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Viaduct Sink - the end of the Phoney War

by Simon Meade-lung

Continuing with Part 2…

With the entrance shaft securely shored, and a passage negotiated through an unstable rift leading off below, the exertions of the combined Atlas and West London teams could be devoted to digging.  A bedding plane was uncovered leading to a low crawl, beyond which a construction barred access to a stal covered passage.

As the approach to the obstruction was so tortuous banging was dearly the only feasible way of removing it, and so, with the application of the magic potion, the floor ahead was blown away, and as the fumes cleared we prepared for breakthrough.  After a little more clearing, the first man squeezed through into a minute chamber only just large enough to admit 2 people.  The only way on was a miserable phreatic tube at floor level into which flowed a small stream making more of a whisper than the roar optimistically heard by one member of the team.

After this decided anti-climax we decided by general agreement to move back into the chamber out of which the bedding plane had led, and concentrate our efforts there.

There was obviously going to be no quick and easy discovery, and in the following weeks tons of mud and rubble were winched to the surface where Richard (Whitcombe) incorporated this material behind neat dry stone walls, into structures not unlike prehistoric burial mounds - future archaeologists beware!  The pithead daily became more like the surrounds of a small mine, littered with the typical impedimenta of the Mendip dig.  A ramshackle corrugated shelter sprang up to protect the surface haulage team from the worst of the weather.

Everything pointed to the way on being somewhere below the slab in the floor of the small breakdown chamber we had entered in August.  The passage leading down into this chamber was finally cleared out and by the beginning of October this slab had been hanged and the floor probed beneath it. At a depth of four feet things begin to look interesting again with the uncovering of a narrow winding rift leading off under the left wall, partially sealed by a solid looking gour dam.  At the month of the rift we dug up an enormous sandstone cobble - not unlike the exposing of an unexploded mine.

Digging conditions were however growing wetter and wetter - a stream flowing down into the face being ponded up behind the dam in the exit rift.  As soon as this barrier was removed the problem was solved and we made fairly rapid progress along the rift by plastering the left wall.  Once we could wriggle a few feet along, it was possible to look down to the right - and it certainly seemed promising.  A two foot high slab floored bedding plane dropping at a 45 degree angle to where a formation obstructed further view.  A sizeable shale band was in evidence on the right wall as we slowly dug our way down the bedding plane and once past the formation another lower bedding plane developed under the right wall.

But not far ahead our hopes were dashed again.  The passage which had appeared to be leading down into regions unknown ended literally in a blank wall and the bedding plane to the right, the more we probed it the less inspiring it looked.  It was continuously wet from the ubiquitous stream and despite banging large chunks off the roof the headroom was minimal.

It was now the New Year of 1977, and after exactly a year's solid work digging both Wednesday evenings and. weekends we had got nowhere.  The site still seemed perfect for the entry into a sizeable swallet system but the dead ends reached wore distinctly immature, certainly not the main route taken by the water.  We must have missed this route although this seemed improbable at first and every foot of passage was carefully examined.  Various leads were followed until after a titanic crowbarring session Clive (North) and Richard managed to dislodge a colossal boulder from what had appeared to be a solid wall, opposite to the mouth of the rift we had earlier followed.

When the air had cleared a floor level bedding plane was revealed, draughting slightly - it's height of a few inches increasing to the right and in front as the floor falling away. On the following day - Sunday - we decided to break through into this space at a point further to the right and a boulder was banged to enable us to do so.

To our surprise the initial squeeze let into a sizeable rift formed at right angles to the main passage. The rift was almost standing height at the point of entry but a large water eroded slab lay in the middle on end. This must be one of the paths taken by the main stream, effectively sealed off by collapse and silting.  The rift was only about ten feet long, and the floor dropped away into a choked pot.  Digging focussed on this point and soon stones could be heard to drop through into a space below.  We redoubled our efforts and uncovered a continuation of the rift to a total depth of seven feet.  At the bottom a hole led off under one wall down which stones rolled for a short distance. But even after enlarging the access to this chemically, it was still too narrow to got down.

But meantime our attention was diverted to a point in the wall of the pot behind which could be heard the sound of a stream seemingly of a fair size.  Perhaps if we could reach the active streamway we could follow it into the main system even if the present streamway was immature, this might enable us to bypass the older choked passage.

However, before we could pursue this lead, the entrance to the rift behind us began to show signs of instability.  We were forced to devote the next few weeks to building a massive grouted wall to support the roof with days spent carrying chippings along the railway track from the quarry and mixing loads of cement to be to be lowered down the shaft.  We finally set into position a steel arch to give us total security.

When we eventually got down to digging again it was a small hole at the end of the rift above the point where we had heard the stream that we examined first.  It was blocked by a single boulder and although it didn’t lead towards the stream we could see past the boulder into a small chamber.  By the time the boulder had been removed and Richard had inserted himself, the chamber had of course shrunk considerably.  In fact to little more than a large ensmallment. But what was more interesting was that a hole lay on the far side half blocked by a slab barrier.  There was no indication of any draught but we could hear the sound of falling water from ahead and it made a pleasant echoing noise as if it were falling in a sizeable space.  So we set to work with hammer and chisel to break down the slab and discover that lay beyond.

This was particularly resistant, but after several hours work, I squeezed through, and we gradually cleared out a sloping bedding plane behind it until at a body’s length from the squeeze, by looking up through a slot, in the roof we could see into a largo black space –

to be continued.

Resolution For The Annual General Meeting

Change to the B.E.C. Constitution

The Committee propose the following alterations to the B.E.C. Constitution:-

"That the 1979 Annual General Meeting of the B.E.C. approves the following amendments to the Constitution:-

Para• 2, last para, delete "under any circumstances whatsoever".

Para 48, 2nd line, delete "Full details" and replace with "Notice".

Para 5b, line 5, delete ".August" and replace "September".

Para 5h, lines 3 & 4, delete" or if that is beyond the powers of the committee shall be read out at the annual general meeting".