The
Bristol
Exploration Club, The Belfry,

Wells
Road
, Priddy, Wells,

Somerset
.
Editor: Greg Brock

Contents

Committee Members

Secretary: Vince Simmonds
Joint Treasurers: Mike and Hilary Wilson
Membership Secretary: Fiona Sandford
Editor: Greg Brock
Caving Secretary: Rob Lavington (aka – Bobble)
Tackle Master: Tyrone Bevan
Hut Engineer: Paul Brock
Hut Warden: Roger Haskett
Floating Member: Bob Smith

Non-Committee Posts

BEC Web Page Editor:
Estelle
Sandford

Librarian: Graham Johnson
Hut Bookings: Fiona Sandford

Club Trustees: Martin Grass, Dave Irwin, Nigel Taylor and
Barrie

Wilton

Letters and articles published in the club magazine do not
necessarily represent the views of the Editor the Committee or the club in
general

Because of other commitments, Greg Brock has not been able
to produce this BB.  Wig has stepped in
and assembled this edition and will also be producing the next issue, A
Celebration of the BEC, containing a photographic record of the Club during the
last 70 years. The material has come from a number of sources.

 

A brief round-up of some committee decisions and general club doings

from Vince Simmonds.
Hon Secretary

In this year of our 70th celebration the club is very fortunate
to have been donated items of memorabilia from a well known Mendip and, in
particular, records of club business during the late 40’s – early 50’s.. The
documents include minutes of early Committee and AGM meetings and some original
cartoons. This material is being scanned before binding and placement in the
library takes place.  At this time the
family have requested privacy.

The resignation of Joan Bennett and the passing away of Alan
Thomas meant that two new Trustees of the club were needed.  Dave Irwin and Nigel Taylor have ably filled
these positions, the other club Trustees are Barry Wilton and Martin
Grass.  The Secretary is in the process
of sorting out the Deeds of Appointment with the club solicitors, Harris &
Harris in Wells.

The work on the extension has been slowed down this year
mainly due to the purchase and installation of a new boiler.  Tyrone has a builder/brickie who owes him a
favour and he is going to do some of the building work.  Some materials need to be purchased before
work can be continued.

Nigel Taylor has been busy organizing the Annual Dinner for
this year.   It is to be a celebration of
the Club’s 70th year.

One interesting item the committee had to deal with was an
electricity bill in excess of £39,000 (this is not a typing error). Thankfully
the bill was revised to a more realistic £267 – both Mike Wilson and Fiona
Sandford had prolonged conversations with the electricity company.

I will take this opportunity to remind people that
consideration towards next years committee is essential for the smooth running
of the Bristol Exploration Club both now and for the future.  As has been said on many occasions it is the
membership that make a club.  Members
input into the club and its running is paramount to its survival.



The base of the Belfry Extension – Photo: Wig

The reappearance of the original Bertie Bat

Recently Vince has received a batch of archival material
from well known Mendip caver. Among the items is the Club’s first committee
minute book dating from 1943-1946, a 1950-1952 expedition card and a booklet of
cartoons by JAD which it is hoped to reproduce in a later BB.

Of immediate interest during the Club’s 70th Anniversary is
the original drawing of Bettie Bat, the club insignia which has mutated
somewhat during the 60 years since it was first conceived.

The reappearance of this ink drawing could not have come at
a better time for I’ve adapted the 70th anniversary logo incorporating this
version of ‘Bettie’. It has been  used
throughout this issue as well as being on the front cover. Perhaps the Club
will consider adopting this version again as its official logo.  We wait to know the answer …  [Wig]

 

Morton’s Pot – The Final Solution

By ‘MadPhil’ Rowsell

March 04 saw Jake and myself return to the end of Pointless
Pots to evaluate the prospects of continuing the dig. On our last trip down
there the previous winter, we had been chased out by rising water just after
breaking into the 2nd Pointless Pot (Ref:- Belfry Bulletin 519 – “The Trials
and Tribulations of Eastwater”). From memory the way on didn’t look too
inspiring. The memory wasn’t wrong.  It
did look pretty grim but we decided to blast along the rift a little way in
hope that the passage would open out a bit. After a relatively short distance
of awkward blasting the rift broke into very immature canyon passage 1.5m deep,
and too narrow to pass. Only by selective blasting could progress be made.

Progress was painfully slow, Jake had started work so it was
pretty much a solo project with the odd guest appearance by Tony Jarratt to
boost morale and observe the progress. Humping up and down the club’s aged
drill and Clansman batteries proved particularly awkward and frustrating. To
make matters worse the batteries started randomly playing up, whereby one would
often get down to the dig site with one not working or only allowing several
seconds of drilling before cutting out for a period of time. Nightmare.

Salvation suddenly came on two fronts, one from Charlie
Adcock who came up with a supply of free bang (saving me personally a huge
expense on bang) and the other from Jeff Price who supplied a 36V Hilti drill.
What sanctuary!! Compact, effective and a delight to use. Couple these together
with a newly attained Hilti bar (courtesy of Gadget – Nick Williams) and good
progress was made. By using a combination of first Hilti-ing to gain some sort
of access, followed by retro-blasting to make the passage workable, more
passage could be yielded per blast. 

With new enthusiasm I continued the painful task. Just when
morale was waning again, a small chamber was intercepted. Just beyond this
chamber a low “round window” gave access to a very narrow immature passage.
Things didn’t look too good again. Why wouldn’t the place roll over and give
up!!. There was somewhat astonishment when the following trip revealed that the
blast had broken into negotiable passage and some 22 metres were jubilantly
pushed to a too tight corner, with open passage the other side.  The subsequent trip gained another 15m or so
to a 4m pot. Exploration was halted here to give Kev Hilton and Emma Heron some
reward for their efforts surveying down in Southbank. The following trip, we
managed to push through a very awkward and entertaining rift passage for
another 15m to an impassable squeeze, again open passage beyond. The survey
showed the passage was 60m distance from Lambeth walk.  A nice reward before the dig was shut down
for

Austria
.

On my return,  I was
desperate to push this passage through to Lambeth walk  before going away again to

Peru
in two weeks time. Initially
progress was good, rapid progress with Hilti-ing, but after a series of short
pots, the passage degenerated to immature and it was back to blasting once
again. It was quite demoralising returning to the slow progress through a
particularly nasty section, the trips being even more gruelling having to take
the drill through what was now called the “Technical Masterpiece”! Weekends
were always good as Kev and Emma would be around to help, greatly boosting
morale. Despite a relentless effort involving many trips no break through was
made. The last trip however did give some hope as after passing a very awkward
and tight squeeze “Hells Gate”,  the rift
height increased again giving  more hope
of passable passage.

After the joys of

Peru
it was back to reality once
again and painful drill and blast. The surveys showed the distance to be around
25-30m to Lambeth Walk. As each trip yielded more tight rift, I began to wonder
how much survey error there would be. You would head down each time with high hopes
of recognising the Lambeth Walk window, only to be totally demoralised with
another tight rift. A subsequent survey indicated the passage to be only 10m or
so from Lambeth. With the passage seemingly heading off into the distance, we
even took a trip down the old route and up Lambeth Walk to see if this would
shed any light.  Sadly this gave no clues
away either. Morale was at an all time low!

It was with some relief when after another 4 blasts I
surprisingly recognised the window into Lambeth walk. It would need one more
blast to get in, but the ordeal was over. The following night I sat alone in
the top of Lambeth Walk for almost half an hour, partly elated but partly dumb
struck with wondering what was I going to do now? The obsession was finally over!!

The break through had been on a Friday night. Kev and Emsy
weren’t around until Saturday and then Tony refused to close his shop on
Sunday, so I had to wait the whole weekend until Sunday afternoon (17/10/04)
before the inaugural round trip could be completed. A great trip.  (Ref – Journal of the

Wessex
Cave

Club, Vol 28 No  294 April 2005
“Eastwater – Backwards and Feet First” by Kev Hilton)

Figure 1 shows the general layout of Eastwater and the
position of the new passage and its connection into Lambeth Walk. The survey is
a compilation of both some old survey drawings supplied by Trevor Hughes (grey
dotted lines) and recent re-surveying work by the team.

Credits Due

A big thanks has to go to both Kev Hilton and Emma Heron,
who towards the end came on trips to help whenever possible, greatly boosting
morale. Furthermore, they were often subjected to my frustration paddies when
Hilti’s were failing or drilling conditions very awkward and cramped. I am glad
I have some good friends. A big thanks also has to go to Tony Jarratt, who also
came to the call for help when needed, sacrificed his need for bang at his dig
when times were short and helped with much of the surveying.  Both Charlie Adcock and Jeff Price provided
services without which this passage would have never been completed. Graham
Johnson who helped push much of “A Drain Hole” and the upper end in Pointless
Pots. I hope one day he will find the enthusiasm to see what he has helped
create.

Finally while being thanked in previous articles, all those
who have helped in the digging of Morton’s Pot & “A Drain Hole”, both
during  both the two attempts I was
involved in and those in previous attempts, as without these people’s help in
the relentless hauling out of sacks, the Drain Hole would have never been
cracked. It’s the end of a 100 year plus saga, including the Jepson/Morton’s
dig. Long may it rest in peace!

Warning: While
being a classic bit of cave passage, most of the passage is a very immature
stream canyon, being both tight and awkward. It is only really suited to slim
experienced cavers. Once in the Technical Masterpiece, rescue is not an option.
The passage also takes the whole of the Eastwater stream.  While the majority of the passage is unlikely
to flood to the roof, certain sections (particularly some of the squeezes e.g.
Hell’s Gate) would not be the place to be caught in a flood pulse. It does
happen, I have been caught twice now.

The Aftermath and  The Dawning of a
New Era

The hope of the dig was that some fossil passage may be
intercepted, but alas this was not the case. The passage was a direct but
awkward connection to Lambeth Walk and Southbank. It did however give a
slightly shorter, but dry access to Southbank meaning digging here will be less
of a chore.

With the addition of “the Apprentice” (Andy Smith) to the
team (a superb con job by J-rat) led to the formation of the Eastwater
syndicate (alias The Eastwater Appreciation Society), who’s goal was to push
the depths of Eastwater further. A short break from the continual body battering
gave renewed enthusiasm and it was decided that the Pea Gravel dig would
be  first priority as it was thought it
could  possibly yield a by pass to the
Terminal Sump. Several trips were made down to dig this, however water tended
to plague the dig. Interestingly in wet weather water flows into the dig from a
hole on the left further along Tooting Broadway but the dig however stays at
the same level i.e. flows off somewhere. 

Previous work we had conducted at the terminal sump (Ref –
Journal of the Wessex Cave Club, Vol 28 No 293 Feb 2005 “Eastwater – Southbank
Work on the terminal sump by Emma Heron) had shown the Terminal Sump level
could be dropped 1.5m or so by bailing. In hope that this might also cause the
Pea Gravel dig to drain, (the two being only 4m or less away) , the Terminal
Sump was bailed. Despite being able to hear digging activity and tapping at the
Terminal Sump from the Pea Gravel Dig, surprisingly no change in the water
level was seen. The Pea Gravel Dig was eventually pushed under a lip to a small
chamber, but with no further obvious digging prospects. The dig was abandoned.
No obvious drain off point was found.


 

Attention was turned once again to the terminal sump.  Several attempts were made here in late Nov
2004, but were plagued by a leaking dam and stream volumes too high for the dam
capacity. The dig was abandoned for the winter and a foray to warmer climates –

Tasmania
. With my return
in April, the dig has been resumed with a more serious nature. Since water
volume was a problem in the last attempts, a plan was devised to wall off  ¾ of the sump and back fill it to reduce the
amount of water in the sump. It would require a lot of material etc to be
brought down through the Technical Masterpiece, but the reduction in water
volume required to bail would have great benefits. After a number of carry
trips, the wall and back filling construction proved surprisingly easy and was
completed in one session. The following weekend the sump was bailed virtually
dry  to approximately 1.6m  vertically. It revealed a small, well washed
10cm dia tube heading off parallel to the sump. 2m further along this tube it
seemed to constrict further. With the dam at full capacity any further
evaluation had to be curtailed.

While the 10cm dia tube is not the most encouraging find,
the bailing of the sump dry does indicate that it must be relatively short,
with possible open passage (air space at least!) the other side. As shown by
Figure 2, the relationship between the Terminal Sump and Pea Gravel dig is even
more confusing, being so close and similar height but are not hydrologically
connected. Plans are afoot to return to the Terminal Sump and dig along the
wall to ensure this tube is the only exit point (current or fossil). This will
only be achievable in very dry conditions with the stream virtually dry, so
that once bailed a reasonable time period is available for work.


 

Credits Due

A big thanks has to be extended to both Emma Heron and Andy
Smith (the Apprentice) both who have spent many long sessions, both carrying
down kit and spending hours doing engineering work and bailing. Kev Hilton also
needs a special mention, who has sadly been missed recently due to injury –
hopefully he will be back to full strength soon. A thanks also to Duncan Butler
and Tim Ball who have also rallied at times to the call for help.

 

Early broadcasts from

Mendip
Caves

By Dave Irwin

Activities of Mendip cavers are sometimes thought important,
or sensational, enough to warrant time on the airwaves. During the past half
century broadcasting of caving events has mostly concentrated on cave rescue
reports and the special interest programmes including those made by leading BBC
reporters including Hugh Scully and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. In more recent
times broadcasting has widened to include reporting of relatively minor
discoveries.  General programmes relating
to the pastime have also attracted producers to make films of individual
caves.  During the autumn of 2004 a
series of six programmes relating to caves in the

Bristol
region were broadcast by HTV; some
the caves featured include Otter Hole, Swildon’s Hole and the Banwell caves.

Earliest recorded broadcasts

Almost from its inception in 1922 the BBC (note 1) divided
the country into zones for local interest broadcasting and for the innovative
outdoor broadcasts from the Mendip caves were usually limited to one or two
regions. The writer is indebted to Dr. Steven Craven for information relating
to broadcasts from caves in the north of

England
. The records shows that a
broadcast related to Gaping Ghyll was relayed on the 13th October 1927. Jack
Puttrell, the Peak District pioneer, was interviewed in the studio.  Another studio broadcast occurred on the 15th
June 1929, again with Puttrell supplying the information. The Craven Pothole
Club, Gritstone Club and the Leeds Cave Club were also involved with regional
broadcasts during the 1930s.  See the
appendix for Steve’s list.

Wookey Hole

The earliest known broadcast from a Mendip cave took place
as a 20 minute live transmission from the Third Chamber [or Witches’
Parlour]  in Wookey Hole on the 9th
September 1930.  The event may be the
first live broadcast from within any cave in the
British
Isles
. Before the planned date a trial broadcast was carried out a
month before on Wednesday, 5th of August.. A short report of this appeared in
the Wells Journal which was published on the following Friday and was entitled
‘Radio from the depths’ and detailed the elaborate arrangements necessary for
such a venture. 

… Elaborate test were carried
out  … in Wookey Hole Caves, near
Wells, in preparation for the broadcast which is proposed to take place there
early next month, when it will be relayed to all stations.

The Wookey Hole Male Voice Choir,
which is to give a varied selection over the microphone, sang for thirty
minutes, and the effect was both astonishing and tuneful.

B.B.C. Engineers present
expressed great wonder at the acoustic properties of the Caves, the voices
being lent a charming mellowness.

Mr. H.E. Balch, F.S.A., M.A., of
Wells, and Capt. Hodgkinson, the owner of the Caves rowed to the extreme end of
the river which flows through the caves and then slowly proceeded back.

The object was to record the
splashing of the oars against the water while the choir sang, growing gradually
in volume.

It is hoped to broadcast this
novelty.  Mr. H.E. Balch then spoke into
the microphone the speech he intends to broadcast.  Altogether the broadcast will occupy twenty
minutes.  …  (note 2)

Unlike today’s broadcasting where much of it is ‘canned’
until a suitable slot can be found for its transmission, programmes were
broadcast live to the growing numbers of listeners to the ‘wireless.’  The only medium for ‘canning’ material was to
cut a 78 rpm gramophone record on a 24” dia. disc giving some 8 minutes of recorded
sound.  Clearly to take the bulky
electrical paraphernalia into a cave was hardly a practical solution.  These fragile shellac discs were used in the
cinemas as the sound source for the early ‘talkies.’   Later an optical sound track was added one side
of the 35 mm film adjacent to the photographic images.  As with the cinema, broadcasting soon became
an relatively cheap influential information-entertainment source.

The first Mendip cave broadcast took place on Tuesday, 9th
September 1930, the choir, conducted by Conrad Eden and Balch’s oration went
well.  ‘ Wookey Hole speaks to the World … ‘ was the headline to the report
that appeared in the Wells Journal on the 12th September 1930.  A joint coupling with the studio in

Cardiff
and live effects
from the cave itself illustrates the complexity of external broadcasting at
this time. (note 3)

… My first impression on
entering the Witch’s Chamber was of a voice, in cultured tones, calling on

Cardiff
on the telephone.
Then a confused jargon of technicalities in connection with broadcasting –
“How is No. 1 mike doing ?” “Fade in and out when I tell
you.”  “Better alter that
earth, I think ” – and so on.

Then a sound as of monks chanting
in the distance – silence – and a well known voice – Mr. Balch unfolding the
story of the Great Cave of Wookey Hole – but this was a rehearsal.

Finally the zero hour came and a
dead silence.  One of the B.B.C. Men took
up a conductor’s position and controlled his forces with a wave of the
hand.  I am told that the “Green
Hills of
Somerset” was played from

Cardiff
; then the
splashing of oars from a boat in the Cave.

