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The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset. Telephone Wells  72126.

Editor: Robin Gray

Quote of the month?

There were many claims for quote of the month this time, including several about good ol' Daren Cilau and where he's gone but this is the one..............

This month's quote yet again from the Belfry Boar of the year (see Lifeline)

'Doesn't Alan make a lot of fuss when he comes back from a caving trip’

Change of address: -

R. White, Wells Somerset.

Bone Caves Of Mendip

A lecture at the Wells Museum on the Bone Caves of Mendip will be given by Andy Currant BMH, at 7.30 on 23rd Nov.  This lecture will be of interest to all but of special interest to diggers who may well come across bones and artefacts while digging.

Cuthbert’s Report

A reminder to Cuthbert’s Report Committee.  Meeting at Wigs House on Sunday 18th Nov. 3pm.

Armchair Caving

Syd Perou's Realms of Darkness....Channel 4 Nov 4th, 11th & 18th, Mexico with BEC, Otter Hole and Borneo.  If anyone videos them perhaps we can show them at the Shed.



by Hon. Secretary Tim Large


This was convened at about 11am only after a phone call had been made in order to persuade sufficient people to attend to meet the minimum quorum requirement of 30.  Besides the 8 Committee Members who could be relied upon to be present that meant we struggled to find another 22 interested members to attend the meeting.  A sad reflection on a club with a membership at present standing at 163.  All the club officers gave reports which were adopted by the meeting.

The meeting considered as a special topic he subject of the proposed Jubilee celebrations am 1985. The Committee outlined its proposals which the meeting supported wholeheartedly.  These are: -

1.                  A Summer Barbecue to be held in late June/Early July.

2.                  Gouffre Berge Expedition in Early August.

3.                  A Special Dinner in October with as many past and present members in attendance as we can locate.

4.                  A Fireworks Party on November 5th or nearest Saturday.

5.                  Winter Social at the Belfry.

6.                  Production of souvenirs – Ties, Sweatshirts, Badges, Jubilee Beer, etc.

7.                  St. Cuthbert’s Publication & Jubilee Cover for BB.

All this will take much organisation extending far beyond the reasonable workload of your committee. Volunteers are urgently needed.  Please contact me or any other committee member if you can offer some help.

We now have a full time Hut Warden in Chris Batstone  who as many of you are aware has been a long standing Hut Warden in the past.  He volunteered for the post and was co-opted onto the committee.  I feel that his inclusion in this year’s committee can only strengthen what was a very good committee anyway.  I hope that you will give Chris your support and assistance during the coming year.

Plans for the Belfry improvements were approved by a large majority.  These propose to modify the existing Belfry without going into the loft space.  This will provide us with a larger Library, better changing and showering facilities and a cloakroom.  Also at long last a much needed drying room.  Bunk space will be reduced from 30 to in the region of 21-24.  The meeting considered it better to have outside contractors to do a major part of the work a deadline of 31st May 1985 was also set for the completion of this work in time for our Jubilee Celebrations.

A worrying attitude at the AGM was the willingness of many members present to have any necessary work on the Belfry even simple painting work done by outside contractors.  It appears that many members are either too busy or too uninterested to work on the club headquarters.  Some comments were made that it would to increase the subs drastically to cater for professional contractors, a sure sign of affluent times for some members.  I hope they do not forget when they were poor students or just beginning work after leaving school and could hardly afford £5 for their subs.


