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Stock's House Shaft - Part the Third

By Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BB’s nos. 502 and 504.

Ten digging trips during the last two weeks of August '99 saw the Shaft bottom and all four levels being further cleared of tailings and 526 loads of spoil reaching the surface. On one memorable occasion Mike Willett winched up 183 in one session!  Lots of new diggers were recruited and others assisted in a variety of ways.  A rough survey was done by the ex -Camborne School of Mines contingent to establish the position of the downstream choke - named by Trevor "the Rat Trap". Here the fridge¬ sized boulder which had slid onto AJ was demolished after four shot holes packed with cord were fired over two trips.  Revenge is sweet.

The smaller choke some 25ft along the Upstream Level was cleared to allow AJ access to an apparently natural aven some 15ft high with the choked level continuing beyond.  (It would seem that all the open spaces above the level have been formed by relatively recent collapse along natural rifts or joints due to the failure of the Old Men’s stemples.  These obviously did a magnificent job when first installed but time has caught up with them!)

The whole of the Shaft bottom was gradually excavated and Jake Baynes was inspired to dig the tiny stream inlet adjacent to the Upstream Level.  This turned out to be yet another (short) choked level in a calcite vein with a boulder choke above.  After some careful but exciting digging this was passed to reach a 15ft high by 15-20ft long collapse chamber.  A couple of possible ways on were dug at a later date - see below.  Jake's earlier fervid rantings about an imaginary lost cavern called the "Treasury of Aeops" gave it its name! (Sad in one so young .... )

September started well with 200 loads hauled out in the first eight days and lots of press-ganged new diggers.  The Rat Trap choke was banged several times and on the 6th September some "brown trouser" inducing work with a long crowbar saw the whole lot collapse with a mighty roar!  It was then possible to look up into a large, c.20ft high chamber and not the expected collapsed shaft. One more bang was fired to clear the access point.  A Wessex team took photos of the mine for use in a Mendip digging talk at this year's B.C.R.A. Conference.

Due to a constant trickle of water from the Upstream Level a foot deep pool now covered the floor of the Downstream Level making digging and hauling more unpleasant than usual.  This problem was solved on 7th September when RL and AJ took down a hand operated diaphragm pump and got it working on the first attempt (a miracle).  The ponded water was pumped forwards through the choke and into the level beyond. Further clearing of the boulders gained access to the 20ft high chamber but a lack of shot holes or other signs of previous visitation led to the conclusion that this wide rift was formed by yet another collapse of the walls of a natural joint into the Old Mens' level below.

The level beyond the choke was re-entered on 8th September after TH had been allowed to play with a 10lb sledgehammer for an hour or so.  Unfortunately he was slightly too big to pass the boulder squeeze beyond and had to be content with watching AJ ambling down the classic mine gallery ahead and admiring its single remaining stemple wedged across the passage while he counted the adjacent shot holes.  The point previously reached on 27th August was re-examined to find that the sink hole in the floor was merely a step down through banks of grey mud which partially block the level.  Tonight the draught was strong and blowing inwards and this, combined with the natural look of the passage ahead, shows great promise.

Between the 12th and 20th September there were seven more clearing trips with banging operations at the Rat Trap choke, the partial choke just beyond and the heap of large boulders in the Upstream Level aven.  Another 91 loads of spoil reached the surface and a vast amount more was stacked at the Shaft bottom.  On the 19th some dismay was suffered when two streams were found to be entering the mine from the Upstream Level and Treasury of Aeops, resulting in the Downstream Level being flooded to within a foot of the ceiling as far as the Rat Trap.  The debris pile here was lowered a foot or so and the stream gaily plunged forwards to the end of the level where it flowed onwards to the huge cave system, which doubtless lies beyond.  There was no sign of it backing up.