Mr. Balch, M.A.., F.S.A., the
greatest living authority on Mendip and its caves, commenced to speak into the
microphone.  He told of the construction
of the Cave, of the mass of rock with the river breaking out at its base.  Then the conductor with another wave of his
hand introduced the sound of the water rushing out of the Cave, picked up by a
microphone near the water’s edge.  Mr.
Balch was “faded in” again and referred to the miles of unknown caves
which the eye of man had never seen.

At this point in the proceedings the choir sang a musical
arrangement of Metcalfe’s poem ‘The Song of Wookey Hole.’  The ‘enchanting melody’ was composed by the
choir’s conductor, Conrad Eden of Wells Cathedral. The reporter continued his
romantic description of the event and was obviously overwhelmed by the magic of
broadcasting.

…  [The] story resumed with the history of the
finds in the Cave and the industry of the ancient Britons, in silver, iron,
bronze, and in agriculture. … The choir took up the theme by rendering an old
Somerset Folk song, “A Farmer’s Son so sweet.” which was most
tuneful, but in a lighter vein.

Mr. Balch spoke of the known
existence of cannibals; of the Witch of Wookey; and the Hyaena Den, one of the
earliest homes of primitive man of some thirty thousand years ago.

In conclusion he referred to the
growth of man and the struggles and triumphs of our ancesters [sic].  The Choir brought the story to a fitting
close by the singing of that all-inspiring “How sleep the brave,” by
Bantock.  That was the end, as far as
Wookey Hole was concerned.

I had what was, perhaps, a unique
experience in hearing the actual broadcast for half of the programme in the
Cave, and then hurrying down to the

village of
Wookey Hole
and
hearing the remainder from a loud-speaker. I am afraid I dashed into a home with very little ceremony to hear how
the broadcast “came over.” I found the members of the family and
friends grouped around the loud-speaker to hear the voices of their friends
from the Cave.

It is several years since I last
heard the Wookey Hole Male Voice Choir, and I want to hear it again. Will they
come to Wells and give a concert ?  Mr.
Eden has undoubtedly taken great pains to bring the choir up to such a pitch of
perfection, and I can definitely say that it has lost none of its old skill and
gunning-cunning, I should have written ! There were twenty-six members singing in the Cave, and it was a pity
that the official programme led listeners to believe that a Welsh Choir would
render the songs.

The whole broadcast was a great
success, and the British Broadcasting Company are to be congratulated on their
efforts.  Capt. G. Hodgkinson, who was
present, and Mr. P. King, his manager, are to be commended on the very
excellent arrangements made for the broadcast in the Cave.

We cannot say too much about Mr.
Balch, whose life has been given up to the development of Wookey Hole and other
Caves on Mendip, and his inspiring address through the microphone deserves the
highest praise.

Abundant congratulations have
been received from all quarters by letter, telegraph and telephone.

So successful was the event that the BBC planned another on
the May 15th 1931.  The Wells Journal
announced that (note 4)  

… west Regional listeners who
heard the singing relayed from Wookey Hole Calves [sic] last September will
look forward to another broadcast from the caves on Friday, May 22nd, when
several songs will be contributed by the Wookey Hole Male Voice Choir during a
West Country Variety programme at 9.35 p.m.

The BBC technicians and producers setup their paraphernalia
in the Third Chamber and a reminder and outline of the broadcast was published
in the Wells Journal on the day of the broadcast itself. (note 5) As before the
choir was conducted by Conrad Eden. (note 6)

In 1933 the choir made their third broadcast programme from
the same chamber. The event was considered of sufficient interest that editors
of local newspapers considered it to be front page news. The prominent headline
announced of the Wells Journal for the 16th June read:

Broadcast from

Wookey
Hole
Caves

Male Voice Choir’s programme to be relayed.

The report stated that the broadcast would take place on the
7th July commencing at 8.30 p.m., that the choir and its conductor would be
located in Wookey Hole Cave some 500 ft below ‘… the earth’s surface. ‘ Conrad
Eden would again conduct the choir and (note 7)

… visitors to Wookey Hole will
be reminded of the grandeur of these Caves when they listen to the singing of
the Choir in extraordinary surroundings. This is the third occasion on which a programme of part songs etc., by
the choir has been relayed in the cave.

On the day of the broadcast the Wells Journal, then
published on Friday of each week,  reminded
their readers of the transmission that evening – now given at 8 p.m. – a time
change from the original announcement. (note 8)

Local News. Cave Broadcast.

Many no doubt will tune into the
West Regional Station this [Friday] evening at 8 p.m. when the Wookey Hole Male
Voice Choir will give a broadcast from the

Wookey
Hole
Cave
. The choir will be
conducted by Mr. Conrad Eden, and a boy soloist, Leslie Stear, of

Clifton
, will sing with
male voice choir accompaniment. …

The thirty minute transmission went out as planned on the
West Regional Station of the BBC. The Wells Journal gave a lengthy report on
the broadcast for the benefit of its readers who did not yet own a wireless
set. (note 9) To open and close the programme Captain (later Wing Commander)
Gerald Hodgkinson opened and closed the programme by playing on the hunting
horn. At the start of the programme Hodgkinson played ‘Gone Away’ and closed it
with ‘Going Home.’

In addition to the choral works, two accompanied solos were
sung by the 12 year old boy treble, Leslie Stear of
Clifton,

Bristol
.  One of the solos was his father’s own
arrangement of  ‘Ye Banks and Braes’
where the choir sang a humming accompaniment. This seemed to have pleased the
reviewer who commented that it ‘ … sounded well over the wireless.’

Herbert Balch broadcasts, 1933 and 1939

Early in 1933 the BBC West Regional Station broadcast a
series of programmes entitled ‘Unexplored England’. The third of this series,
broadcast on the 8th February 1933, was entitled ‘The Caves of Mendip’ during which
Herbert Balch gave a twenty minute lecture. The Wells Journal reported that
Balch had  (note 10)

… many vivid stories of
adventures to tell of the exploration of Mendip.  He has been digging in the Caves for 45 years
and knows more about Mendip than any other living man.  He spoke for twenty minutes and referred to
the baffling difficulties at Swildon’s Hole and at Wookey Hole.

In January 1939 a regular BBC feature programme ‘Western
Magazine’ invited Balch to take part, a report of which was featured in the
Wells Journal shortly after. It seems that ‘ … Mr. Balch told many stories of his explorations in the Mendip
underworld. … ‘   (note 11)  

Wookey Hole, 1935

Perhaps the most famous of the radio broadcasts from within
British caves was that from Wookey Hole on the 17th August, 1935.  The Wells Journal announced that there will
be a   (note 12)

THRILLING BROADCAST FROM

WOOKEY
HOLE
CAVES

ATTEMPT TO FIND LEGENDARY SIXTH CHAMBER.

Once again the B.B.C. has chosen

Wookey
Hole
Cave
for a novelty
broadcast, and this time their relay will be one of the most thrilling and
daring ever attempted.

On the night of August 17th a man
in diving suit and helmet, will walk along the hidden bed of the underground
river Axe for the first time in history, in an attempt to find the great subterranean
cave believed to exist many feet below the level of the river. … The search
is due to commence at 10.30 p.m. and will be broadcast over the National
wavelengths. …

Following the failed attempt by Graham Balcombe to pass Sump
I in Swildon’s Hole it became Jack Sheppard’s turn to think up a method of
getting through this obstacle that had prevented further exploration of the
cave since 1935. 

It had become apparent that the snorkeling design devised by
Balcombe was never going to work and was potentially lethal so it was agreed
that Sheppard should have a go at devising some sort of breathing apparatus
that would enable the obstacle to be passed.

At that time Sheppard was living in

London
, studying for his engineering degree,
where he became aware of the internationally famed manufacturer of diving and
rescue apparatus, Siebe, Gorman and Co. Ltd. It was to them that he made an approach for information relating to
underwater breathing.  Sir Robert Davis,
the managing director of the company took an immediate interest in the young
man’s ideas – not least because it might just lead to ideas that could be
adopted by the company!  Having been made
aware of the challenge Sir Robert promised that he would consider the plans
that Sheppard had submitted which was a pump operated one piece submersible
suit.  In the event Sir Robert considered
the matter but he did not fully understanding the nature of the passageways
through which the gear would have to be transported.  However, he offered Sheppard the use of their
standard hard hat bottom walking gear used in mine and tunnel rescue. The deal
included tuition by Charles Burwood, the company’s chief instructor.

It was immediately obvious to Balcombe and Sheppard that
though it was not practical for use in Swildon’s Hole, the equipment would be
well suited for work in the large flooded passages beyond the Third Chamber of
Wookey Hole.  Balch and Frank Brown
[Wookey Hole caves company secretary] were approached and they negotiated a
programme of events with Gerald Hodgkinson, owner of the Wookey Hole show cave.
However, though he gave his permission to allow diving activity in the cave it
was conditional that their activities should not interfere with the running of
the showcave business. It was agreed that the operations should take place
during the closed hours. For several reasons, not least the complaints from the
villagers that their domestic water supply was always cloudy on successive
Sunday mornings, the series of operations was brought to a close by the 5th
September.

The way was now clear for a breakthrough in caving
exploration techniques.  As Balcombe
noted that the idea of exploring Wookey Hole was agreed upon but (note 13)

… work elsewhere, and a certain
diffidence about working in a commercially operated cavern, have all combined
to defer until 1934, the decision to start an expedition. …

The programme of dives, extending over an eight week period,
located and reached the surface of Wookey Seven. 

The day of the broadcast had arrived and the Third Chamber
was full of technicians setting up the equipment for the transmission which was
due to be relayed at 10.30 p.m. but this was left fluid so that the broadcast
would be made when Balcombe, the man of the moment, was actually progressing
with the dive.  Penelope [Mossy] Powell
described the scene in the chamber in the Log of the Wookey Hole Divers. (note 14)

… We arrived about 9 o’clock at
our destination , the Third Chamber of the Home of the Witch; where the B.B.C.
Was in attendance with coils and coils and coils of wire everywhere, myriads of
microphones, wreaths of cigar smoke, a wealth of gents’ natty suitings,
fortunes in cuff-links, in fact the only thing missing was adhesive tape, which
Mossy provided off an Oxo tin, and a sock to put into a loudspeaker.

A public address system was installed for the

… benefit of the general mob.

Through the smoke, one caught
occasional glimpses of the ample stern-piece of the B.B.C., more coils of wire
pipe and rope, sometimes even a diver, and on rare occasions, the River Axe
itself.

Teething troubles overcome it was time for Balcombe to enter
the water.  Progress was monitored by
telephone communication with the intention of relaying it through the public
address system.  This failed miserably
even though it had been claimed that the acoustics of the Third Chamber were
perfect.

A single event that was to happen later that evening is
virtually all that is remembered today by most cavers eclipsing the real
achievement of the whole series of diving operations.  The back-up diver accompanying Balcombe was
‘Mossy’ Powell and both progressed into Chamber Six. Communication with base
control was via the telephone linkup. The broadcast began at 10.30 p.m. when
Balcombe and Powell entered the water at which time a background commentary was
being given by the BBC announcer, Francis Worsley, sited in his own box at the
side of the chamber.  A Wells Journal
reporter noted that Worsley [editorial notes are given in square brackets] (note
15)

… started to speak to the many
thousands who were listening to what must have been the most thrilling outside
broadcast ever arranged.

To describe what took place next
can best be done by using his words.

He said, ” Here we are, 600
feet underground in the famous Wookey Hole caves.  The sounds you hear going on mean that the
exploration party is getting ready to try out this daring feat of exploration.
Where we are standing now is the third chamber. You enter the caves at the foot of a big cliff, pass along an
up-and-down passage in the rocks which widens out in high chambers full of
pools and stalactites and on the right is the River Axe, which is of great
importance as this is the river the divers are going to follow.

“This is as far as the
public can go, but the caves and river go on for a long way beyond. In one
corner is a very low arch, which is either just above or below the water level
according to the state of the river. When the water has been low people have
been through on a raft to a fourth chamber and then on through another arch to
a fifth. Beyond that on [sic] one has never been and only divers can get
there.  That is the object of this
exploration.

“I am not going to try to
give you any details of this as I hope to get Mr. Balcombe to talk to you
before he descends.” continued Mr. Worsley.

“Diving is not a simple
matter and a very large number of assistants are required to work the air pumps
which I expect you can hear already, and to let out the lines the divers use
for air, safety, telephone, etc.

“The two divers are going
down and an interesting thing is that the second one is a woman, Mrs. Powell.

“In the second part of the
broadcast we hope that Mr. Balcombe will speak direct to us from under the
water when he reaches territory where no one has ever been before.  He has a special microphone in his helmet and
will communicate with a telephonist on the shore, telling of his needs.  The telephonist can reply to him and I expect
we shall hear some of the conversation.

“It is rather a strange
sight, all these people working busily in the glare of the arc-lamps in this
ancient cave,” he said.

“One doesn’t expect to see
diving gear right under the earth ! A contrast is the domestic touch in one
corner where a lady of the party is making coffee on a spirit stove.  Yes, it is very cold here, the temperature of
the water being 52 degrees all the year round, and the mud is cold to the feet.
I’ll get into touch with Balcombe before he enters the water.”

“Hullo, Balcombe,” he
calls.

“Yes,” came back the
voice of the leading diver.

“Tell everyone about your
‘gang.’  They have been working very
hard.”

There was a little difficulty in
hearing Mr. Balcombe, at first, but when he did come through he told of what
his assistants would be doing and of the difficulty of making his way through
the underwater passages.

Mr. Worsley asked why he need two
divers and Mr. Balcombe replied that there might be some difficulty in getting
his air pipe and lines round the corners so the second diver would come down
after him and assist him through.

NO PREHISTORIC MONSTERS

The fifth chamber, he told us, is
floored  by a great sandbank, and seemed
to be a great expanse of green water.

“We want to get to the
surface through the green water. Having done that we get as far as we possibly
can.”

“Well good luck to you, Balcombe.  I hope you won’t meet any brontosauri.”

“That is hardly possible as
no man has ever been here before and no animal could possibly get here.”

This ended the first part of the broadcast and the second
part was transmitted when Balcombe and Powell reached the sixth chamber. This
was at 23.09 hrs.  Worsley commented that
the two divers were still safe and that Balcombe had reached a point 168 feet
[50 m. Approx] from base. The commentary continued thus:

“…Balcombe has got to the
entrance to the sixth chamber and hopes to find that it is a real chamber, that
is one that has air space above the water, but we shall not know anything until
we hear from him. We are going to try to get through to him now and get him to
tell us from the actual site what he has found. You will probably find there is
a bit of bubble owing to the air pump. He can only stop the pumps for about 20
seconds. You will hear people getting instructions to change over the pumps.

Balcombe described the scene from the sixth chamber and then
after a short interval put out a running commentary with the telephonist.
Balcombe continued

“… We have passed through
the sixth, which has a large water space but only a small water surface.  Ahead of me I can see a further air surface
which looks promising. We had arranged a form of trapeze to get to the surface
in the sixth chamber but we have been unable to get it tried so far. Perhaps we
can make better use of it here.  Heave
hard on the pumps !”

A second or two later came an
S.O.S.  “Heave faster on the pumps,
” we heard.  And then “May I
speak to the officer in charge, please ?”

“Well you can see what sort
of thing is going on, ” breaks in the commentator, and the broadcast was
brought to a conclusion.

This has to be the polite form of what Balcombe actually
said. Legend has it, together with Mossy Powell’s poem related to the
Waldegrave Swallet excavation, (note 16) that Balcombe yelled ‘Pump you
buggers, pump !’  This was strong
language for the BBC standards of the day and so the plug was pulled on the
broadcast.

An hour later the two divers returned to base where Balcombe
commented that they were on the borders of great things but could not add to
what he had described from the limit of the dive. He then thanked the pump
operators.  Herbert Balch was present
during the dive and was full of praise for the operation with a particular note
regarding ‘Mossy’ Powell.

… “Mrs. Powell’s
willingness to make the journey was the pluckiest adventure I have ever seen
undertaken by a woman,” he said to me as we watched them rise from the
water. …

Gough’s Cave, 1936

The first broadcast from Gough’s Cave was made on the 2nd
March 1936 and was entitled “ A Cave Tour” in which Lord Weymouth, owner of the
caves, Thomas B. Gill, the cave manager and Mr. W. R. Pavey all contributed to
the general broadcast.  Lord Weymouth
outlined the history of the cave whilst the others described the more
outstanding features. Gill made special mention of the plans to reconstruct the
‘Cheddar Man’ skeleton, a task undertaken by Professor M. Rix of

Oxford
University

under the watchful eye of Sir Arthur Keith.

Between 1927 and 1935 the development of the amenities at
Wookey Hole and a series of radio broadcasts from the cave brought the owner
considerable publicity. At Gough’s Cave following the transfer of control of
the cave from Arthur

G.H. Gough to the owner, Lord Weymouth, in 1933 a
considerable investment was made at the cave entrance building an office,
museum and restaurant complex that was opened to the public on the 23rd June 1934. 

