term project to produce a book on the cave. We also shared a love of music. Those who knew Wig will recall he was an avid aficionado of classical music; a pianist himself, he also had an awe-inspiring collection of classical vinyl records (which I hope are going to a good home). At that time we also made a monthly trip into the Old Vic in Bristol to get some culcher (and the odd beer or two).  He had a kind nature, an amusing take on life, and modestly referred to the part of Concorde he designed as “that fussy little bit which fitted somewhere under the wing”.

Cavers, according to Wig, come in three types: troglobites (cave dwellers), troglophiles (surface dwellers who venture into the dark), and accidental visitors (washed in by water). On this momentous of trips to commemorate Wig’s life and his dedication to the exploration of Cuthbert’s there was an abundance of all three.  There were a few surviving troglobites long past breeding age; many surface dwellers gasping their way through almost-familiar passage (don’t I remember that from some otherwhen?); and a couple of accidental visitors.  Although there is a strict rule that no novice cavers should attempt this potentially dangerous cave, exceptions were made, notably for Wig’s nephew John, who made some of us experienced older cavers look like geriatrics (shoot the bloke who said, ‘we are’), and for Glanvill’s young fiddle-playing friend who was pressed-ganged into service to play the Last Post or something at the unveiling of the plaque.  She bravely made her way, with some help, through a cave he had blithely told her was like Goatchurch with a few ladders.

Safety rules were adhered to in a loose fashion, the diverse adventurers being divided into groups with leaders.  Some stout souls also volunteered to man the entrance, taking names of all who went down and eventually, with much struggling and cursing, came up again, according to the laws of nature.  We managed not to lose or damage a single trog, so well done to the organisers and leaders – talking of which, never have so many Cuthbert’s leaders been spotted together at the same time, leading rise to the supposition that they are not a dying breed as previously suspected, but simply shy.  Had there been a problem a complement of MRO personnel, of course, were on hand, but I have to mention they all scarpered out fast after the ceremony, to get to the barrel… by the time the last weary souls stumbled into the Belfry gasping for a drink in the late afternoon the barrel was empty and the food gobbled.

A reporting team from Mendip TV was also on hand.  Their cameraman gamely got his civvies wet and muddy in true reporting fashion, wedging himself above the entrance rift to catch the flavour of cavers slithering into the dark.  Some fairly tasteful footage of the event can be seen on MendipTV.com.   I took my camera down, and managed to snatch a few passable shots of the ageing fauna in its various guises.  I did notice other cavers flashing here and there, so there might be a few more interesting shots in the offing.

Everyone gathered in Cerberus Hall where Wig’s plaque joined that of Roy Bennett and Don Coase, apparently the last, which will do so.  While we waited and waited and waited for the fiddler to arrive, we did good justice to the BEC song, which echoed around Cuthbert’s in a remarkably church-like fashion. (It’s a shame the only time caving songs seem to be sung these days is at the BEC dinner or funerals.  Remember those Saturday nights:  Biddle on the piano or Simon on the box, and Ben’s perpetual moan about ‘they words, they ’orrible words?’)

Eventually Pete and the bone-weary fiddler arrived.  Exhausted and hot, she slid the top of her boiler suit down, and Alison, to the annoyance of certain older male members, lent her a belt to preserve modesty as the garment succumbed instantly to the pull of gravity.  The fiddle emerged from its cocoon of bubble wrap, and the last of the lager and lime, being Wig’s choice of drink (he wasn’t perfect), was handed around.  Eulogies were spoken, personal silences were observed, and then as the fiddle began to echo melodiously around the hall we raised a toast to Wig:  caver, friend, and Cuthberts’ leading authority.  At which point the fiddle bow immediately began to disintegrate, to our great amusement.  It was Wig having a last laugh.

The trip back out took a long time as the logistics of 50 people in varying stages of fitness did justice to the entrance rift.  My small party didn’t hurry back, but took a leisurely detour via Quarry Corner, to High Chamber and the cave pearls.  We still arrived at the foot of ladder chamber behind a queue of rapidly chilling bodies, and tucked ourselves into Pulpit to wait it out.  Eventually we, the last five, clambered back into dusk to be greeted by some very merry bodies who were surprised to see us, having assumed everyone was out half an hour previously.

Thereafter, everyone repaired to the village hall for beer, the auction, nosh, stomp (good job most of us are already deaf), and more beer.

Sue Dukes

Wig’s Book Auction

On November 19th Priddy Village Hall played host to an auction of books from Wig’s library. The whole affair was well attended and as they say everything had to go. Most of the more valuable books, the heart of the auction sold below their reserve prices although one or two did sell for a handsome price.

Hot on the heels of the prints were some of Wig’s prints and pictures, although I understand one patron did end up paying £25 for a photocopy.

Along the side of the hall the bulk of Wig’s books had been split into tables with prices for each. Whereas the rare books were snapped up, on the whole, by the same people, these tables offered the majority a crack at owning some of the great man’s library. There was something of a mad rush after the prints were sold as everyone rushed to bag the books they had chosen during the perusal period.

