The Bristol Exploration Club (BEC) is one of the major caving clubs based on the Mendip Hills and has had its headquarters in an area east of the village of Priddy since 1947. It currently has a membership of a little under 200 members who are nationally based and in 2000 the club celebrated the 65th anniversary of its formation in Bristol. In 1935 member No. 1, Harry Stanbury, wished to join one of the caving clubs in the area - the Wessex Cave Club (WCC) - but was told in no uncertain terms that the WCC did not have people like him in their ranks! Harry, furious, went away and formed a club of his own, which was the formation of the BEC.
Before the war the Club prospered and its membership reached about 15 active members but at the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 the membership fell to levels that left the club in a dormant state. It was reformed with a new constitution in March 1943 and, merging with a number of smaller clubs, its membership reached about 100 in the late 1940's.
In the immediate post-war years, members were actively involved with the Cave Diving Group operations at Wookey Hole and elsewhere; in 1947 Club members extended Stoke Lane Slocker and explored the beautiful chambers of Stoke Lane II. In 1953 the club discovered one of the longest and most beautifully decorated caves on Mendip - St. Cuthbert's Swallet, access which is strictly controlled by the Club, via a leader system. Since that time the Club been responsible for the discovery of a number of Mendip caves including Hunter's Hole, Wigmore Swallet and White Pit Hole. Major discoveries have also been made in other British and foreign caving areas.
In its early years the club had a number of sections including one for those that were interested in climbing and hill walking and another covering archaeology. Today the Club is primarily a caving club and its members have been involved with many important expeditions organised by the Club or other National organisations. Members have explored new caves in Mexico, India, Ireland, Austria, France, China and in several important areas in South-east Asia and the Philippines.
Throughout the week members of the club are involved with a number of varied activities including rescue, surveying, hydrology, digging (for new caves). Some members are involved with the administration of the regional council of caving clubs which is associated with the British governing body for caving - National Caving Association - all members are welcome to join-in. Their efforts are recorded in the caving logbooks which commenced in 1943.
The Club has published a regular journal, currently called The Belfry Bulletin, since 1947 and has also published over 20 occasional publications "Caving Reports" including in-depth reports on St. Cuthbert's Swallet and Wigmore Swallet.
In keeping with the Club motto, "Everything to Excess", all logbooks and early journals have been published on a professional produced CD-ROM - the first club to undertake such a task.