C.H. Hayes had completed a new survey of the showcave during
April 1935. On it Hayes had suggested that there appeared to be a connection
between
Pixie
Forest
and

St. Paul
’s
Chamber. This would not have been too difficult to confirm for the passage from
the

St. Paul
’s
end would have been open and ready for a simply exploratory trip. With this
knowledge, Thomas B. Gill, manager of the cave from 1935-c.1950, employed
workmen to clear the sandy deposit at the foot of

Pixie
Forest
.
By the autumn, having cleared some 6,000 tons of spoil, the workmen located the
lower entrance to the passage. Lord Weymouth, Gill and the head guide, Victor
Painter, crawled 216 feet from the new entrance to visit the chamber at the
upper end that contains a group of formations, Aladdin’s Grotto, adjacent to

St. Paul
’s Chamber. Gill
announced that other formations in this chamber were so beautiful as to eclipse
anything else to be seen in the cave.  It
was the intention of the management to open this chamber to the public by Easter
1936 connecting it with

St. Paul
’s
Chamber.

To combat the ‘free’ publicity generated by the Wookey Hole
management, the authority at Gough’s Cave continued their widespread publicity
campaign well into the early months of 1936. All this peaked with a radio broadcast from Gough’s Cave on the 2nd
March 1936. During the run-up to the event regular news items appeared in the
national daily, regional and local newspapers creating the widest publicity
possible.

As the broadcast drew near a number of reports announcing
when and how it was taking place were published in various newspapers. On the
22nd February, 1936, the News Chronicle, headlined its report :

Skeleton in Cave Broadcast
He lived 10,000 year ago
Cheddar Carols to be sung underground

Beside a skeleton over 10,000
years old, by an underground river in caves occupied by man from the
Palaeolithic age, a broadcast is to be made here during the West Regional
programme on Monday evening, March 2.

It will be a tour of Gough’s
Caves, Cheddar, during which guides will talk through eight microphones
installed at regular points in the cave.

The programme will be introduced
by Lord Weymouth, owner of the caves, and atmosphere will be provided by a
party of local singers.

From the immense chamber known as
“

St. Paul
’s,”
where the sides are coated with beautifully coloured stalagmite, they will
broadcast Cheddar carols.

Listeners will hear the history
of the caves and of recent explorations from Mr. T. Gill, the manager. They
will hear how the skeleton known as “The Cheddar Man,” more than 10,000 years
old, was discovered in a fissure leading to the underground river.

The Western Daily Press announced  (note 17)

“Cheddar Man” may get lost on the
ether

Secrets of the Earthly Home of a
Ghost

The Bristol Evening World reported on the 28th February,
1936 that 

Cave Explorers Rewarded

Two new Wonder Chambers at
Cheddar

… Which surpasses any of the
caves the public can see at Cheddar today. … Telling the story of the
discovery of the new caverns to an “Evening World! Reporter, Mr. Thomas B.
Gill, manager of Gough’s caves [sic], said : “The party consisted of Lord

Weymouth
, the head guide,
and myself. We set out to crawl through a passage that was only two feet six
inches or three feet wide.

WONDERFUL CURTAIN

“Instead of crawling, however, we
could only wriggle, and it was with relief that we found ourselves at the end
of the passage.

“Here our lamps revealed a cavern
which is superior to anything the public can see at the moment.

“The most striking feature was a
wonderful curtain 12 feet long .  This is
one of nature’s masterpieces. It was gleaming in wonderful colours, a sight of
incredible beauty.”

To open the way to these
wonderful caverns 6,000 tons of silt have had to be removed. … The
subterranean river holds secrets which may never be revealed, so deep are the
dark waters. Soundings have been taken, but every time the line has been
dropped to 70 feet the swift underground currents have snapped it off, to
disappear into the unknown. …

The opening of the ‘two chambers,’ of course, never
happened.  But the discovery of the
passage and chamber was only one part of the publicity notes issued by the cave
management. Late in 1935 plans were announced that the skeleton of ‘Cheddar Man’
was to be rebuilt by Professor M. Rix of

Oxford
University

under the general direction of Sir Arthur Keith. (note 18)  It was claimed that the skeleton was now
complete following a further excavation in the Skeleton Pit. The mystery of the
underground stream route too was highlighted by Gill.  He stated that it was impossible to determine
the depth of the water flowing under the cave in the Skeleton Pit.  It had been found that the force of the water
was so great that it snapped the string and so losing the plumb-bob ! 

So, on at 7.30 p.m. On Monday, 2nd March 1936 the first
broadcast from this cave took place. The News Chronicle’s report of the event
commented that one of the (note 19)

… wonders of modern science was
being used amid stalactites and stalagmites which had been accumulating for
centuries. … The listening public heard for the first time of the recent
extensions.

The caves now extend for a
distance of two miles.

The commentary was broadcast on
the West and Scottish Regional wavelengths.

The Western Daily Press account was minimal but included two
large photographs as did both the

Bristol

evening papers. (note 20,21,22)

 

Swildon’s Hole, 1937

The issue of Radio Times, for 23rd April 1937, announced
that a live twenty minute broadcast was to be made from Swildon’s Hole at 9.00
p.m. on Saturday the 1st May. (note 23)  The programme was entitled ‘Mendip Cave Crawl‘
which also served as the title of an introductory article in the same issue of
the weekly paper by Herbert Balch. (note 24) The transmission was to be relayed
on the airwaves to the BBC southern and western regions. The Wells Journal
deemed this information to be worthy of front page headlines for their 30th
April issue.  (note 25) As the weekly
paper was then published on Friday it was to act as a reminder to the Wells
citizens to tune in to the Wireless or news to the many nonreaders of Radio
Times. Such magazines were luxuries that many people were unable to afford.

The programme was subcontracted to a local company to setup
the broadcast and on Monday, 26th April, their engineers descended the cave to
install electric cables, microphones and illumination to and from the Old
Grotto. It would seem that the technicians were led through the cave by Jack
Duck and his caving associate, Austin Wadsworth; the pair operating under the
auspices of MNRC and Herbert Balch. The fact that Balch had written a preface
to the broadcast clearly shows he was involved in some way with the programme.
From the Gerard Platten letter reproduced in Hendy’s notes from Bill Weaver’s
Logbook in WCC Journal No. 288 it would seem that he, Platten, was also
associated with the broadcast in association with Duck and

Wadsworth
. Fortunately two photographs taken
by

Wadsworth
of
the technicians in the Old Grotto have survived and are in the author’s
photographic collection.  Jack Duck is
certainly in one of these pictures.  Two
other photographs of the event are to be found among the Luke Devenish
collection of glass lantern slides now housed in the WCC Library.  Both glass mounts have been badly damaged but
the images, though out of focus, have been restored by the writer using
computer enhancement techniques.

The identity of the company who arranged and produced the
broadcast is unknown and no record exists except for details of various
payments made by BBC. (note 26) The commentary was by one H. Gordon Bird for
which he was paid the handsome sum of £15 – 15 – 0. (note 27) It is possible
that this was the same man, who as a member of UBSS, assisted Balch during the
exploration of Swildon’s One in 1921.

No follow-up article has been found in the local newspapers
of the broadcast itself but from photographic evidence, the Radio Times and the
content of Platten’s letter there is no doubt that the event went ahead.  There is a very good reason why the relay was
not reported in any of the local papers that I have checked. An important
national event took place during the following week and because of this the
various editors of local papers took the view that  ‘there’s too much of this event to publish
rather than wasting valuable space reporting the cave broadcast.’

The event, of course, was the Coronation of King George VI
and Queen Elizabeth [the late Queen mum] on the 6th May 1937. Coronation fever
swept the country; special events and concerts, street parties and beacons were
lit giving both the national and local newspapers plenty to write about.  The Wells Journal and the Weston-super-Mare
Gazette and Mercury were full of reports of all the events taking place in this
region.

The WCC Committee responded to the announcement of the
broadcast in a short statement in the April, 1937 Circular. (note 28)

‘B.B.C. Broadcast May 1st. The
Committee wish it to be made quite clear that this Club has nothing whatever to
do with this event.

Publicity was considered undesirable and release of
information to the Press about caving activities was frowned upon for   (note 29)

…it is an understood thing
amongst all decent cave men that reports of cave activities are not given to
the press nor is the Club’s name to be mentioned except with the Committee’s
approval.  Members who desire to give
publicity to their activities are advised to consult the Hon. Secretary.’

This introverted view was in vogue well into the 1960s and
one held by most of the major Mendip clubs. Publicity regarding caving was considered extremely poor taste. Further
it was likely to increase the numbers of cavers and introduce the ‘undesirable’
element. It was also argued that caving required a certain quality –
initiative. Thus if a person wanted to go caving it was assumed that he would
find the necessary contacts himself. How things have changed!  Finally, Platten refers to the possibility of
a further broadcast beyond the Forty Foot Pot, possibly recording someone
[‘Bill’ Weaver] free diving the sump.  It
is thought that this never took place for no evidence has been found in the local
newspapers published during 1938 and 1939. The Radio Times has not been checked – any volunteers?

Overcrowding of the popular caves has resulted in major
destruction of the finer details and in some cases the rock has been worn so
smooth that at times the conditions are quite dangerous. At the time of writing
there has to be a strenuous effort made to preserve much of what remains – and
in places not much – before the desecration is total.


G.B.
Cave
, 1941

During the early days of exploration in

G.B.
Cave

the cave received considerable publicity. Rodney Pearce [of Rod’s Pot fame] and
Francis Goddard [the ‘G’ of

G.B.
Cave
] spent some time
preparing a manuscript accompanied by a sketch survey for publication in
Illustrated London News (note 30) and, later that year, in Nature. (note 31) During
this work a couple of broadcasts (note 32) were made for the BBC relating to
the cave, one of which was a recording made on site.  Goddard detailed this trip in the UBSS
Logbook entry for the 9th July 1941. (note 33)

… Met Jean Bussell of B.B.C.
With 1 recording car at 2.45 (only 15 mins late). … [obtained] Farmer Young’s
permission to  go into field with
car  I then started down cave. Made a
recording at the entrance, in first grotto, in double passage and just before
the entrance – where the cable ran out. Bussell was thrilled with the cave.

The ‘canning’ technique was the cutting of a 78 rpm shellac
disc up to 24 inches in diameter though during the latter stages of the Second
World War, wire tape recorders were being developed.

Trevor Shaw’s complete, but unpublished history of UBSS
gives very brief details of these events which were later edited out of the
published version. (note 34) BBC recorded sound effects in the cave on the 20th
February 1968 – BBC copy tape in UBSS Library, included sounds of typical
caving activity – laddering a pitch, stream – close, medium and far distance,
water drips, group of cavers walking, climbing, tired cavers, tired caver,
whistle blasts, hauling up ladder etc. 23 bands of varying sounds were made.

Wookey Hole, 1946

Not long after the formation of CDG plans were laid to
broadcast part of their activity from Wookey Hole. The producer, Desmond
Hawkins intending to produce a feature programme on the cave gave a provisional
date of the broadcast as being 29th May 1946. CDG’s contribution was to be the ‘Climax’ of the Programme. (note 35) However,
this appears not to have been broadcast for it was announced in Radio Times
that the programme was postponed because of the producers’ other commitments in
the Channel Islands. (note 36)

The broadcast from

Wookey
Hole
Caves
by
“frogmen” some 600 feet below the ground, which should have taken
place last week, had to be postponed. Mr. Desmond Hawkins, the B.B.C. producer
had to go to the Channel Isles. Further technical research will be carried out
before the actual broadcast

The author has not found any reference to an actual
broadcast.

Axbridge Caving Group

During 1952, the group’s secretary, Major D.C. McKearn was
contacted by the BBC with an idea of producing a short item on caving. This was
to have been included in the popular Saturday evening radio show “In Town
Tonight” that was hosted by Brian Johnston and transmitted on the Home
Service [now Radio 4]. However, the programme never went further than the
outline planning stage. (note 37)

Later in 1954 and 1955 ACG were again involved with the BBC
for their “Under Twenties” programme. On Easter Monday, 19th April, 1954 the technicians recorded the sounds
of    (note 38)

 … blasting in the [Banwell]

Stalactite
Cave
… Pat Knights and Gordon
Griffiths (with Bob Price giving technical advice) were ‘on the air’.

The ACG crew must have impressed the BBC producers for a
year later, in 1955 and again during the Easter weekend, and for the same
programme, they were ‘on the air’. This was a twelve minute edited version of a
recording made in Axbridge Ochre Cavern some eight months before. (note 39)

Swildon’s Hole – 1949-1952

Another broadcast from Swildon’s Hole took place during 1949
but the date has yet to be investigated. A report is said to have appeared in the Wells Journal at the time.

An ‘internal broadcast’ was made by the BBC in 1952 in which
BEC members were involved. A full report was given in BB No. 58.  The programme was made for the Light
Programme [now Radio 2] in a slot called ‘Summer Parade’ and it was first
announced in the Radio Times published on the 20th June 1952. The commentary
was to be given by Hugh Falkus. (note 40)

The BEC Belfry Bulletin under its then editor, Harry
Stanbury, received a full report from three members who had assisted in the
underground activity on the 15th June. Mike Jones, Merv. Hannam and Dave England

 … were inveigled into making a broadcast in
Swildon’s Hole, in company with some members of Woking Youth Club. The story of
this epic event started when one Hugh [Fatso] Falkus arrived in a dilapidated
Ford V8, followed by Jack [Slim] Singleton in a three ton truck with an army of
Teenagers, all with a pronounced (and disturbing) London accent. (note 41)

A short note of the broadcast was published by the Wells Journal in its Local News Section.
(note 42)

A further broadcast was recorded by Trevor Shaw in his
unpublished history of UBSS that took place on 1st June 1955.  It is stated to have been live broadcast,
programmed as ‘A Hole in the Hill’ and the commentary given by Raymond Baxter. (note
43,44)

1954 – Stoke Lane Slocker

In 1954 James Kirkup joined members of UBSS on two caving
trips on Mendip on the 29th and 30th May. Kirkup, a literary man, composed a lengthy poem of his experiences
underground titled : The Descent into the
Cave being an account of an underground journey in the Mendip Hills of

Somerset
. (note 45) The
work was dedicated to the members of the UBSS. Trevor Shaw noted that the work,
a free verse narrative poem, was based upon a visit to Stoke Lane Slocker where
the author’s experience of diving a sump is given some prominence.

At that time John Morris [not the entertainer, Johnny
Morris] was Controller of the BBC Third Programme [now Radio 3] and it was he
that compiled an anthology which included the first publication of Kirkup’s
poem. The poem was broadcast on the Third Programme on the 26th September 1954,
animated with vocal contributions by well-known broadcasters, Robert Reitty,
Felix Felton, Peter Cloughton and John Stockbridge. The broadcast was repeated
twice more on the same channel in 1955 and 1956.

Kirkup’s own anthology was published by OUP in 1957 (note 46)
when the title of the caving poem was reduced to The descent into the Cave but still with the dedication to the
members of UBSS.

Though not relating to Mendip caves in 1963 the Third
Programme planners requested a play from Louis MacNeice.  MacNeice had considerable experience in
writing radio plays and produced a script entitled Persons from Porlock in
which the hero, a failed artist, ends his life in a pothole. To gain the atmosphere
of the underground MacNeice joined the BBC engineer who was recording various
sound-effects in a
Yorkshire pothole. He
caught a chill that developed into pneumonia from which he died on the 3rd
September 1963 a few days after the play had been broadcast. (note 47) The
Victorian melodrama still lives ! 

Another curio was the announcement by Harry Ashworth of the
MNRC in the 1957 newsletter of a field event relating to dowsing being
organised by Peter Stewart and at which the BBC were going to make a programme
which was to be broadcast sometime during August of that year. (note 48)

Since that time innumerable broadcasts and reports of caving
activities have been transmitted. The latest being the discovery of bones in
Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink and a new series of six programmes that was televised
during the 2004 Autumn; one being devoted to Swildon’s Hole with footage taken
by Gavin Newman.

Acknowledgments:

The writer would like to acknowledge the assistance of the
archivist at the BBC Archives, Reading ; to Dr. Steven Craven (CPC) for details
of early broadcasts from the Yorkshire Dales and High Peak caves ; to Phil
Hendy, WCC librarian, for use of photographs from the Devenish collection, Alan
Gray (ACG), Ray Mansfield, for drawing my attention to the MacNeice play, and
Tony Jarratt for proof reading the paper.

Dave Irwin,
Priddy.  20 February 2005

APPENDIX : BBC RADIO NORTHERN

PENNINE
CAVE

BROADCASTS TO 1945 (E & O E)

Compiled by S. A. Craven

DATE:                        13 Oct. 1927; 1900 hours

SUBJECT:                  Gaping Gill

BROADCASTER:        James W. Puttrell

CLUB:                       
Yorkshire
Ramblers’ Club et al.

STUDIO
/ FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Radio Times 07 Oct. 1927.

                                
Sheffield Daily Telegraph 14 Oct. 1927.

 

DATE:                        15 June 1929

SUBJECT:                  Caves of
Yorkshire;
recent discoveries at Ingleton (i.e. probably White Scar)

BROADCASTER:        James W. Puttrell

CLUB:                       
Yorkshire
Ramblers’ Club et al.

STUDIO
/ FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Radio Times 31 May 1929.

 

DATE:                        29 March 1934

SUBJECT:                  Potholing

BROADCASTER:        Ernest Edward Roberts

CLUB:                       
Yorkshire
Ramblers’ Club

STUDIO
/ FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Craven Herald 30 Mar. 1934 p. 6.

 

DATE:                        30 March 1935

SUBJECT:                  Potholing

BROADCASTER:       

Arnold

C. Waterfall

CLUB:                        Craven Pothole Club

STUDIO
/ FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:             
West
Yorkshire
Pioneer 05 Apr. 1935 p. 4.

                                 Craven Herald
05 Apr. 1935 p. 8.               

