The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset. Telephone: Wells (0749) 72126

Editor: G. Wilton-Jones

Bassett’s Notes

B.B. EDITORSHIP: Robin Gray has now taken over the post of B.B. Editor, and this therefore the last Belfry Bulletin I shall be producing.  Thank you once again to all who have helped in this task, particularly those of you who have actually written for the magazine.

Articles should now be sent to:

Robin Gray, , Wells, Somerset.  Robin is on the telephone, on Wells (0749) xxxxx.

He has a couple of articles already, but he'll need lots more than that for the first B.B. of the new year, so get writing!!

BLACKMOOR FLOOD SWALLET: Rumour has it that 1300 feet of passage has been found there.

BOATCHURCH: This cave does not actually exist, and was just one of many typing errors. Sorry!

LIBRARY: There are two additions to our exchange list:

South African Spelaeological Association Bulletin;

Israel Cave Research Centre publications.

CUCKOO CLEEVES: The cave is now re-opened.  It will be permanently sealed if the landowner finds that the lock has gone missing again.  WE HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Personally, I am pessimistic about the cave's future.  Someone is bound to smash the lock off sooner or later, and Cuckoo will join places like Plantation Swallet, Hollowfield, Flowerpot and Tankards (to name but a few) in that great cave graveyard under tons of earth and rubbish.

ROCK AND FOUNTAIN: Not so long ago the gate was stolen, and even hung on the wall of the Craven Heifer for a time.  Very recently the new, reinforced gate was sawn off its hinges, again by cavers from the North of England.  O.K.  It was a joke and a laugh the first time, but it is now a police matter.  The landowner demands that the cave be gated or the (albeit slightly restricted) access will be denied to all cavers

A dig at the end of the North West inlet streamway, noted first by Martin Grass and lengthened somewhat during a B.E.C. trip, carries a howling Welsh draught and the potential is enormous.


The Severn Tunnel Great Spring

The Severn tunnel is four miles six hundred and twenty-four yards in length from portal to portal.  It runs between Pilning in Avon and Caldicot in Gwent.  The drawing below shows the course of the tunnel under the Severn estuary.


Work on the tunnel commenced in 1873.  A shaft was sunk on the west bank at Sudbrook (Old Shaft) around 200ft deep, and a heading driven east to test the ground under the river at a gradient of 1 in 500, to act as a drainage for the deepest part of the tunnel under the main  river channel.

By 1877, after four and a half years, very little more had been achieved.  The total came to 1,600yds of 7ft square drive, and a half completed second shaft which it was intended to use as a permanent pumping shaft.

The Great Western Railway Company put out two contracts; one was to sink a shaft on the east bank (Sea Wall Shaft) and to drive headings east and west from it.  The other was to sink two shafts (Marsh Shaft and Hill Shaft) and to drive the headings east and west from both these shafts.  The company continued to work the heading under the river, and later agreed to drive from Old Shaft westwards towards Marsh Shaft and east on the line of the tunnel.  The pump shaft was also completed and two 26" pumps installed.

By 1879, a considerable amount of work had been done.  The three new shafts had produced a good amount of heading under the land, and the headings under the river had approximately 130yds to go between them. None of the headings had given any large volume of water up to October 18th 1879.  In the heading being driven west from the old shaft along the tunnel formation a large amount of water broke into the workings.  Efforts to dam it back with timbers failed, and within 24 hours the works communicating with the heading were flooded to the level of the river water.  Fortunately no one was killed, as the men were warned as they changed shift.

The breaching of this spring seems to have had a dramatic effect on the hydrology of the area; T.A.Walker writing on the geography of the area, mentions the drying up of springs and wells at the time the spring was breached:-

"Where these tides flowed is now a rough piece of marshland, through which the little river Neddern passes to join the Severn.  The whole of the ground in the marsh is rotten, and before the tunnel was commenced there were enormous springs of bright clear water rising up in several places."


He goes on to describe briefly the formations of the sandstone and limestone hills around the site, and how:-

"all the water from the hills both from the mountain limestone and the old red sandstone, has found subterranean channels through this broken ground, and, before the tunnel was commenced, flowed out in the valley of the Neddern, and formed the great springs which have been before mentioned.

