The Journal Of The
Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry,

Wells Road
, Priddy, Wells,


Editor: Robin Gray

A smaller BB this time/but in time, I hope to let everyone
know about the Barbecue.  I think that
this year’s event will be one to remember for many years to come.  The chariot race looks like being a rip
snorter with a boating section to cool things off half way round.  After the race there will be a great feast
for the survivors and supporters alike.

The Belfry improvements are now complete and cavers can
change, wash and dress in the lap of luxury. We also have a more suitable library and a more secluded cooking area.

Congratulations to Tony and Jane who linked their jug
handles and got married a couple weeks ago. The J’Rat’s I’m told spent some time in

after the big day and I
understand that Tony spent a night underground.

Sunday 20th May saw a big push on sump 2 in Cuthbert’s with
air pump from the surface.  More news of
this later.  Also I hope to have some
news concerning the big new Mendip find made by MCG.  REG is at the moment working on a 1986 cavers
calendar with 13 new cartoons. Beware!  You could be the subject
of one.

Lastly is there anyone living near Wells who can lend a hand
with typing the BB.  Please let me know
if you can help as my typing is horrible and since I have just started a graphic
design studio, time is very limited. Thanks.

Till No 4.good caving, Robin




THE BARBECUE. This is to be held on Saturday 22nd June 1985.  The theme will be Viking Fancy Dress.  Tickets costing £2.50 each are available from
Brian Workman Tele. Oakhill 840815. Games will be played around The Mineries for The Wessex Challenge Trophy
which we won last year.  Tickets will be
on sale about 1 month before.  Volunteers
are needed to help organise this event.

GOLDEN JUBILEE DINNER.  This will be held on Saturday 5th October
1985 at The Cheese Pavilion, Bath & West Show Ground, near Shepton
Mallet.  The room will sit up to 300
people.  I hope members will spread the
word to encourage as many past and present members as possible to celebrate our
50th year.

THE BELFRY IMPROVEMENTS.  These are now completed and the remaining
work left to do is the fitting out of the kitchen, bunkrooms etc some of which
will be left until extra money is available. As you are now aware these improvements have cost more than at first
expected, in order to pay these debts off your financial support is
needed.  If you are in doubt as to
whether the modified Belfry is worth your support do come up to Mendip and see
for yourself.  I am sure you will be well
pleased with the result. We now have a club hut specifically designed to cater
for caving activities which can easily be maintained and cleaned.

To look further ahead I can see the next project will be
central heating.  This will provide a
level of comfort and drying facilities which people these days have come to
expect.  It will also ensure that the
building is kept dry and also ensure that the frozen pipe problems experienced
in recent winters is not

repeated.  This causes
both inconvenience and extra expense in repairs.  Some items of furniture, kitchen equipment
and shelving for the Library are also required. Any member who has anything which they could donate to the Belfry please
consult with the Hut Warden – Chris Batstone. In the past well meaning members have bought along such items to the
Belfry for use without consulting the Hut Warden thus resulting in us having
more furniture than we had room for and giving us the problem of disposal.  At present as the bunk capacity is reduced we
have plenty of mattresses for the time being. One item which too well is the fridge – if anyone has an old fridge in
working order and preferably one which will fit under a work surface then it
would be much appreciated.


Early Days


Dear Tim

Herewith article as promised on the “Pre-history of the club
– please pass to Robin.

I hope that this will stir up others to recall the very
early days.

It is such a pity that the other really early members are
still untraceable – I’ve waded through the Bristol area phone books, but none
of the similar names there “ring a bell”

All the best


Early Days

In this our Jubilee year I felt it opportune that there
should be a definitive history of the B.E.C. These notes cover the years to 1949 when more erudite pens than mine can
take up the story.

During the Blitz years, one of our members – John (Jock)
Kinnear, offered to write a history of the B.E.C.  All the original records, logs, etc., were
posted to him; they never reached him and as a mail train was blitzed the same
night, it is reasonable to assume that they were destroyed with the train.  As a result of this loss, there is no early
record of Club activities and as the only remaining founder-member it has
fallen on me to try to put together a record of those early years.  After almost fifty years some incidents
remain clear, whilst others are hazy, but I have put down the facts as  I remember them.

It can be said that the B.E.C. was conceived as the result
of a love affair between myself and the cliffs and caves of
.  As far back as I
can remember I spent my early childhood climbing on the cliffs and exploring
the sea caves that abound on that coast.

When just after my 9th Birthday I was suddenly transported

found myself in a large city, I was, for a time, utterly at a loss in such a
strange environment.  My memories of
caves and climbs began to fade, to be spasmodically revived by visits
“home” to

.  I found that the “huge” caves that
had so excited me in the past had become, usually, quite small and uninteresting
holes.  Then, at school during a class on
the geology of Mendip, mention was made of Caves!!  All the earlier feelings came flooding back
and after asking a lot of rather naive questions I was told of a huge”
cave in Burrington Combe called “Goatchurch”.

