The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Nr. Wells, Som.  Telephone: Wells 72126.

The views expressed by contributors to the Belfry Bulletin, including those of club officers, are not necessarily the views of the committee of the Bristol Exploration Club or the Editor, unless so stated.  The Editor cannot guarantee that the accuracy of information contained in the contributed matter, as it cannot normally be checked in the time at his disposal.

The Odd Note



REVISED LENGTH OF LANCASTER SYSTEM – about 30 miles.  The grapevine says that SWCC is re-surveying OFD as fast as they can to add the odd couple of miles in an attempt to retain the No.1 status.

Pete Moody and Alison Hooper are digging in both Swildon’s Pirate Chamber and Shatter Chamber


MID-SUMMER BUFFET 23rd June, Saturday at 7.30 at the Hunters in the side room.  Buffet food, cost about £2.50 (limited to 70). Tickets from 

Martin Bishop
The Batch,

Telephone Priddy 370

The only other wholly club event during the year other than the annual dinner on the 1st Saturday next October.



Banwell Bone and Stalactite Caves are closed until further notice until the Axbridge Caving Group have been able to repair the doors to the caves.  Permission has been obtained from the new landowner enabling cavers to visit these historic caves - on Sunday as well.  You’ll remember that the previous owner had a thing about his Sunday.  Before the Axbridge members were able to get to the caves, a lock has been placed on the Bone Cave door by the Dundry Caving Group without leaving any address for people to contact them.  This was done apparently without the knowledge of the landowner. From the grapevine it would appear that the Dundry group is an off shoot of the South Bristol Speleos and, so they are cavers who should know better.

Jonahs Travels.  Wig recently received a letter from our old friend Jonah - who has sent his sub for the next five years - hint(!).  Apart from requesting a key to the Belfry which he has tried to get for the last twenty years or so, he writes to say that he would like one so that he doesn’t have to chase around the Priddy area to get a key just for a bit of cooking.  He says, “Had a week in Clare mid-Jan.  Much too cold to do anything.   Did the 420 miles to Stranraer non-stop on the motorbike and froze to death.  Spent most of my time in O’Connor’s at Doolin between walks…."  Not bad for a young 74 year old!  Keep it up Jonah.

Cheshire: Alderney Edge Mines.  Access details:

West Mine - P. Sorensen, White Barn Farm, White Barn Road, Alderney Edge.  All parties must be led by key holders.

Wood Mine - controlled by Derbyshire C.C.  Contact Nigel Dibben (address in Nov. '78 BB)

Engine Vein Mine and all other mines: National Trust, Mr. G. Noel, National Trust Office, Attingham Hall, Attingham Park, Shrewsbury.

Mexico: New American depth record (-870m).  No pitches 13km long descending down the dip, following the side of the mountain.

The latest volume of Current Titles in Speleology 1978 (International) is out.  254 pages, covering over 4,000 references to articles published in 1978 culled from about 300 caving jounals and books from all areas of the world.  There is a feast for those interested in equipment and techniques (260 entries). A copy is in the club library. For those who want a copy for their library will cost you £4.00 from Tony Oldham.

Spanish cave in world depth league.  GESM Abyss reaches ‘terminal’ lake at -1074m.

Austrian reaction to 'foreigners.'  In a recent issue of the Salzburg area Magazine one of the editors writes at length on the Foreign Problem. These cavers are finding the Austrians best caves in new areas and suggest a permit-cum-quota system as used in the Himalayas.

Wig received a Xmas Card from Helmut Planer in which he wrote that his club have explored and surveyed 4-5km of ‘newlands’.  Die Schonste Hohle is a wet cave with formations and some 2.2km long.  And later, they explored in the Hocklecken-Grosshohle to a depth of about 1,000metres!!



If you have not paid by the time the next BB is issued YOU won’t get one.



Joint member £3.00

Under 18’s £1.50

Send your subs to:         Sue Tucker, Hon. Treas.,

                                    75 Lower Whitelands, Tynings, Radstock, Avon

So it’s up to you – pay up and keep your membership to the liveliest club on Mendip.


Cavers Bookshelf No.2

Caves Of South Wales

By Tim Stratford

Published by Cordee,

Leicester, 1978.  92 pp

Photos, maps.  £2.75

Reviewed by Graham Wilton-Jones

This new publication is similar in size to the recent spate of caver’s guides stitched and bound in cloth cover like Mendip Underground.  It is always easy to criticise something so I will note the points in favour first.  It is about time someone brought out a new guide to the caves of Wales, and the author is to be praised for making the effort.  As fate would have it (according to rumour) Caves of Wales and the Marches, Edition No.3 is in preparation and Caves of South Wales may have been turned out in rather a hurry, as will; be seen.

In the 90 or so pages, South Wales has been divided into nine distinct regions, more logically than C. W.M.  The layout of information on each cave is excellent name, grade, grid reference and maps, length and depth, location, access, description, tackle and history. The writing on each region is preceded by an area map, most of which could show a little more detail.  Caves of over 200ft. are described in detail together with a few similar, but important sites, while the majority of caves of less than 200ft. length are simply listed with map references at the end of the appropriate section.  Small surveys would have been useful with some of the larger systems, but there are none. The author has generally adhered to the idea of a main route through the cave and side passage descriptions are brief and in italics.  For bibliographical reasons the history is important (not merely for interest) but this is usually too brief.  There are insufficient bibliographical references, e.g., there is no reference of the UBSS publication on Little Neath River Cave.  Information on surveys is scant, e.g. the BCRA Aggie survey is the one noted as containing a survey for Daren Cilau and the much better SMCC one is not mentioned.  Access notes are not always given despite, on p.7 'remember that the land always belongs to someone'.  Wig was irritated that for LNRC says 'Wet  suit essential.'  Though not irritated, I must agree.  Wet suits are not tackle and rarely essential.

What of my guess that the guide has been turned out in a hurry?  Some of the info is already out of date, some by several months, some by years. Rock and Fountain goes no further than the 3rd choke, passed in summer ’78.  Turkey sump bypass in Aggie is not mentioned.  Ogof Pen Eryr was extended in summer ’78, another fact omitted.  There is no reference to the Paul and Barnabas extension in Tunnel cave.

The length of description relates in no way either to cave complexity or passage length.  Rock and Fountain (6,400m+) has no more description than Bridge cave (311m).  The Ogof Cynnes (915m) description is very detailed as far as the main chamber (150m) while five more lines deal with the rest of this complex system.  The totally inadequate description of Summertime in Aggie suggest that the author has never been there.

A precedent is set with the description of the entirely submerged caves of the Hepste area and yet there is no description of the New World Series in LNRC – just '8,000ft of sumps and passage'.  Another precedent is set with the inclusion of Carregwylan Cave; this is a sea cave in the Ordovician volcanics.  Similar long caves are exceedingly numerous in the contorted belts of Pembrokeshire coastal and island cliffs.  Surely it is a case of all or nothing?

A detailed description of the complexities of OFD are wisely avoided, but at the same time many important parts of the system are omitted.  The section on Dan-yr-Ogof has a brief reference to the Mazeways and Dali’s Delight and yet these are perhaps the most significant areas of the whole cave, being the key to the elusive DYO 4.

The 100m long Cathedral Cave on Caldy is not described, nor the very significant 200m of Sink-y-Giedd.  Ogof Coel-y-Ffyrnau (70m) is missing altogether, along with Ogof Craig Ddu, Ogofd Cwmafon and probably several more.

However, he has made a guide book and a very useful one at that.  Hopefully the 2nd Edition will follow close on the heels of the first (I am sure that the 1st Edition will sell out rapidly) and will show that the author has found more time to do the job properly, and has paid attention to the inevitable barrage of comments and criticisms that such a guide book heralds.

If you are a collector of cave books then obviously you will buy this one.  If you want a cave guide for the area, perhaps your will wait for the rumoured Caves of Wales and the Marches to appear before you make a decision.  Me?  I shall usual do as usual.  Pinch someone else’s copy!

Cavers Bookshelf No.3

Descent NO. 40


Price 50p.  43pp.,

Photos, surveys, etc

Size A4.  Pub. By

Mendip Publishing

Reviewed by ‘Wig’

At last the long overdue issue of 'Descent' makes its appearance to a mixed reception on the Hill.

As a magazine its contents are excellent except for the fact that they are at least six months old (Los Tayos expedition report is nearly three years old!)  If the Editor, Bruce Bedford, had been able to get it out when he promised as a September/October 1978 issue he would have been on top of the news.  The contents include Los Tayos, mentioned above, in itself a superb article, notes and sketch surveys of two recent Northern discoveries - King pot and Vespers Pot and the usual round up of news from the U.K. and abroad.  Also, three of our own members have material published or are mentioned in the text (G. W-J: Dachstein, Wig: Trat’s Obituary and Tim Large reported as 'stuffing the NCA!')  However, having complained about the news content perhaps it is worth mentioning that some 75% of British cavers are not member's of established clubs linked closely to the 'national grapevine' and so the contents will be NEWS to them.  Anyway, if Bruce would get his digit out and produce Descent every two months then most of his news content will be news to many of the regulars of the caving regions.