The Annual Dinner was held at Croscombe Village Hall in the evening and attended by about 120 members, guests and friends.  The food and the bar were better than we haw had for several years.  Gerry Brice and his wife Val were our guests of honour along with Phil & Lyn Hendy ( Wessex) Butch & Aileen (Shepton) end Tony Knibbs & Denise from the MCG.  Alan Thomas toasted Absent Friends along with the traditional toasts from Zot and Phil Hendy. Martin Grass presented the Boar of The Year Award to Chris Castle on behalf of last year’s winner Dave Turner who declined to do so in case he bored everyone again!  Chris received the award primarily for his not partaking of the dinner and getting lost in St. Cuthbert’s and falling down Stal Pitch sustaining severe bruising.  Trevor Hughes auctioned a Bahamas Electricity Company Sticker to Bob Hill for £10 (proceeds to club funds) and during the course of his auctioneering activities the ladies removed his nether garments - was it worth it??!  All in all an excellent evening rounded off by a barrel of beer at the Belfry provided by Dizzie.  Those present toasted Dizzie and fondly remembered Postle.


The clubs two leaders to this cave which is controlled by The Charterhouse Caving Committee are Phil Romford and Alan Downton.  One key is held by the two leaders.  Parties are limited to 3 persons plus the leader.  Those members interested should contact the two leaders.


Congratulations to Pete & Angie Glanville on the arrival of a new baby girl - Philippa – 8lbs 15oz. Also to Bob & Pat Cork also a daughter - Amy.  The BEC doing it to excess again.


The Sandford Gulf

A new look at an old problem

by Dave Irwin

For many years cavers have pondered the existence of the Sandford Gulf and its location on Sandford Hill.  Of all the ‘lost’ caves of Mendip the 'Gulf' is the best known.  Lost caves have been searched for, particularly those located by miners on Western Mendip. Many still remain lost but diligent work by a few have solved the problem and subsequently re-discovered the caves.  Richards et al re-discovered Bleadon Cavern (1) and the lost caves of Burrington was not to be found in Burrington but at Butcombe.  John Rutter misleadingly called the site a cave but in fact it was an excavated long barrow.

The lost cave of Loxton, often confused with the present cave discovered in 1867 by mining activities, is said to have three entrances and several beautifully decorated chambers.  The search for this cave is currently being carried out by Richards.

Perhaps the most perplexing is that of the lost cave of Cheddar. The earliest report by Henry of Huntingdon records the existence of a large cave with an active river.  17th and 18th century travellers record caves at Cheddar that are now well known (Coopers, Gough’s Old cave, Pride Evans etc) but none mention any site relating to a river cave.  It may well have been that Gough's Cave was active at the time of Henry's visit and since became choked, or as some have suggested it may well have been the gorge itself.  Shaw has suggested that it may have been Wookey Hole, though some four miles away it could well have been regarded as being as part of Cheddar.

Sandford Hill has been the site of more or less continuous speleological interest and many shafts have been opened including Triple Hole (1973) and Mangle Hole (1970).  Part of the reason for digging in this area is to locate the illusive 'Gulf’, though little documentary evidence exists and may have been, in part, legend.

The basis of the reports of the Sandford Gulf is John Rutter's book, The Delineations of North West Somerset (2), Published in 1829.  The extract is given in full: -


Like those at Hutton and Banwell, lie in the northern escarpment of the Mendip Range, immediately south of Churchill.  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 able to discover top, sides or bottom.  Miners like other men, are very superstitious and wonder working, when they meet with anything extra ordinary, which they cannot fathom.  Some may consider it one of the Hutchinsonian swallet holes, made to carry off the waters of the deluge, to supply their internal ocean, and put out the central fire of the Huttonians.  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.  The success attending the examination of the caves at Banwell, Hutton etc will, probably, induce some active and public spirited individual to make further researches into these caverns, of which, at present, so little appears to be known.

In the April/May issue of the Belfry Bulletin, 1979 (3) a copy of a previously unrecorded letter was published from the Reverend David Williams to John Rutter at Shaftsbury.

Bleadon January 4th 1829


As our progress on Sutton Hill daily increases in interest, from the abundant and variety of the organic remains we discover, I shall be happy to forward to you a paper on these figures and the one at Uphill if you think it will be of any service 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 any 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 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 to wish to sully it by purloining what belongs to another.  I have lately other evidence from Uphill Cave authenticating its history.  I hope before you publish I shall be able to give you soma 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 a man down upwards of 300 feet 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 and his my best assurances.