The next Saturday I set out on my pushbike to Burrington to
find it.  After a lot of hunting around I
found the entrance and was amazed – compared with my previous experience, this
was gigantic – it actually had a gate and a handrail!  Having no lights I ventured no further than
daylight allowed me and emerged elated by what I had seen.  Subsequently, taking candles and matches I
made another trip and managed the through trip, exiting via the Tradesmen’s

Several years passed. I left school and joined a well-known firm of Electrical
Contractors.  Early in 1935 a group of us
were discussing hobbies and I mentioned my trips to Goatchurch.  Four of my colleagues

thought that they would like me to take them there and so on
record go the names of Tommy Bartlett, Cecil Drummond, Ron Colbourn and Charlie
Fauckes, who together with myself began a series of trips to Mendip and the
formation of the B.E.C.

We had, at first, no intention of forming any
organisation.  We were just a small group
who wanted to go underground, but after our first couple of trips to Swi1dons,
we realised that there was a lot more to caving than crawling around in
semi-darkness.  We managed to find
Swildons entrance and after Herculean struggles in the stream, reached the Lavatory

We didn’t like the look of that so we retreated.  On our second Swildons trip we reached the
top of the 40′ again via the

as we then knew nothing of either the short or

Dry Ways

As a result of these two trips we began to realise that we
needed tackle to go further; that tackle cost money; that money was almost
non-existent amongst Electrical apprentices (average wage 15/- [75p] per week)
and that to explore caves regularly we had to get organised.

Getting to Mendip was no problem – we had our push-bikes and
so no expense (except energy).  Tackle
was another matter altogether – then we heard of another group of enthusiasts
who had recently formed themselves into a “Caving Club”.  Here was the apparent answer – we would join
them!  After much enquiry, the secretary
of this club was located and Charlie Fauckes, whose home was nearest, went to
see him.  He came away a disappointed man
after a point-blank refusal to even consider “your sort” as members.

We held a meeting and it was decided, in June 1935, to form
our own organisation.  The feeling was
that although our main activity was caving, we had other interests that should
be catered for and so the


Exploration Club was formed, with an annual subscription of 5/- (25p) and a
charge of 1/- (5p) per trip to cover expenses! Our initial membership was about a dozen which included the five
originals.  At this inaugural meeting we
drew up a constitution which has virtually remained unaltered through the
years.  As an aside to the above, the
other interests at that time included climbing – still actively pursued – and a
rather bizarre interest in the supernatural. I remember us spending a very wet night under an archway in

, armed with cameras
and waiting for a phantom coach-and-four, driven by a headless coachman, to
come down Widcombe Hill.  Needless to
say, it did not ‘materialise’.

For a time after our first meeting all went smoothly.  Our subscription enabled us to buy ropes and
the materials to make ladders.  We
launched into ‘official’ notepaper and a bat – ‘Bertie’ – was adopted as our
emblem, although he didn’t find his way on to our note-paper until much later.

We familiarised ourselves with most of the smaller caves and
then we turned to the larger ones.  Here
too, we were successful and at the end of the first year we were still in
existence and if not exactly flourishing, were holding our own.

Membership did not increase greatly in the following
years.  We were not keen, anyway, on having
too many members at first as we felt we did not have sufficient know-how or
facilities to hold them after they had joined. We preferred to move slowly, consolidating our position as we went, so
that when the time came, as we were sure it would, when members started to roll
in, we would be in a position to offer them something good.

The outbreak of war in 1939 found the club in a stronger
position than ever before although our membership was still only fifteen.  We had suffered one bad loss.  Our treasurer, Dick Bellamy, who was also our
‘official’ photographer, had developed blindness and this necessitated his
withdrawal from all club activities.  His
last trip was to Lamb Leer where we went as guests of U.B.S.S.

As the war progressed, most of the older members were called
up, so that except for one fortunate circumstance we would have had to close
down, as did other Mendip clubs, for lack of active members.  We were fortunate to absorb the Emp1ex Cave
Club.  The E.C.C. membership comprised
members of the staff of Bristol Employment Exchange who had formed a club for
similar reasons and on similar lines as our own.  The leading lights of Emp1ex were Roy
Spickett and ‘Jones’.  Older members who
can recall ‘Jones’ will remember some of the hilarious escapades he led.  I recall a trip to the depths of Sidcot with
a naked ‘Jones’ crawling over two of us and the sub- sequent boot marks and
burns from our acetylene lamps along the length of his body!  I hasten to add that he didn’t normally cave
naked, especially in mixed company but had just shed his clothes to get back
through a hole through which gravity had helped him on his downward journey.

1940/41 saw us jogging along as before, the number of new
members usually equalling those called to the forces, but 1942 saw the most
severe crisis in the club’s history. There was a massive call-up, the result of which left us with only about
half-a-dozen active members, all of whom were actively engaged in the war
effort and so had very little time for caving. As all members in the forces had their subscriptions waived during the
duration, we were badly hit financially.