The important improvement by increasing the size from the old imperial sixmo to A4 is great to say the least, better page layouts results and somehow makes the adverts seen less obtrusive.  With competition being offered by BCRA’s 'Caves and Caving' and 'Caving International', the presentation is equal to any professionally produced magazine at a price that will certainly hurt no-one.  (BCRA’s Caves and Caving costs 50p for effectively a 'home-type' offset magazine that simply is not in the same league and the new Canadian produced Caving International with its colour cover and internal photographs at between £1.00 and £1.50 depending on your source seems very expensive.

I for one, am eagerly waiting to the March/April issue (probably it will make its appearance as Jan/Feb 1980) with its news up to date.  If this is achieved and Descent appears regularly every two months then it can only be a winner to the point that it might put club and international organisation’s own publications out of business!


The Banwell Caves

New information has been found regarding the opening up of the caves at Banwell which changes the importance of the roles played by a number of people at the time….

An introduction by ‘Wig’

This month we are able to publish an important addition to Speleohistory by Marie Clarke on the opening up of Banwell Stalactite and Bone Caves.  To put the reader in the picture, I’ve put together a number of relevant extracts from John Rutter's 'The Delineations of North Somerset' published in 1829 to set the scene for Marie's paper together Rutter’s account of the Sandford Hill 'Gulf'.

During the past decade, Marie Clarke and Chris Richards have done sterling work by unearthing information that has led to the re-opening of two of Mendip's lost caves.  Their successes were the rediscovery of Bleadon Cavern and Hutton Cavern.  Now the discovery of a letter from Dr. David Williams, Rector of Bleadon and Kingston Seymour has upset the general knowledge of the opening of these important sites.  The extracts from Rutter that follows have been used by many Mendip authors; Gough (Mines of Mendip); Balch (Swallet Caves of Mendip etc.); Knight (Seaboard of Mendip) etc.

Rutter writes, “The Hill in which the caves exist, contains ochre, calamine and lead….which were obtained from the mines in considerable quantities.  A tradition was prevalent amongst them (the miners, Ed.) that about 30 years since, an immense cavern had been discovered in the north-west extremity of the hill; the entrance to which being difficult, it excited no further attention. (Ed. note Catcott records the discovery of this cave as being 1768, not about 1800 as implied by Rutter).  But when the discoveries of Professor Buckland opened a new era for research, a respectable farmer named Beard, who lives at Wint Hill…… remembered hearing of this cavern when a child, and happening to meet with John Webb the miner, who now lives at the Bishop’s Cottage (Ed. note – now the house called The Caves) was directed to the supposed entrance, which Webb and another miner, named Colman (Ed. note- other sources spell his name Coleman) commenced clearing out.  After re-sinking the shaft to the depth of about 100ft, they came to the entrance, or first landing place of the cave, where they found two pieces of candles, evidently left there by the original explorers….The cave thus re-discovered is the one distinguished as the Stalactite Cave; and from its description by the modern discoverers; attached the attention of Dr. Randolph, the vicar of Banwell; who, conjointly with the Bishop of Bath and Wells, resolved to improve access to it, for the convenience of visitors from Weston and other adjacent parts, whose donations on viewing it, might increase the funds of a charity school, just then opened at Banwell.

A horizontal opening was accordingly made lower down the western point of the hill, where a fissure about eight inches wide was observed in the rook, running in the direction of the cave.  The workmen followed this fissure, until it gradually became wider, but filled up with a loose mass of stones and earth.  About twenty feet from the surface of the rock, unconnected with that which they desired to approach, the fissure expanded into a small cavern, being of mush less extent, though ultimately proving of far greater interest than the larger one.  (Ed. note – this was the discovery of Bone cave)…

This unexpected discovery of the smaller cavern, now became the subject of attentive research and curiosity.  The Bishop of Bath and Wells, proprietor of the ground, and Dr. Randolph, together with some other gentlemen, set foot on a subscription for exploring its organic contents, and their exertion's were most zealously aided by Mr. Beard, by whose unremitting attention, the bones were secured as they came into view, and preserved for future examination.

In proceeding from the cottage to examine the caves visitors usually place themselves under the guidance of Mr. William Beard, who evidently appreciates the scientific and interesting characteristics of the scenes of which he was in some measure, the discoverer

It is worth noting that there are references, describing Beard and Professor Beard - this was conferred upon him by the Bishop because of his 'zeal and enthusiasm' and in 1825 presented, him with a silver embossed tankard, having the following inscription.


Finally; a word about the Gulf or Gulph.  Rutter writes:

The mouth of the largest, which the miners call ‘The Gulf’, lies, they say, 80 fathoms, or 480 feet below the plane of Sandford Hill; they also affirm, that they have let down a man, with a line 240 feet deep, without his being to discover top, sides or bottom. Miners, like other men, are very superstitious and wonder working, when they cannot fathom….There is another extensive cave further to the westward, in this hill, near which, the skeleton of an elephant was found, in 1770, four fathoms deep, amongst loose rubble.

So, having these extracts………..

West Mendip Worthies

By Marie Clarke

It was an advertisement in the Weston Mercury announcing the sale by auction of the property known as ‘The Caves’ Knightcott, Banwell, on July 25th 1978 which prompted the writer to narrate its absorbing history.  The residence, described by the auctioneers as a country mansion with coach house, clock tower and two caves, among other embellishments, has alas, become sadly depilated and immediately brings to mind the former glory that vanished many a summer ago.  Only a small part of this mansion has been occupied, whilst the remainder was shut off and left to fall into decay.  The surrounding grounds, once well tended shrubberies and winding paths are now a tangled wilderness hiding ruinous summer houses and a tower, whose top finally disappeared in December 1976.

It is sad to have to record the downfall of Bishop Law’s paradise, and as late as the 1840’s he intended to make further ‘splendid alteration’ and envisaged many house parties yet to come.  It was here that numerous horse drawn carriages shed their fashionable occupants and elite of the day.  All this has faded away – houses live and die.

But beneath the mansion lie the two caves and it is here that the story begins, indeed, if it we’re not for the Stalactite and Bone Caves, this house would never have come into being at all.  Having followed the history of the house and caves, for they are inseparable, its distinguished occupant, George Henry Law, Bishop of Bath and Wells for whom this house was built, we now turn our attention to three other gentlemen, all of considerable importance and all playing a major part in this story.  Dr. Francis Randolph, Canon of Bristol and Vicar of Banwell, the Rev. David Williams, of Bleadon and Kingston Seymour, also a fellow of the Geological society, Mr. William Beard, one time farmer and guide to the caves, each now laid in his narrow cell, but all notable personages in the 19th century.

It was in 1808 that Dr. Randolph became vicar of Banwell, he had his connections with the Hanoverian Court, being chaplain to the Duke of York, son of George III.  At about this time he resided in Germany, apparently teaching English to the Princess Royal of Prussia, who later became the Duchess of York.  It was due to the influence of the Duke of York that Dr. Randolph was appointed Canon of Bristol, he then became Vicar of Banwell.  His association with the court lasted for forty years; however, this relationship was not altogether a cordial affair.

In April 1795, the Prince of Wales, who later became George IV, married Caroline of Brunswick, and in August of that year Canon Randolph was given some letters by the Princess to deliver to Brunswick. Unable to undertake the journey, the letters were returned by coach to Brighton, where the Princess was in residence.  Unfortunately, these letters were mislaid on the way and their contents revealed with undesirable results.  At the time it was rumoured that Dr. Randolph parted with the letters having been promised a Bishopric, but if that were so he never became a bishop.  It is possible that this occurrence was the outcome of a sermon which roused eager interest in its day.

It will be seen that Canon Randolph was much more than an inspiring speaker being concerned as he was with the controversial matters of the period.  He published a pamphlet urging the abolition of the slave trade; Bristol being one of the main centres he has ample opportunity to investigate this.  Another pamphlet he published advocated the redemption of the National Debt which has risen alarmingly during the French Wars.

When he became vicar of Banwell, the church was in desperate need of repair – to make it even safe; and decorations to give it a more pleasing appearance.  The semi-circular railing round the altar from the formidable spikes running round the top would have been more suitable for the fence of a garden or courtyard.