 

DATE:                        18 June 1936

SUBJECT:                 

Weathercote
Cave

and Gaping Gill

BROADCASTER:        Reg Hainsworth

CLUB:                        Gritstone Club

STUDIO
/ FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:             
West
Yorkshire
Pioneer 19 June 1936 p. 2.

 

DATE:                        25 June 1936

SUBJECT:                  Caves and Waterfalls of
Ingleton

BROADCASTER:        Reg Hainsworth, H. Wilson Midgley

CLUB:                        Gritstone Club

STUDIO
/ FIELD:        Field – at

Weathercote
Cave

AUTHORITY:             
Leeds
Mercury 12 June 1936 p. 8.

                                

Lancaster
Guardian 26 June
1936 p. 10.

 

DATE:                        02 July 1936; 0910 –
0924 hours

SUBJECT:                  Potholing – a descriptive tour
of Lost John’s Cave in
Yorkshire

BROADCASTER:        Robert M. Brench

CLUB:                       

Leeds
Cave

Club

STUDIO
/ FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:             
Leeds
Mercury 12 June 1936 p. 8.

                                 Radio Times 26
June 1936 p. 55.

                                

Manchester
Guardian 02
July 1936.

                                
Yorkshire Post 04 July 1936 p. 7.

                                 The Listener 15
July 1936 pp. 112 – 113, 182.

                                 The Listener 12
Aug. 1936 pp. 317 – 318.

                                 The Listener 19
Aug. 1936 p. 361.

 

DATE:                        02 April 1938; 1905
hours

SUBJECT:                  Alum Pot

BROADCASTER:        Robert M. Brench

CLUB:                       

Leeds
Cave

Club

STUDIO
/ FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Radio Times 20 – 26 Mar. 1938 pp.
14, 86.

                                 Hull Mail (date
not stated).

                                               

DATE:                        08 April 1938; 1400
hours (repeat of 02 April 1938)

SUBJECT:                  Alum Pot

BROADCASTER:        Robert M. Brench

CLUB:                       

Leeds
Cave

Club

STUDIO
/ FIELD:        Studio

AUTHORITY:              Radio Times 01 Apr. 1938 p. 63.

                                 Daily Express
08 Apr. 1938.

 

ADDITIONAL NOTE : (Scott H.J.) (1940) Yorkshire Dalesman
2(1)4 tells us that:  “Mr. (Norman)
Thornber is secretary of the Cave Rescue Organisation and has broadcast several
times on potholing in
Yorkshire.”

Notes:

1.                  As the privately owned British Broadcasting Company.  It received its Charter in 1927 when it
became the British Broadcasting Corporation

2.                  Wells Journal, 8th August 1930, p5, c5 : Radio
from the depths.

3.                  Wells Journal, 12th September 1930,  p4, c.6 : Wookey Hole Speaks to the
World. 

4.                  Wells Journal, 15th May 1931, p.5, c.1, Local
News. Another Wookey Hole Broadcast.

5.                  Anon, 1931,

Wookey
Hole
Cave
[broadcast reminder]
Wells Journal 22nd May, p3,c3

6.                  Anon, 1931, Broadcast from

Wookey
Hole
Caves
.  Wells Journal 29th May, p4,c6

7.                  Wells Journal, 16th June 1933, p.1 : Broadcast
from

Wookey
Hole
Caves
.

8.                  Wells Journal, 7th July 1933, p.5, c.5 : Local
News. Cave Broadcast.

9.                  Wells Journal, 14th July 1933, p.1, c.1 :  Broadcast from

Wookey
Hole
Cave
.

Clifton
Boy’s Solos. 

10.              Wells Journal, 10th February 1933, p.1 c.3
:  The Caves of Mendip. Broadcast  by Mr. H.E. Balch. 

11.              Wells Journal, 20th January 1939, p.5, c.1,
[Broadcast]

12.              Wells Journal, 2nd August 1935, p.1, c.1-2
:  Thrilling Broadcast from

Wookey
Hole
Caves
.

13.              Balcombe, F. Graham and Powell, Penelope M,
1935, The log of the Wookey Hole exploration expedition 1935.  
Ascot :
F.G. Balcombe   [p.3]

14.              Balcombe, F. Graham and Powell, Penelope M,
1935, [as above], p.76

15.              Wells Journal, 23rd August 1935, p.3 c.2-3 :
Thrilling Adventure in

Wookey
Hole
Caves
.  Divers Brave The Depths of Hidden
Waters.  New Caverns Discovered.
Successful Broadcast by B.B.C. 

16.              Irwin, David J., 2000, Waldegrave Swallet … a
brief history.    BEC Bel Bul
51(509)25-39(Dec), illus, surveys, figs OR BCRA SHG Jnl (6)9-22(Aut), illus,
surveys, figs

17.              Western Daily Press,  25th February 1936, “Cheddar Man” may get
lost in the Ether.

18.              The skeleton rebuild was completed early in
1937.

19.              News Chronicle, 3rd March 1936, Broadcast from

Underground
Cave
. [illus]

20.              Western Daily Press, 3rd March 1936, p.9, c.1-5
: Last night’s broadcast from Cheddar’s famous caves. [illus]

21.              Bristol Evening World, 3rd March 1936,
Microphone “Tour”  [illus]

22.              Bristol Evening Post,  3rd March 1936, Wonders of the

Cheddar
Caves
explained to visitors during the
radio tour.  [illus]

23.              Radio Times, 23rd April 1937, Regional
Programme. [p.75]

24.              Balch, Herbert E., 1937,

Mendip
Cave

Crawl.  Radio Times, 23rd April, p.8,
illus

25.              Wells Journal, 30th April 1937, p.1 c.5 : A
Broadcast from Swildon’s Hole

26.              Anon, 1937, Programme as Broadcast from the West
of

England

Region. Saturday, 1st May, 1937. Sheet 1. [from BBC Archive, 1996]

27.              For those not familiar with the old LSD [pound,
shillings and pence] system this sum equals £15.75.

28.              Anon, 1937, B.B.C. Broadcast May 1st.   WCC Circ. (23)1

29.              Anon, 1937, Publicity.  WCC Circ (27)1

30.              Goddard, F.J. and Pearce, R.A.J., 1941, Romantic
Discovery …    The Illustrated London
News, 9 Aug., p.185-188, illus, survey

31.              Goddard, F.J. and Pearce, R.A.J., 1941,

G.B.
Cave
,
Charterhouse on Mendip.  Nature, 4
Oct.,  148(3753)394-396, illus

32.              Pearce, R.A.J., 1968, The Wartime Years. Some
Reminiscences   MSS, typed, 4f [held in
UBSS Library]

33.              UBSS

Camp
Log
Nov. 1939 to June
1943.   MS 91 pp , surveys.  UBSS Library,
Bristol
University,

Bristol
[p.41]

34.              Shaw, T.R., 1968, History of the

University of
Bristol
Spelaeological
Society.   

Bristol
: UBSS, Typed MS  61 + vpp [p.40]

35.              

Bristol
  Evening Post, 1946, 19th March, Divers’ plan
in Broadcast from caves. [Wookey Hole]

36.              Radio Times, 1946, (7 Jun) p.5, c.1 : Local News
Caves Broadcast.

37.              Sec [pseudo : D.C.  McKeand], 1952, Group News. B.B.C.   ACG Jnl 1(2)8-9

38.              Anon, 1954, Report on Excavations in the

Banwell
Bone
Cave
   ACG Jnl 2(2)7-8(Sep)

39.              

McKeand,
D.C.
, 1955,  Group News. Caves.      ACG Jnl 2(4)3-5(Sep)

40.              Radio Times, 1952 (20th Jun);  Going Down [no other details recorded]

41.              Jones-, M., Hannam, M., and

England
, D., 1952, Actually
Caving.  BEC Bel Bul 6(58)5-6(Jun)

42.              Wells Journal, 1952 (27 Jun), p.5, c.3 : Local
News

43.              Shaw, T.R., 1968, [as above] [p.40]

44.              Wells Journal, 1955 (10 Jun), p.2, c.4-5 : BBC
broadcast from Mendip – A Hole in a Hill.

45.              Morris, John [ed], From the Third Programme a
ten years’ anthology imagination argument  

London
:
Nonesuch Press, x + 339pp

46.              Kirkup, James, 1957, The Descent into the Cave
and other poems. 
London:

Oxford

University Press, viii + 109pp 

47.              47 Carpenter, Humphrey, 1996, The Envy of the
World. 

London
: Pheonix Giant, 431pp, illus [p.213]

48.              Ashworth, H.W.W., 1957, MNRC. Field
Programme.  MNRC Ntr [2](May)

 

The Wig in Caving

By N. Harding Esq.
With certain reminders by N. Richards, both residents of the Parish of Weston

During a conversation at Townsend Cottage on Sunday May 15th
2005, Messrs Irwin, Richards and Harding in attendance, the subject of the
history of caving wigs was brought up due to the reference in Ye Somerset Life
Magazine of Catcott removing his wig while entering the fabled Loxton Cavern.
What follows is a brief history of said apparatus in respect to that
reference. 

 “Fleas are not
lobsters, Dash my wig!”  

Butler
, Hudibras

Wig:    
A shortened form of periwig, from Fr. Perruque. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase
and Fable.

In the early days of cave exploration the development of
special forms of wig became a staple of any subterranean investigator’s
equipment. Limited as that burgeoning kit was; a few candles, muslin bags of
boiled sweets, and a sturdy pair of pantaloons, the cave wig became essential
dress for the gentleman explorer. 

The

Bath

wig makers Messrs Absolom and Loftus Racketts of

Protozoan Road
became the cavers’
emporium of choice. Within its wainscoted boudoirs a voluminous collection of
assorted caving paraphernalia could be found, albeit mostly of the false hair
variety.

It is known that local cave aficionado Dr Catcott often
frequented the shop on his way to swap tales of derring-do with other local men
of an exploratory nature in the region’s coffeehouses. Catcott himself
preferred the Dorset Fancy for walks but opted for the heavier, indeed sturdier
Pentland Thunderer (not to be confused with the whistle of the same name) for
subterranean activities. With its thicker inner weave it afforded a certain
higher level of protection than the Frobisher Light, a wig often used for
inspecting holes in the Mendip region. For at least two generations the
Frobisher had been de rigueur in

Somerset

for men out inspecting cavities, natural or suspiciously man made alike. Its
blend of horsehair, weasel and Haart’s Wildebeest allowed the wearer to keep
his head warm and reasonably waterproof in a brisk squall. But, as the user’s
manual suggested in the most adamant of terms, the wearer should seek shelter
at the first opportunity. A side effect of a sudden downpour was to shrink the
wig to embarrassing dimensions, forcing the owner, unless he himself was
lacking in the hair department into offering the headgear to friends and fellows
with less atop. In many respects and at that stage it mirrored the ‘scratch
wig’; one whose sole purpose was to cover bald spots.  

A similar side effect could be seen with the ‘Dorset Fancy’,
a light summer wig mostly used for those seeking Marsh Fritillaries, and indeed
other members of the Lepidoptera family, for their gentlemen’s collections. The
wig itself was even issued with its own collecting jar while the hair piece
itself, due to its gossamer construction, was delicate enough to be used for catching
all kinds of ephemeral insects. But because of its lightness it could easily be
forgotten that the wearer was sporting such apparel. As the Hon. Sir Hugh
Bending-Slow wrote in his ‘The Wig, It’s
Uses, Non Uses and General Abuse of Said Hairpiece Usually in the Manner of
Whipping Servants, Book Four’: 

“It beist unseemly for a man to
wear his Dorset Fancy for anything other than the most convivial of summer
excursions. It beist a moral outrage and devilish invidious behavior if said
headular investment be espied on evening occasions.”

It was not uncommon for ladies to swoon and or duels to be
fought over such insidious social faux pas, the results of which were that many
a cobbled street beyond the doors of inns, taverns and lodges were littered with
trampled and crumpled insubstantial head adornments, the fall out, in a manner
of speaking, of bellicose activities. The Dorset Fancy thus assisted (some say
the sole contributor, see Albert Lamellibranch’s The Revolutionary Wigs of Britain) to the illegal wig trade that
was common throughout the period, producing such fabled characters as Dave the Wigger, Headpiece Jack, or Wigboy John, gentlemen of the shadows
who would lurk in side alleys until enough battered wigs had collected on the
streets. They would then spend the following hours collecting as many of the
fallen items as darkness would allow. It was also around this time that Burke
and Hair became famous for digging up the corpses of unsuspecting members of
the aristocracy and relieving them of their head wear. The recently freed
hairpieces were hastily smuggled to the backrooms of numerous rival wig-making
facilities so that their intricate weaves could be studied and analysed.  

But it was not until the introduction of the ‘Devon Loafa’
that certain characters interested in underground activities, other than those
of a revolutionary nature, realised they could push further into the recesses
of dark vaults as a direct result of the sturdy weave of the new kid on the
head block. The Loafa had a thicker, more voluminous appearance and had been
created by Abraham Snapcock whose shop was situated near the Inns of Court in

London
. From his premises
he had observed that judges and their kind had taken to a peculiar sport, one
that ‘took the form of fancy and
elaborate gesticulations and head butting
’ (Chap 874 of Snapcock’s Diary).
He had initially mistaken these peculiar activities as the recognition rituals
of a new secret society but having seen heavy wagers laid down on the cobbles
he cottoned on to the fact that it was more a series of sporting events and had
nothing to do, at least superficially, with the clandestine machinations of
some back room anti-Catholic movement.

With an almost limitless number of wigs on sale none were
sturdy enough to support such ‘uncivil
behaviour
’ so Snapcock decided to remedy the situation. After several
minutes study he produced the test version of the wig that would eventually
evolve into the ‘Thunderer’. At this stage it was simply called ‘Old heavy’
until it was christened the Devon Loafa by an itinerant Vicar from
Barnstaple who narrowly escaped death when a weather
vane, ‘struck me rudely about the head as
if a vagabond were attempting to rummage in my vestments’
, and missed
braining the man of the cloth by a whisker.
 

With caving not a pursuit to be seen in and around the
streets of the capital the heavier wigs were adopted by those pursuing
criminals. Footpads, cutpurses and those with equally low moral fibre often
fell victim to a well-aimed wig launched from the hand of a practiced member of
the King’s militia. During the Riot of Idioblastic Street many a miscreant
Londoner was brought to book with the use of a ‘fair volley of head pieces thusly followed by explosive detonations of
wig powder that besmirched the walls of the parish
.’ (Quoted in
Lamellibranch’s The Revolutionary Wigs of
Britain
, chapter 2).

William Eggy-Belch, a gentleman from Wells was a frequent
visitor to

London

and on one such journey fell unceremoniously into Snapcock’s wig merchants after
one too many libations in the Gasometer Arms a few doors down from the purveyor
of flamboyant head gear. This in itself was a fortuitous happenstance because
Eggy-Belch had earlier that day suffered at the hands of some jobbing actors
who had ruffled his ‘Boston Hose Pipe’ in a badly executed rendition of Samuel
Johnson’s The Metamorphic Aureole.   In need of a new wig Eggy-Belch had somehow
found himself in the right place at roughly the right time.  Snapcock ushered his wig boy out into the
storeroom to retrieve the latest fashions, one of which being of course, the
Devon Loafa. Eggy-Belch took to the item with ‘ unreserved and unashamed gusto!’ He promptly bought eight on the spot.

Returning to Somerset Eggy-Belch handed out five of the wigs
to his estate labourers who often complained of thick headaches after long
sessions repairing the roof beams of sheds and barns. Headaches due in part to
the ‘lack of a well sought ability in
these rude mechanicals to avoid falling timbers thus loosed from the rafters of
the buildings I had sent them to repair’
. (Isaiah Titty, Memoirs of A Somerset Git, 1848).

It was in the Bulbous
Whim
, a now demolished Inn in Tucker Street, Wells, the site of which is
interestingly enough now occupied by a purveyor of caving and camping
equipment, that Eggy-Belch fell into derisory conversation with one Dr Catcott
who was hobbling around the city after an unceremonious accident caused by a
vigorous bout of country dancing in the parlour of his lodgings.  Catcott was abroad in the area investigating
various orifices, cavities and caverns in the Mendip Hills for a book he was
writing called ‘I Like Holes’. The
Bristol Reverend was also having unending trouble with his own wig which as he
said ‘ afforded me no comfort in any
shape or form, being troublesome and nefarious to the point that I assumed it
to be possessed by one of Satan’s noisome imps
.’ The Dorset Fancy was soon
to be cast aside by the wandering scholar in favour of the Devon Loafa, a
welcome gift from Eggy-Belch.

Back in Bristol Catcott had the Loafa further enhanced by
his favourite Wig merchants, Jonah
Deleterious and Sons
, (a site now occupied by a waste bin in Broadmead),
who set about tightening up the weave and adding additional layers to the hair
to give it extra protection. There was also a retractable thick wire pin on
which a candle could be mounted allowing the explorer hands free illumination
while the whole hair-piece itself was coated in a velveteen lacquer to keep it
from ‘becoming bedecked with ferrous soils
and fudgy particulates’
. The ochreous wig was now a thing of the past.  The Loafa had become the Thunderer and it
would be this overdeveloped wig that would take Catcott into the heart of the
Mendips. 

During his descent of Loxton Cavern Catcott had further
redesigned the Thunderer to accommodate a team of rescue marmosets, something
he had read about in an Austrian Tabloid called ‘Der Richtig Flugel Knauf’ In the article rescuers in the Dachstein
had used small primates, sporting a bag of boiled sweets around their necks, to
search for lost explorers.  Catcott, ever
at the cutting edge of exploring technology opted to utilise this system.  In ‘I
Love Holes
’ he describes having to remove his enormous wig due to heat and
the constant chatter of tiny primates, ‘an
irritant beyond the strength and fortitude of mortal ears
’.