For six months we struggled on and then came salvation.  A number of persons of fair caving experience
applied for membership and from that moment our troubles vanished. It is mainly
through the hard work and support of two of these men – Dan Hasell and Roy
Wallace – the latter now long dead – that the club was put on the way towards
the prominent position it holds in the caving world today.

The club was revitalised and it is from this time that the
Membership numbering system began.  We
little thought that by 1985 well over 1000 people would have been accepted for

Mendip was still reached by push-bike, the severe petrol
rationing precluding any other personal means of transport.  The emphasis was on “push” ropes,
ladders and clothes had to be carried and in many cases made the journey more
strenuous than the actual caving, especially on the return journey when
everything was wet and muddy and consequently weighed more.  So, in 1943 we built what we claimed to be
the first lightweight ladder to be used on Mendip – made from hollow duralumin
tube and steel wire.  It was supposedly
lighter than its French equivalent and was 40′ long, to be followed shortly by
a similar 20′ length.  This ladder, now a
museum piece, is held by Angus Innes.

Between 1943 and 1945 our membership again showed a marked
increase and it was during this time that we became well known and respected on
Mendip.  Prior to this, as one of the
very few active clubs, anything untoward that occurred “on the hill”
was laid at our door – “You’re the only active Mendip Club; it must have
been you who broke into Lamb Leer etc., etc.”  In reality our conscience was clear, as to our
knowledge, no B.E.C. member had been guilty of misconduct.  It was against our principles to antagonise
others and although we knew that incidents had occurred, we also knew that we
were not to blame.  This fact eventually
was recognised and the ill-informed sniping ceased.

In 1946 we felt that it was time to consider having a
headquarters on the Hill.  Our first
temporary H.Q. was the stone hut across the valley from the present Belfry
site.  I believe it had room for just six
bunks and although it was completely inadequate for a club membership of 80, it
was at least a toe-hold. Shortly after this an old cricket pavilion on Purdown
became available and this was purchased, transported and quickly erected on the
present site, in time for the terrible winter of 1947.  The journey to Mendip was notable for Angus
sitting in the detailer on top of the load.

A hut on Mendip needed a name and what more appropriate than
‘The Belfry’?- the home of Bertie and his clan.

The same year our dig at Cross Swallet brought us in contact
with The Bridgwater Caving Club, the majority of whose members became members
of B.E.C. – Sett, Alfie, Postle, Pongo, Don Coase, Shorty, Dizzie and Freda
Hutchinson to mention a few by name.  We
also absorbed the Mendip Speleological Group and became, individually, very
active in the formation of the Cave Diving Group, in which Don Coase was an
outstanding diver and Dan Hasell is now President.  The club also became a member of the – now defunct
– Cave Association of


and also of the Cave Research Group.

In 1947 the Belfry Bulletin was first published and its
success can be judged by the fact that after 38 years it still regularly (well,
almost!) appears.

1947 also saw the discovery by the club of Stoke Lane II,
Browne’s Hole and Withybrook Swallet, and a week’s caving in Derbyshire and
several weekends in


were enjoyed by all who took part in them. During one of the latter, the club won first prize in the Bude
Carnival:  Not as cavers, but as
babies.  Angus, Jim Weeks and Dick
Woodbridge were three of the four babes and their antics wrecked the efforts of
the local band who followed them in the procession.

In 1948 membership stood at 98 and there was a considerable
increase in caving tempo.  A survey of
Stoke Lane I and II was completed, published, and was amongst a number of club
items shown at a Caving Exhibition organized by the City of Bristol in
conjunction with local caving societies. The exhibition was a great success; the photographs loaned by the B.E.C.
which included a number of superb shots of Stoke Lane II by Don Coase, being a
crowd puller.

During 1948 we absorbed the Clifton Caving Club and ‘Shorty’
formed a


section of the club.  Probably the
outstanding achievement of the year was the purchase of another hut.  Belfry II (the Purdown pavilion) had become
too small for our expanding active membership and was also more than a little
decrepit.  A Naval hut sited at Rame Head

located, examined and priced.  It was
almost new, even the bolts holding the sections together were un-rusted, and
the size was about right.  We bought it
and one weekend a party descended on it; dismantled it; loaded it on a lorry
and transported it back to Mendip.  My
memory of that weekend is – rain, sleeping on a concrete floor in a disused
building ankle deep in sheep shit and a car (mine) whose front wheels always
wanted to go in the opposite direction to the turn of the wheel.  If anyone is interested, buy Angus a pint and
he’ll relate more gory details.  This hut
became Belfry III and lasted until it was burnt down many years later.

The outstanding event of 1949 was the attendance of a large
party of members at the 2nd International conference of Speleology at
Valence in the

.  Bob Bagshaw and party were featured in the
local papers, complete with rather flamboyant prose and indistinct photographs.

I hope that some readers will have found this article of
interest and that I have stirred the memories of some of the old-timers,
perhaps leading to further notes and reminiscences of the dim and distant days
of yore.


Mid Summer BBQ

© 2024 Bristol Exploration Club Ltd

registered in England and Wales as a co-operative society under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014, registered no. 4934.