Rev. Francis Randolph, in 1812, “gave £100 towards the repair of the church, and was at great expense in removing the painted glass from the windows of the church, and placing it (with a large quantity of other painted glass purchased at his own expense) in the arches of the altar screen.”  It was from 1812 onwards that £2,000 was spent in effecting repairs to the church.  It is considered that the present church was built by Bishop Thomas de Beckington (1443-1465) from his Arms, appearing in a painted glass window that existed in the north aisle before the renovation work started in 1812.  The Bishop’s Place, too, at Banwell is thought to have been built for that Prelate, for occasional residence and was situated to the east of the church.  George Bennett, an early 19th century solicitor and antiquarian of Banwell, onetime churchwarden, remembered seeing in the east window of the north aisle, a pained glass, the Arms of Bishop Beckington.  Mr Bennett wrote (c.1825) “I well recollect the last mentioned glass in the East Window of the North Aisle, but sorry I am to say that in all probability it is now lost, as I do not find it among the glass preserved in the Scree.”

The village school was founded by Dr. Randolph with the generous support of Dr. Beadon, Bishop of Bath and Wells, who died on April 21st 1824 before its completion, and it was left to his successor, Dr. George Henry law to open the school on August 1st 1824 and so became its first patron.

The funds for this school were raised as follows: - Dr. Beadon (the late Bishop) gave the ground on which the building stands, also timber to the value of £50; the National society in London for Promoting Education amongst the Poor, £100; the Rev. Dr. Randolph, Vicar of the Parish, £150; The Rev. C. Whatley, Curate, £20; George Emery Esq., Churchwarden, £20; Charles Emery Esq., £10; George Bennett Esq., £5 – in all £355.  The care and management of this institution was for the present placed with the Vicar, Curate and Churchwardens, together with other inhabitants of the parish and to be maintained by voluntary subscriptions.  Funds were urgently needed, and Dr. Randolph conceived the idea that if the legendary cave under Banwell Hill could be rediscovered, it could be re-opened as a show place.  Weston-super-Mare was rapidly expanding from a fishing village to a fashionable resort; the cave would be a profitable attraction for visitor, whose donations could be expended on the charity school.

It was Dr. Randolph who contacted two miners to clear out an old shaft that led to the lost cave beneath Banwell Hill.  Thus it was that the Deep or Stalactite Cave was rediscovered in April 1824.

Dr. Randolph and Bishop Law decided that if access to the Stalactite Cave was improved this would further encourage visitors.  It with this in mind and the assistance of two miners, Coleman and Webb that their labours were amply rewarded by the accidental discovery of yet another cavern.  This cave, although of smaller dimensions was bar far the more important, containing as it did, immense quantities of bones distributed throughout the ochreous rubble almost to the roof of the chamber.  This event occurred in September 1824 and the cave was given the descriptive title of the Bone House.  This cave, with similar later discoveries was destined to become famous.

It is not known exactly how and when William Beard, farmer of Wint Hill, Banwell, became involved in the activities of the miners, Coleman and Webb.  But by now he had taken more than a casual interest in the undertaking by securing all the bones as soon as they saw the light of day.  He yclept house, Bone Cottage, which no doubt accurately described it.  Geological specimens and cave formations decorated the garden wall, while others peered through the undergrowth like gnomes in hiding.  Trophies were seized and large collections of antiquities were the order of the day.  Below ground Beard's activities appear to have been confined to that of guide to the Bone and Stalactite Caves, there is no proof that he set foot underground in any other capacity.  He was responsible for the visitor’s book and donations on behalf of the bishop. “Gentlemen and Ladies, I have to inform you that I rec’d a  letter bearing date 22nd of June 1826 – from Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells wherein he request that all money that I have and receive of visitors who see the caves and to be expended in exploring and improving the same.”

The land on which Banwell Caves were discovered belonged to the See of Bath and Wells. Bishop Law soon obtained this land where the caves were situated and in May 1827 work began on the Bishop’s Cottage, which, though at first was intended for visitors became in the course of time, with lavish embellishments, his own residence.  The age of folly and grotto had arrived with Druidical Circle, trilithon erected upon tumulus, ornamental arch and summer house.  While the grounds were ‘tastefully laid out’ with lawns, walks and terraces; the woods were mainly planted in 1825 and the tower soared towards heaven between 1835-40.  The Bishop resided intermittently at the cottage from 1832 onwards.

The Bishop’s Circle was at times yclept “The Caves”, where there is a window lighting the staircase: “Argent, on a fess azure between in chief three buck’s heads caboshed gulea and in base as many pheons sable a mitre with labels expaned or, for Thomas Beckington, Bishop of bath and wells, 1443-65.  The buck’s heads have been done in yellow stain.  The shield is supported by angels.  Fifteen century.  The glass was brought to the house by George Henry Law, Bishop of Bath and Wells, 1824-25.” This explains the disappearance of the glass form the church where George Bennett searched for it in vain. In 1825, Dr. Randolph had erected a summer house within Banwell Camp, but this was removed and re-erected on Banwell Hill on the estate of the Bishop.  An appropriate inscription, in Latin, being placed above the doorway in memory of Dr, Randolph who had died in 1831.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Weston was a fishing village where the cottages were constructed of timber from shipwrecks.  There were few track ways, but the coach road was at Cross.  The postman rode a donkey and put in a weekly appearance to deliver and collect letters; while the watercress grew in a ditch in the main street. Smuggling was rife and the local witch lived in a cottage with tree branches growing through the roof; Worley Hill was then treeless.  The route across the sand tots was the only way of reaching Weston from the south, when the tide was out and the traveller was directed by a signpost almost buried in accumulated sand.  When the tide was in, travellers waited at the Half Way House where the Royal Hospital now stands.  For the benefit of strangers, a finger post was erected amidst the sandy regions of Weston to direct the traveller.   This was useful information when not submerged!

It was about this time that the first batch of invalids arrived in Weston, having being sent by a Bath medical man.  This event launches Weston as a health resort and fashionable watering place.

Upon this scene rode the Rev. David Williams who was Rector of Bleadon and Kingston Seymour and from his abode in the Mendip Hills his scientific researches began.  Williams explored the caves of Uphill and Hutton (where his initials are just inside the entrance) and investigated many fissures in the Bleadon and Hutton areas.  He also took an interest in Sandford Hill and Goatchurch Cavern and was one of the earliest visitors to the Banwell Caves.  It was Williams who surveyed the Bone and Stalactite Caves and those at Hutton and Uphill, and there is a reference, years later, to his ‘old brown handkerchief’.  These surveys were later engraved by William Barnes, the Dorset poet, for inclusion in Rutter’s Delineations of N.W. Somerset. Williams referred to these surveys as his cave ‘sketches’.  Of the pre-historic relics he un-earthed together with his geological investigations he wrote many important scientific papers and was elected Fellow of the Geological Society in 1828.  He collected material for a comprehensive work over a number of years which consisted of the geology of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.  These manuscripts were later purchased by the S.A.N.H. Society for publication, unfortunately this never materialised.

Davis Williams frequently travelled to Weston, on horseback, meeting friends at a curious greengrocers in the High Street, perhaps then known as The Street, for it is uncertain when it became ‘High’.  These premises were known by the fanciful name of ‘Gentleman’s Club’, being the haunt of the local intellectuals.

In a London magazine an absorbing account of a visit to the geologist is described:  “We remember to have made a pilgrimage to Bleadon with a distinguished member of the British association.  We found the retreat of science encumbered within and without, with the imperishable exuviae of the ransacked hills.  Not a table, a chair or a sofa without its antediluvian occupant.  The very lawn and the approaches to the house strewn with fossil remains such as few museums can boast.  In the midst of a large room so densely tenanted sat the geologist, as on a narrow isthmus between the labours of the past and the triumphs of the future; like Marius amidst the ruins of Carthage, or (if you will) like a half-tide rock in a mountain sea.  He told us that we saw only his inferior specimens that the best were already in London in the engraver’s hands.  He was actually engaged in transcribing ‘fair’ the last sheets of the work to which we have alluded.  It was in gazing wistfully on the sharp grey outline of the Mendips, that he had first yearned to pierce the hidden secrets of the hills.  On parting from him, our friend exclaimed that is was good to talk with so clear a spirit, so un-hackneyed a nature.  There is a science in earnest!  With all the simplicity inseparable form the sincere and strong!  What an honour to the country!  But the world knows nothing of its greatest men!”

After 1829, Williams and Beard seemed, to have pursued different courses, but before this event Beard must have gained considerable knowledge from Williams.

Being a geologist, Williams horizons widened, which resulted in a geological study of the southwest counties.  These manuscript notebooks are in Taunton Castle Library but some of his notebooks are missing.  These most likely contained the earlier years of his explorations on Mendip.  His son, who in later years, was to become the Rev. Wadham Pigott Williams, found fossil bones at Bleadon Quarry.