Other caving wigs of the period: The Utter Bastard,
Overblown, The Nonsense, Fatty’s Nuisance, Rowsell’s Scaffold, The Priddy
Monster, Dandruff Talus, The Doline, The Beer Soaked Flatulent, The Sump,
Johnny Absorbent and the Nasty. 

Ref: Further popular wig names of the period (non caving,
all genuine): The Artichoke, bag, barrister’s, bishop’s, brush, buckle, busby,
bush (buzz), woodsman’s favourite, chain, chancellor’s, corded, Count Saxe’s
mode, the crutch, the cut bob, the Dalmahoy (a bob wig worn by tradesmen), the
detached buckle, the drop, the Dutch, the full, the half natural, the Jansenist
bob, the Judge’s, the ladder, the long bob, the Louis, the pigeon’s wing, the
rhinoceros, the rose, the scratch, the she-dragon, the small back, the spinach
seed, the staircase, the Welsh, the wild boar’s back, the wolf’s paw.   

Annual Dinner

Arrangements by Nigel
Taylor

1st October 2005

Venue to be announced

200 tickets available
at about £22

Two coaches will
leave the Belfry at 19.00 hrs

Further details later
by circular to all members

 

Digging Behind the Belfry – the Discovery of

Rose
Cottage
Cave

by Tony Jarratt

“The estimated time of breakthrough is constant at six months for
the first year up to the abandonment of the dig”
   –  Alfie’s Digging Law

Preliminary survey of

Rose
Cottage
Cave

Introduction

     Many years ago
Geoff Selway of Rose Cottage – our neighbour at the end of the Belfry drive –
excavated a large, doughnut-shaped pit in the field behind the Shed, and on the
line of the Priddy Pot Water leat, with the intention of creating a scenic pond
complete with central island. The water for this was derived from the leat,
having come from Fair Lady Well via the Belfry washing pond. For about three
years the pond was a success and contained about 1.5m of water and a selection
of ducks until, following a night of heavy rain, the lot disappeared down a
hole in the NW corner – ducks excluded. It then remained generally dry until
the rescue of November 13th 2002 after Vern Freeman peeled off in Maypole
Series, St. Cuthbert’s Swallet. In atrociously wet conditions the Wells unit of
Somerset Fire Brigade, using two

Coventry

“Godiva” pumps, raised 2,500 litres of water per minute from
Cuthbert’s depression into the pond – now briefly resurrected! The pumping
continued for over four hours  so at
least 600,000 litres (132,000 gallons) were shifted and your scribe was very
worried about possible flooding in the village. This didn’t happen as all the
water sank away, not to be seen again until its presumed reappearance at Wookey
Hole.

Potential

The St. Cuthbert’s Swallet report (Irwin 1991) states on p65
that the Coral Chamber stream is likely to be derived from the marshy ground to
the west of the Belfry. A recent visit to Coral Chamber by Vern failed to find
any evidence of the pumping operation so it is possible that there is some
stream divergence in this area which only direct exploration will prove. Could
the sinking water be the supply for the enigmatic

Lake
Chamber
,
either as the Coral stream or in a discrete conduit? If this cave is an ancient
inlet to Cuthbert’s it is likely to intercept the

NW-SE
Gour
Lake
fault, which forms the SW boundary
of the cave, at around 60-70m depth and over 30m upstream from known passage.
Vern, Pete Hellier, Paul Brock and Sean Howe are checking leads in Cuthbert’s
which head in this direction. A connection with Cuthbert’s would add at least
300m to give the system a length of around 7,100m and an extra 8m or so depth
making it some 153m deep. It would also provide a problem-free entrance for
adventure centres, management training operatives, mineral collectors and
frustrated Sump 2 diggers!

A further point of interest is the existence of a Roman lead
mining settlement immediately to the north of the site (Williams 1998). It
appears that some waste water from this operation would have sunk in this area.

Finally, the recent Unlucky Strike extensions in Eastwater
Cavern (Rowsell 2004, Long 2005 and Rowsell 2005) reveal that this part of the
system is trending towards the series of shallow depressions located between
that cave and the dig. Could we have a potential Eastwater-Cuthbert’s link or
is it a separate, parallel system?

Digging Operations  10/10/04 –
10/1/05

With three of the Club digging projects finished or in
abeyance it was time to look for a new project and thanks to Ivan Sandford
permission was gained from Geoff to excavate this site.

Work commenced on the 10th October with some three tonnes of
earth, clay and stones excavated by hand and bagged up. Two “rabbit
holes” were followed down to bedrock at c. 2m depth. A further c. 3 tonnes
were removed next day and a waterworn rift was followed down the dip of the
pavement-like limestone floor. Tea was provided on site at this very civilized
dig and has since been delivered from both the Belfry by Rob “Bobble”
Lavington and from
Glenview by Fiona Sandford.
The 13th saw a Wednesday night team digging beneath powerful overhead lighting
provided by Ivan and yet another c. 3 tonnes out. Two days later work continued
and on the 18th a more interesting section of the floor rift was reached by
tunnelling beneath the clay overburden. Unfortunately, a couple of days later,
a major collapse was found to have occurred and it was realised how potentially
dangerous the dig was. After much of this collapse was cleared a “board
meeting” was held and a decision taken to backfill the hole and try again
some 4m to the SW. Being fed up with manual labour we requested Nigel Taylor to
have a go with his mini-digger, “Sampsone”.

Nigel, and a large crowd of onlookers, turned up on the 7th
November and with great finesse he excavated a 2m x 2m x 3m deep hole through
the clay overburden to the bedrock. The following day he finished the job and
tidied up. Our grateful thanks for this excellent piece of work. The clay sides
were desperately in need of shoring and this was partly accomplished on the
10th by Gwilym Evans, Ben Ogbourne and helpers who used three old wooden doors
and some wriggly tin to construct what appeared to be a sunken outside bog.
Despite its rickety appearance it did the job and hand digging continued to
reveal the top of a possible rift in the bedrock.

This rift began to take shape on the 17th when lumps of
laminated calcite and large sandstone cobbles came out with the spoil. This
gave cause for some enthusiasm as it was obvious that a large stream had once
transported these cobbles to the site. Two days later this pleasant site was
cursed, as usual, with the “Reverse Midas Touch” and digging became
somewhat squalid. The Sunday afternoon of the 21st was spent by a team of four
digging ankle deep in “baby shite” but very excited by the
development of the rift into an obvious, steeply descending cave passage. The
next week saw diggers on site every day and several metres of passage cleared
of infill. A small airspace with a stalagmite coated

wall was revealed at one
point but work became difficult due to the narrowness of the passage. This
problem was resolved on the 29th when a five shothole charge was fired to
enlarge the working space . It also resulted in a text message from an irate
Fiona Sandford who was convinced that her kitchen would collapse! This could be
a good indication of the direction of the potential passage. Rich Witcombe and
Jake Baynes commenced work on the drystone base in readiness for concrete pipes
being organized and delivered by Dave Speed.

December 1st; Fiona’s kitchen was still in one piece but not
so the rift walls. A large amount of broken rock was cleared and some surface
tidying was done with more next day and a brief but energetic burst of work on
the evening of the 3rd in preparation for the arrival of the pipes on the
morrow.

Dave arrived promptly on the 4th with the three pipes on his
tractor trailer and together with Rich, Jake B. and Phil Coles worked extremely
hard on clearing the entrance and building up the drystone base upon which the
pipes were emplaced by Alan Quantrill with the aid of a massive JCB. This was a
magnificent, professional job which only took about three hours and was much
admired by the onlookers (for the record it cost the Club £255 – a
bargain).  Phil recorded the event on
camera and some digging was later done underground.  (The great contribution of the A.T.L.A.S.
digging team must be acknowledged at this point or we will never make Descent
again…).

More photos were taken on the following day by Pete
Glanvill. Some twenty loads of spoil came out including a large boulder hefted
by MNRC caving sec. Darryl Instrum who was on his first dig. A two shothole
charge was fired.

A strong Monday team on the 6th hauled out over thirty loads
of broken rock and clay and yet more snaps were taken by Tony Audsley. The
project instigator, Vern, arrived to assist and most of the surface spoil heaps
were tidied up.

It was by now pretty obvious that we had an ongoing cave so
the provisional name “Belfry Dig” was dropped and the site named
after the adjacent cottage. Some considered this name to be a bit
“twee” but the Two Nicks pointed out that “Rose Cottage” is
apparently

Weston
General
Hospital

speak for mortuary and Chris Batstone assured us that it is also naval slang
for pox clinic so we all felt better about it.

Banging and clearing trips continued daily from the 7th –
13th December, the last of these being a five shothole sequence charge laid by
Charlie Adcock, the staggered acoustic effects of which much impressed the
onlookers. Ambrose Buchanan operated a seismometer to measure the amount of
noise – effectively zero. Thirty one skiploads of the resulting spoil were
hauled out on the 15th and another charge fired in the LH wall/floor.

The clay
and cobble filled sloping rift became more horizontal but was a bugger to dig
due to the compacted nature of the fill. Banging and clearing trips continued
on the 17th, 18th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd in a range of interesting weather
conditions including very heavy rain (when the pond partially re-filled) and
thick snow with frozen ground. On the last visit the writer and Charlie laid
and fired an eight shothole charge which rippled the bathwater that Ivan was
lying in at the time!

Work continued daily over the festive season with much spoil
hauled out and one more bang until, on the 28th, the writer and Darryl opened
up a small hole which draughted so strongly that it sounded like the wind on
the surface above – indeed it may well be affected by the weather as was the
draught in Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink. On looking into the hole a low but superbly
decorated grotto was revealed and we now definitely had a new Mendip cave.
Excavation of possible by-passes to this grotto continued daily over the
holiday. Having won the 2004 Digging Barrel competition we were in no rush to
break in but, just to rub it in, a discovery on New Year’s Day was hoped for.
The surface was also tidied up and a drystone wall built SW of the entrance.
Some of the leat water was diverted undergound in an effort to clean the place
up. The final bang of the year took place on the 30th but, alas, January 1st
came and went without the hoped for discovery.

A vast amount of work had been done though by many Club
members and friends. Jake Baynes had opened up a mud and rock filled rift to
the right of the grotto – now very dangerous due to poised boulders and to be
strictly avoided. Duncan Butler learnt this having nearly received a broken
neck from a fallen lump of heavy clay. There is a good chance that this
collapse will “crown ” through to the surface to reveal that this may
be the original main entrance.

John “Tangent” Williams and others favoured
engineering a route below the grotto while Paul Brock commenced a rival dig
just below the entrance shaft. Bob Smith and Duncan did much useful surface
work in clearing out the leat, damming the stream and constructing a breeze
block bridge and stile. Several hundreds of skiploads of rock and mud were
hauled out, John Noble, Nick Richards and Nick Harding working particularly
hard at this onerous task. Ivan and Graham “Jake” Johnson made life
easier by collecting the Barrow Rake Swallet dig tripod and winch and replacing
the man-hauling system.

The 2nd and 3rd January saw charges fired at the end of Mt.
Hindrance Lane (the entrance passage – named from a liberated Chard road sign
left at the Belfry by a well-wisher) in an attempt to get under the grotto. The
well-wisher was later revealed as 80 year old but eternally youthful Tony
“Sett” Setterington. Paul’s Personal Project also got a dose of 40
gramme cord.

The Club interest over the holiday period was so great that
even Nigel Taylor and Pete Rose were seen underground and both Stuart McManus
and Dave Irwin threatened to don their caving gear!!!

Duncan
, though, managed a drunken, pre-dawn
trip without gear and got thoroughly soaked in the process as the introduced
stream had flooded the cave to within 2m of the entrance shaft. He returned
some twenty minutes later to find it had drained away. Delayed tsunami effects?
This did indicate that the main way on was at a high level.  The convenience of the cave’s location was
emphasised when mugs of tea were again delivered to the diggers – this time by
Jeff Price and underground!

It was noted that if the stream was piped into the NE end of
the original dig it didn’t appear in the known cave. If piped into the SW end
it rapidly entered below the concrete pipes. Water sinking in the current
shallow pond to the S of the entrance was also not met with but almost
certainly will be (it was – see later). The general direction of the cave so
far is 250 degrees – towards Fairlady Well Cottage.

Normality soon returned and on Wednesday 5th the bang spoil
was cleared to reveal two narrow open rifts ahead. Another 100 or so skiploads
were hauled out. Next day the rock barrier between these rifts was banged and
Paul continued with his Project. The 7th, 8th and 9th were also clearing and
banging days with Fiona Crozier starring as lead groveller and using up some of
her boundless enthusiasm and limitless supply of “Wicked”s. During
this weekend a view had been gained into open, man-sized passage some 2m below
the grotto and hurling a powerful wind into the diggers’ faces.

The First Breakthrough 10/1/05 – 18/1/05

The “Monday Club” team – today comprising Fiona, Jake B, Phil, Vern, Rich W, Ivan and the writer, with observers John Noble and
Tony Audsley – assembled for the guaranteed breakthrough on the morning of the
10th January.

While 15 loads of spoil headed for the surface Fiona and
your scribe cleared the bang debris and crept through into a small chamber
formed in a heavily calcited boulder choke situated behind the grotto. In one
place what at first appeared to be a curiously regular line of helictites is
actually the remains of an eroded stal. curtain. To the south a less calcited
section of the choke was entered to reach a boulder blocked rift in the floor.
The stream was diverted into the cave and observed to sink in gravel below the
grotto but could then be heard flowing away in the depths of the rift. After
everyone had visited the 10m or so of new passage a three shothole charge was
fired on the largest boulder blocking this rift. The explorers retired to the
Hunters’ to both celebrate and drown their disappointment at the meagreness of
today’s find but being Mendip diggers should have known better anyway! Later
that day Paul and Bobble found the banged boulder in pieces but now blocking
the rift further down. A brief visit next day by Ivan and the writer confirmed
their findings and provided an opportunity to plan the next operation.

An eleven strong Wednesday night team removed some 70 loads
on 12th January and cleared out much of the entrance passage. Two rocks in the
choked terminal “rift” were drilled and banged in order to gain
access to a draughting and calcited hole in the floor visible beyond. One of
the slabs of rock brought out from this area was observed by Tangent to

be
scored by slickensides and this may indicate that we have reached the
north-westerly extension of the Gour Lake Fault. The heavily waterworn and
overhanging NE side of the ongoing passage is opposed by equally waterworn
massive boulders with much evidence of plentiful ancient stream deposits in the
form of rounded sandstone cobbles and pea gravel. An original swallet entrance
to the NW is postulated – perhaps taking the forerunner of the Eastwater stream
long before the present Eastwater Cavern was developed.

The 14th saw Jake B. and Paul competing to make the entrance
passage into an Eastwater Traverse lookalike by excavating the floor of the
rift while your scribe blew up more boulders at the end. The floor of Paul’s
dig was also modified to give more working space.

Lots of spoil was shifted from the end on the 15th and a
short length of open passage entered – unfortunately completely choked and not
large enough to turn round in. A head-sized sandstone cobble was recovered from
this area for display in the Belfry. Fluorescein, put into the stream sinking
at the original dig, was not seen in

Lake
Chamber
, St. Cuthbert’s
by either Vince Simmonds (three hours later) or Graham Johnson (one day later).

The 16th saw a strong team getting about 80 loads to surface
and clearing out most of the cave and this work continued the following day
when a great deal of rock was removed from the boulder choke. 27 loads were
hauled out by Tony A. and Ray Deasy got his annual “nip over from

Queensland
” digging
trip in!. Both Jake B. and the writer opened up side passages on the RH side
which gave views into the same open passage – both being blocked by immoveable
slabs. A tiny stream entered from a passage on the LH side and the noise of a
larger stream below indicated that we were about to regain the water from the
original dig on its way to regions unknown. A higher level route through the
choke could also be seen but again was boulder-blocked. A return was made in
the afternoon to drill and bang a total of six obstructive “Henrys”.

The Second Breakthrough  18/1/05 –
30/1/05

Desperate to see the results of this bang your scribe
returned after work on the 18th and after an hour spent clearing broken rock
from the two RH digs was able to wriggle between boulders in the furthest one
and enter a roomy section of passage. His impression was of being at the head
of a large and steeply dipping, seriously waterworn canyon but well choked with
precarious and very spiky boulders. The similarity to Eastwater is marked but the
stability seems far worse! Some rearranging of the ruckle was done before a
tactical retreat was made for a celebratory pint, clutching a sandstone cobble
with a very fine fossil imprint. This extension was only some 5m but the
potential of the cave had now increased enormously – as had the problems of
exploring it… Several of the team visited the extension on the following
evening but despite a good poking about were unable to get much further.
Digging continued in P.P.P. and another 47 loads were hauled out.  The fossil-bearing cobble caused much
bemusement in the Pub as it seems it should not exist! Luckily Jim Hanwell
thought otherwise and tentatively identified the cobble as being a fine grained
sandstone from the upper end of the Old Red Sandstone (near the contact with
the Carboniferous limestone) and the fossil as a possible strophomenid
(Brachiopod).  This is a rare and
relatively important find. Dr. Willy Stanton thought otherwise and suggested it
was weathered chert from the Jurassic Harptree beds with a variety of
“cockle”. Geologists from the Shepton Mallet C.C. favour the
sandstone theory.

