Belfry Bulletin

Search Our Site

Article Index


Stock's House Shaft - A Winter's Tale

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BBs nos. 502, 504 and 505

"Failure is not an option."
The film "Apollo 13"

Enthusiasm for the dig tailed off as winter approached and surface hauling became a bitterly cold chore. During November 1999 a total of 166 loads were winched to surface.  Some half-hearted dowsing was done above the conjectured courses of the three stream passages but the results of this will only be known when they have been excavated and followed underground.

The Parallel Upstream Level was cleared of Old Men’s backfilling for some 6-7metres (20ft) to a blank wall and the recently uncovered passage (Loop Level) opposite the Treasury of Aeops partly emptied of its fill of sandy tailings and backfilled to rejoin the main Downstream Level after some 5 metres (15 ft) - see updated plan. Along with these projects continued clearing of the Shaft bottom area took place.  In the Treasury itself a boulder blocked rift in the ceiling was banged and cleared to reveal some 4 metres (12ft) of natural passage, becoming too tight.

On 29th and 30th November the end of the Downstream Level was attacked after the water had been pumped back behind the 2nd dam.  Digging conditions were atrocious but eventually enough tailings were cleared to produce an airspace and strong draught.  Considerable amazement was felt when the apparent noise of a falling stream was heard ahead!  This was when the Five BuddIes stream was not flowing and the Stock's House stream was dammed.  Could it be the Wheel Pit water?  More banging and clearing was done in the Rat Trap and plenty of full bags stored awaiting removal.

December started optimistically with a strong team digging at the end and 232 bags were hauled out by the 8th.  The "lawn mower winch" was deemed to be not man enough for the job and was replaced with the M.C.G. power winch - unfortunately proving to be inoperable and resulting in the continued use of the man-powered winch.  A third dam was constructed in the Upstream Level and a fourth just downstream of the 2nd dam.  Being ridiculously optimistic that we could cope with lots of water we took a bottle of "champagne" down to cool ready for the big breakthrough! Needless to say the weather conditions at the end of December were the worst for months with much of Chewton Minery flooded.  There was some 4 metres depth of water in the Wheel Pit depression.  Despite this the Stock's House stream only backed up a couple of feet.

In the meantime work continued in the more accessible passages.  On 10th, 12th and 13th the Rat Trap was further cleared to reveal a gallery heading south.  This was named Greg's Level and was emptied of backfill for some 3 metres (10ft) to a blank wall.  On 15th another 130 bags were hauled out and clearing continued.  P.B. found a 3" long curved metal spike that may have been one of the prongs of a rake.  More clearing of the Rat Trap was thwarted when, on 26th, a minor roof fall was found here with a large boulder almost blocking the level at the 6m aven just beyond. This was unfortunately the "shape of things to come" with a whole series of collapses caused by floodwater washing out clay seams in the fault above - exacerbated by the shock waves from bang used to break up large fallen boulders.

On 27th the Parallel Downstream Level was the next to be cleared of miners' backfill.

Yet again a blank wall was reached after some 3 metres (10ft) and this very short level may have been blasted out to act as a "manhole" or refuge for the Old Men when they fired their black powder charges further downstream.  A tiny trickle of water bubbled up from the floor at its end.

The following day discouragement reached a new height when another major collapse was found in the Rat Trap and the writer had to beat a swift retreat as a further one occurred while he was clearing it.  One load was winched out that day and another 100 the day after when the Wednesday Night Team were treated to "Major Dick White's Levant Mine Punch". This concoction was based on a Dorset recipe involving Jamaica rum, cognac, Benedictine, lemon, sugar and boiling water and was distributed to the Adventurers at the Count House dinners at this famous Cornish mine in the 1890s - " .... so potent that the smell of it a quarter of a mile away would knock any man blind drunk".  Our two new Wessex recruits were suitably impressed. Another 22 loads reached surface the next day.

The last day of the 20th Century saw a boulder banged near the 6m aven.  It was revisited on 2nd January to find the bang had done a good job - too bloody good in fact!  Just beyond this point was now a blank rock wall where the Downstream Level should have been.  A massive roof fall had completely blocked off the last 30ft of this passage but the stream was still gaily flowing on underneath it.  Utter despondency soon gave way to the realisation that this lot would otherwise have eventually fallen on its own - with probably fatal results.  Resigned, the diggers started to clear the collapse .....

Throughout January work was concentrated on this problem.  As the huge boulders slumped down they were blasted at floor level (seven bangs) until an 8 metre (25ft) high chamber resulted.  This was so impressive that it earned the name Heinous Hall (from the climbing cartoons of Canadienne Tami Knight).  A total of 325 loads of rock and mud were hauled out during the month and lots more remains underground awaiting removal.  WARNING: High in the ceilings of both the Rat Trap and Heinous Hall are several huge and suspect boulders apparently defying the force of gravity!  DO NOT HANG AROUND IN THESE AREAS!!  It is intended to construct some form of protective roof here using RSJ’s once the level has been cleared.  On 30th January the continuation of the level was re-entered and found to be in good condition

Work continues and the Champagne bottle is still unopened (but perfectly chilled).

Thoughts on the Hydrology.

Willy Stanton considers that all the swallet streams in this area (Waldegrave, Wheel Pit, Five BuddIes and Stock's House) feed the Cheddar catchment via the dolomitic conglomerate filled basin or valley containing the Wigmore Swallet drainage.  He suggests that this is partly proven by the Chewton Minery streams not having polluted Wookey Hole during the period of the washing and smelting.  At this time Cheddar Risings were permanently polluted - partly by drainage from West Minery (Charterhouse).  It is hoped that U.B.S.S. will soon conduct a series of water tracing experiments to solve this for once and for all.  Volunteers to test the risings at Cheddar, Wookey Hole and Rodney Stoke will be required. Collection of samples every six hours over several days will be needed.  Anyone interested please contact the writer.

The 1874 drawing of a Charterhouse lead miner (BB 505) is one of only a small number of representations of the Old Men.  Here are a few of them taken from various publications.  There are others in the small but excellent Mendip mining display at Weston-Super-Mare Museum.


From a Somerset map of 1612.  A spade wielding" groover" opening up his rake

From Thomas Bushell's "ABRIDGMENT Of the Lord Chancellor BACON'S PHILOSOPHICAL, THEORY IN Mineral Profecutions." 1659.  A 17th century miner with pick/gad, leather (?) helmet, breeches and unknown object (ore sample?).

From a 16th century map of Mendip

1) Three working miners with pick, hammer and borer

2) Miner with pick

Additions to the Digging Team

Paul Warren, Tim Large, Jesse Brock, Guy Munnings, Anthony Butcher (SMCC), John "Tommo" Thomas (WCC), John Williams (WCC),

Additional Assistance

Dr. Willy Stanton, Chris Richards ( WSM Museum),

Tony Jarratt, 27/1/00

The Editor writes please can you let me have articles for the next issue of the magazine as soon as possible.  This issue is a bit thin and if material is not very forthcoming I will have to write a boring article about how the Bulletin is produced and why it seems to take so long.