From Beard's disordered manuscript book, with its confused dates, we learn that he began work on Bleadon Hill in January 1883, which resulted in the discovery of Bleadon Cavern.

“15th January 1883.  Paid JnO Heal of Shipham for Dialing the second cavern at Hutton….5/-“

and later that year, Williams explored this same cavern.  Beard’s latest discovery was on Sandford Hill in 1838.

In 1829, John Rutter of Shaftsbury, published the Delineations of N.W. Somerset.  This work undoubtedly involved many visits and considerable correspondence, and so here is included a copy of a letter written by David Williams to John Rutter.

Bleadon January 4th 1829


As our progress on Hutton Hill daily increases in interest, from the abundance and variety of the organic remains we discover, I shall be happy to forward to you a paper on these figures to the topographical work you are about to publish.  I have been required to do it by some very influential men in the neighbourhood but I wish to know from you first whether it will suit your wishes – if it should I shall defer publishing my account of them ‘til you come out.  Be kind enough to let me know when you require the Paper(s).  We have specimens of all sizes and varieties from the Elephant to the mouse.  I hope you will give the “quantum merit” of the discovery of Banwell Caves where it is due.  I regret to say, tho’ he assumes the merit, Professor Beard had nothing to do with it.  Dr. Randolph, wishing to ascertain the truth of a rumour that such a cave existed, offered two men a pound to clear out the shaft that led to it.  The men worked a week or ten days without success - it was abandoned - subsequently Coleman (who now works on Hutton Hill) and another, thinking the minerals might repay them, continued clearing out the chimney and ultimately came to the large Cavern, or the “ Deep Cave” as it is called.  This is the simple truth – I am sure our Professor has too much respect for his really high reputation to wish to sully by purloining what belongs to another.  I have lately obtained other evidence from Uphill Cave authenticating its history.  I hope before you publish, I shall be able to give you some account of an immense Cave on Sandford Hill, which has never been explored, near which an Elephant was found in 1770.  The mouth of it is said by the miners to be 80 fathoms below the plane of the Hill, and they have let down a man upwards of 300ft from its verge, without coming to the floor, nor could he see any sides or termination to it - they call it the Gulph.  They deal in the marvellous, I know, and I am determined to find out this mare's egg.  When you see Mr. Patterson, I will thank you to give him my best assurances.

                                                            I am Sir

Doctor Williams

Attention is immediately drawn to the fact that it was Mr. Randolph who paid £1 to two miners (Coleman and Webb (?)) to dig out the shaft to the Stalactite Cave.  Beard had nothing to do with it.  It should also be borne in mind that Dr. Randolph’s sole intentions on opening this cave were to admit the public, and in doing so raise funds for the charity school. The ultimate finding of the Bone Cave was accidental and profitable, and hence forth it appears that Beard and the Bishop took charge.  When George Bennett visited the Stalactite Cave in February 1825 he understood that “money is intended to be applied for the purpose of purchasing cloathing for the use of the second poor of the Parish and I know not a better purpose to which it could be appropriated.” However. Beard was instructed otherwise, and it is not known whether any money was contributed to the charity school. Also from this letter we have the first intimation of the finding of the Gulph on Sandford Hill.

This enlightening letter of Williams must have caused Rutter much consternation, as he and already committed the dedication of his book to Bishop Law, having placed the Bishop beyond any shadow, if only on account of his exalted position.  It could be argued that more credit should have been given to Dr. Randolph.  So it was Dr.Randolph was deprived of a notable place in the history of the discovery of Banwell Caves, while Beard was congratulated and dubbed ‘Professor’.  Law’s letter regarding the channelling of funds speaks for itself; he at least did not seem perturbed by the temperature of hell!

Dr.' Randolph's disappointment must have been great; and it is remarkable that Williams' letter should, have, survived for 150 years, containing the true           facts.


Baker, E. E. History of Weston-super-Mare (various publications):

Beard, W. MSS

Bennett, G. MSS

Brown's New Guide, Sed. Ed. 1854.

Robbins & Scotney's New Handbook to W.s.M. & the Neighbourhood.1865

Rutter, J. Delineations of N.W. Somerset.  1829

Taylor, C.S. Banwell Parish Magazines.   Oct & Nov.  1970

Williams, D. Typescript copy of letter in Woodspring Museum

Woodforde, C. Stained Glass in Somerset.  1946

Marie Clarke,

Banwell, Feb. 1979


Will members and guests staying at the Belfry please make sure that the Belfry is locked and all lights switched off before leaving at the end of their stay.

Members will realise that it is impossible to lock the Belfry during the weekend and so they will make sure that any valuables left lying around is done at their own risk.  The hut warden has requested that members lock any valuable item in their cars or better still, don’t bring them.  The building cannot be ‘policed’ and so to prevent ‘undesirables’ entering when everyone is out at the pub or underground.

Sue Tucker is currently clearing up the backlog of subscription receipts and should be in the post in the next few weeks.  There is a shortage of membership cards and a new supply will be available as soon as Tony Corrigan gets them printed.

The editor apologises for the late publication of the April B.B. – his greenhouse has taken priority and so members have had their April B.B. combined with the may issue.


A Trip

Stu Lindsey has been grazing in pastures north; trips to Kingsdale and now the first report on Mendip of the new discovery connecting Pippikin with the great Lancaster Cave System…….

After the Friday, past midnight, excursion into valley Entrance to retrieve tackle left in Swinsto Great Aven, it was a sorry looking bunch that assembled at Bull Farm later that day. Fortunately this was not to be another trip into County Pot (see March BB) where; contrary to the Ed's comments was STRAW CHAMBER and not Easter Grotto (my apologies - Ed).

Finding the Red Rose Cottage locked (all had gone caving) the awesome task of pulling on a soaking wetsuit in ankle deep mud was executed in deathly silence, faces contorted with the harsh realty of cold clammy neoprene against warm flesh!  With a clear blue sky over our heads we bounded off toward the Beck, passing the unimpressive opening that leads to a superb 110ft free hanging pitch of Lancaster Hole.  Putting up a few grouse we soon reached our goal, an entrance on the far side of the beck, now a dry, dull rock littered river bed.  The entrance shaft we were going down was a tight (8-10" wide, 10ft long, 50ft deep) finely fluted rift, 8ft above the beck; and is the key which has opened the door to Britain’s longest cave system…. yes, this tight slot I was so snugly fitted in was Link Pot.

Steeping from the ladder I found myself in a box section passage same 20ft square and 100ft long. After a little time our ‘leader’ became unwell, and so with another not too fit member of the party returned to the surface to join yet another non participant with and ailing zip!  By this time Martin W. (YSS) and myself had moved from a sea of mud floored phreatic half tuber into a walking passage containing some fabulous ‘old’ looking formations.  At the first I went to the right and found myself in Night Shift Chamber (30ft x 30ft x 15ft) sloping down to the left and the way on to 1½ miles of Link Pot.  Backtracking I soon rejoined M.W. who was a little reluctant to press on and find Pippikin Pot’s hall of Ten.

From here on we rarely got off our hands and knees, a couple of rifts did give some respite from the knee grating sand and gravel mixture.  The passages, low phreatic developments were adorned throughout with straws etc.  After a few hundred feet we came to a Stu L. special …..9” high, 9ft long and 2ft wide duck containing 4” of cold muddy water……UGH!  This was followed by a squeeeeeeeze in boulders and we were in a cross rift.  There appeared to ways on to the right and left but we squeeecezed our way down through more boulders, still flat out crawling, less gravel in the passage. Passing a muddy pool (2nd one) my feet disappeared under the wall when I dipped it in.  I managed to get my leg in up to the knee but M.W.’s shouts sent me off up the passage to investigate, it began to look tighter, starting to trend upwards…..there was a chamber (30ft x 15ft x 7ft high) my eyes were transfixed, there before was a single crystal column, white and glistening, 2ft high and 3” in diameter, in contrasting attendance were glistening various stals and straws – grubby ones!  The way on proved to be through the stal’s bedding plane at the top of the chamber, which we passed through with great care because of the straws and stal.   The way on suddenly reduced to a 2ft square tunnel, no problem here with sand and gravel….the flat out crawl was in mud, filthy, gluey, dirty, suckerous, choclaty, spongenous gloop – 6” of the nasty stuff.  Our progress for the next one hundred feet was liberally splattered with expletives, some unheard before! – then we turned back for more of the slithering and ‘sluddering’.  Time was against us but we were only 20ft short of the Pippikin System.

At the sump, Stu L. with his digging hoe, rescued from the mud, began damming the obvious feeder stream and hacking hell out of the floor.  He called it a day after enlarging it to accept his ample ‘bum’! (At this point there are two streams merging.  One from the Squeeze Rift with a fair flow of water.)   Braking the dam did not increase the depth of the pool to any great extent, drainage there being, or appearing quite 'free'.  Further examination showed the water from the rift to be flowing along under the wall and with phreatic development, in general, doing as it pleases, one day this sump might go.

