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Vale - Bryan M. Ellis~ 1934 - 1999

An appreciation by Dave Irwin


Bryan, December 1998 - photo. Dave Irwin

Bryan died on the 21 st May 1999 at the Bristol Royal Infirmary after an illness that had plagued him for nearly five years. In his passing the British caving world has lost a figure who was held in high esteem by all who came into contact with him.  For myself his passing is all the more poignant in that I have lost a very close personal friend.

Bryan's achievements lay not in his caving prowess but more in his organisational abilities.  During the 35 years I knew him I found him to be interested in many aspects of the caving world, some of which caused him to be at the centre of great controversy.  When his mind was made up relating  to a particular topic  he  would fiercely  argue and defend his cause however great the opposition. 

Whatever ones personal views of the arguments, and on many occasions I argued fiercely with him from the opposite side of the fence, I was always left with the impression of a man with great conviction and for that you admired him greatly.

Bryan became interested in caving as teenager and when his training took him to London in the early 1950s he became a member of the WSG and in 1955 he joined the Shepton Mallet Caving Club.  He also joined the BEC and when the various membership options were devised he became an Associate Member which he retained until his death.  For several years he was the editor of the BEC Caving Reports. After joining the Shepton Mallet Caving Club he soon became involved with the running of that club in which he held many positions including its President and Newsletter Editor and in recent years was its Librarian.  His last major contribution to the SMCC was his involvement in the arrangements for their 50th Anniversary events in May and their special edition of the Journal dealing with the club's history.  During National Service he explored a number of caves in North Wales with Fred Davies and their work was published as a SMCC Occasional Publication.  He later, together with Roger Biddle, produced an abridgement of the SMCC Hut Logs. During the period before commercial outlets Bryan served the Mendip caving community well by providing an outlet for the sales of caving club publications and the rarely published caving book.  The boot of his car was packed with such material and cave surveys and when at the Hunters he would 'open up his shop' or hawk his material around in a large cardboard box in the pub itself.  During the 1960s Bryan's interest in cave surveying found him involved with the Mendip Survey Colloquium and he was partly instrumental in the creation of the Mendip Cave Survey Scheme which still exists in a greatly reduced way today. The first version of the St. Cuthbert's Swallet survey was compiled by Bryan from earlier work and his own of the Rabbit Warren Extension and published as a BEC Caving Report.  He was also involved with the survey of Holwell Cavern in the 1960s. The Mendip Cave Registry was also another interest and for some time he was its Hon. Secretary during to the 1960s up to the time of its demise.

Following the formation of BCRA Bryan took a keen and active part in the promotion of the new body and since that time held many important posts including Chairman.  In 1977 he prepared the first of two books on cave surveying that he was to write, a topic that was of great interest to him.  Later he became the first paid Administrator of BCRA that involved him in its day-to-day running and for several years he operated the BCRA club and travel insurance service often dealing with a request for cover the following day!

When Bryan agreed to undertake a project that appealed to him he would fully commit himself to the topic and pass his enthusiasm on to others to ensure that the end result was of a fully professional standard. He will be sorely missed.

On behalf of the BEC I would like to offer Pauline, Kerry and Martin our deepest sympathies.