With no hope of the place drying out until next summer it was decided to take advantage of the high water to assist in spoil removal.  After failing to get a too large orange lifebelt (H.M.S. Defence) down the entrance pipes a 2' x 1'4" blue grot bin was successfully taken to the Downstream Level and tied to the centre of a 60ft rope.  Wet-suited diggers then shoved two full spoil bags/boulders inside and rammed on the lid.  Non-wet-suited diggers then towed the "Semi-submersible Skip" back upstream with considerably more ease than the dragging methods previously used. On the 22nd some 40 loads were shifted in an hour or so.  Even Trevor was impressed!  More clearing was done here on 29th with Paul Brock joining the team.

Two days later AJ, on a solo trip, dug in the floor of the Treasury of Aeops (continuing on from a previous dig by TH) to reveal the ongoing level below

This was followed upstream on hands and knees for 30ft to a collapsed shaft.  The stemples had rotted here to leave the stone ginging hanging wedged together with large boulders filling the shaft centre above.  A large stream poured down the shaft that had been flourescein tested to come from the flooded gully across the road.  This gully also feeds Five Buddles Sink. Further work here will require major shoring and ideally dry conditions.  It may be too close to the road for comfort but is still 20-30ft deep.

RL and AJ were back downstream on October 4th and after filling and dragging back many bags of mud they used these to form a temporary dam around a Cuthbert's type steel valve. The stream way could then be turned off at will to allow drier digging at the end.  When the valve was closed the sump at the end of the level rapidly drained with encouraging gurgling noises.

On the 6th a large team hauled out another 100 bags and dug at the end and the following day a second dam was constructed near the end of the Downstream Level by AJ and Jake (Johnson). This was made from a 6ft length of 6" diameter plastic drainage pipe with an adjustable pipe bung and was found to be more effective than the first dam, so much so that the steel valve was later replaced by another pipe and bung system.  Water levels had dropped slightly due to drier weather in the middle of October so a fair amount of digging was done at the end.  A grade 5 survey was also started which revealed that the downstream end is situated beneath the deep rake 75ft NE of the Shaft. The positions of the two upstream passages can be seen on the enclosed surface plan.  Both may lead to buried entrances across the road (HGV drivers take note!). Roger Stenner took water samples from these streams for analysis. The end of the Upstream Level was banged to reveal a 2ft long extension and miniscule sump!  It will be looked at again in dry weather as it may be diggable.

With the onset of winter and disappearance of light-fingered low life from the area it was time to install a powered winch.  Bob and Greg retrieved Alex Gee's "lawnmower" winch from the temporarily abandoned dig at Hallowe'en Rift and it was ensconced in its new home. By 27th October it had lifted 127 loads out - slower than man hauling but a lot easier.  The whole site was fenced off to stop tourists garrotting themselves on the cables.

On 25th October a third temporary dam was begun at the mouth of the Upstream Level utilising the steel valve and three days later a clay pipe bowl was discovered amongst spoil on the surface.  (Tentatively dated to c181O-more information to follow) Work from November onwards will be documented in the next BB article.

Left: Looking up the 50 foot entrance shaft.  Note the shot holes



Artefacts

The almost complete bowl of a clay pipe was providentially found on top of a surface spoil heap, having been partially cleaned of mud by recent rain.  It obviously came from underground but the exact location is unknown. Robin suggests that it is from 1865-1870 and further opinions will be sought on this.

Amongst the piles of crushed and rotten wood at the base of the Shaft was found a 350mm X 90mm X 178mm lump of timber with a wrought iron bracket-like attachment.  This is thought to be the top section of one of the "stillions" or windlass supports from the Shaft top.  (These are also called "stillings" or, in Derbyshire, "stows").  They were in general use from at least the 16th Century up to the 20th essentially unchanged - and can still be found on some wells.  There is a more modem, single example of one of these in a west Mendip ochre mine and the windlass from the stillions used on the miners 1880 Lamb Leer exploration is in Wells Museum (a photo of this in use can be found as plate 16 in H.E.Balch's "Mendip - Its Swallet Caves and Rock Shelters" and on p.97 of "A Man Deep in Mendip").