Ivan and the writer were back at the choke on the 21st and
after a couple of hours of very selective boulder bashing were able to gain a
view into ongoing passage. The relatively stable LH wall was banged the next
day and the spoil cleared on the 23rd when the way on was entered but found to
rapidly choke and will need more bang. A rare underground sighting of Chris
Batstone was the highlight of the day!

Interest was then transferred to the stream sink below the
grotto with 40 loads coming out on the 24th and various draughting holes
appearing in the floor. Digging was curtailed when a very large rock slab,
unknowingly undermined by the writer, slid onto him (like they do)
necessitating removal by Jake B. and Tony Boycott. He was miraculously unharmed
and got his own back by blowing the rock to bits and returning in the afternoon
with the late Martin Bishop and Phil Romford to clear it. The latter also studied
the cave geomorphology and removed cobble samples for identification. Work
continued here and at Paul’s Personal Project on the 26th when 53 loads came
out and more boulders were banged with another 14 loads out two days later. The
crawl below the grotto became awkward for skip hauling so was blasted on the
30th when another 56 loads came out.

Further  Digging  1/2/05 – 4/3/05

Throughout February the team worked hard on both Paul’s
Personal Project and the Grotto dig. Well over 212 loads of spoil were hauled
out as, apparently, was Phil Coles – though in the Belfry Log Book he fervently
denies this! Paul almost  had to be
regularly hauled out as his steeply dipping dig went vertical. He has started a
“J.Rat’s Pump Fan Club”. Sean recorded all this with his digital
camera and the excellent results can be seen on his web page. A slump of the
infill around the concrete pipes caused a few problems but was later made good.

March 1st saw Paul and his Makita breaking up stubborn rock
at the bottom of his dig. 42 loads were hauled out and next day Jake B. started
a new dig at the junction near the terminal choke dig. He was to hit the
jackpot…..

The  Third  Breakthrough 5/3/05  – 15/3/05

On the 5th he returned with Tom Clayton (Birmingham U.S.S.)
and Phil C. to continue work at what became known as Dig 2b. Some lengthy and
dedicated digging brought them to open voids between dodgy boulders, one of
which actually pivoted when touched (a great feature but now dropped for
safety). Tom got the short stick and pushed on down into standing sized passage
with superb formations in abundance. Jake joined him and they explored some 20m
to a too

tight calcited slot. A large column-topped stal. boss, a very long
straw and many helictites were only some of the stunning “pretties”
in Aglarond (a Tolkienesque Elvish word meaning “glittering caves”).
To quote Jake: “The best caving trip for me so far. Tom and I were first
in ever in human history – or any history. FANTASTIC”. Pete, John N. and
Phil C. visited this wondrous extension next day in an attempt to pass the
squeeze – knowing full well that your skinny scribe was returning from
Meghalaya that day. Alas, they failed and the writer duly took up the challenge
on the 7th when, honed to pushing perfection by three weeks of constant hard
caving and a rice diet, he easily slid through into another 10m of even more
well decorated passage (Aglarond II) ending in another impassable slot but with
a bigger open void ahead from whence issued the sound of the stream. Ivan
photographed Aglarond I and most of the formations were taped off.

The following evening a steel mesh was bolted in place near
the squeeze to protect adjacent vulnerable formations. Unfortunately in the
process the longest straw got broken but may be repairable. The squeeze was
enlarged with Paul’s 110 volt Makita hammer drill and the next calcite barrier
attacked with same to get a good view into roomy and well decorated passage
beyond. Ivan photographed Aglarond II.

On the 9th much of the cave was cleared of spoil – over 120
loads reaching the surface where Ivan built a dam to divert the sinking stream
into the pond. A drystone retaining wall was built by Jake and team above  the latest breakthrough point and the writer
continued chiselling at the end until the chisel bit snapped in two (sorry
Paul). A return was made on the 11th March when almost three hours of
“micro-blasting” – using single detonators and 3mm and 5mm detonating
cord failed to fully open up the slot. Clearing took place on the 12th when several
diggers visited the cave throughout the day. Red drain dye poured into the
surface collapse sink at 8.15am was not seen in Coral Stream, St. Cuthberts
three hours later and Vern also reported that at 1pm

Lake
Chamber

was also uncoloured.

Water problems in the cave were hopefully solved on the 13th
when Ivan and Bobble constructed a valved dam on the course of the Fair Lady
Well stream and diverted it into the St. Cuthbert’s depression. Alex Livingston
and John N. widened the breakthrough squeeze to enable the more portly
diggers  to reach the end.

Much micro-blasting experimentation was done at the end next
morning and at the entrance Rich W. started walling up the rift below the
concrete pipes. In the afternoon Ivan and the writer returned for another
excruciating four hours of rock-breaking ending in frustration and the laying
of a 40gm charge. The diggers vowed to look up the Elvish for
“Bastard”. Totally convinced that the squeeze was now wide open they
returned the following evening for yet another two hours of cramped misery
followed by a “final” bang. At least, the lower half of your scribe
had been into Aglarond III but the upper half decided not to push his luck.
Rich, meanwhile, continued with his walling project before a visit to the working
face where he compared the formations with those in Charterhouse Warren Farm
Swallet.

The Fourth Breakthrough  16/3/05 –
2/4/05.

Wednesday 16th March at last saw the squeeze passed after
more chiselling. Once through the writer was able to assist from the far side
with further enlargement enabling Ivan to join him an hour later. Aglarond III
consists of a sloping “bedding chamber” some 5m wide, 1m high and 10m
deep with a flowstone floor, hundreds of straws, helictites, curtains and many
other formations. A tiny streamway at the bottom becomes too small and is
blocked with straws while above it a tall, rift-like feature may be the best
way on but is almost completely blocked by pure white columns and other
formations. The extension was photographed and taped. The bruised and battered
explorers returned to Ben “fatarse” Ogbourne in Aglarond II for
celebratory, or in this case commiseratory, Champagne before heading out with
the redundant drill and assorted rubbish. Meanwhile Pete, Phil and Jake hauled
out 70 loads of spoil and one newt from the Grotto Dig area thereby tidying the
place up ready for a renewed assault in an attempt to bypass the Aglarond
chokes. The draught at this point is noticeably much stronger than at the
current end.

Work recommenced here on the 19th March when a boulder in
the floor was banged and cleared on the morrow allowing entry into some 4m of
clean-washed boulder choke with a voice connection through to the head of the
climb down to Aglarond. Further work in this part of the choke would be pointless
and dangerous. Also on this trip Sean photographed Aglarond I and II using Alys
and John N. as models.

The morning of Monday the 21st saw Rich W. completing one
side of his cemented entrance wall and much tidying up on the surface. The
return of “Madphil” Rowsell from

Tasmania
prompted the long delayed survey of
the cave on the 23rd when the first task was to traverse from the St.
Cuthbert’s entrance pipe to that of Rose Cottage with the intention of
continuing on to Eastwater in future. The cave itself was surveyed from
Aglarond III to the entrance and a Lexica DISCO laser distance meter was used
instead of a tape to take side legs in the areas of vulnerable formations. A
total of 61m length and 29m depth was recorded – not as long as estimated but a
good start for the next Digging Barrel! Meanwhile Paul’s Personal Project kept
the vociferous diggers amused and 41 loads were dug out and dumped. Two days
later Paul returned to dig alone in peace and quiet while the surveyors
continued the surface traverse to Eastwater Cavern. 65 loads came out during
the next few days and other work included the completion of the entrance
walling and digging and blasting in the Terminal Choke Dig where a couple of
metres progress was made at high level. Further work here is following the dip
of the waterworn limestone into the floor. Paul’s dig was also enlarged with
explosives to create more working space.

Further Digging 2/4/05 – 20/6/05.    

April commenced with 49 loads of spoil out over two days and
lots of digging at both Paul’s Personal Project and the Terminal Choke Dig. On
the 4th Rich drystone walled the NE face of the Grotto Dig and most of the
redundant steel shoring was removed. Further work was carried out in P.P.P. and
a wire ladder installed to aid exit. The 5th and 6th saw more work here and
another 53 loads out with a spate of showery weather making conditions below a
trifle damp. Another 39 loads came out on the 10th and 11th, a good percentage
of this being bang debris from blasted out roof pendants whose removal was
necessary to create working space in the rapidly dwindling phreatic bedding
plane. During the following week 55 loads came out and several blasting trips
took place to remove a stubborn bed of hard limestone which bisected two of the
three diggable phreatic tubes in P.P.P. Much tidying of the surface was also
done. Another bang in the central phreatic tube on the 16th was later cleared
of 33 loads of spoil by the able-bodied diggers while your scribe was reduced
to the role of dig historian following an unfortunate incident involving
tap-dancing officianado Mike Willet, several libations, a pair of steel-shod
Lancashire clogs and a flagstone kitchen floor. This mix
resulted in a fractured fibula and much frustration.

Thirteen more loads came out of P.P.P. on the 27th when Paul
reported the phreatic tubes to be looking more promising after the limestone
bridge had partially gone. A spell of wet weather and the necessity of flushing
out the squalor in this dig caused some ponding problems and so, on the 4th
May, Pete commenced a new dig in the small boulder chamber at the lowest
accessible part of the main choke before Aglarond 1. To avoid the confusion of
a numbering system “Pete’s Baby” is proposed as the name for this
site (“I don’t know what it’s called – it’s Pete’s baby” – Sean ). 16
loads of spoil went all the way from here to the surface due to the presence of
eight keen and efficient diggers.

Thanks to the much appreciated assistance of Stu Sale the
writer was able to abseil down to P.P.P. on the 9th of May to drill two long
shotholes in the LH wall of the upper phreatic tube and lay a 40gm cord charge.
This was later noisily fired from the surface following a delicate prusik out.
SRT digging comes to Mendip. Two days later 20 loads and two newts were hauled
out from this site, mainly from the two lower tubes. Paul filled ten skips on
the 13th providing space for Tony Boycott to drill and bang the limestone
bridge in the middle tube a couple of days later. On this trip the writer started
clearing the upper tube and continued this next day while Tony Audsley bagged
the middle tube bang debris. Another charge was then fired in the latter. A
strong Wednesday night team cleared 64 loads from this area on the 18th May and
did a modicum of work in Pete’s Baby.

A week later 18 more loads were hauled out with another 40
removed on the 29th when superb bank holiday weather lured a large team of
diggers and onlookers to the site. June 1st saw 19 loads (and a newt) reaching
the surface following much spoil breaking by Paul and Ben in the middle tube
during which they opened up a tiny airspace with some mini-formations. Pete
then drilled two holes in a floor slab and the writer charged these with 40gm
cord. A resounding bang heralded the removal of the slab (and the
mini-formations!). Sean, alas, was the next regular digger to suffer enforced
retirement having been bitten by a possibly rabid Spanish mugger while enjoying
a dirty weekend in

Barcelona
.
This resulted in a plastered arm and an even better excuse to avoid winching
than the writer’s! The bang spoil was removed on the 5th June when another 12
skiploads came out from the rapidly enlarging middle tube – sometimes
affectionately referred to as “Bored of the Rings”. The diggers were
eventually driven out by headaches attributable to both bang and booze.

On June 6th the upper tube was dug separately by both the
writer and Alex and more work here was done by Paul next day when he pumped out
the middle tube with a smaller submersible electric pump. This allowed 40 loads
of spoil to come out on the 8th when reports from the working face indicated
easy digging and loading conditions. Paul dug solo again on the 11th resulting
in 43 loads coming out next day when, towards the end of the session, John opened
up a draughting hole with open passage visible beyond. Exultation soon turned
to disappointment when it was realised that this passage had already been
entered from Mt. Hindrance Lane above – Bored of the Rings having popped out in
the floor below the first grotto to create a short but entertaining round trip!
Fortunately there was also ongoing, diggable passage to the right of the
connection where water apparently sinks. More work was done here on the 13th by
Alex and the writer on separate solo trips.

The opening up of the connection continued on Wednesday 15th
June with digging in B.o.t.R. and digging/rock breaking below the grotto. 40
skiploads of spoil eventually reached the surface despite a poor turnout of
regulars. An obstructive rock slab on the grotto side of the link was banged
next day and several skips filled. The bang debris was cleared by Paul two days
later when many skips and bags were filled at both ends of the loop and the
“round trip” was eventually completed by Fiona and the writer. The
latter two continued digging and stacking full bags on the 19th. A healthy 80
loads were removed on the 20th June and work continues following the now
vertical floor of B.o.t.R. down the side of the main choke.

The Digging Team and Acknowledgements

Just about everyone who visits the Belfry has been involved
at some point. In addition to those mentioned above other stalwarts are Andy
Smith, Ben Selway, Jack Lambert, Lee Stackett, Graham, Chrissie and Sam Price
(CerSS), Luke Baynes, Greg Brock, Justine Emery (CSS), Martin Smith (OSCG),
Rich Gulvin, Dave Sutherland, Ian Barker and Mark Craske (all MNRC), Ros White,
Alys Mendus (SUSS), Mike Willet, Martin Grass, Alan Gray (ACG), Martin Peters,
Steve Chitty, Jason Wilkes, John Walsh, Mark “Shaggy” Howden, Martin
Ellis (SMCC), John Christie.

Our grateful thanks to Geoff and Carol Selway, Ivan and
Fiona Sandford, Nigel Taylor and Dave Speed for services beyond the call of
duty. Alan Quantrill for expert JCB manipulation, the BEC committee, John
Sheppey (Somerset Fire Brigade), the Wig – for thought-provoking theories,
Sett, Alfie Collins for his quote, Jim Hanwell, Willy Stanton and assorted
geologists for cobble identification, Chris Binding (CheddarCC / CSCC) for
conservation tape and the loan of a laser distancemeter.

References

IRWIN D.J. et al 1991 St. Cuthbert’s Swallet. 

Bristol
Exploration Club

WILLIAMS R.J.G. 1998  The St. Cuthbert’s Roman
Mining Settlement, Priddy,

Somerset
:
Aerial Photographic Recognition. Proceedings of the

University of
Bristol

Spelaeological Society. 21(2). p.123-132.

ROWSELL P. (Madphil) 2004 The trials and tribulations of Eastwater. Belfry Bulletin No.519,

Bristol
Exploration Club.
53(5). p.9-20.

LONG R.  2005  Mel-low digs and Russian Woman Hands. Belfry
Bulletin No.521,

Bristol

Exploration Club, 54. (1).pp18-21.        

ROWSELL P. (Madphil) 2005 Morton’s Pot – the final solution.
Belfry Bulletin No.522, Bristol Exploration Club, 54(2).pp18-21

JARRATT A.R. MSS Log Book Vol XII

VARIOUS CONTRIBUTORS. 2005  BEC Log Book

TO BE CONTINUED !!!

 

The Rise and Fall of the B.E.C. Membership (1943-2004)

By Andy MacGregor

EXPANSION – 1943 to 1951

The members who existed in September 1943 numbered 14 as one
might well expect in the middle of the war. In contrast, their staying power was better than average which, again,
one might expect from those people who effectively started the club going
again.  Much the same remained true of
the 1944 (18 members) and the 1945 (17 members) batches.

Thus, by the end of the war, the total number of club
members was 47 as 5 had left, but their staying power meant that losses from
these groups would be low in future years, and would thus help to keep numbers
up.  Members who are still seen from time
to time from these batches include Harry Stanbury (Number 1) and Bob Bagshaw
(Number 20).

In 1946, with the war now over, new members started to
arrive in large numbers. Some were friends of B.E.C. members who had been in
the forces with them and who were now demobbed. Others had been students during the war. ‘Sett’ (Number 78) is an
example of the latter group.  Although
the staying power of the 1946 batch was only average, its large number of new
members, plus the low loss batches, pushed the total up.  By the end of 1946 we had 69 members, only 15
had left from the list started in 1943.

From 1947 to 1950, an even greater expansion occurred.  Very large numbers of new members joined in
each of these years.  The membership by
the end of 1950 was 129.  Among this
‘intake’ of new members were a number of well known personalities including Pat
Ifold (number 150); Jill Tuck (number 157); Norman Petty (number 160) and Roy
Bennett (number 214).  Derek Targett’s
father – Fred Targett – was also a member at about this time.

BAD PATCH……(1951 to 1957)

In contrast with the expansion shown above, the club
actually – and steadily – DECREASED in size from 1951 to 1957.  At the start of this bad patch, the club had
129 members, while at the end of the bad patch, it had sunk to 116.  The decrease in membership was simply due to
the fact that greater than average losses occurred in nearly every year.  In other words, members suddenly began to
leave the club earlier than one might expect, and this did not depend on how
long they had been members.  For some
reason, the club had stopped keeping its members happy – old and young alike.

In 1953, the club discovered a major Mendip cave right on
its own doorstep AND negotiated an access agreement which, in those days,
virtually meant that any caver who wanted to explore Cuthbert’s regularly had
to be a member of B.E.C.  One might
reasonably expect that this would have given membership a boost, but IT HAD NOT
THE SLIGHTEST EFFECT.  Indeed, the year
following the discovery of Cuthbert’s was the worst of the whole period.

SECOND WIND

In the five years from 1957 to 1962, the club quite suddenly
and dramatically expanded again at a rate nearly equal to its post-war
growth.  From a situation in which the
club seemed to have saturated at just over a hundred members it suddenly leaped
into a position where it had nearly twice that number of members.  All this happened without any external
factors like the ending of the war to account for the large growth.  It is thus a very remarkable occurrence.  At the end of 1962 we had 189 members.  After 1962, the increase levelled off.

What happened in 1951 which suddenly caused members to be
less satisfied with the club, and what else happened (or what stopped
happening) in 1957 which so dramatically reversed this trend?