The Neddern, rising as a small brook in the hills above Llanvair Discoed, sometimes lost the whole of its water in the dry season near the foot of the hills, bursting out again near Caerwent, at a point called by the natives 'The Whirly Holes.'

When the tunnel was being made, and a fissure was unfortunately tapped in the rock between Sudbrook Camp and Portskewett village, all these underground channels poured their water into the tunnel itself, and almost every well and spring, and the little river itself for a distance of more than 5 miles from the tunnel, became dry."

After this event work more or less ground to a halt until in December 1879, a contract was awarded to Mr T.A. Walker to complete the project.  Work started on un-watering the workings shortly after the contract was signed.

New engines and pumps had been ordered, but these were not anticipated to be in operation until mid summer 1880.  It was therefore decided to try and seal the headings.  This involved using divers to fit and brace, two wooden "shields" over the entrances to the headings.  A number of diving operations followed.  One man, Alexander Lambert chief diver with Seibe Gorman, achieved much notoriety for his exploits.  On one occasion Lambert was inspecting the sump of a shaft, when he was drawn against the wind-bore of one of the pumps by the suction.  Three men were required to pull him free with a rope.  Most notable, was the attempt to close a water tight door in the long heading under the river.  The door was left open in the panic by the workmen, when the spring broke through.  The door was approx 1,000ft up the heading.  On reaching the door he would have to go through and close an 18" flap valve, then return through the door, remove two rails, close the door and then screw down a 12" sluice valve.  It was hoped this would close off a major section of flooded heading.

Lambert made the attempt with two other divers in attendance.  One diver would stop at the bottom of the shaft to feed the air hose down the level.  The other would accompany Lambert down the level to the half way point (500ft) to help ease the hose on down the level.  On the way up the level he would have to negotiate his way past the debris of upturned skips rubble and timbers, in total darkness.  Handicap enough without the added burden of wearing the old type "Brass Hat" or Standard diving dress.  Lambert managed to get to a distance of about 900ft but the exertion of dragging his floating air hose was too much.

A man named Fleuss had recently patented a diving dress that could be used without air hoses. Fleuss's equipment seems to have been a form of oxygen re-breather, from the description given by T.A. Walker in his account of the construction of the tunnel:-

"About this time I had heard of a diving-dress, patented by a Mr Fleuss, by the use of which the diver was able to dispense entirely with the use of the air hose, by carrying in a knapsack on his back a supply of compressed oxygen gas, which he was enabled to feed to his helmet as required."

Fleuss was sent for, and instructed what to do.  Lambert in standard dress descended with him.  After three attempts, it soon became Ccear that Fleuss was not sufficiently experienced as a working diver.  Lambert was then persuaded to try Fleuss's equipment, and after some experimentation was finally satisfied, that he could make another attempt at reaching the door.

Lambert succeeded in reaching the door, and managed to remove one of the rails.  Having been away for a considerable time, he returned without closing the door.  Two days later he went in again.  On reaching the door he passed through, closed the flap valve, pulled up the rail and closed the door.  Lambert had been instructed to screw round the sluice valve a specified number of turns. This he did, and returned in triumph.

Much disappointment, ensued when it was found that the water level was not dropping as quickly as anticipated.  The level would stand stationary at high water for some time.  Considerable trouble was given by the pumps, but this was overcome as the water level slowly dropped.  On December 7th 1880, the foreman of the pumps was able to walk up the heading to the door, which Lambert had closed.  He soon discovered the cause of the slow drop of water level.  The sluice valve had a left hand thread, and although Lambert had turned it the required number of turns, he had opened the valve, instead of closing it.


On December 13th 1880 the doors in the shield over the western heading were opened, and the heading inspected.  The next day the level was inspected by the contractors.  In the level they found a stream of water seven feet wide and a foot deep flowing in the level, along with a great quantity of debris brought in by the stream.  At around 600ft up the heading the debris reached a height of 3 to 4 feet.

