Committee Members

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

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

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

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

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

Ave Cavers!

Welcome to a packed issue of the BB.

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

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

Although some do slip by, namely:

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

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

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

Yer Ed.

Look out! It’s…. The Committee

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

Hon Secretary                           Nigel Taylor
Treasurer                                   Mike
Caving Secretary                      Toby
Tacklemaster                            Bob Smith
Hut Warden                               Jane
Hut Engineer                             Henry
Dawson (see below)
Editor                                          Nick
Membership Secretary            Henry Bennett
Floating                                      Fiona

Non-committee posts:

Librarian                                    MadPhil Rowsell
Hon. Auditor                             Chris
Club Archivist                           Sue Dukes

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

Tribute to "Alfie" – Stanley John Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Membership News

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

Meghalaya – International Expeditions From a First Timer’s Perspective

by Henry Dawson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Hutton Update: New Pit Opened…then closed again

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

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

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

Your Flexible Friend … the Ladder

by the late Dave Irwin,
in his memory

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

John Beaumont [c.1650 – 1731]

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 18th and 19th centuries

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile in Britain …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noon’s Hole in the north of Ireland

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

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

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

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

A Novel Design

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

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

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

…and on Mendip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rope ladders in the 20th century

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘Electron’ Ladder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colour coding of ropes and ladders

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

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

Dave Irwin, Priddy. December, 2003


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

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

News from the Belfry

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

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

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

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

Ravens Well

A Collectors Evening Trip With Jeff Price

By Mike Wilson.

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

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

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

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

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


My thanks to Jeff for showing me this interesting little


Forest of Dean Meet May 2007

By Emma Porter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 4 May 2007

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

Saturday 5 May 2007

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

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

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

Sunday 6 May 2007

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

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

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

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

Monday 7 May 2007

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you in the Forest in 2009!

Emma Porter

Martian Caves

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

            “The bars
are crap though

no atmosphere”  JRat

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

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

By Tony Jarratt

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

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

Continued from BB 528. Photos by Sean Howe.

Further Digging 20/5/07 – 27/10/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

To be continued in BB 530.

Vale:  Mervyn Hannam

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

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

At his funeral the following Eulogy was delived:

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

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

Some special meetings come to mind.

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

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

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

Tony Sett

Rose Cottage Cave – Despondency Sets In

By Tony Jarratt

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

                                                                   Kate Fox, Watching the English.

Continued from BBs 522-528.

Further Digging 28/5/07 – 26/9/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continued in BB 530.

Rose Cottage Cave – Plan B dig abandoned

By Henry Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down and Out in Paris

By Faye Litherland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Poetry Corner


Picture a shed on the edge of the Mendips

with lunatic cavers and a dig by the side.

Suddenly someone builds an extension,

with loads of help from mates who abide.

Colourful timbers of varying sizes a wonderful construction
to see.

brickie and labourers beavering away,

plus Dany the chippie and me.

I wonder how long it will take to finish,

so we feel the benefits me and you

Visualise the fun, we can have in it!!

our colourful psychedelic room with a view.

Full of suggestions the committee pondered,

on how to make use of this space.

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

calm and ambient chill out place!!!!

Kaleidoscope murals covering the walls,

with white rugs and cushions on the floor.

Using feng shui for the total space,

thereby ensuring an ambient décor.

Imagine the setting as you lounge on your cushions!

Coolly moonbathing in this heavenly womb.

all the decisions that no one will make,

in the BEC psychedelic room.

Viva the committee.


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




1.          Tony Bamber

2.         Cambell

3.         Dizzie (nee

4.         Alfie

5.         Frank Seward

6.         Johnny

7.         Betty

            8.         ?

9.         Possibly
Eddie Cole

10.        Jack
Brown11. Don Coase

12.        Looks like
Pete Stewart       But is probably not

13.        Freda

14.        Can’t tell,
face obscured

Many thanks to Tony Sett for identifications.

Memories of Mendip in the Forties

I happily slept on the hay in the barn,

with Postle and Don and the rest.