I am Sir

Dr. Williams.

A second letter this time from Williams to Patterson, Rector of Shaftsbury is dated February 16th 1829. This was subsequently published by John Rutter under the title "Some Account of the Fissures and Caverns hitherto discovered in the Western District of The Mendip Range of Hill" in 1829 but before the publication of the book. The relevant extract is to be found on pages 15 and 16.

Sandford Caves, like Hutton and Banwell, lie in the northern escarpment of the Mendip Range, but of these I can only speak by report.  The mouth of the largest which the miners call the ‘Gulph’ lies, they say 80 fathoms, or 480 feet below the plane of the hill.  They also affirm that they have let down a man, with a line, 240 feet deep, but that he could see neither top, sides or bottom.  Miners, like other men in their station of life, are very superstitious and wonder-working, when they meet with anything like this fissure, which they cannot fathom.  It may, however, be one of the Hutchinsonian swallet holes, made to carry off the waters of the deluge; to supply their internal ocean, and put out the central fire of the Huttonians.  If truth lies at the bottom of a well, why not at the bottom of a cave? and from the Sandford Cave, I have no doubt, I shall elicit her before the ensuing summer.  There is another extensive cavern further to the westward in this hill, near which the skeleton of a full sized elephant was found in 1770.”

From the three versions above, the Rutter account can be ignored as it is merely a rewrite of the Williams letters.  If one accepts Williams to be a reliable authority the information regarding the Gulf can be extracted and reduced to the following: -

1. The distance that the can entered the cave is:

(A) 300ft (January 1829 letter) and

(B) 240ft (February 1829 letter).

2. The man could not see: -

(A) “any sides or termination to it”

(B) “top, sides or bottom”

3. That the cave entrance lies 80 fathoms or 480ft below the plane of Sandford Hill.

Williams appears to have corrected the length of the rope used from 300ft to 240ft. Williams 'phrase' “they have let a man down” does not imply a vertical descent but that a men penetrated the cave to a distance of 240ft.  To have descended to a depth of 240ft would have meant that the cave entrance was 60ft and the bottom of the cave at 300ft below sea level as the plane of Sandford Hill is only 420ft above sea level!

In the January letter Williams wrote that the man could not see "any sides or termination to it".   Let us suppose that the man was being let down a rift, probably holding a candle in his hand or attached to his cap, then it is most probable that he would not see the sides or the bottom but he would have seen the wall in front and the wall behind him.  Any daylight penetrating the shaft would have still been seen quite some way down.  The February letter changes the general description to read "that the man could not see “top, side or bottom!”  If the man, with his dim light had entered a void further in he could possibly not see sides, top or bottom particularly if he was hanging on the end of the rope or standing at the top of a sloping floor.

The last piece of information in the puzzle is that of the 480ft below the plane of Sandford Hill. The hill in section is that of a truncated triangle, which at its highest is 420ft O.D.  Below this point are the three known sights, Sandford Levy, Triple Hole and Mangle Hole.  Their respective altitudes are 184ft, 405ft and 220ft.  Clearly Triple Hole is too high and if we take Williams’s figures of 480ft, so too is the Levy and Mangle Hole.  Various Mendip Cavers have suggested that Sandford Levy could well be the site of the "Gulf".  Stanton suggests that it could be the crossroads some way inside the Levy but this seems unlikely from the dimensions of this interpenetrating shaft.  However, as the Levy was being worked in the 1820's it could well be the site as the Williams letters imply that the Gulf had recently been found.

Considering this information in total there seems to be considerable discrepancies until one realises the significance of the 18th and 19th century surveying methods of measuring the height of the hill.  Today the height of a hill is its vertical range but about at the time, the height was the slope distance or the walking distance up the hill.  For example Catcott on one of his several visits to Mendip in the mid 18th Century described Blackdown as being one mile high whereas today we know it to be just over 1000ft above sea level.  This being the case the location of the Sandford Gulf as described by Williams is quite plausible.