Two head walls were constructed to keep out the water from the spring, these were completed and the spring was finally shut out on January 4th 1881.

In October 1883, the spring again broke through into the works during operations to complete the headings past the area of the spring.  Lamberts services were again used to close off the inflow of water.

The final stages of completion were under way during 1884.  It was known that most of the water in the spring came from the River Neddern.  A concrete invert was constructed for a distance of approx four miles, along the river bed.  With new pumps it was possible to reduce the head of water in the level, so that access could be gained to the point where the spring had broken in.  The water from the spring was diverted along a side heading to the pumps.

Having gained mastery of the water from the spring the full size tunnel was opened out, the fissure of the spring was described as following;

“A most erratic course.  In one place it passed directly across the tunnel from side to side, nearly at right angles to the centre line of the work.  At another place it passed from side to side in an oblique direction, running for some small distance directly under one of the side walls.  At another point where the tunnel had been perfectly dry, while the mining was done, the lifting of almost the last stone out of the invert set free an immense body of water which no pumps underground could cope with.  At another point the water boiled up from a hole l8ft in depth under the invert with such force that stones, the size of a mans fist, dropped into the water would descend about 10 feet, and then begin to flutter like a leaf in the wind, and be thrown out again by the water.”

The brickwork in the tunnel was finished in April 1885, and by August the spring had been sealed off except for a tapped supply to feed the pump engines etc.  A pressure gauge had been fixed to show the water pressure to keep a check on how it was rising.  By Sept 5th the water in the ground had risen to a height of approx 305 feet and was registering a pressure of 45ipsi.  This pressure of water was having an adverse effect on the brickwork, by finding its way through the mortar.  The pressure eventually reached 57% psi, at this pressure bricks were beginning to crack.

It was decided to sink a large diameter shaft and install enough pumps to pump away all the water from the great spring, so that the structure of the tunnel would not have to resist such high pressures.

The tunnel was finally opened to passenger traffic in December 1886.  Nearly 14 years after the G.W.R. had commenced the work.  The inspector for the Board of Trade quotes the following amounts of water pumped out of the Big Spring:-

Minimum - 23million gallons per day.

Maximum - 30million gallons per day.

Average - 24million gallons per day.


The Severn Tunnel - Its construction and difficulties.(1872 - 1887) T.A.Walker.

Wonders of Salvage - David Masters.


Ogof Hasp Alyn

by Trevor Hughes

Chris Milne (WCC) and fellow WCC/CDG divers have been doing well in this cave this summer. Following on from their success in passing the 10m long sump in Aug. '82, when 200m of new passage was discovered, this summer's diving has led to the passing of a second sump and more finds.

After the B.E.C. involvement in the discovery and surveying of this cave and the first dives at the terminal sump, all by our very own J-Rat, the WCC seem to have taken the initiative here.  I was therefore rather pleased when Chris suggested that I join him and others on a pushing trip on the August Bank Holiday weekend.

Progress prior to the planned trip had been the passing of the 4m long second sump to an ascending passage leading to the base of a 12m free climb.  From the head of the climb a roomy horizontal passage ends after 30m in a large, 16m deep pot.  At the bottom of this a passage leads off to a 25m shaft which had not yet been bottomed.

A strong team gathered on the Saturday morning, heads slightly (or more so) awash from the previous evening's ale in the Loggerheads.  Mendip was represented by Chris Milne, Anne Lavender, Paul Whybro, Kev Clarke (both of Bath University C.C.) Rich Websall, Wormhole and myself, while the local talent included Phil the Miner (also B.E.C.) and three N.W.C.C. lads who provided valuable assistance carrying ladders down the cave.

Although in places very muddy the trip to the sump is quite sporting, involving a considerable amount of ladder work, not to mention numerous flat-out crawls, wallows and a chest deep canal interspaced with undulating, walking passage. Unfortunately the trip to the sump proved to be too much for Wormhole's diving kit (where have we heard that one before?) (in the pub, in the Belfry, in these pages - infamy is far flung. Ed.) and he retired from the trip and left with the N.W.C.C. back up team. This left me as the sole B.E.C. representative on the trip.

