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Stock's House Shaft - The Spring Offensive

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BBs nos. 502, 504-506.

February 2000 commenced with the escorting of an MCG Wednesday night tourist party around Five BuddIes Sink and the Shaft.  Needless to say they were then conned into assisting with the dig and 50 bags were hauled out while, in the depths, vast amounts of rock was being moved along the level.  Some of them even threatened to come again - but haven't yet!  During the rest of the month and early March another 160 loads reached the surface and four more new diggers were recruited.  Much of the work involved transporting full bags and rocks from Heinous Hall to the Shaft.

On the 13th March the last two boulders from the Heinous Hall collapse were banged and on 15th another 46 loads were hauled out.  Analysis of water samples by Roger Stenner seemed to indicate that the Upstream Level inlet is fed by water from Waldegrave Pool - as is the flow from the Treasury of Aeops.  As these levels went in different directions this seemed odd.  Further water samples were taken on the 19th, both underground and on the surface.

During the rest of March another 214 loads were laboriously hauled out on the man winch but life improved considerably on 2nd April when Ivan arrived with the newly fettled, trailer mounted hydraulic winch and painlessly removed another 74.  The following day, with the assistance of two press-ganged Grampian men, down from Inverness, another 74 came out on the hand winch - in a rapidly worsening snow blizzard.  Work continued on clearing the Upstream Level on the 4th and the terminal inlet sump was drained to enable an airspace to be felt beyond.  This was investigated further the following day and found to be the continuation of the Level.  With high water conditions it was left for the stream to excavate for us.  Another 75 bags reached the surface.

On 6th April the writer, digging in the floor of the Upstream Level on a solo trip, was fortunate to find an almost complete and nicely decorated clay pipe buried in the silt on the RH side of the passage just upstream of the 5m aven (now named Pipe Aven).  Its fine state of preservation may be due to its having been protected by wooden shoring along the Level wall - now rotted away.  Being still intact and useable it is postulated that the pipe may have been put down by its owner and fallen behind the timbers.  The cherry-like designs on the bowl are stylised tobacco plants and on one side is what appears to be a church window or bishop's mitre with a star below.  The circled W on the other side may be the initial of the pipe maker.  Further research is being done on the date and origin of this minor treasure and the current "guesstimate" is late 1700s - possibly from the Oakhill area.  It will eventually be displayed in Wells Museum. A small piece of clay roof tile was also found.


On this trip the now drained sump was further enlarged to gain access to another 20ft of level, bearing to the WNW under the road and towards the ruined Stock's House.  This now added weight to Roger's drainage theory. It was pushed further on 9th by the writer and Greg Brock who demolished a small roof collapse to continue for another 15ft to a choke. Next day the backfilled naturale (?) passage on the SE side of Pipe Aven was partially excavated.

Another 46 loads came out on the hydraulic winch on 12th April and a set back occurred next day when a fairly major roof fall just beyond Pipe Aven luckily happened while the writer was having a fag break at the Shaft.  The 16th saw 74 loads out, more water samples taken and the new collapse banged.  A follow up blasting project the next day was curtailed by more raining boulders.

This is another example of the roof of the level coming down when the supporting infill is removed. Bits of rotten timber and black staining show that all these dodgy areas were previously timbered up by the Old Men who were fully aware of the consequences of leaving them unsupported.

On 26th April Trev and team cleared most of this fall, despite having to dodge more rocks, and hauled 30 loads out.  May started with 87 bags out on the 3rd and the next few days were spent in lowering the floor of the Upstream Level to gain access to the visible continuation. This was entered on the 8th May in high water conditions and found to be aloft long section of apparently modified natural streamway with an attractive section of scalloped grey limestone at the start.  51 more bags came out two days later. Three clearing sessions were then done in the Level during which some natural/mined alcoves were revealed directly under the road. These will be fully excavated at a later date.  The arrival of summer and associated problems was heralded by the stealing of our modified wheelbarrow and the throwing of a full bag of cement down the Shaft by some pathetic pratt.

The hydraulic winch was in operation again on the17th when 66 loads came out after considerable experimentation with tying-on techniques.  Eventually a system was devised whereby ten loads could be hauled up in one go.

The Scene on 3rd April at Stock Hill (you can just sees the winch)

Andy Elson emerging from the "natural" section of the Upstream Level.  Photo by John Williams, 22nd April

Visitors from Kent Underground Research Group were shown the workings on 20th May (and persuaded to shift a few bags) and the next day a mere 3 loads were hauled out by Rich Witcombe who was excavating a trench across the flat ground behind the winch to see if it could have been a horse whim circle.  He found no evidence for this so this ground can now be used to extend the spoil heap.  Down below work was continuing on clearing the Upstream Level and on the 22nd the collapse at the end was poked with a long crowbar to bring down another supply for our regular rockery customers. Caveable passage could be seen above the collapse but it was deemed prudent to leave it to settle - the healthy water flow continuously washing out the fine silt and gravel.

An exciting evening was had on 25th when 87 loads came out, generally a dozen at a time, on the hydraulic winch.  The weight caused the scaffold tripod to slip - heavy bits of metal narrowly missing the unloading team.  At the Shaft bottom a couple of head sized boulders had the same effect on the loading team as they ricochetted into the two different levels where they were sheltering.  Valuable lessons were learnt for future winching as having two thirds of the digging team wiped out in one go would be counter-productive!  The last rock out to surface contained a superb shothole section, 23mm in diameter and 116mm long to the bottom of the hole - which still contained a greasy black deposit.  This was collected for possible analysis as it is likely to be the residue of the burnt gunpowder charge.  The spring session ended with 104 bags to surface on 31st May.  Hopes are now on the weather drying up (some hope!) for a late summer push downstream.

This section will be walking sized when the floor spoil is removed ..

Additions to the Digging Team

Wayne Hiscox, Arthur Spain, Greg Smith, Roger Wallington, Mick Lovell, Brian Pittman, Viv Beedle (all MCG), Dave Boon (Frome CC), Barry Hewlett, Danny Burnett, Steve Windsor, Fergus Taylor (ex Camborne SMCC), Mark Denning, Estelle Sandford, Martin Parsons, Ken Ansty (Blackmore CG), John Moorhouse (Soton DCC), Jim Conway (Grampian SG), Dave Hodgson (GSG), Mike Merritt (SMCC), Chris Franklin, Ian Butler, Dave Morgan, Phil Spice, Nick Smith, Peter Burton (Kent Dnd. Res. Group), Mark "Gonzo" Lumley.

Additional Assistance and Photography

Graham Mullan (UBSS), Lou Maurice (DBSS), Marek Lewcun ( Bath Arch.Trust), Maurice Hewins (WCC).

Diggers always welcome to J¬írat's Digs (or the many others!) Especially welcome, thick arms and a natural propensity for grovelling in waist deep mud!  Contact the diggers at the Hunters Lodge Inn, Priddy any Wednesday evening.  Ed