We regained the entrance chamber and crossed the stream to get to the ladder.    Stream, one from the left and one from the right? – they were not there earlier, were they?  The excitement of the trip to ‘pip’ must have caused us to miss them on the way in, so up I climbed, no bother – surprise, surprise, but my eyes peeped over the lip to see the beck in the throes of a ‘pulse flood’ yet the sky was blue; the sun was low across the moors and the shadows were lengthening, we were going home, but I’m going back, back to find that water down in the depths of Link Pot.



Tim’s Retreat - an ochre mine at West Horrington

OR - EMI Electrocutes SRT caver….

The following report by the B.B. regular – Graham W-J – describes the exploration of a newly discovered mine near West Horrington.  It also puts the BEC well ahead in the digger’s barrel competition with the WXXXXX….

We heard about this mine from Prew, as it was discovered by his son.  It had been looked at by Albert Francis and Tim Large but large quantities of ginging had fallen, making the entrance shaft even less safe than previously. Some of Albert’s new climbing rope was destroyed by the falling boulders and Tim beat a hasty retreat from the shaft when it attempted to bury him with stones.  With that any ideas of exploring the mine were abandoned and forgotten. However, some of us are stupid enough to believe that the odd boulder on the head is incapable of sever harm. Besides, Prew IS the MRO, so he could rescue us.  There was no reason or excuse not to descend.

It was decided to use single rope technique largely because with this method it is possible to move extremely slowly and carefully and thereby avoid touching the ginging. Martin Grass obviously did not like this idea.  He therefore cunningly left his key with me saying he would follow us over to Horrington. Thus he was unable to get his SRT gear and could not make the descent.  And he had the audacity to blame me!

The mine is situated on the south-eastern edge of Horrington Hill, amongst cow-trampled mud and unkempt coppice.  Best bluewater was belayed to a couple of dead looking, shallow rooted bushes. Just in case these should make us over-confident we laid a piece of angle bar (meccano?) over the shaft and hung the rope over this, causing it to bend in a slightly disconcerting way.  By tensioning the rope to another bush we managed to get hanging plumb down the centre of the shaft.  Tim had made the mistake of hanging his rope on the edge of the shaft.  Descending gently John reached the bottom at -17m without incident, leaving me no excuse.

Avoiding touching the sides was fairly awkward in the confined shaft (less than 1m in diameter) and we both caught beards in racks at the same point, trying to look behind us. Below the ginging, which looked as it a puff of air might bring it tumbling, it became clear that the mine was worked in an orchreous filled rift.  While the width of the shaft diminished to about 30 or 40cm at one point, its other horizontal dimension increased to over 3m.  The soft mud at the extremities of the rift showed many pick marks, while the solid rock walls were cut with occasional shot-holes.

John has hidden himself from falling bodies and boulders in a low, narrow passage which headed roughly east.  Crawling by several animal skeletons he came to the end of the working after 20m. Across the rift from this passage and slightly higher was another working, both wider and higher, but ending after 16m. I climbed a short drop over ginging at the base of the shaft and entered a third working, heading roughly north-west. After 14m there was another shaft, but the top was blocked with large boulders.  Old, black, rotting stemples could be seen across the shaft, which seemed to be about 10m deep.  Lacking rope, ladder or a means to remove the boulders we surfaced into the chill evening air.  We were led back to Prew's via some devious route through the brambles.  The rigours of the day were compensated by one of Brenda's superb Sunday teas.

Week 2.  My turn to back out of the trip, but if I’m not going then nor is anyone else. "Isn't it cold”; I don’t fancy walking over there in the rain”; In front of the fire, cat burring its tail; “That rain looks its turning to snow"; "Look, that's sleet on the windows”; Prew began to assist, "Temperature's dropping.  This is just what happened before, and the village was cut off for three days:" They eventually succumbed.

Week 3 - John's turn, "I've left my boots behind". Unfortunately for him, Martin drove him back for them.  20m of bluewater was fed down the shaft while the remaining 50m was wrapped and knotted, macramé-like, around several bushes.  As John descended, first again, the multitudes of knots began to tighten, juddering him down the shaft.  We were soon gathered at the head of the second pitch, also with an acro-jack, ladders, hauling rope, hammer, chisel, etc.  John tried to break up break up the boulders blocking the top of the pitch, and these fell to the bottom, taking with them several stemples.  We descended to find the boulders blocking the way on. John and I swapped places and we de-rigged and lowered the acro.  With its help or hindrance, John moved the boulders aside and squeezed head first into the hole, only to find the horizontal continuation closed down after 1 metre.  After we had carefully retrieved the acro and fixed the ladder once more John decided o free climb out.  Typical.

On the surface Prew arrived with half of Mendip plus a new communication device.  While we surveyed the mine he lowered his device down the hole. We could hear Prew reasonably clearly, but when I pressed our transmit button it gave me an electric shock. Prew apologised and informed us that it operated on 110 volts!  “Perhaps you have wet feet,” He suggested.

Martin is of the opinion that the miners were after ochre.  The mine has been worked in a yellow mud-filled rift trending wnw/ese. Some of the rock at the sides of the rift, mostly limestone, is very soft and contains patches of a red mineral, presumably haematite, or red-ochre.  Above the second pitch a narrow band of calcite could be seen running along the line of the rift.  There are several other spoil heaps on this southern side of Horrington Hill, evidence that this area has been well worked at some time in the past.  However, we know of no records of mining activity here.

A survey of Horrington Hill Mine – Tim’s retreat

NGR  ST 44/45 – 5775.4775       an ochre mine, West Horrington, Nr. Wells, Somerset.


Length of the mine is about 250ft.

Surveyed by John Dukes, Martin Grass and Graham Wilton-Jones.

BCRA Grade 3   Scale 1:200


The Annual Report of M.R.O. Activities

by the Hon. Sec. Jim Hanwell…..           

Rescuers were called to just one incident underground during the year.  As the log accompanying this report shows, the decade enters its final year averaging less than a callout every month.  Hardly one in six calls prove to be potentially serious on Mendip according to this record.

On the surface, however, MRO preparations have been undiminished whilst even elsewhere in the country offer clear portents of the next decade.  Firstly, we look back to review the effectiveness of the former and, secondly, glimpse beyond to preview what holds for the future.

At the beginning of the year, Chris Batstone and Nigel Taylor became Hut Wardens whilst Dr. Tim Lyons joined the team of Medical Wardens.  Soon afterwards, however, Dr. Chris Hulbert had to resign on moving to another part of the country.  In April, we were pleased to entertain Police Officers from the Mendip Division of Avon and Somerset Constabulary for a film kindly loaned by the Cave Rescue Organisation in Yorkshire.  This successful occasion was arranged by Alan Thomas.  During the summer, Dr. Oliver Lloyd checked our cache of rescue sear near Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, on his annual visit to Ireland.  Mid-October saw what was probably the largest gathering ever of MRO Wardens underground to assist the Avon Branch of the Red Cross on their yearly field exercise. Our part in the 'disaster' was to treat and rescue several victims from the Boulder Chamber in Goatchurch.  Since the third casualty was whisked out in half the time it took to move the first one, we must presume that practise pays. David Mager’s purpose designed stretcher showed up well during the exercise.  As much more equipment is acquired, we are grateful to the Bristol Exploration Club for allowing modifications to the Belfry Store.

With the help from local cavers familiar with the old freestone mines in Wiltshire, Dave Irwin prepared annotated maps of all the systems known.  Copies deposited with the police there should help considerably in the event of future searches and rescues in these complex workings.  On Mendip, we were pleased to be of some assistance to our climbing cousins in their founding of a cliff rescue team for Cheddar Gorge and local crags.  It should be noted that MRO's involvement is to handle the call-out of this team to avoid the likely confusion that the alternative of a dual emergency system would bring in the Cheddar area with all its caves and climbs.  It is encouraging that climbers have followed the local caver's tradition of helping themselves in the best manner suited to their sport.

Our glimpse into the future came as a revelation on attending the inaugural meeting of the South West England Rescue Association at Honiton, Devon, last October. The Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall addressed the various rescue bodies represented including the RAF, Coastguards, Mountain and Mine Rescue Teams.  What emerged was the need fur a common approach whilst maintaining the expertise and autonomy of each specialist unit with local knowledge.  There are good technical reasons for this trend which we will have to consider carefully…..

J.D. Hanwell
Wookey Hole
10th February 1979

At the 31st January 1979 the Accumulated Funds of MRO stood at £364….

Now follows the incident report ending at the 31st of January 1979…..