The first sump is a mostly spacious affair with crystal clear vis for the first diver (Anne had that privilege) and zero for the rest!  OHA II consists of a gently ascending walking passage with deep mud giving way to a harder clay or rock floor.  The second sump is perched and very shallow but the roof is festooned with large flakes that demand a cautious approach.  The underwater passage is adequately roomy.  The end of the known cave was reached with little or no incident, and it was rather pleasant to be free of the weight of diving gear.

The 23m shaft had some horribly loose rocks overhanging the drop and these were kicked down with a combination of Websall/Hughes/Whybro brawn.  Rob Harper would have hated this as in most cases the next rock to be loosened was the one sat on for the previous trundle!  Eventually the shaft was declared safe and rigged with a ladder and lifeline, but not before the initially chosen belay had fallen off the wall when tested.  Chris and Rich descended and disappointingly declared that our trundling, although essential, had blocked the way on from the bottom.  They commenced to dig away the offending debris.

Meanwhile, at the head of the pitch, Paul and Kev started to probe the roof.  Eventually, after an exposed and difficult 12m climb, they reached a low bedding passage.  I joined them and used their lifeline to haul up a spare ladder to enable Anne to follow. The low bedding went down dip to a sump and up dip after 15m to a large chamber, with the roof barely visible in one area.   Chris and Rich were called to leave their digging and, when we were all gathered in roughly the same area and a 7m drop from the chamber rigged, a free-for-all race along the large 'Aggie' sized passage beyond began.  The way on was obvious - just keep to the centre of the 10m wide passage and run (or climb) as fast as possible.  Several side passages were noticed but ignored.  The passage runs approximately due south (Rich carried a diving compass) and is a large, phreatic oval, modified in places by blockfall to give large, boulder-floored chambers.  A free climbable 12m pitch led to a sandy squeeze (which may have to be dug out after the winter floods) and a low, muddy area which is possible a perched sump in wetter weather.  The end of the main passage was a descending, boulder floored chamber, ending at its lowest point against a blank wall.  However, through the boulders and seemingly only a few metres away, came the sound of what can only be a large underground watercourse.  A very strong draught accompanied this noise.

Despite fatigue, failing lights and the protests of some (!?) a dig was started following the wall. The boulders here are generally of manageable size and a lot of smaller stones make up a large proportion of the fill. Initially, without tools, the digging progressed well and a 1m deep hole was soon formed.  A further 1m depth could be seen, but proper digging kit will be needed to progress further.

We retreated and made our rather weary way back to the surface.  The sumps on the way out are revolting affairs, with mud getting everywhere, but the original cave seems much shorter.

After a walk back along the dry river Bed and a wash in a pool we were all soon ready for the Loggerheads and some well earned beer.  It had been a fairly exciting ten hour trip.

The next day I had to return to Mendip, but Chris and Paul went back to back to the new find, pushed the side passages and discovered about another 1000m of new passage.  They still left open ends for another day, including a passage that may provide a bypass to the boulder choke and reach the unseen river beneath.

Both OHA sumps, although not free diveable, are perched and as the known system remains completely stream free in the summer months both could be removed by siphoning or baling. The second sump could be bailed very easily, probably taking only a couple of hours but, once completed, would last the complete summer season.  The first sump would present a more involved problem, being longer and deeper, but as a six metre vertical climb is required to reach the sump, which is only approximately 5m deep, the problem is only one of plumbing and is not at all insurmountable.  This sump is, again, totally static and would require only one major attack at the start of the season.

Regretfully the inter-club squabbling and petty personal politics that abound in North Wales caving circles have so far prevented such work being attempted and I can foresee no changes taking place in the near future.

OHA is, without doubt, the most demanding and demanding challenge in North Wales, for approximately 600m of passage has now been found past the first sump, with a potential for much more.  Due to the indifference of the local cavers their role has been merely in the background.

A good survey of OHA I exists but has never been published (for reasons as above) and this is now causing delays in the exploration of this system, for it is possible that a bypass to the first sump may be found from OHA II.  This would open the flood-gates to the potential of a major river cave – the underground River Alyn.  It is time that the North Wales cavers buried the hatchet, settled their differences and started working together so that the full potential of OHA might be realised.