 One thing should be mentioned, the rare books had had their lot numbers stuck directly onto the covers with scotch tape. Unfortunately this meant that a number of covers were ruined when an attempt was made to remove the labels. In future it is the opinion of the editor that any books sold are placed in clear plastic bags to avoid damage and depreciation in value. 

Post auction guests were invited to groove the night away at a stomp.

The Statistics of the Post Auction Stomp

By Ian “Slug” Gregory.

I can report that whilst everyone who wanted it was offered "seconds", there was one particular "Greedy Bastard" who came back not only for said "seconds", but also thirds, then fourths, and finally…FIFTHS. (I suppose that had we not run out of food, he would have come back for sixths.), and the name of that person ....Henry Dawson...making up for the "Club Dinner e-mail incident" no doubt.

If you are interested, we fed 117 in the evening (121 if you count Henry's four extra portions: -D ), and prior to that 60 odd had soup and snacks at the Belfry after exiting St Cuthberts.

Afternoon: 3 gallons each of mushroom, tomato, and oxtail soup,120 mini indian snacks, 4 lbs. of butter, 6 loaves of bread. Prepared by Brenda Prewer, and myself. Evening: 120 jumbo sausages, 100 beef burgers, 56 lb's of potatoes, 24 lbs garden peas, another 4 lbs of butter, and 2½ gallons of Dany Bradshaw’s own recipe onion gravy.

Yep, as Wig liked to point out, the whole club motto is "If Something Is Worth Doing, It’s worth Doing To EXCESS"

I think We Did.

BEC T-Shirt Design Competition

Since we have now completely sold out of all of our clothing stock we are going to run a competition for the redesign. Previously we have printed T-shirts, rugby shirts, car stickers, “BEC get everywhere” stickers, jackets, ties, and other random stuff. Clearly we’ll be producing the popular items and we’ll also look at doing hoodies.

There are very few guidelines to this brief except these: (1) T-shirt designs should be full print (even two sided) while rugby tops would be restricted to a simple logo. (2) Artwork should be final or capable of being produced to a print standard. (3) You may enter for a single item or a range of styles. (4) No dates are to be printed

The club will judge the result for themselves via an online poll on the BEC website. This will be used by the committee for determining which design to go with. All entries to be in by end of January 2008.

The winner will get a free t-shirt and a warm feeling that they’ve done good.

Henry Bennett

Letter to the Club

By Martin Grass.and Stuart McManus

Dear Committee,

As you are now aware Dave Irwin’s book auction raised £6,884.86 after deducting the hall hire, band and other sundry items, which less the beer purchased by the BEC (£414.99) means Wig’s family have donated £6,469.87 to the BEC.

Firstly thanks to all those who helped at the event and during the day with the plaque unveiling in Saint Cuthbert’s. It was great to see so many members from across the generations!

Mike, Dave’s brother, had originally intended for some of the proceeds of the auction to go to the Priddy church fund but he was so moved by the day that he has requested the full amount go to the BEC.

Although there are no stipulations on how the money is to be used we believe that some of it should be put to a lasting memorial to Dave (I know we have the plaque).

In addition the club has been given all of Dave’s original surveys, drawings and note books. We are aware that at the last AGM a suggestion was made that these go to Bristol library but we do feel they would never be seen there.

The final decision has to be yours but as “unofficial” trustees of the money we would like to see, as a very minimum, a suitable set of cabinets for the storage of the note books along with a survey Plan chest or similar piece of furniture purchased for these very valuable achieves. We can then advise Mike and his family of this legacy.

We are aware that at the last committee meeting your new and enthusiastic librarian suggested that perhaps part of the new Belfry extension could become a larger and better library dedicated to Dave’s memory and we would certainly endorse this. It is in fact a credit to those that have built it that the standards and finish are of such a high quality that it would seem a shame to turn it into a dirty old work shop!

On the above we are in your hands however we would like to be kept informed/ consulted if possible by the committee so we can advise Mike to what use some of the money will be put.

Finally there were two boxes of books left from the sale and these we have placed in the library. If the club does not have copies of the contents then please use them, the remainder is for you to do as you wish. One suggestion was for the club to take a stand at next year’s Hidden Earth and sell the books along with copies of the St. Cuthbert’s report. As it is “up North” next year you may find that some of the books will go quite quickly for a reasonable sum. Alternatively Tony Jarratt has said he would purchase the lot from the club. The decision is yours.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Everything to excess,


Martin Grass & Stuart McManus.

22nd November 2007.

Hollow Hills

As you are well aware we have new neighbours at the Belfry. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming months. Due to the nature of the beast or ‘beasts’ in this case, a certain level of concern is unavoidable. Let’s hope that the issues are resolved to the satisfaction of all.   

Just a quick reminder: Documents for the BB should be sent or emailed in Word or RTF Format. Pictures – you’re still doing it! – should be either gently placed on a CD Rom or whipped through a photo software package to get them down to a workable size – preferably in black and white as that’s how they’re going to be printed. Other than that keep sending me your articles!

Yer Ed.