With this in mind Marie Clarke and the author surveyed the location of both the Levy and Mangle Hole, back in mid 1981.  The result was that the Levy was about 530ft below the plane of the hill and Mangle Hole was 470ft.  Could Mangle be the Sandford Gulf?  The slope distance down the side of the hill fits the Williams figure.  So too do the very generalised description of the cave. Mangle Hole has a steeply sloping rift at the bottom of which lies the large chamber with several pits in the floor. Though the cave has a vertical range of only 19ft it is possible that this 19th century miner could easily have penetrated to the chamber and used up all of his 240ft of line.  A later visit to the hill by the author found no sign of depressions at the 480ft level in the immediate vicinity.

The evidence is not conclusive, nor is it ever likely to be unless further contemporary information still survives.  It is the author’s opinion that there is a very strong case that Mangle Hole could well be the lost Sandford Gulf.  If it is not, the possibility of finding another shaft at the same level is extremely good.  A further search to the west may well reveal another lost cave near where the elephants remains were uncovered.  Good Hunting.

References: -












Richards C.


Rutter J.



Williams U.



Clarke U.


Shaw T.

Hutton Cavern, a reconstruction in the light of recent discoveries Wessex Journal 12 (142)110-118(1972).

Delineations of the North Western Division of the County of Somerset and of the Mendip Caverns.  Longman, Rees & Co etc, London (1829).

Some Account of the Fissures and Caverns hitherto discovered in the western district of the Mendip Range of Hill.  Comprised in a letter from the Rev. J. Williams to the Rev. D. Patterson.  John Rutter Shaftsbury (1829).

West Mendip Worthies.   Bristol Exploration Club Belfry Bulletin 33 (4&5)8-13 ( 1979).

Early Visitors to the Mendip Caves.  B.S.A.


Letter to the Editor

Allens House
8, October 1984

The Editor, Belfry Bulletin.

Dear Robin.

As the organiser years ago of some of the worst B.E.C. dinners, I would like to congratulate all who were responsible for organising the best dinner I can remember.  At the same time I would like to say that the present B.B. is the best it has been since Alfie finished as Editor.

Yours sincerely

Alan Thomas


Dear Alan

Any thanks for your kind words.  Let’s hope that the 1985 dinner is the biggest and best of all time!


The Mine Workings at Dan - Y - Graig Quarry, Risca. Gwent. South. Wales,

Having seen the report on Roman Mine, Drathen, The Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd. approached the Club, asking if we were interested in having a look at some workings that had been recently uncovered at the Dan -y- Graig Quarry near Risca, S.Wales.

The archaeologists were hoping that these workings may have had some origin in Roman times.  Local evidence although sparse, points to some form of Roman mining activity in the Risca area.

Tile stamps from the Second Legion have been found near the church at Risca.  The Second Legion were involved in various prospecting and mining activities, kind of Roman version of the Royal Engineers.  They were also active in the Charterhouse lead mining area of Mendip.  Two place names in the area are direct corruptions of the Roman/Latin; Pontymister (Pone Magistri - Bridge of the Masters.) and, it follows also that as the Roman Mine site at Drathen, just a few miles away was discovered by Roman prospectors any mineral deposits at, Risca would most likely be found.  The Roman skill in finding minerals is well known.

A letter written in 1983 to the Archaeological Survey Officer, from a Mr Tony Edwards, gives an account of these workings when first uncovered in 1977.  The text of which is given below:-

"The workings were re-discovered when we were clearing stone and rubble away from a rockface.  I was given to understand that shafts existed in the field near the edge of the quarry, also close by was the wonderful remains of Craig -y- Neuadd.