P.S. Further to the B.B. article Pete Appleton (N.W.C.C.) & Co. have siphoned both the sumps in OHA. They failed, however, to enter the new stuff found by the WCC/BEC/CUC; simply because they did not find it.

This does not, however, alter the gist of the latter part of the article about N.W. politics - this action in OHA came from our rather excited babblings in the pub straight after our discovery + a 'Phone call to P. Appleton from Tony Jarratt and NOT as a result of their general settling of inter-club differences.

Chris Milne is in North Wales this weekend (no date on note, Ed.) probing the ends we left.  He should do well.  The underground river Alyn should (!) be found before the winter rains close the cave.

Trev & J-Rat

Alan Coase

It is with regret that we hear of the untimely death of Alan Coase who died of a heart attack recently.  He was a member of the club in the 1960s and many members from that time will have known him well.  Our condolences to his relatives and friends.


South West Africa And The Fish River Canyon

by Colin Priddle.

In August this year I had the opportunity to visit South West Africa or, as some name it, Namibia.  The main reason for the visit was to hike the Fish River Canyon, which has the reputation of being one of the best hikes in Southern Africa.  As we were travelling some 800 miles just to get to the canyon from Johannesburg we decided to take another week's leave to see more of the South West and we ended up travelling some 3500 miles, of which at least half was on dirt roads.

South West is a vast country, some three times the size of West Germany, and it has a population of about 1.1 million. This gives it a population density of a little more than 1 person per square kilometre, one of the lowest in the world; indeed, on occasions whilst travelling, one went for over a hundred miles without seeing another person, car or house.

All parts of South West are very arid, except for the far north east, in particular the Namib region, which is a band of almost uninhabitable, sandy desert stretching the entire coastline.  In this area rain is almost unknown and it is common for five or even ten years to pass with no rain at all.  This area gradually gives way to higher land and a less harsh climate before, as you go further east, the country borders on the Kalahari Desert.

On our visit we first went to the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, which borders onto the southern part of Botswana.  The park, famous for its gemsbok and Kalahari lion, holds a surprising amount of game, most of which congregate in the beds of the rivers that converge in the park. One would not recognise these rivers as such: only very seldom does water run, and then only as a flash flood due to a storm, which could be miles away.  When we were there the river had not flooded for four years and, in fact, we drove in and out of the river bed for at least two hundred miles.  The rainfall is confined to the first four months of the year and, in a good year, may be some four inches or so.  Although we did not see lion we were lucky enough to see a cheetah, which I had never seen in a game reserve before.

From the Kalahari Gemsbok we entered the South West and drove to Windhoek the capital: a beautiful, small, modern town set among hills, and with its distinct German influence hosts a brewery brewing excellent beers.  Naturally this was visited.  Leaving Windhoek we arrived at Spitskoppe (meaning 'Pointed Hills') in the dark and camped out after walking through the rocks illuminated by a very bright moon.  Just before daylight two of us started up one of the peaks to watch the sun rise over a vast, flat, treeless desert which was interrupted by occasional jagged hills reaching out of the sand.  The visibility; appeared endless.  Later that day we carried on to the coast across the Namib desert, which at that point was totally flat with no vegetation, only mirages.  A very enjoyable beer was; consumed whilst just sitting in the desert listening to total quietness, seeing nothing except flat sand, and feeling the heat of the sun on us.  It was an uncanny experience.

The desert ends at the coast; that is it, desert, then sea, and a cold sea at that.  The coldness of the sea means that often a blanket of fog covers the coastline and, consequently, the little town of Swakopmund is fairly cold, although a few miles inland it is very hot again.  Swakopmund is an old German town and was originally the main port of entry into the German colony.  This role was taken over by Walvis Bay, thus leaving Swakopmund to be a busy holiday resort in the summer months.  Besides tourism, salt production is the only industry, although Walvis Bay, some twenty wiles down the coast, is the major fish processing centre of the country.  Walvis Bay is actually a South African enclave in South West.