As we move into the last year of the seventies, it is worth reviewing, the since the beginning of the decade as follows:












Serious accidents











Minor incidents











General alerts






















Thus, during the last year we have topped over one hundred call-outs since 1970.  The following log based upon the reports received by the Wardens involved brings us up to date with the details of each call-out.

Sunday 5th March 1978.  Swildon’s Hole

Brian Prewer received a call from the police at Frome, ten minutes after midnight.  A Mr. Cooper from Bristol had raised the alarm from Priddy Green about two friends still in the cave!  All three had entered the cave about 5 pm the previous day for a trip to Swildon’s Four.  Cooper had intended going via the streamway to rendezvous with his friends in Four, however, he had turned back on reaching Sump Three and had lost contact with the others.  Whilst Prewer was in conversation with Cooper over the phone, the overdue pair arrived. They had lost the way on the return journey and had been delayed!

Thursday 14th and Friday 15th September 1978.  Wells in Glastonbury.

Fred Davies, Brian Prewer, Martin bishop, Rich Test and Jim Hanwell assisted the police in a search of old wells in and around Glastonbury for a body reported missing.  They were joined by Chris Bradshaw and Bruce Bedford on the second day.  Nothing was found and the search was called off by the police when no positive clues could be found.

Sunday 17th September 1978.  Reads Cavern.

Tim Large received a call from the police at Wells at 2.55pm.  A Mr. R.S. Liddiard from Shipham had informed them of a party of Scouts overdue from Read’s Cavern, Browne-Stewart Series.  The troop had gone down the cave at 10.30am led by Chris Liddiard aged 19, the others being Steve Mansfield (17), Pete Cornish (13), John Benson (13) and Gavin Munnery.  All lived in the Shipham area.

A strong party comprising Tim Large, Chris Batstone, Martin Bishop, Nigel Taylor, Tony Jarrett, Stewart McManus, T. Hughes and J. Crick went from the Belfry to conduct a search of the cave.  Richard Gough remained at the Belfry phone and dave Irwin stood by at Priddy in case others were needed.  The search party was joined by Rich Websell, Pete Moody and Alison Hooper at Burringtion. Nigel Taylor and 6 others went underground at 3.30pm and soon made contact with the scouts.  Apparently, they had lost their way and lights on returning through the boulders in the Brown-Stewart Series.  Their shouts had been heard by another party who had been unable to direct them out of their predicament other than to surface and warn MRO. Nor did they use the call-out procedure posted outside the entrance!

The lost party was brought out of the cave by 5.30pm and every one stood down.  This was the only occasion during the year that MRO had to go underground on a rescue call!

Sunday 1st October 1978.  Mangle Hole.

A call was received by Brian Prewer at 8.00pm from Chris Bradshaw who had heard that a party was overdue, probably from Mangle Hole but not definitely so.  Bradshaw offered to go and look for the car belonging to the cavers concerned and to report back.  Meanwhile, Prewer notified the police that the search was being made. Soon afterwards, he received a call that the party had been found.

Monday 2nd October 1978.  Lamb Leer.

Frome police contacted Brian Prewer at 4.40pm with information that a Mr. Rolands reported a party of seven from the Royal Army Pay Corps overdue from Lamb Leer.  He had expected them thirty minutes earlier! Whilst explaining that this was not unusual to Rolands over the phone, Prewer was told that the party had emerged.

Saturday 9th December 1978

Wells police alerted Brian Prewer at 7.30pm that a Mrs. Baggott in Bristol had informed them of a party overdue from Swildons as she had expected one of them to phone her at 6.00pm.  Prewer contacted Alan Thomas at Priddy to check for cars on the Green.  At 8.00pm the informant rang to say she had heard form the cavers concerned.

Sunday 31st December 1978. Evacuation of snowbound party at Charterhouse.

A party of six 9 - 11 year old Red Cross Cadet Girls with two adult instructors was reported as trapped by heavy Snows in the Venture Hut at the head of Velvet Bottom Valley.  The children had been holidaying in the area from Sussex but not caving and did not Mendip.  Their leader, Mr. P. Avery of Burgess Hill, Sussex, had alerted the Police at Weston-s-Mare that they had food and heating for another day. The Police requested MRO to assist in evacuating the party since severe blizzards were forecasted.  Brian Prewer received the call at 10.40pm and alerted the cavers at the Belfry.  Whilst a party would set out for the hostel on foot from Priddy, it was understood that climbers form the Cheddar Gorge Rescue Team were approaching Charterhouse from Burrington with a police Land Rover.

Nigel Taylor assembled a party comprising Chris Batstone, Alan Thomas, Jo Dukes, D. Bradshaw and Jess Carson, a medical student for the ‘overland’ journey.  With radioed permission from Somerset County Council, Taylor requested a snow plough which got to the Castle of Comfort before deep snow drifts prevented further progress. The rest of the journey was made on foot across the fields and the party reached the stranded cadets at 2.30pm. The Burrington rescuers arrived twenty minutes later having left the Land Rover only a mile away at Paywell Farm.  Taylor decided that all should make for the Land Rover as the children were in good spirits.  This was accomplished successfully by 3.40pm and the Red Cross party was driven to Weston-s-Mare for the night.

The Belfry party reached Priddy at 6.45pm ready for New Year’s Eve Festivities.

J.D. Hanwell,
Hon. Secretary & Treasurer
50 Wells Road
Wookey Hole
Wells, BA5 1DN
10th February 1979.


Equipment Notes

Introducing an occasional series of articles discussing various items of new equipment currently appearing on the caving market…

By ‘ Cam’

There is still silence from Jumar’s to give a date when we may expect their ascenders to re-appear. They are produced to what amounts a ‘cottage industry’, but last year were forced to re-build a large proportion of their ageing equipment.  While they were doing this it was proposed that they would do a re-design to produce a ‘super-Jumar’.  Last information was, however, that they were having second thoughts on the lines ‘we have a good product – why change it?’

They may have to think yet again with the introduction in this country of the American CMI (Colorado Mountain Industries) 5000 Ascender.  This is very much Jumar shape, but has an extruded and. machined, rather than a cast body.  There are double anchor points at the bottom for karabiner attachment, the safety catch is designed for ease of use wearing gloves and is hard wearing, impregnated nylon material.  The cam safety catch and return spring is removable for cleaning or replacement. Points of criticism seem to be the lack or a moulded handle, and the circlip fixing of the cam pin which seems a little flimsy.  They should retail cheaper in caving shops than climbing shops, but are around £30.00 a pair at the time of writing (March 1979).

Also now arriving in quantity from U.S.A. are spring-loaded Gibbs Rope walkers.  The standard Gibbs has been discontinued and they are now all fitted with quick release pins.  The old model (QR) is now the standard, and the sprung model is the same but with the body punched to form a lip on which the body is held back.  Both models can surprisingly be purchased at the same price, about £10 each.

Clam products of Littletown, Yorkshire, are preparing to market an ascender-descender system based on wire rather than ropes.  Details will remain secret until their patent comes through!

Another patented device soon to enter the scene is the Lewis descender.  This is a self braking device, with a ‘dead-man’s’ handle built onto the side.  It can be used on a single or double ropes, but is similarly to a certain well known Mendip ‘Buggery Box’ leads one to think that perhaps Glyn Bolt, of Goldlock fame may have one or two words to say about this patent!  The breaking bar itself is also reminiscent of the Petzl shunt.

Petzl are also said to be experimenting with a self-braker, but no details are known.  Bridon’s Kevlar cored ‘Viking Super Speleo’ rope is now commercially available.  The theory is that the Kelvar fibre, which is very strong and has negligible stretch, will provide a rigid SRT rope, but in the event of a fall it will break and the shock absorbed by the double nylon outer sheaths.  However, the core is said to have the strength of 1000kg, which will give the person on the end of the rope a nasty jolt!  That, together with the very dubious flexing quality of ‘Kelvar’ makes one hope that Andy Eaves, who helped design the rope really does know more bout it than most.  Cost, about £24 per hundred feet.  A thought worth bearing in mind is that a manufacturer of rope using nylon to construct a drive belt for a machine.  The nylon lasted (on average) 1000 hours.  They thought Kelvar would solve their problems, but a belt of this material lasted only three minutes!


Aygill Caverns

By Martin Grass           

Although a little late here’s another Yorkshire trip reported by our Caving secretary….

On our way to the annual BEC Lake District trip this February, Graham Wilton-Jones and I decided to make a detour via the Yorkshire Dales and take a look at the lessee visited caves of Casterton area.  The night before the trip was spent at Fred’s (Valley Caving club) at Padiham, and the following morning an early start was made for the dales after pinching some of Fred’s tethers which are closely guarded by a giant man-eating white rabbit!

The drive was uneventful until we reached Bull Pot Farm road which was only half cleared of snow but, with the help of some university bods the car finally reached the farm.

