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Stock's House Shaft - a Small Cave Becomes a Large Mine.

By Tony Jarratt

This article follows on from that in BB 502.

After waiting three months for the stream in this dig to dry up work recommenced on 25th June 1999 when AJ fired a charge in the shattered ceiling above the downstream "sump". This was partly cleared on 4th July by BS, assisted on the surface by Roger Haskett (Dig Chauffeur).  Bob was excited to hear glooping noises and to watch the ponded water rapidly drain away after inserting a bar into the mud choked crawl.  AJ continued clearing the next day and upon chiselling out the banged ceiling was able to enter some 10ft of mud and tailings floored crawl ending in an almost complete silt choke.  A solid rock rib on the right hand wall was drilled and a charge laid to the accompaniment of peculiar rumbling noises echoing down the shaft.  This was not a passing lorry or helicopter but an approaching thunderstorm!  Having already attached the detonator (with the firing wires trailing up the shaft) and with three previous lightning strikes to his credit, AJ rocketed up the ladder to rapidly fire the charge - much to the bemusement of a couple of "outdoor adventure" instructors.

John "Tangent" Williams and AJ cleared this next day and a large Wednesday night team (including new man to the site Andy Elson) continued the good work - hauling 80 bag loads to surface.  It was now realised that what we had originally assumed to be a flat out natural stream passage had been entered and enlarged by the Old Men to walking sized mine levels heading off in three directions downstream, upstream and a dry side passage parallel with the upstream level.  Shotholes in all three galleries were evidence of their being blasted from the shaft outwards.  The downstream level draughted strongly and obviously takes a large amount of water at times.  The diggers were much encouraged and a decision was made to push this as much as possible before the next heavy rains made conditions miserable.  The presence of bad air in His Lordship's Hole also provided them with an excuse to concentrate work on this site.


Bob Smith at the entrance of Stocks House Shaft - Photo: Alan 'Goon' Jefferies

10 more bags came out on the 8th July and during the following weekend another 110 reached surface due to the efforts of enthusiastic diggers including Simon House, Alan "Goon" Jeffreys (Grampian S.G. - and paying his debts for the Rana Hole epics!) Rick Stewart (Airedale C.C. ) and Wendy Ripley (Craven P.C.).  Monday 12th July saw another 40 bags up to the midge-infested Hell of the forest above. Another 80 came out over the next three days.  Plans for a good push the following weekend were wiped out by various parties at the Belfry and the presence of hordes of "hedge monkeys" attending an illegal rave in the Forestry car park.  After setting fire to a car, upsetting everyone for miles around and stealing the belay bolt, krabs and 20m SRT rope from the Shaft they were finally evicted by the police on the Sunday evening.  Things improved on the Monday when TL, AJ, JW, Mike Alderton, Nick Squire and Ben Wills hauled up another 105 loads.  Both upstream and downstream passages were now 20-30 feet long and adding up towards the Digging Barrel score!

During the following week another 151 loads reached surface and probably 200 were stored underground ready for removal.  Guest diggers were Alex Loftus and Ollie Metherall (Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club) Harvey Lomas (Yorkshire Ramblers Club) and "Sweep" the world's shortest collie dog!  The upstream level was cleared for some 30ft and is heading out under the road towards the Waldegrave Works ruins.  The dry parallel level has been partly cleared for about 15ft but may be left as a good winter dig and the main priority, the downstream level, pushed for some 60ft to a choke on a sharp LH bend where the first section of open passage was entered on 27th July (see below) - a year and two days from the commencement of the dig.  The latest additions to the team are Ben "Eat at Alley Cats Bistro, Wells" Gingold, Ben Holden, three Newcastle Uni. lads, Annie Audsley, Mike Willett and the MRO (not by choice!).  The Shaft has also been deepened by a few feet and the intention is to totally clear the whole of the workings - a steady job for which there are plenty of vacancies, especially after the following incident:-

The Breakthrough and Rescue Incident

" .... if any man by this dangerous and doubtful occupation do take his death and be slain by falling of the Earth upon him the workmen of that occupation shall fetch up that dead body at their proper costs and charges (although he lye threescore fathome under the Earth) and shall bury him in a Christian burial. "  - Mendip Mining Laws and Forest Bounds - J. W. Gough 1931