From Walvis Bay we went inland through sand dunes, flat desert, lunar landscapes and endless, changing vistas of barren but colourful hills.  We even saw a few springbok, gemsbok, ostrich and mountain zebra; somehow they must live but n thing edible was in sight. We camped at a place called Sesriem (the place was one house with a petrol pump) and early the following morning drove some thirty miles to the Sossusvlei Reserve to watch the sun rise over the world's highest sand dunes.  The dunes are over 1000 feet high and are incredibly beautiful, with their curving, knife like ridges and red sand.  They are very arduous to climb, but we got to the top of a high one.  The sides in the lee of the wind repose at their critical angle and to climb them means very hard work; it seems like a dozen steps to move up a foot or so.  If you stop you slide back down with your legs buried in the sand about half way to your knees.  Sossusvlei was truly one of the most outstandingly scenic areas of this world which I have visited.

From Sesriem we went to Luderitz, a dying, uninspiring town set amongst rocks.  Its claim to fame was the diamond industry, which has now moved to Orangemund, further down the coast, and its cray fishing industry, which is still in existence.  The whole town feels as if it is thirty years behind the times and it hardly surprising that very few are attracted to the place as strong winds continually blow sand everywhere.  Nearby are two ghost mining towns whose houses are covered in sand.  It is truly an inhospitable town but worth a visit, if only to eat a few crayfish.  The area, for about fifty miles inland from the coast, in the southern part of the South West, is the Sperrgebiet or prohibited Diamond Areas which, unfortunately, one is unable to visit.  Incidentally, water for Luderitz is pumped from a borehole some thirty miles away and still about sixty miles of the main road serving the town is not tarred. Finally we drove to Ai Ais, a mineral spring resort on the Fish River which was the meeting point for our walk.

The Fish River Canyon is about a hundred miles long and attains a width of sixteen miles in places.  The depth ranges from 450m to 550m.  The view of the canyon is quite breathtaking: the area is completely barren of all vegetation and the course of the river can be seen meandering from side to side along the canyon.  As with most rocky areas in the South West the different rock colours are considerable. The Fish River is the only river in South West that has open water outside the rainy season. At the time of our visit no water was flowing but there were many pools along the canyon which supplied our drinking water and also catered for our aquatic pastimes along the length of our fifty mile hike.

Only one party a day is allowed on the trail and consequently one must book well in advance to do the hike.  In common with all South African countries bureaucracy is rife and a permit must be obtained from the Nature Conservation which necessitates a medical certificate. For a reasonably fit caver-hiker type like myself it is a bloody cheek but I suppose it does inhibit totally unsuitable types from doing the hike, which is arduous, and in the event of an accident, it would probably be at least 24 hours before help could be summoned. The funny thing was, I lost my medical certificate, but I still went.  Hiking is only allowed in winter from May to August inclusive and for good reason too.  For one, flash floods are liable which, if you were in many places in the canyon, would be disastrous, and two, the temperatures are often extreme.  In 1981 in July (winter) a temperature of 480C (1180F) was recorded there and even on our walk the last two days were pretty hot, probably about 320C (900F) during the day, and even at that temperature a couple of people in our party found it too hot.