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

were far from our cleanest and best.

For we went down the caves that ran under our feet

and many a squeeze came my way;

with old carbide lamps and thick ladders of rope,

whilst the darkness chased terror away.

There were chimneys we climbed; there were boulders we

and the streams that ran swift after rain.

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

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

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

with a windscreen that folded down flat.

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

There were many who envied us that.

While the others had motorbikes, battered and old,

but lovingly tended with care,

for petrol was scarce, and money was short,

but somehow we always got there.

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

where Alfie played tunes that we knew.

And there we heard tell of one “Eskimo Nell”

as we drank our host’s excellent brew.

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

or crowd in our Lea Francis car.

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

and be grateful it wasn’t too far.

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

and a hut was soon bought for a song.

To start with we slept on the old wooden floor

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

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

and places to dry out wet clothes.

I haven’t been caving for twenty-odd years

and I won’t go again, I suppose.

But Alfie plays host to us “oldies” each year

at a Dinner, both happy and sad,

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

and talk of the Good Times we had.

Dizzie Tompsett-Clark        21 February 2001


Our Message to Wig

Hello Dave aka Wig

it’s all your pals down here

we’ve trogged down to Cerberus Hall

to serenade you, friend dear

There is no need to say

how sad is this time

but all of us remember you

in your youthful prime.

Full of energy, wit,

and a character to boot

always a warm welcome

and sound advice to suit.

The Cerberus Chamber is yours

for just as long as you want,

like the long shadows of Priddy

and all the trees we plant.

Sadly missed is a phrase

that always sounds quite trite

so we will all raise our glasses

to a great mate goodnight.

vaya con dios Dave

Everything to Excess.

Mike Wilson


We all Likes Bloodywell Caving

When I were a youngster I were good as can be

With me nine to five job and home for me tea

Till a devil with horns and a beer gut or three

Took me caving, bloodywell caving

Caving, caving just you and I

Caving, caving when we are dry

Some does it open and some on the sly

But we all likes bloodywell caving

He said it’s a doddle, a countryside stroll

And I took it for gospel till we entered Cow Hole

I think he mistook me for some kind of mole

Going caving, bloody well caving

Then I did Goatchurch, all covered in mud

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

Manor Farm was the place where I first spilled me blood

Going caving, bloodywell caving

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

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

Cos the entrance shaft surely could do with a winch

Going caving, bloodywell caving

Now Otter is fine if you’re watching the tide

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

You get sodden and wrinkled and do it with pride

Gong caving, bloodywell caving

But the best time of day is when caving is done

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

It’s then we tell weegies that caving is fun

Going caving, bloodywell caving


The Shaves Of The Mendip Hills

Ed makes some surprising discoveries about caves and beards.


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

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

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

In his diary of 1756 he wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Python’s Life of Brian       

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

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

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

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

Long may they grow.  

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

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

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

Tony Jarratt

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

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

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

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

Keys and leaders

By Toby Maddocks

A plea from your Caving Sec…

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

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

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

Have completed a minimum of 15 trips with current leaders

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

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

If you would like to know more then please email me on   Happy caving!!


Another  Cave  Theme Beer  Label  and Associated  Ephemera

By Tony Jarratt

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

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

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

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

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


Vale Mark Jones

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

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

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

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

Donations to the MRO please.

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


Dave “Wig” Irwin’s Plaque Unveiling.

By Martin Grass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Irwin, in memoriam


The unveiling of the plaque

By Sue Dukes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sue Dukes

Wig’s Book Auction

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

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

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

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

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

The Statistics of the Post Auction Stomp

By Ian “Slug” Gregory.

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

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

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

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

I think We Did.

BEC T-Shirt Design Competition

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

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

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

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

Henry Bennett

Letter to the Club

By Martin Grass.and Stuart McManus

Dear Committee,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to hearing from you.

Everything to excess,


Martin Grass & Stuart McManus.

22nd November 2007.

Hollow Hills

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

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

Yer Ed.  


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