"Two timbers a little longer than the shaft are placed beside it, the one in the front of the shaft, the other at the back.  Their extreme ends have holes through which stakes, pointed at the bottom like wedges, are driven deeply into the ground, so that the timbers may remain stationary. Into these timbers are mortised the ends of two cross-timbers, one laid on the right end of the shaft, while the other is far enough from the left end that between it and that end there remains suitable space for placing the ladders.  In the middle of the cross-timbers, posts are fixed and secured with iron keys.  In hollows at the top of these posts thick iron sockets hold the ends of the barrel, of which each end projects beyond the hollow of the post, and is mortised into the end of another piece of wood a foot and a half long, a palm wide and three digits thick; the other end of these pieces of wood is seven digits wide, and into each of them is fixed a round handle, likewise a foot and a half long. A winding-rope is wound around the barrel and fastened to it at the middle part.  The loop at each end of the rope has an iron hook which is engaged in the bale of a bucket, and so when the windlass revolves by being turned by the cranks, a loaded bucket is always being drawn out of the shaft and an empty one is being sent down into it.  Two robust men (or one Willet!) turn the windlass, each having a wheelbarrow near him, into which he unloads the bucket which is drawn up nearest to him; two buckets generally fill a wheelbarrow; therefore             when four buckets have been drawn up, each man runs his own wheelbarrow…..and empties it.  Thus it happens that if shafts are dug deep, a hillock arises around…the windlass. "

Geogius Agricola, De Re Metallica, 1556 (1912 translation)



In the sides of the solid level, just before the Rat Trap, the observant John Williams noticed a fine set of stemple hollows cut in the opposing walls.  These are identical to those noted by Willy Stanton in Grebe Swallet Mine, Charterhouse (Stanton 1991), who refers to them as "egg" and "slot" hollows, dating those he found to the 1750s.  The circular "egg" depression measures 50mm in diameter and is 25mm deep, the "slot" is 120mm high by 50mm wide and also 25mm deep.  A wooden stemple (in our case 755mm long) had its pointed end inserted in the "egg" and the other, squared off end was beaten down into the "slot".

 

Stanton experimented to find that a simple hollow could be battered into limestone in about five minutes. Those in Stock's House Shaft are in softer (?) Triassic conglomerate.  There are more of these in the downstream level beyond the Rat Trap.

Shotholes in the workings have been measured at c.20mm diameter and up to 300mm deep (long) compared to those found by Stanton in Grebe Swallet Mine which he measured at 23mm diameter with lengths of up to 480mm (Stanton 1983).  He also dated them to the late 18th century.  (Those interested in Mendip mining should read all of Stanton's exceptionally well researched papers on the subject).


ADDENDUM:-  The picture shows Trevor demonstrating some mid-air Morris steps to a confused Gwilym while Tangent entertains Simon with an obviously fascinating conversation (wow).  Above, Bob asks Toby where he should drop the full airsick bag and in the background J. Rat gets his revenge.

References

STANTON W.I. 1983 Shot holes Containing Lime in a Mendip Lead Mine.  Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society, 16 (3),185-189

STANTON W.I. 1991 The Habitat and Origin of Lead Ore in Grebe Swallet Mine, Charterhouse-on-Mendip, Somerset. Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society, 19 (1), 43-65

AGRICOLA G. 1556 De Re Metallica (1912 translation, re-published 1950 and reprinted c.1980)

Additions to the Digging Team

Matt Head, David Blayshaw (Australia), Mark Smith (Macclesfield), Ryan Moor (CSMCC), Chris Morris (CSMCC), Phil Massey, Stuart "Mac" McManus, Dave "Wig" Irwin, Greg Brock (ESCC/BEC), Kevin Tomlinson (Essex Scouts C.C.), Jonathan Driscoll (E.S.C.C.), Paul Brock, Bob Lewis (Tone Valley C.C. - Doncaster), John Renner (T.V.C.C.), Paul Johnson (T.V.C.C.), Alex Livingstone, Anthony Marsh, David Loefler, Tom Chapman.

Additional Assistance

John Cornwell (Bristol Mining Archive), Peter Burr ( Germany and ex-ULSA), Mark Helmore, Dave Edge, Mike Holmes (W.C.C.), Roger Stenner, Alex Gee (unwittingly!), Tony Oldham, Jim Smart.

Research and article by A.R. Jarratt