There were eight of us hiking and for once the women in our party had to carry their own fair share for our intended four to five day hike.  The first hour or so was the drop into the canyon from the rim down a steep path. As our party was notoriously slow at getting ready we only left about midday and we had lunch in the canyon. The hiking was generally either through soft sand or over boulders ranging from football size upwards.  Not many would describe it as easy walking. The first two days were in the narrower part of the canyon, sometimes about 100m wide, then gradually the canyon became much wider.  The narrower parts were certainly the most scenic with no vegetation at all among the many sheer cliffs.  The first two nights were fairly cold, necessitating long trousers and pullover to keep warm.  No tents were carried as the chances of rain were nil and it is much nicer to sleep out anyway.  We slept out all through South West.  We were fortunate that we had a full moon during our hike which rose as soon as the sun disappeared and put another perspective onto the canyon.  The only drawback about the full moon is that the full beauty of the stars of the southern hemisphere is hidden.  Usually we started hiking as soon as possible after first light and a cup of coffee in order to get the most from the cooler temperatures and shade.  After an hour or so our party of eight would be well strung out along the river but it was general to stop around 11 o'clock or noon for lunch and a rest from the hottest part of the day. We would then continue at 3 or 4 o' clock and continue until dusk.  One of the highlights of the hike is the hot springs which flow into the river after about one third of the journey.  A couple of palm trees grow near the spring which were said to be the result of date pips left by a couple of German prisoners who escaped and hid in the canyon during the first world war.  It is said that game during that time was far more prolific than it is now so what with meat, and fish from the river, one could have survived quite easily.  It was most pleasant to laze in a pool formed from the hot spring and walk about two metres to dive into the much colder water of the river.  The only game in the canyon is said to be kudu (a large antelope), mountain zebra, Klipspringer (a small antelope), rock-rabbits, baboons and leopards.  Of these we saw baboons, klipspringer and rock rabbits, but many leopard tracks were also seen.  The bird life was not prolific but several fish eagles were seen. Trees, although virtually absent from the upper part of the canyon, made appearances more often further down in the more open areas; thickets of reeds and rushes sometimes appeared. Altogether we spent four days on the hike with three nights sleeping out, and the main reason for finishing a little faster than intended was the lure of those lovely cold beers at Ai Ais.

Needless to say the next day was spent lazing in the thermal bath eating in the restaurant and consuming beer at Ai Ais.  A short geological expedition was also undertaken to a nearby hill of rose quartz. Although some of cur party had a few blisters on their feet we were all in agreement - the Fish River Canyon was a fine walk.


Mining, A Century Ago

by Jill Tuck

Old statistical reports are especially interesting when they are about well known areas.  Looking at one of the Annual Reports of Inspectors of Mines for just an ordinary year, 1881, I found many familiar names.

Amongst the haematite mines of the Forest of Dean appeared Old Bow, owned by G. Atkinson; Clearwell and others, owned by H. Crawshay (one of the great iron families of South Wales); New Dun, W. Watkins; and Lambsquay,  W.H. Fryer.  In Somerset were listed East Harptree, owned by J. Nichols; Waldergrave, in the possession of Waldergrave Company; and several others in East Mendip.  In this year 26,405 tons of iron ore were sold from the Somerset mines.

Under Oolite mines we find Box Hill, Box Quarry, and many at Farleigh and Corsham, while the only lead mines listed are East Harptree, Ubley and Waldegrave. Their production of lead, however, was too small to be recorded.

The standard form of the report includes details of the miners, showing that in Somerset, underground, there were no boys of 12 - 13 years, 8 males (note: counted as mature at 13!) of 13 - 16, and 181 males above 16.  No females were employed underground anywhere in the South West, but 7 girls of 10 - 13 years, and many females (note change of description again!) from 13 - 18 and older, were employed in Cornwall and Devon.  Reading between the lines, one wonders how many illegally employed were smuggled out of sight when the inspector arrived, and how hard he tried to ensure compliance with the regulations knowing that some families desperately needed even a child's money.

Each mine accident during the year is tabled, more detailed accounts being given of the serious or unusual ones, especially if they could lead to improvements in the safety procedure. One little boy of three, named Howells, was killed while playing: he "crept under the fence around an old, disused pit at Ruardean ( Forest of Dean) and fell down the shaft."  A miner, Henry Martin, also killed, "appears to have the habit of looking up in the shaft after the kibble (i.e. bucket), and, whilst doing so, a stone must have fallen from the kibble and struck him on the head.  He had been previously cautioned by the agent not to look up the shaft.  From one hundred years on, Henry Martin sounds the sort of thicky who would look down the end of a firehose to see if the water was coming.

