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The Odd Note

By ‘Wig’

Wookey Hole inscriptions.

Casually glancing through Balch's book Mendip - The Great Cave of Wookey Hole - I noted a passing mention of inscriptions close to the cave entrance.  Referring to the entrance gallery, Balch recorded.

... Here and there in this entrance gallery, inscriptions lightly carved in the stone show that visitors of 200 or 300 years ago had much the same regrettable habits as those of the present day ..  One of these inscriptions "W.A.W. 1625," (in later editions the date was corrected to 1605) near the bottom of Hell Ladder is the earliest I have so far located in the cave, though there well may be earlier ones, as I have not made an exhaustive search, and there are many undated ....


Characteristic I and W, probably 17-18th c. inscribed into stalagmite, Wookey Hole. Digital photo: Dave Irwin

So arrangements were made with the cave management and keys were made available for Chris Hawkes, John Williams and myself to have a look and see what inscriptions remained.  On the night the party was augmented by J'Rat and Simon House.  A rapid search was made and numerous clusters of markings were found, though only a few in the entrance gallery and Hell Ladder area.  Isolated groups were seen in the 1st and 2nd Chambers but the largest cluster was to be found in the end of the Second Chamber and the lowish connection with the 3rd Chamber.  Mostly the markings were in white chalk, some of them dated (18th century) but there were a small number of 'engraved' examples.  Several examples of the early form of 'A', '1', 'M' and 'W' commonly found in documents of the 16-17th centuries were also noted (photo 1).

1706 cut into stalagmite, Wookey Hole. Digital photo: Dave Irwin

1706 is the earliest date so far recorded (photo 2).  No dated 19th century inscriptions were seen though modern additions were also seen, some unfortunately covering earlier markings.  None were found in the vicinity of The Witch formation.

The 1625 or 1605 inscription wasn't found.  In the 3rd edition of the             'Wookey' book (1947) Balch adds to the extract below

... Recent work has destroyed this inscription ....

You can't win them all! The intention is now to go back into the cave and photograph all the markings and collate them into a catalogue format so that they can be quickly located in the future.

Other specimens are known to exist in the Fourth Chamber.  These were last seen by non-divers during the Tratman directed archaeological dig in 1974.

Photographic collections.

During the last ten years or so I've been searching a number of items known to be kept at various establishments.  On enquiry, all but a couple of items have gone missing / 'walkies'.  In some cases it is known that items have been thrown into the waste bin.  This has occurred at the Cheddar show caves offices and at Wells Museum among other sites.

As a result the writer has been recording, and collecting, where possible, full details of any ephemeral material published by the Mendip show caves.  Also, since 1995, he has been digitally capturing the photographic collections housed in the Wells Museum and other places including those amassed by Mike Baker, Bob Davies, Graham Balcombe, Molly Hall, and J. Harry Savory. The scarce first 100 Belfry Bulletins have also been scanned and, in association with Dave Turner, all surviving logbooks have been copied and the digital information transferred to CD ROM. Hopefully copies of this CD will be available to members later this year at a small charge.

George Bowen

Many older members of the Club will remember the activities of C. Phillip (Bill) Weaver; he died in May at an advanced age.  Weaver is best remembered for his caving activity both before the Second World War and with the CDG and SWCC in the years immediately after.  He was particularly involved in the then newly discovered OFD.  In fact it was he with Peter Harvey who opened the lower entrance to OFD 1 when the CDG were attempting to enter through the resurgence.


George Bowen and his wife at the Hunter's Lodge on the 24th June 1999. Digital photo: Dave Irwin

George Bowen made contact with 'Prew' and 'Wig' and  the pair met him on the 24th June for a drink and general reminisce at the Hunter's.

Never a member of a caving club he went along with 'Bill' Weaver as a mate and explored a number of caves and mineshafts on Mendip.  Now well over 80 George could not remember much detail of their activity.  Nor did he keep a diary.  But it was not surprising to learn that the general caving gear was the oldest clothes that one could muster and that their main light source was the humble electric torch.  He didn't recall ever using carbide lamps.


A rejuvenated photo from Wells Museum photo after J. Harry Savory

Their combined successes included the discovery of a now long lost mineshaft leading to about 500m of natural passage at Ores Close near Hillgrove.  The entrance to this shaft may have become blocked when the area was levelled the area by Luke Devenish in the early 1950s.  They also opened up the now well known Weaver-Bowen Series in Eastwater Cavern.

Rodney Weaver, 'Bill's' son, is sorting out his father's photographic collection which will be made available for digitising and placing on a CD-ROM in the autumn.

... and finally ...

Those who believe in metamorphosis will be well repaid by taking a close look at this early Savory print found in the Wells Museum attic.  The classic photograph by Harry Savory was found badly faded and covered in dust on one of the shelves.  From the time it was taken, said to be 1911, the photograph has undergone some drastic changes ...  Look for yourselves ...  It must be a family tradition or he's older than you think or ageless!