We used to stay behind after work and using lamps, etc, would explore the extent of the workings.  They appeared to be at various levels, with two entrances near the top of the face. One was of little interest and the other, a tunnel approx, 4ft high ran for about 25 - 30yds.  The end was blocked with rubble but did not look like a roof fall.  Along this tunnel was an entrance off to the right, this then opened into a small chamber with a hole? in the floor, we climbed down into the hole/shaft which appeared to be workings, with signs of black flame burn marks here and there. Eventually this hole was blocked so we did not bother to uncover any more.

Now to what I thought was the best tunnel.  This entrance was lower than the other two, probably part of a chamber, upon entering; there were large slabs of rock running down from left to right. We slid down some of the small ones (the large ones formed the roof) and came to a ledge, using a ladder and some rope we were able to climb down to a floor level.

It was a lovely sight, a huge cavern; in the middle was a clear blue pond.  There were workings all round, with a number blocked with small boulders, again we did not try to unblock them.

In the middle of the cavern was the remains of a wooden tramway? running from an area not far from where we came in and up to the edge of the pool. The pool did not look very deep and we thought perhaps a small bridge (wooden) may have carried the tramway to the other side.

On the other side was a tunnel 6 – 7 feet tall and about 4 feet wide.  I think this one was another that ran for a number of yards and into a dead end chamber.  The other ran for quite a distance and ended in a chamber with a hole in the floor, flooded but with big timbers around the sides.  (The hole was not guarded we could see the timbers by shining the light down the shaft.)

Back to the side of the pond, another tunnel, quite long, with the sound of heavy water, we found it blocked.  Where was that water going?

Hoping this is some help to you.

Yours Tony Edwards.

We had hoped to meet Mr Edwards on our visit to the quarry, but unfortunately he was not present. Our visit took place on October 13th and the party consisting of Tim Large, Tony Jarratt, Dany Bradshaw, Jill and Norman Tuck, and myself, plus representatives from Islywn Borough Council, and the Glamorgan/ Gwent Arch’ Trust, assembled at the quarry.

A dark hole could be seen in the quarry wall this in fact turned out to be the only piece of mine passage accessible.  A mined tunnel approx 1m high and 10m wide led for some 10m to a crawl up through some fallen rock and mud into a small chamber some small traces of galena were found here.  The passage continued past a fallen boulder for some further 10m to a blockage of mud and boulders.  Just at the end a pit in the passage leads off to the right, through a descending squeeze into a small chamber, the end was blocked with fallen rock.  The initials 'T.E.' were seen here written in chalk.  A small low passage led off at floor leve1, but this proved to be too loose to push more than a few metres.

The chamber contained the marks where small veins of ore had been picked out, but quarry blasting had shaken the walls and ceiling about so that the exact extent of the ore could not be determined.  At the entrance to this chamber some shot holes were found, approx 20-25mm in diameter. Also a short piece of steel bar approx 150mm long and 20mm dia, was found.  This appears to be a broken borer or chisel, having the burred end consistent with being struck repeatedly.  Smoke marks were also seen in the same place on the roof, but no indication as to their age could be seen.

The tunnel described in para 2 of Mr Edwards letter does seem to be very similar to the one we explored. The quarry blasting has shattered the rock and the whole working is in a state of collapse.  We withdrew to the surface and made a search of the quarry for further accessible workings.  The lower level workings mentioned by Mr Edwards seem to have been obliterated by the work in the quarry.

Work in the quarry is soon to cease, it is hoped that the Council may uncover more workings during the tidying operations.  If this happens we hope to be able to conclude our explorations.

In conclusion.  The workings so far seen, although small, together with the description from Mr Edwards, point to a small mining venture around the 18th Century.  Any Roman workings are likely to have been obliterated during the development of these workings if indeed the Romans managed to find and exploit the mineral.

Our thanks to: -

Islwyn Borough Council, A. Monk & Co Plc for permission to carry out explorations.

Glamorgan/Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd.


Sketch Survey – Dany Y – Graig Quarry Mineworking

Next issue

Going Caving solo

Mendip Hills Local; Plan


And soon…Matt Tuck’s article on Norway

More about Eastwater.