There is a report of an accident on 26th April at Malago Vale Colliery, Bristol.  Three men were to fire a shot in a fault which was running along one side of the coal face.  One lit the charge and all three retired to safety ten feet down a side passage and behind a gob wall.  When the explosion occurred, James Durbin, who was sitting between the others, said he was shot.  He was able to walk out but died of a fractured skull shortly afterwards.  To reach the man, the impelled stone had to travel six feet along one passage, turn a right angle into the side passage, travel up along that and then turn another angle to reach behind the gob wall. It must have resounded at least twice. A real case of miching malago as Shakespeare might have punned

Many mine owners were insuring against accidents.  The rate was 5/- every £100 paid in wages, for accidents when the employer would not be liable under the Act, and 12/6 for all accidents.  Some employers did not work their mines as laid down under the Metalliferous Mines Act or take the precautions legally necessary, in spite of chivvying by the Inspector of mines, so the difference in payment was not for trivial reasons.  The Inspector commented, however, that generally the managers met him in a friendly spirit to improve the safety or efficiency of their mines.  He added that "all communications, anonymous or otherwise, have had my careful attention.” He kept the letters secret, and took remedial action where possible.  There are details of prosecutions and fines of owners for not complying with the Acts.  The Inspector remarked that mining workers would rather run the risk of working in a dangerous place than spend the short time required to put up a prop.

The first telephone had been introduced, at Dolcoath, in Cornwall, 390 fathoms from the surface.  Nobel's patent had run out by this year, resulting in the price of dynamite falling from 2/- per pound to 1/7½.  As boring machines were now common, the drop in price plus use of machines enabled much ground to be opened which would have been impracticable a few years previously.  The number of man engines (for carrying men up and down the shafts) remained at seven, but cages (called gigs) had been installed at the first eight mines.  None of these were in Gloucestershire or Somerset, so we may visualise the local miners, labourers and youngsters laboriously climbing up and down the mines at each end of their hard working day. 


Bassett's Notes      Continued

CHARTERHOUSE CAVE:  In yet another case of deliberate vandalism the lock was broken from this cave.  The gate has been welded up for the present.

There are certain caves which are locked up and it is impossible for most of us to enter them. However, in the cases of Charterhouse, Rock and Fountain and Cuckoo Cleeves, there is no difficulty in booking a trip by going through the appropriate channels, and there can be no socially acceptable justification for the vandalism of their gates.  True, in Utopia, no caves are gated.  This is not Utopia.

WORKING WEEKEND - JANUARY 6th, 7th, 8th. 1984.

Yes, the first weekend of next year, so make a note of it NOW!  Some of the jobs outstanding at the Belfry are:

Weather board to fire exit door fascia and soffit to be painted (weather permitting)

All windows to be painted;

Shed to be re-covered with roofing felt;

Belfry grounds to be tidied (using skip or J-Rat ' 6 trailer)

New Carbide Store to be built;

Tackle Store roof to be waterproofed.

These are just a few of the jobs that must be done before the winter sets in.  Dany has organised a working weekend for JANUARY 6th, 7th & 8th.

After what was said at the A.C.M. we know that a lot of you will be coming down because you know about this well in advance.  If you can, please give Dany a 'phone call so that he can organise the weekend better.

Dany's 'phone number is Wells (0749) xxxxx.

Working Weekend - JANUARY 6th. 7th.  8th. 1984

LOST  Someone, somewhere has Andy Lolley's RED HOLDALL, which contains - a one-piece, double-lined, velcro-fastening wetsuit, plus a velcro-fastening jacket, plus boots, plus a pile of grots.

It has been missing from the Belfry since July.

Hopefully, someone is looking after it for Andy.

Give him a nice Christmas surprise, and let him know you have it

EAST TWIN SWALLETT: South Bristol S.S. have now linked this cave to SPAR POT, whose entrance lies buried, after it was filled in twelve years ago.  Their decision to gate the cave seems rather extreme (it is unstable!!). I think I'll gate Swildons Sump I - someone could drown in it.

BELGIUM: A minibus load of B.E.C. reprobates are off to cave in the Ardennes at the beginning of December.  They'll be back by the time you read this, with tales of Trou Bernard and other superb Belgian caves.

That's it!

Good luck to Robin with his new task.  Keep sending the articles, and lots of them.  Let's have no more of this quarterly and bi-monthly nonsense.

Happy Christmas