Once changed we made our way to the pot, not an easy feet as the moor was two feet deep in soft snow and the Wygill stream was completely buried.  All that was visible at the entrance was a small hole about two feet across with a large cornice hanging dubiously above it.  Sliding down a snow slope a small chamber is entered, full (at the time) of small, stumpy, ice stalagmites – these were found up to one hundred feet from the entrance.  From the chamber a small mainly, crawling passage leads to a second chamber and the first pitch.  This is only fifteen feet deep and not thirty as stated ion Northern Caves.  The belay point is a large boulder back in the chamber, and the take-off for the pitch is somewhat awkward.

The obvious way on from the bottom of the ladder soon chokes and the route to the lower streamway is through boulders in the floor of the passage.  A downward squeeze and cascade leads to the top of the second pitch, thirty feet deep.  The belay is a large eyehole at the head of the drop.  The ladder lands in a large stream with fine cascades leading upstream which quickly ends in a choke.

Downstream the water tumbles down some good cascades and flows into a flat-out bedding plane – this can be by-passed by a dry muddy oxbow to the right of the passage. Rejoining the stream can now be followed down to the terminal sump and the Pre-Cambrian Series.  But if the dry oxbow is kept to crawling it ends in a small stal chamber.  Keeping left out of the chamber leads one to the base of a large boulder slope, at the top of which is Curtain Chamber with a good but dry, large curtain.  At the foot of the slope a stream can be seen to sink amongst the boulders but is followed upstream to a low wet crawl beneath cemented boulders and a larger streamway giving way to the New Year Series. A tight wet crawl for about ten feet followed by a tight vertical squeeze between blocks enters the large New Year Cavern.

From here on we had the impression this part of the cave was seldom visited.  More hands and knees crawling inn the stream, past some fine straws and stal leads to a large stream passage again with some good stal and a couple of notable avens to a boulder collapse.  The stream can be followed beneath the boulders and about fifty feet further on the water disappears into an impassable choke, but the passage can be followed over mud and boulders until it reaches the roof.

If this blockage could be past, the large stream passage (which obviously continues beyond) would eventually lead to the Barbondale caves and add another link to the Three Counties System.  An uneventful trip out was made and a quick dash back to Padiham for food and to see the Keld Head film on the box, before we drove on to Langdale to meet the rest of the crew.


Early Observations on the Cheddar Catchment at Charterhouse

By Chris Richards

The Western Mendip experts have excelled themselves this month.  First Marie Clarke with her paper on the Banwell Caves and now Chris Richards presents the following paper which asks possibly more questions than it seeks to answer….         

During the eighteenth century, the Noachian Deluge was regarded as an event of utmost significance in the geological history of the Earth.  Features ranging in scale from continents and ocean basins, down to some minutise of the landscape such as tors and sink-healers were all claimed as part of the diluvial legacy.  The Rev. Alexander Catcot (1725 – 1779) – a Bristol born geologist and devine – sought to uphold the Deluge Theory in his well established classic “A Treatise on the Deluge” (first published in 1761) by reference to his own detailed geological observations made in the field.  Catcott visited the Mendip Hills many times during the 1750’s and 1760’s and in his “Diaries of tours….” left us a view of an area so little described previous to the nineteenth century and which subsequent to Catcott’s writings saw great changes during the realisation of the Enclosure Acts which started to affect Mendip during the close of the eighteenth centre, and during the gradual transition form a mining to an agricultural economy.

For some time I have been studying Catcott's accounts of Western Mendip and attempting (with varying degrees of success) to locate caves, mines and other topographical miscellanea described by Catcott.  In view of the great amount of work, scientific and other, which, particularly in the last two decades, has been carried out in the Charterhouse Swallets, I have not been able to resist with holding Catcotts observations on the natural drainage of that same area even though I have not carried out a detailed analysis of the relevant material, nor of the actual ground (which close study it well deserves).  In presenting the extracts from Catcotts' writings I have tended to treat them as pure topographical description well aware of the fact that they provide a window (so to speak) on the eighteenth century comprehension of topography, a stand point more or less avoided in this, article.

Both of the extracts presented below, with the minimum of editing, are from Catcotts “Diaries of tours made in England and Wales” (MSS) preserved at the Central Reference Library, Bristol.  The first is dated the 2nd April 1756.

"Took a view of Blackdown Hill situated about 1 and ½ mile from Mr Gore’s house, and the country beneath.  This hill is the last and highest on the western side of Mendip, in length about 5 or 6 mile, reaching from the beginning of  ____(2)____Brook Combe, (which has a spring at its head, about a mile from Mr. Gore's house) to Crook's point, which terminates Mendip to the west (3).  This Hill is situated about 4 miles from the Severn or British Channel, and I believe in perpendicular height may be near a mile above the water. On the top of this hill, at different places, is very moist ground, being the ousing of Springs (10).  About a mile from the beginning at Brook Combe (which points eastwards) to the west on Crook’s Point there is a standing pool on the very summit of the hill, 20yds long, 10 broad, and bout ½ foot deep, but the ground very moist all around it and the bottom of the pool so…… tracing the moistish part of which…… I found several little gusts unite into one spring about 300yds down the hill, which meets another about 200yds further; and here begins a small Combe (thro’ which the stream runs pretty fast) which extends about ½ mile further, & there is not deeper than 5yds & about 8 over; and here it is ended by a Swallet (or Swallow as called in the north) which terminates the Comb & receive the spring into it, which never appear again, but passes down thro' the bowels of the Earth, as the water did at deluge, after it had made this Swallet to receive it self, (4).  This Swallet is about half a mile's distant from the top of Blackdown Hill; & is 40yds over and 14 deep (5); & near to it are four lesser Swallets, each about 4yds deep and 6 broad; to which annexed in another lesser comb, coming in line as far from the Hill, & so little…torn by the waters that, in their descent, made these lesser Swallets; as the other comb tending in front of the hill to the larger Swallet.  About 100yds further on, another, very regular Swallet, (6) of an oblong form: 20yds deep: its length at top 30yd 30yds over & breadth 20: its length at bottom 12yds & breadth 7.  It lies oblong, pointing South, as from the hill, with a sudden descent downwards at its entrance & at the farther side it is quite perpendicular; as the waters rushed against this side, & were stopped in its passage directly forwards, & so entered the hole or cavity at the bottom of the Swallet; the mouth of which is now covered over with large loose stones, which were either brought from the Hill or part of the Cavity which was torn to make the Swallet: & as these stones are plainly worn & somewhat rounded & are covered over thick with moss, & turned quite black, they shew, they are of long standing.  The Strata here lies in a position inclined with the hill, ? towards the South, and this way the length of the Swallet is (as having been torn by the water sucking from the Hill) so that the Strata lay this way, & the horizontal fissures directly opposite to the course of the stream, in all probability that waters made their way thro’ a horizontal fissure to the Abyss beneath; had it been a perpendicular fissure it can scarcely have been so broad as it is, we’d have been torn more in length: & narrower (in) breadth; in the manner the….or veins, then they come day, appear on Mendip.  There are hereabouts the appearance of 2 or 3 more Swallets, &  when the ground was dug for Calamin, they found it very cavernous, & many Swallets underground, which were not visible above, being covered & stopped by time or accident (7).  The ground where these Swallets are is about 7 or 8 acrea, & is called Pit-Close; is situated in the middle of a large flat space, about 7 miles in circumference, first at the foot of the declivity of Blackdown Hill, & reaches to Cheddar Cliffs: and the reason why this space or ground was flat & level & not at all torn with combs (which occur in places all about) was doubtlessly the free passage that the water, in descending, found thro’ these Swallets.  The stones in Pit-Close abound with entrochi, (8) & sometimes the shells of this creature are found here, & the branches many and united: & a curious kind of Honey-comb Coral. (7)”


1.                  Where was Mr. Gore's house?  The Gore family were once important landowners, and as this date (1756) land at Charterhouse was held by a Mr. Gore at whose home Catcott stayed for a few days on his Charterhouse visit. (Gough, 1930, pp89 – 90).

2.                  Catcott evidently expected this brook to possess a name & under this conviction left the blank for later inclusion of a name.  To which brook does Catcott refer?

3.                  In Catcott's day the westernmost point of Mendip was regarded as Crook's Peak (= "Crook's point")

4.                  Catcott considered Swallets as being natural drains for and created by (like the dry valleys of Mendip) the retreating waters of the Deluge, rushing powerfully away, through pre-existing lines of weakness, towards the Abyss - a subterranean reservoir lying beneath the surface of the whole world.