In 1951, Harry Stanbury – the founder of the B.E.C. and the
then current Hon. Secretary and Hon. Treasurer, resigned from the club
committee and all his offices.  Dan
Hassell also resigned at B.B. Editor. Reading the B.B. before this date will show that it contained a great
deal of news of club members and of social and other events on Mendip as well
as caving news.  In other words, the B.B.
formed a strong link between the club on Mendip and in

Bristol
and those members who could only
appear at infrequent intervals.  Members
thus tended to hang on to their membership so that they could find out what
their friends were doing and what was going on ‘on the hill’.

After Harry’s resignation, his posts as Hon. Sec. and Hon.
Treasurer were ably filled by the (then) young Bob Bagshaw.  The B.B. proved more difficult to get anyone
to take on and for a year or so it was actually run from

London
by Don Coase and John Shorthose.  Even when Harry was persuaded to come back
and edit it again, it was not the same. As Secretary, he had previously run features like ‘From the Hon. Sec’s
Postbag’ – which he could no longer write. Even members addresses were not published over most of the period 1951
to 1957.

In 1957, the B.B. was handed over by the A.G.M. to a group
of active club members who produced most of the ‘chat’ which members said they
missed and also gave the B.B. a facelift.

STABILISATION

The period of time covered by this part is that stretching
from 1962 to 1985.  This is the longest
stretch covered in our review.

If you look at the graph which should have appeared in the
preceding BB and can be seen below, it appears to reveal a very slowly growing
club until this period, when the membership numbers hovered around the 200
mark, which when all said and done, should have remained around that figure.



The sudden boost in 1989 is due to a sudden increase of 30
new members with an average decrease. Most years previously we had an increase/decrease of approximately 17
members annually.  In 1990 the annual new
members dripped back to the average of 17 with hardly any members leaving.  In 1992 we see the opposite and by 1993, the
membership is back to around the 200 mark.

From 1993 to the present day we see a decline to 130 members
for 2004.

The drop in 2003 can be explained by the fact that all life
members were contacted to see if any of them were still around, and a few were
either not interested in keeping up with the club, or had vanished.

Could the drop from 2001 to the present day be the same as
for the drop from 1951 to 1957, which was attributed to the lack of a regular
appearance of the BB or when it did appear, there was not much news about
people and any new discoveries?

The drop from the peak of 1991 to 2001 can be attributed to
the steady decline in this country of people wanting to go caving, coupled with
the fact that the finding of new caves has become increasingly
scarce/difficult.

2001 did not help with the Foot and mouth epidemic, in which
many country side sports suffered and never recovered to the previous
membership numbers.

If the BEC wishes to keep at least on a steady level of
membership, the BB needs to be at least issued bi-monthly in order to keep the
non-Bristol area members interested. [Any comments ? – Ed]

 

BCA INSURANCE – UPDATE

A note from Mike
Wilson,      Hon. Treasurer

As you all should know by now we [the club] have been trying
to set up an insurance scheme with the BCRA and all other clubs to remedy the
fact that the old insurance company just ran away from us .

Last year was a bit messy but now the system has settled
down and we all anticipate that it will run for many years to come .

As far as the BEC is concerned there are no problems. The
extra cost is not excessive and the coverage remains the same as before [I keep
a copy of the policy if anyone wishes to check it out].

With regard to payment it is vital that everyone pays their
dues before the end of January so that we can submit a list of insured members
to the BCA. Anyone paying late will make it very difficult for us, as the list
has to be submitted at the latest by the date above. This system is far
superior to the earlier one as each member is listed  and logged to be either insured for caving activities, or insured with
another club, the people who have not requested insurance are not covered  for any caves requiring permits in the UK or
abroad, digging activities on private land, or operating as guides or cave
leaders. THIS MEANS ALL CUTHBERT’S LEADERS MUST HAVE  THE BCA INSURANCE !!!!.

Anyone who is a probationary member or has joined in the
middle of the Club year can, if they wish, pay a proportionate sum to be
insured i.e. 6 months into the club year 50% of the premium.

The BCA Policy is available on the net at
www.british-caving.org.uk , for anyone who wishes to keep a copy for landowners
etc.

We would like next years subs payment, [due next Oct /Jan
2006]  to include the insurance payment
if required, at this moment in time the BCA state that the cost should be the
same  i.e. £15.00 on top of the normal
subs .This would assist Fiona and myself as we have to sort out the membership forms and pay the premium by the
end of January.

Please note that you are covered for worldwide caving
activities but not
USA and

CANADA
.
Also this is not a travel policy IT DOES NOT COVER MEDICAL EXPENSES OR
RESCUE!!!!!!!! The indemnity limit is £2,000,000 and there is an excess for any
claim. At the time of writing it is £2.500 .for normal caving incidents. I hope
that this helps everyone understand fully the extent of cover which has been a
bit vague in the past. 

 

Hunters’ Lodge Inn Sink – Digging Update

By Tony Jarratt

Continued from BB 519

July 4th saw a tidying up trip to Slop 3 where recent heavy
showers had raised the water level over a metre. A steep slope was created from
the spoil dump at the bottom of Pewter Pot to the current pool surface.

Next day a 15 shothole charge – using 12/100gm detonating
cord – was fired at Stillage Sump. It was noted that the recent rains had
caused water to flow into Hangover Hall via the squeeze located some 2m above
stream level – possibly due to an inwashed 25 litre plastic drum blocking the lower
passage. Our next clearing trip here was on the 12th when an eight shothole
charge was fired. An identical charge was fired on the 14th and cleared on the
18th when Duncan Butler and the writer came out from the sump by
“braille”, both of their lamps having failed at the same time. Next
day a thirteen shothole charge was fired and this was partially cleared on the
21st when nine holes were drilled and the four diggers got a dose of “bang
head” from residual fumes. Five of these holes were charged with 100gm
cord on the 26th and noisily fired.

The previous day more clearing work was done at Slop 3 where
much higher water levels prevented forward progress – by August 1st there was
only a slight drop here so no digging was done. A possible high level passage
above some fine formations halfway along Barmaids’ Bedrooms was investigated
but was found to be calcite choked.

The 28th July saw another banging/clearing session at
Stillage Sump when the remaining four holes were utilised and the spoil was
cleared on the 2nd August when visiting Hungarian caver and au pair Andi
Vajdics worked hard in the doubtful air conditions. As a reward she was taken
to see the bone deposit where a calcite coated bison molar was recovered for
future scientific investigation – H.L.I.S.47. More clearing of the sump floor
was done on the 4th. The water level at Slop 3 was still too high on the 9th so
the writer probed the two dry dig sites beyond the bone deposit. Both were
found to require banging to gain access to possible open passages beyond. This
was accomplished on Wednesday the 11th August when a large team, diverted from
other dig sites by heavy rain, assembled at the spot. The debris from both
bangs was cleared on the 13th and the higher site found to soon close down in a
massive boulder choke. The lower passage looked more promising and so another
charge was fired here to knock off a corner. Escaping the horrors of Priddy
Fair a small team returned on the 18th to push this to a boulder blockage where
a large bison(?) vertebra was found. It was decided that due to lack of space
and the size of the choke more thorough investigation of the area should be
done before further banging.

August 15th saw a nine hole bang at Stillage Sump and some
preliminary geomorphological investigation by Toby Maddocks (U.B.S.S.).
Clearing, spoil stacking, drilling and banging continued on August 23rd with a
surprisingly large Monday morning team who all got damp on the way out due to
heavy rain. Three more trips this month resulted in over forty bags of spoil
being dug from the sump floor and the survey of Old Peculier Aven completed.
Another dozen loads were excavated on September 1st and ten more on the 6th
when the sump walls were widened by blasting and the calcited ceiling choke
banged on the suggestion of Vince Simmonds. The cave booze theme has
transformed this into Simond’s Choke after the famous, defunct brewery.

A spell of fine, dry weather caused the water level in Slop
3 to drop several feet and further work was done here on September 8th along
with tidying up digs at both ends of B.B. and the discovery of a superbly
preserved reindeer (?) tooth. It was noted on this trip that the long
stalactite in Happy Hour Highway, painstakingly mended by Messrs Glanvill &
Rose, had been once again partly smashed off by an unthinking and incompetent
visitor. In this case it is known to have been broken on a

Wessex
tourist
trip – as was its even longer companion destroyed some months ago. There are no
plans to mend these formations but there are definite changes in access
procedure being considered.

A large turnout on the 15th saw lots of spoil from S.S.
dumped in the rapidly filling Hangover Hall and some small progress at the end.
Four days later the dam was reinforced with concrete and a new wall of
“deads” commenced above it. More digging was done in the choke which
was left to “dig itself”. This continued next day with the aid of a
2m steel rod until discretion proved the better part of valour and a retreat
was made. A little more work was done here on the 22nd but it was judged to be
too dangerous to continue without banging a boulder acting like a plug in a
giant egg-timer. This was done two days later when a dozen tiny toads were
rescued and added to the rapidly expanding community in Andy and Pams’ pond.
Sixteen more came out on the 27th – the day the choke was passed after some
decidedly adrenalin producing digging. Unfortunately, after a couple of metres,
this promising site turned into a massive choke of calcited boulders with no
feasible way on. The last dig of September, on the 29th, removed all the fallen
spoil from the choke and a few more loads from the sump floor. There was now
not only a lack of air but also of enthusiasm. After many months of hard and
exasperating work this area may now be abandoned, at least for the winter.

A tourist/conservation trip on October 1st saw yellow
plastic tent pegs emplaced to emphasise the formation tape.

On the day after the club dinner an enthusiastic Fiona
Crozier dived in both Hair of the Dog Sump and Slop 3 as a training exercise.
Although, in the latter, she was unable to get under the “downstream”
lip she was inspired to return next day with the writer as surface controller.
She spent over fifteen minutes digging underwater and intends to continue this
project as there is now no way that this sump will drain this year. On this
trip a stream was actually flowing down Pewter Pot. Her co-diver from
Leeds, Debbie Feeney, unfortunately lost a contact lens
on the way down Pub Crawl and aborted her trip.

A tourist trip to Pewter Pot on October 6th found Slop 1 to
be sumped and thus Hair of the Dog and Broon Ale Boulevard inaccessible and
others on the 11th and 25th proved this to still be the case. On this latter
trip Guy Munnings and the writer were almost caught out at RRR by the very
sudden appearance of a “Swildon’s-size” stream. Many of the team now
turned their attentions to the new surface dig behind the Belfry with a brief
session for some at Rana Hole in Sutherland. On November 3rd all the 110v cables,
the bang wire and the pump were laboriously removed from the cave and the
twenty-odd 25 litre drums transported from RRR to HHH as the lower levels were
abandoned for the winter.

A

Wessex

tourist party informed the writer that BBB had become inaccessible due to a
large slab having slid into the Slop 1 crawl from the RH wall. This problem
will be resolved this summer.

Palaeontology.

Dr. Tom Higham of the Oxford University Radiocarbon
Accelerator Unit reported that the Bison priscus bone sent to

Oxford
for radiocarbon dating had been proven
to be over 55,000 years old. Dr. Roger Jacobi identified and returned HLIS 47
(Bison priscus – right M2) and HLIS 48 (Rangifer tarandus – right M1/M2).
Tangent gave a short lecture on the cave at the “Mendip Hills AONB Strategy
for the Historic Environment Seminar” held at Ubley on 23rd October.

More diggers and acknowledgements.

Duncan Butler (Newbury & District C.C./B.E.C.), Frome
Caving Club (donation to the Bang Fund), Dr. Tom Higham (Oxford University
Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit), Lee Stackett, Bob “Bobble” Lavington,
Andrea “Andi” Vajdics (Papp Ferenc Barlangkutato Csoport – Hungary),
Toby Maddocks (U.B.S.S.), John Noble, George Cheshire (Bradford P.C.), Vanessa
and Sean Hedley, Emily Davis (Helderberg Hudson Grotto, N.S.S., U.S.A.), Nick
Gymer, Kev Gurner, Debbie Feeney, Mike and Ruth Merrett (SMCC).

 

Meghalaya 2005 – Discoveries in the Jaintia and West Khasi Hills

By : Tony Jarratt

References

BB 516 and 519. G.S.G. bulletins, fourth series, vol 1 nos.
4 and 5, vol 2 no. 2. Meghalaya Adventurers’ Association (soft bound history of
MAA and overview of Meghalayan caving available from BEC and GSG libraries)



Personnel :


UK

– Simon Brooks (OCC/GSG), Tony Jarratt (BEC/GSG), Mark Brown (SUSS), Tony
Boycott (BEC/GSG/UBSS), Jayne Stead (GSG), Fraser Simpson (GSG), Graham
Marshall (GSG), Dan Harries (GSG), Joanne Whistler (OUCC), Lesley Yuen (OCC).
Eire – Brian MacCoitir, Robin Sheen, Quentin Cooper (all
BC).

Austria

– Peter Ludwig (LVHOO).

Germany

– Georg Baumler (HHVL), Christian Fischer (AHKG), Rainer Hoss (HFGN), Christine
and Herbert Jantschke (HFGOK), Thilo Muller (AHKG). Switzerland – Thomas Arbenz
(SNT), Julien Oppliger (SCI), India – Brian Kharpran Daly (MA/GSG), Gregory
Diengdoh, Shelley Diengdoh, Dale Mawlong, Teddy Mawlong. Ronnie Mawlong,
Sheppard Najier and others (all MA), Raplang Shangpliang (Shnongrim guide
turned caver!), Pradeep Gogoi and his film team (

Assam
).

     Adison
“Adi” Thaba (camp manager/driver), Bung Diengdoh (driver/organizer),
David Kimberly Marak (driver/organizer), Shamphang Lyngdoh (driver/cook/betel
addict), Vinod Sunar, Alam “Munna” Khan (cook), Myrkassim Swer (head
cook), Bhaikon Hazarika, Pulin Bara, Kamal Pradhan (cooking assistants), Mr.
Sukhlain (Doloi or “king” of Nongkhlieh Elaka), Carlyn Phyrngap
(were-tiger), Pa Heh Pajuh, Menda Syih, Shartis Dkhar, Heipormi Pajuh, Evermore
Sukhlain, Moses A. Marak, Ramhouplien Tuolor, Boren G. Momin, Roilian Nampui,
(village headmen, guides and local characters), Grewin R. Marak, Blaster Jana,
Tobias Syiem, Mr. Roy (Meghalaya Police), Pambina A. Marak, Josbina N. Marak
(cooking assistants).

     The BEC/GSG
contingent – Dr.B., your scribe, Fraser and Graham – flew from Heathrow to
Kolkata (nee

Calcutta
)
on the 3rd February to meet the holiday-making Jayne at the ever popular
Fairlawn Hotel where our first Indian beers were gratefully quaffed. On the
following day’s internal flight to Guwahati the soft southerners were upgraded
to Club Class and the heathen Scots left in the back with the plebs. Obviously
offended by this they mutinied in
Assam
and buggered off to the heavy snow and street gunfighting of

Darjeeling
for a relaxing few days. The
Mendippers continued by taxi to Shillong to meet Brian K.D. and family and the
first wave of our cosmopolitan colleagues. Beer once again featured strongly in
the evening’s programme.

Jaintia Hills

After a day in the city sorting equipment and shopping we
all left for the Jaintia Hills on the 7th arriving at our superb bamboo camp in
the late afternoon. Here we were welcomed by the locals and camp staff and
settled in for a few more beers – around the campfire for a change.

With local guide-turned-caver Raplang some of us
investigated several new sites on Khloo Rasong, the NW side of the Shnongrim
ridge a couple of kilometres from camp, the primary aim being to gain access to
the Krem Um Im 5 section of Krem Liat Prah. Of these Krem Urle 1 (cave in the
mudslide area) was later to provide some painful caving in an essentially
flat-out, boulder and cobble floored stream passage entered via 100m of well
rigged and attractive pitches and becoming too narrow after 0.8kms. Only a
considerable amount of squeezing and digging enabled us to get this far.
Shelley’s fondest memory of the place was her unintentionally using a large
freshwater crab as a handhold! Two sections of large, dry fossil tunnel failed
to yield any easier overhead routes. The general direction of the cave was
towards the ever growing Krem Liat Prah system but a dye trace was not detected
due to the time scales involved and the logistics of getting observers to the
predicted connection points at the right time. This was to prove a problem with
several other attempted traces and future work should involve detectors which
could be collected and checked when convenient. Also, even in the wettest place
on Earth, there are times of low water flow and February is one of them.
Several other caves in this area looked promising but soon became choked or too
small.

Having failed to find an easy way into the extremely
promising

Ratbat
River
in the Krem Um Im 5 section of the
Liat Prah system we bit the bullet and returned to the horrors of the crawls,
boulder chokes and crab-infested streamway (Shnongrim Sewer) of this cave. The
long duck at the end of the Sewer had luckily dropped by a metre and Tony,
Jayne and I were soon in the unexplored

Ratbat
River

itself. Downstream was surveyed for 40m to a deep canal, later surveyed for
another 137m of swimming to a probable sump. Other members of the expedition
were to make some hard won advances in the stunning resurgence

cave of
Krem Wah Shikar
and they were also
stopped by a sump. The computer generated surface map, the “Big
Picture”, shows this to be heading towards

Ratbat
River

and divers may be needed next year to attempt the connection and hopefully add
Wah Shikar to Liat Prah to give a length of over 20kms.