John Williams heading for the pub - photo: Simon House

On the evening of 27th July AJ, J"T"W, SH and BH went into the downstream level to dig into the open passage seen the previous day but not entered due to the exhaustion of the diggers.  While AJ dug into some 10ft of passage on a sharp bend the others cleared spoil from behind him and dragged full bags back to the Shaft.  Some very delicate redistribution and chocking of conglomerate boulders was then necessary to reach the large open passage some 12ft ahead.  Rocks could be carefully pushed forwards into the void but to reach them properly AJ had to get both legs around the bend and after accomplishing this was unable to reverse the manoeuvre due to an injured knee. After turning on his back he could see a big black space above which was accessible by pushing over some poised boulders balanced on a fridge-sized rock to one side.  On squeezing up into the space this rock suddenly and noiselessly settled onto his left side at the same time as a foot square "Floyd Collins Special" landed on his right welly.  Unable to move he shouted to Tangent to call out the MRO - foreseeing a major problem ahead but rationally, and surprisingly calmly, expecting to be slowly crushed by the offending boulder and/or simply smashed to bits by the 20 ton or so of bigger boulders that he now realised were perched directly above him in a collapsed shaft or stope and apparently slowly moving! Luckily he was able to reach some small rocks which he wedged between the descending boulder and solid wall giving him time to notice yet another large boulder on which his back rested. With thoughts of "shit or bust" this one was laboriously nudged into the void and, by dragging his foot from a fortunately mud filled welly he was able to scramble the last few feet to the haven of the ongoing level.  He was now interred with one welly, no fags, a compass and a miraculous mortality extension (thanks, God). The news of


Streamway - photo: Simon House

his survival was shouted to the departing callout man and a request for shoring materials (and fags) made. As a long wait was expected he set off hopping down the level to look for possible shafts to surface, to take a compass bearing and have a crafty exploration.  The level was fairly free of tailings and ended at a muddy sink after some 60ft.  Shotholes were present in the walls and a few rotten stemples noted but no easy way out. He returned to the choke to find a loquacious Quackers venting his wrath on all digs, but this one in particular! The MRO had appeared with remarkable speed and soon Vince was digging from one side while AJ meticulously rearranged boulders into a supportive drystone wall. Andy Sparrow, John Walsh and the digging team meanwhile dragged all the full spoil bags back to the Shaft and received scaffolding, timber etc. lowered from surface by a very strong support party too numerous to mention.  Dr. Andy Newton stood by in case of the worst but was thankfully not needed.  (The trauma unit of Weston General Hospital were also on standby and there were plans to obtain a mobile drilling rig from Cornwall.  Though seemingly "over the top" it was only by a miracle that both were not required and they should be again seriously considered on future incidents of this nature).


The attempted crushing!

With the use of a short crowbar and a length of rope the "Floyd Collins Rock" was removed and, after the welly was liberated, dumped in the level enabling the trapped one to make a rapid escape before the Pub shut.  He is eternally grateful for the prompt response of those present and has never before been quite so pleased to see the motley buggers!  Thanks are also due to Roger and Jackie for allowing everyone to replace their lost body fluids at a late hour.

Work will continue on clearing the levels and ideas for removing or stabilising the choke toyed with. Apart from this short section Stock's House is a stable and fascinating working with lots of potential for both natural and mined passages.  This extension has also, in theory, made the new edition of Mendip Underground out of date on the day before it was published!!!  (They wont be any cheaper though ..... ).

Additions to the Digging Team

Roger Haskett, Andy Elson, Simon House, Alan "Goon" Jeffreys (GSG), Rick Stewart (ACC), Wendy Ripley (Craven PC), Mike Alderton, Nick Squire, Alex Loftus (EUMC), Ollie Metherall (EUMC), Harvey Lomas and dog (YRC), Ben Gingold, Ben Holden, Vince Simmonds, Andy Sparrow, John Walsh, Ben Langford (Univ.of Newcastle CC), Mike Richards (UNCC) Dave Coulson (UNCC), Mike Willet and Annie Audsley.


Streamway (now a 6' high mine level) - photo: Simon House

Additional Assistance

M.R.O, Jackie Dors, Jim Lewis ( Cornwall Heritage Trust) and Weston General Hospital Trauma Unit

A.R. Jarratt (49, not out) 16/8/99