5.                  This is almost certainly Tyning's Farm Swallet (Barrington & Stanton, 1977, p.166). At this point I should like to say that great care should be taken in comparing Catcott's text on this and further swallets mentioned with the present - configuration of the ground as this particular area has no doubt undergone modifications effected by man’s activities and natural processes (such as the flood of 1968) which was shown (Hanwell, J. D. & Newson, M. D. 1970 pp) to have effected substantially this immediate vicinity.

6.                  This is obviously the ‘Great Swallet’ (Barrington, N. R. & Stanton, W.I. 1977)

7.                  Dr. John Woodward (1665 - 1728) a geologist and physician had in his possession.  “A mineral map, by means of Veins and Partitions, divided into various cells.  The Partitions are hard, and of a dusty brown, near a Rust Colour.  The Cells are filled a friath, yellow Ochre.  Digg’d up near the Road betwixt Shipham and Charterhouse, Mendip.  They had raised a considerable Quantity of it; but whether for the Ochre, or in expectation of Calamin in it, I cannot tell” (from John Woodward, 1728, p.23).

Juxtaposing this with Catcott’s text, I am led to think that mining on the spot may have commenced decades before the year of Catcott’s visit, if indeed the site referred to by Woodward is one and the same as Catcott’s Pit Close, for Woodward made his mineral collecting between 1684 and 1695 (Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 62  pp423 - 425)

8.                  The name 'entrochi' refers to the class Crinoidea.

9.                  The curious kind of Honey-comb Coral must be one of the Order of colonial cords (Tabulate.) e.g. Michelinia

10.              Of these springs, Catcott wrote: The Pools and moist ground on the very summit of Blackdown Hill (……..& which gives rise to several springs, undeniably refute the opinion of those who, imagine rain to be, the cause & origin of springs.

Catcott believed (like many of his contemporaries) that Springs, on the top of hills proved that such out-flowings of water were created by the condensation of ‘streams’ or vapours rising from the Abyss.

In the following year (1757) on a visit to the same locality, Catcott discovered more about the natural drainage of the Charterhouse area:

“Went to Cheddar Cliffs to show them to a stranger", writes Catcott in his diary (entry date 10th August 1757).  "The Spring at the bottom was vastly shrunk to what it was when I last saw it in March 1756 ..... There had been an uncommon draught & scant water everywhere for several months past.  One Will Hares told me that as he was digging for ore in daccot's hole in Charterhouse mineries (2 miles from this spring) he came to a stream of water, in which they threw all the rubble, which so muddied the spring at Cheddar, that it could not be used: 40 fath: deep.

Where exactly is daccot's hole'?


Barrington, N and Stanton, W (1977) The Complete Caves and a view of the hills. Third revised edition. Cheddar Valley Press.

Catcott, A (1748 - 1774).  Diaries of Tours made in England and Wales.  MS Bristol Central Reference Library.

(1761 A Treatise, on the Deluge.  First Edition. London: M. Withers.

Gough, J (1930)  The Mines of Mendip.  First Edition.  Oxford:  Clarendon Press

Hanwell, J & Newson, M. (1970).  The Great Storm and Floods of July 1968.  Occasional Publication of the Wessex Cave Club, Series 1 Vol. (2)

National Biography, Dictionary of. Vol.62

Woodward, J (1728).  A Catalogue of the Additional English Native Fossils in the collection of J. Woodward. Tome II, London: F. Fayrum.

C. Richards, April 1979.



Last, but not the least Tim Large presents his monthly….

As the year progresses it looks inevitable that subscription rates will need to be raised at the next A.G.M. From all quarters costs are rising. Recently the Belfry insurance was revised and consequently the premium has risen substantially.  When you consider that at least 2/3 of the sub goes on publication and distribution of the B.B., there is not much left for all our other expenses.

At a recent committee meeting the guest rates at the Belfry were raised from 45p to 70p per night in an attempt to cover the running costs.  But the Belfry income will go nowhere towards long term projects of improvement and any structural maintenance that may become necessary. Already the Belfry is beginning to age and fall behind normal domestic standards which it is desirable for us to maintain.  For a property that is now insured for £30,000 we have not much, to show for it. In the past the Belfry, regulars have taken care of this maintenance, but it appears to be a much bigger job nowadays.  Much of the problem is caused by the design of the building, lack of adequate heating and lack of easily maintained facilities.  Basically I think the Belfry needs money spent on it to bring it up to a standard suitable to attract the right sort of members and be worthy of the Club Headquarters.  The running costs are greatly helped by the Navy groups that say midweek.  Take that away and we have problems.  At present we resist any increase in adventure sports trends. Despite our cries it may still continue to increase.  Perhaps the club should have the forthright to be in a position should it occur to take advantage of it and offer suitable accommodation, during midweek periods, to school groups, filed study parties and the like.  Thereby we could relay on a steady income to more than cover running costs and plough the excess back into club activities or future projects.

At present the finances of the club are arranged so that the Belfry has to support all its costs which include rates and insurance.  Perhaps it is not unreasonable for such expenses as rates, insurance, etc., to be borne by subscription.  These are not running costs but necessary and obligatory overheads of having a club headquarters which I consider should be paid for by the membership.

From what I have said some members may think that the Belfry regulars and the Hut Warden are not pulling their weight.  I can assure you that is not so.  With the high usage that the Belfry gets, in particular, by guests, it is not surprising that all is not well.  I might add that the BEC is not the only club to experience problems in running their H.Q.

Consider these points: -

1.                  Is heating and ventilation adequate?

2.                  Is a stove in the centre of the main room desirable – consider utilisation and cleanliness.

3.                  Are the showers adequate?  How often have you found the water cold?  Is it desirable to have the wettest room in the building right in the centre of the building?

4.                  Are there adequate storage facilities for members, bearing in mind the recent losses and apparent thefts.

5.                  As a caving club perhaps more priorities should be given to the changing areas, showers and drying facilities.  A drying room could be incorporated with a locker room!

6.                  Isn’t is about time we utilised the attic, possibly putting the bunkroom upstairs and releasing some space downstairs for other facilities.

7.                  Separate kitchen facilities would keep the main living room more respectable and confine one of the dirt producing factors in another room.

Just a few ideas which I am sure all reasonable members have thought about at one time or another, and could probably add some of their own.  I think I can just about hear the cries of ‘a country cottage on Mendip’ and ‘it’s up to the Belfry regulars to look after the place’.

All I am trying to point out is that we need a practical H.Q. with facilities that can cope with usage and ensure that then fabric of the building is preserved in good order. The facilities at the Belfry I am sure fall below those in even the most modest home.

Soon after the increase in guest rates I heard one person state, ‘Why stay at the Belfry when facilities are better at the Wessex?’  Recently the Committee had the idea of reciprocal member rates with clubs that we visit in Yorkshire, Derbyshire etc.  On discussing the matter with some of our Yorkshire friends their comments was ‘Good idea, but the Belfry facilities are not as good as our.’  So I hope the right message has got home.  To get back to where I started, the subs, when they go up perhaps it is a good idea to have a portion for the Belfry as a permanent feature? (That is the general idea at the moment and has been for many years to build up a fund for capital expenditure on the Belfry – Ed.).

Money is only half the Belfry problem.  As with all jobs in the club, volunteers are always needed.  Since the appearance of Nigel Taylor’s list of jobs (in the BB and on the Belfry notice board) I have seen only a few bods doing some work – the same ones as usual.  Food for thought!  Any comments? (ED. NOTE – please let the committee have your thoughts in writing so that they can be published in the BB during the run up to the AGM).


At last, after much effort by all the diggers the cave has been re-opened.  At present quite a lot of work is still needed to ensure it stays open this time.  The squeeze into the cave from the mud blockage is very tight being difficult on the return.  After crawling up the mud slope which resembles the texture of thick porridge you are not in the best condition for negotiating an uphill squeeze.  Until the entrance is finally stabilised it would be appreciated if anyone wanting to visit the cave males sure of the access position.  We now have to set up an access arrangement with the new owner.  In the meantime cavers should call at the Belfry and find out what the current situation on access is.


948       Axel R. Knutson, 21 Milford Street, Southville, Bristol.
949       John C. Watson, 113 Abbey Road, Westbury-on-Trim, Bristol.
950       Stephen Smith, 39 Tintagel Close, Keynsham, Bristol.
951       Roger Smith, 39 Tintagel Close, Keynsham, Bristol.
952       Bob Hill, 32 Ridings Mead, Chippenham, Wilts.
953       Jim Watson, c/o 15 Farm Close, Southfields, Rugby, Warks.
954       Elaine Ilse, 50 Warren Close, Stockwood, Bristol.
955       Jack Culvert, 19 High Street, Steeple Ashton, Trowbridge, Wilts.
956       Ian Caldwell, 44 Strode Road, Clevedon, Avon.
957       Dave Morrison, 27 Maurice Walk, London NW11.