Upstream

Ratbat
River
produced some fine
phreatic tunnels but after 300m and an awkward dig through boulders we were
stopped by a classic Shnongrim Ridge boulder choke – huge and impassable. What
we assume is the Krem Urle stream emerges from beneath but for us “cave
finish”.

This year there was an almost complete absence of bats as
opposed to the hundreds seen in 2004. Also absent were the “Lilliputian
monkey-coloured people” who Carlyn assured us frequent the cave entrances
in the Um Im area (or has there been a secret

Wessex
expedition?).

Other work in the Um Im area involved digging, pot-bashing,
re-surveying and recce. The re-survey of Krem Um Im 7 added 226m to Liat Prah
but other promising sites closed down. There is still a great deal to explore
in this heavily forested area but each year gets easier as the jungle is
cleared for cultivation.

With our first two big caves concluded work concentrated on
the amazing Krem Synrang Ngap, left fallow last year due to the pressure of
other discoveries. The traditional 100m of entrance pitches were again superbly
rigged by Mark and team and parties then set off through the downstream crawls
and ducks and a couple of kms of scrambling over huge calcite bosses to reach a
major junction. Downstream a huge boulder choke soon loomed up and a possible
way through was left for a thin men team next year. This may be beneath the
oppressive Krem Bir. Just back upstream from this a massive inlet tunnel became
the focus of attention for those not minding a cold 5m swim. With a rope and
life jacket installed we were soon harvesting the metres beyond. Brian M,
Gregory and I were continuing the survey on the 19th February when the
impressive draught dropped as we entered a smaller section of passage ending in
too tight rifts. On heading back Brian noticed a side passage with a severe
looking squeeze through hefty formations from whence the gale emerged. Being
the skinniest I got the job and was soon sprinting up 100m or so of very
attractive potholed galleries with cave pearl-like sandstone pebbles in the
floor that were identical to the local kids’ catapult pellets. This became
“Thin Man’s Inlet” and another, larger passage back downstream
“Fat Man’s Inlet”.

On the 23rd, after three days of “easy” surface
recce, a return was made to enlarge the squeeze and survey on upstream.
Quentin, Greg and I were the most anorexically designed for this operation and
were soon clocking up the metres again until a chest deep pool, twin 30m avens
and a complicated series of crawling passages temporarily held us up. Greg
finally hit the jackpot after crawling down the “Gravel Grovel” into
a magnificent stream passage stretching into the distance – the “Great
Straight”. We were ecstatic but confused as we were now obviously heading
downstream after having travelled upstream for several hundred metres!

Scooping 30m tape legs we marched enthusiastically onwards
to intersect a fine phreatic bore tube containing impressive columns and
curtains. This, in turn, broke into the side of an even larger passage which
immediately sumped to the right but continued to the left as a large canyon
with its higher level in the form of a wide fossil tunnel. We climbed up into
this for ease of surveying and Greg, leading with the tape, scrambled up a steep
mud slope into a black void above. Cries of astonishment from this normally
quiet Meghalayan caver spurred us on to ditch the survey and join him in the
huge, mud and sand dune floored chamber that continued to the left and ahead as
8m wide phreatic tunnels. The sound of a large stream emanated from the
distance so, with time running out, we rushed off for a look at the large
phreatic river passage crossing under the chamber from right to left and
heading for regions unknown. We assumed that we had reached the stream from
Krem Synrang Labbit and had actually left Krem Synrang Ngap to enter a
completely different drainage system. In recognition of Greg’s discovery the
huge void was named Meghalayan Adventurers’ Chamber. With a total of 455m
surveyed we were more than happy to stagger back to the surface which we
reached after a 9 1/2 hr trip – knackered but elated.

A couple of fruitless days were then spent trying to reach
the new extensions via undescended potholes in the jungle-covered pinnacle
karst above. This very difficult terrain was thoroughly scoured by Quentin and
Greg and three short but sweet vertical caves discovered, unfortunately all
closing down before breaking through into the “master cave” below.
Peter and I spent one day on this project then diverted to Krem Synrang Labbit
to put flourescein into the downstream river in the hope of proving the
connection.

A large “shit or bust” team” entered Krem
Synrang Ngap on the 27th February with Quentin, Greg and I being the thin men.
Mark, Brian M, (less anorexically challenged), Shelley, Lesley and Jo headed
for Fat Man’s Inlet in an attempt to bypass the squeeze. We followed the huge
M.A.Chamber to a conclusion at a mud choke above a steep, slippery and
hazardous mud “mountain” with large boulder chokes below from which
issued both the main stream and a healthy inlet stream with clearer water. This
was particularly noticeable as we were all convinced that the larger flow had a
distinct green tinge to it from the dye inserted in Krem Synrang Labbit the
previous day. A couple of ways on here need to be checked next year in the hope
of passing the upstream chokes. Downstream yet another huge boulder choke
curtailed our progress but again there are possible routes through it. Time had
run out for further pushing as it was now past 10pm. The sound of voices
heralded the arrival of the more rotund team whom we assumed had bypassed the
squeeze. We were suitably chastised when it was revealed that their inlet had
soon fizzled out and they had followed us through the tight bit after an hour
of hammer and chisel work – fair play to ’em. For one of the gentlemen (who
shall remain nameless but said “feck” a lot) disrobing to his
shreddies was necessary and had the secondary benefit of reducing the girlies
to hysterical laughter as he cursed his way through. They were suitably
impressed with the extensions so we left them brewing up and admiring the place
while we headed out to our beer supplies stashed in the cave entrance where we
intended to bivouac until morning. With tongues hanging out we sweated up the
100m of rope only to find that the local kids had snaffled most of the ale –
bastards. Luckily Greg had extra supplies and a couple of rum filled Coke
bottles were unearthed from the depths of tackle bags to quench our alcoholic
thirsts. A fire was lit outside and Greg cooked soup as the others gradually
emerged from the depths to the night sounds of the jungle. Honorary thin man
Brian M, relieved to have escaped from the jaws of the squeeze, produced a bottle
of Courvoisier and the mini-party got into full swing  before we retired for a few hours draughty
kip.



Fraser, Brian K.D. and Graham woke us at 10am and helped
sherpa the kit up to the road. We had been underground for 20 hours but had
another 800m in the bag after a classic Meghalayan caving trip. A resurvey trip
in another part of the cave later brought the total length of this sporting
system up to 4.17kms with plenty more to be found. A physical connection
upstream to Krem Synrang Labbit may not be easy but downstream is more promising with the sound of the river emanating
from beyond the choke. The probable resurgence for both this and the original
main stream is Krem Iawe, situated several kms to the WNW. Pushing trips will
require underground camping to be viable unless other ways in from the jungle
covered slopes of Khloo Krang south of the cave can be found. If Krem Krang Maw
and/or Krem Krang Wah are the feeders to Krem Synrang Labbit then the whole
system, if connections could be established, would be over 20km long. Time will
tell.

My last trip of the expedition was to the awesome system of
Krem Umthloo  – my “baby” – in
an attempt to smash up a hanging boulder preventing access to a 10m high inlet
which could be seen beyond. This lay at the end of International Schweinehund
Passage and not too far from the boulder choke entrance to the cave.
Unfortunately my colleagues, Quentin and Raplang, were not in the right frame
of mind which made for a frustrating outing. This was probably Raplang’s first
proper caving trip and he had to be restrained from carving OUT, with
accompanying arrows, every few metres. Quentin was pretty burnt out from three
weeks of extreme caving and decided to sit it out just before the dig site was
reached. Not having been able to scrounge any explosives I was armed with a
hefty hammer and set to on the rock which was calcited into the ceiling of a
low crawl. Suddenly the whole boulder dropped out with an earth shaking thud
which roused Quentin from his lethargy. I was just able to shift it enough to
squeeze past into the big stuff beyond and the others eventually followed.
Sod’s Law then decreed that this fine passage soon ended at a calcited aven
with an unpleasant crawl to one side which became too tight. It also became too
toxic after Quentin inadvertently set fire to the tape with his lamp! Raplang
was by now totally mind blown by the curious antics of the Ferengis and we, in
turn, were equally mind blown by the noise of what could only be described as
loud snoring emanating from a low duck at the base of the aven. The source of
this weird and somewhat disturbing phenomenon will have to wait another year to
be discovered but is doubtless related to siphoning water or an intermittent
draught. It just begged the name of Snoring Duck Aven.

Lots of other trips and projects took place during the three
weeks of field work. Mark pushed his own “hot tip”, Krem Wah Ser, to
discover one of the finest caves on the Ridge with 3.26kms of superbly
decorated passages entered via c.40m of pitches and with a resurgence exit. New
girls Jo and Lesley were very impressed with the cave but took some time to get
used to the monster spiders that seem to be even larger than normal in this
area. An upstream sump in this cave possibly connects with the 1.8km long Krem
Muid, itself being adjacent to the 13.5km+ of the Krem Umthloo system.

Robin’s dedicated recce. and exploration of totally obscure
sites led to the discovery of Krem Brisang and it’s connection with Krem Wah
Shikar, itself being greatly extended by Mark, Peter, Jo and Thomas after some
inventive and entertaining aid climbing to pass dodgy boulder chokes. Tom,
despite suffering bouts of illness, was keen to see his particular
“baby” develop to its current length of 2.56km and also sorted out
lots of survey and computer problems with typically calm Swiss efficiency. He
also tidied up question marks in Krem Liat Prah and aided by Peter, taught
Rainer to understand British caving eccentrics! This worked so well that Rainer
became an honorary one. On Tom’s return to Switzerland he slaved away over his
computer to produce two superb “Big Picture” area maps of the Ridge –
one with added landscape detail. The map appended is updated from these.

Georg, Rainer, Thilo, Christian, Herbert and Christine spent
a few days continuing with the long standing survey of one of

India
‘s most stunning cave systems,
Pielkhlieng – Sielkan Pouk, to bring it up to 10.3km with many more km left to
explore in the future. This one is the “baby” of Georg who is
convinced that it will be

India
‘s
(if not the Earth’s) longest and is already the best in the Multiverse.
Photographs of this cracking system would seem to prove him correct! They also
surveyed 580m in Saisi Dungkhur near Moolian village and reported the cave to be
ongoing.

In the temperance zone of Semmasi Krem Tyngheng was extended
from 3.75km to 5.32km by Simon, Greg, Tom, Julien, Tony B. and Jayne and many
leads remain for next year in this labyrinthine system.

Mainly assisted by Graham, Fraser once again spent lots of
time videoing the caves, coal mining operations and local colour. He also
sub-contracted to Pradeep and his Assamese team who were making a documentary
on Meghalayan caves and cave life. Dan, Christian and Julien also became
briefly involved in this as they were engaged in intensive speleobiological
research throughout their stay. Dan and Simon were also able to arrange a
future collaboration with several eminent professors from the Dept. of Zoology
at the

North
East
Hill
University
, Shillong.

Brian K.D. spent much time being interviewed by the press
and we were all captured on film or caught by the papperazzi (nasty) at some
point. The reason for all the press interest was the growing confrontation
between environmentalists, cavers and locals and the recently much more
mechanised cement industry which has begun to encroach on India’s current
longest cave, Krem Kot Sati / Umlawan, and other important karst / hydrological
areas including the Shnongrim Ridge.



West Khasi Hills

On Sunday 20th February the West Khasi Hills team eventually
left Shillong after a series of delays due to bureaucracy and arrived at the
riverside

village of
Ranikor
at 6pm. Next
day, with a bodyguard of three armed policemen, they drove on to Maheshkola,
encountering more delays at the Border Security Force post. A third day of
delays due to tyre punctures and having to repair road bridges before using
them finally saw them reach their destination – the Rong Dangi village school –
where the local kids were perfectly happy to get a surprise holiday in return
for accommodating the Ferengis. The caves of Panigundur and Mondil Kol were
connected by Simon, Georg and Julien after a survey of 242m and another 339m
added in the latter cave by Dr.B, Christian, Thilo, Herbert and Christine. The
23rd saw the team adding another 1.16km to the system. Videoing and biological
studies were also undertaken here.

Rong Dangi Rongkol was extended by 680m next day and
Morasora Kol by 431m. On the 25th the fine river sink of Gurmal Janggal Rongkol
was descended via a series of short, free-climbable pitches and connected to
the growing Mondil Kol master system.

Things took a turn for the worse the following day when a
failed rock belay followed both Jayne and the rope and sling she was using to
the floor 5m below, leaving the expedition doctor and a paucity of ladders at
the top of the pitch! More tackle was fetched and the injured one recovered and
carried piggy-back to the accommodation by the good doctor (who I gather was
glad she was a featherweight). After her last broken leg epic all were relieved
when a badly sprained ankle was diagnosed – though it unfortunately curtailed
her caving for the rest of the expedition. Despite this accident another 470m
was in the bag and more biological work was done by the scientists.

Morasora Kol was added to the system on the 27th and over
400m surveyed. Next day Morasora Bridge Pot joined in the fun with 248m of
passage, an excuse to do a photographic through trip by Christine, Herbert and
Thilo and a good reason to re-name the whole 5.8km system the

Morasora
River
Cave
.

Finale

To sum up: yet another enjoyable and successful expedition
with great company, food, beer and superb sporting caving. Despite initially
poor weather – gales, fog, wind, heavy rain and low temperatures – and a couple
of earthquakes – everyone enjoyed themselves and contributed towards piecing
together the fascinating undergound jigsaw puzzles of various bits of
Meghalaya. Our thanks to Brian K.D. and the Meghalayan Adventurers, the Ladies
of Shillong and all the helpers and locals who helped make it work so well. The
overall surveyed length in all the areas visited this year was just over 19km.
Not bad considering the nature of the new stuff under the Ridge and the travel
logistics to reach other areas. We were unable this year to visit the
“vulture cave halfway up a 1000m cliff” or the “cave with clouds
in” due to insurgency problems but there’s always next year. Probably more
important this year was the interaction with the locals, press, scientists and
environmentalists – hopefully just in time to preserve some of the planet’s
finest caving areas from destruction. Apart from the above major caves many
smaller sites were explored and surveyed and scores of new entrances visited in
both areas so there is no fear of these marvellous expeditions winding up in
the foreseeable future!

As an aside, and an example of the Indian sense of humour,
Dr. B. informs me that the painted advice “Use Dipper at Night”,
often seen on the back of lorries, has been collared by the National Aids
Control Organisation for their new condom – the “Dipper”. Likewise
another popular slogan – “Horn Please”. They should sell like hot
cakes!





 



 

The Last Word

Compiled by J’Rat and
Wig

The

Mendip
Cave

Bibliography and Newspaper Catalogue
. [DJI] Publication of the 2nd edition, by the Mendip Cave Registry, of this
compilation by your temporary Editor [Dave Irwin] will be at Hidden Earth to be
held this year at Churchill. The whole work is in two volumes, 517pp and 1.1
million words and includes all articles, books, papers, manuscripts known to me
from 883 AD to 2005 – which approaches some 25,000 references to caves in the
Mendip region.  It is divided into three
main sections. The first covers Cave Sites; the second Cave Topics
[archaeology, hydrology etc.] and the third being the writers’ catalogue of
newspaper reports since 1797.  Available
at about £25 in hard copy only.

Anyone wanting details of published information relating any
particular cave site are advised look in this work first. For example there are
nearly 1,300 references to Swildon’s Hole; 232 items for Goatchurch Cavern, 429
for Eastwater Cavern and 540 for St. Cuthbert’s Swallet.

It is eventually hoped to publish the bibliography together
with the cave registers on a web page and in CD format.

10 Years in the
Making !
[DJI] Another
Hollywood spectacle
?  ‘fraid not.  It’s the latest edition of the Council of
Southern Caving Clubs Handbook and Access Guide, February 2005. The first for
ten years.  Still, it serves a very
useful purpose for it not only details the multitude of access arrangements in
the area but it contains notes on the organisations and accommodation on Mendip
as well as a host of other useful snippets. The 36pp booklet, edited by Dave
Cooke, is widely available for £2.  Those
not regularly in the Mendip area can obtain a copy through ‘Cookie’, 3 Starrs
Close, Axbridge,

Somerset
.
BS26 2BZ or Bat Products for £2 + 50p p&p.

Wookey Hole.
[DJI]  CDG divers have recently dived the
terminal Sump 25.  A serious undertaking
at any time but the extension found a little above the bottom of the flooded
passage at -70m has been pushed and Rick Stanton and John Volanthen have
reached a phenomenal depth of -90m.  Work
at this level makes the dive a really serious undertaking.  Best of luck to them and their ‘sherpas’ on
their next trip which is planned in the near future.

Two old stalwarts
[DJI] have returned to the fold and are enthusiastically resurveying

Ludwell
Cave
with Fiona Crozier.  They claim boulder movement in the submerged
chamber has occurred during the past thirty years.  Pete Eckford and Ken James have found a
‘second wind’ as well as other names from the past, John Noble and Phil
Coles.  Welcome to all.

Hunters’ Lodge Inn
Sink
. [ARJ]  Alex Livingston, on a
solo visit, noted that all water levels are still too high for work to
recommence and that the boulder blocking Slop 1 definitely needs banging.

Gibbet’s Brow Shaft.
[ARJ]  ‘Butch’ and his Shepton team are
still digging this mineshaft in the hope of entering Lamb Leer Cavern.  The main shaft has reached a solid bottom at
around -17m but they are following a natural side passage with the chemical
assistance of MadPhil.

White Pit.  [DJI] Tony Jarratt reports that the air in
the cave has a dangerously high level of CO2.

Templeton Pot.
[ARJ]  The latest from Tuska’s team is
that they are now down about 35m and still going in the hope of beating the
divers to the glory which must await below!

 

© 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.