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Stock's House Shaft - Winter Draws On.

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BB’s nos. 502, 504-508.

"Now we descend into oblivion or we enter the great book of history".
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (the film) - 1959

On the 6th September 2000 a distinct hint of Autumn in the air spurred the team on to drop the downstream water level before the onset of the rainy season.  In an attempt at economy Quacker’s generator was tried a couple of times to power the pump but was not "man enough" for the job. In the meantime all full bags were dragged back to the Shaft and clearing of the Upstream Level and Shaft bottom continued.  Three visiting cavers from Meghalaya assisted on the 11th and now know why we go to their country to walk into huge, open and warm river caves!

On 13th September 125 bags reached the surface with another 108 coming out on the 20th - the fuel crisis and B.C.R.A.  Conference putting an effective halt on the intermediate weekend digging.  The level of the terminal choke had been lowered enough for the standing water surface to have dropped considerably.  This enabled it to be pumped "dry" using the hand pump during generator problems.  An infestation of tiny flies added to the fun at the working face as diggers with pooh-covered hands felt them settle on their noses.

Work continued in both the Upstream and Downstream Levels and the outlet from the submersible pump hose was used to good effect to wash mud off the walls.  On the 24th 62 bags were hauled out and the following day the writer, on a solo trip, pumped out the water and succeeded in bringing down the terminal choke with the use of Trevor's long garden hoe handle - "the Chokebuster".  It made a pleasant change not to be underneath it at the time.  A stream issuing from the Treasury of Aeops heralded the onset of an early "monsoon"

The planned major assault on the 27th was defeated by continued heavy rain but despite two good sized streams entering at the Shaft bottom (where Alex had earlier that day heaped up boulders from a clearing session) the end was eventually pumped out and a few rocks removed before the sudden noise of the pipe bung being blown out of the dam caused a minor panic.  Amidst general cursing pumping was recommenced and more rocks later removed from the choke.  It was then possible to scramble up over the collapse into a standing sized, solid roofed "rift chamber".  This may be natural, mined out or created by roof collapse during the driving of the level and had been used as a convenient stacking space by the Old Men.  Despite a very strong inward draught there was no obvious outlet from this rift to indicate the way on.  It is assumed that the level continues below this rift and the excavation of the floor here would have been the next priority if the weather had not shat on us.

The 1st October saw 83 loads out and the welcome return of our German friends Helmut and Michele Potzsch of the Basque caving club Ziloko Gizonak.  All the removed rock is now being taken to the Mineries Pool for future repair work on the dam and the bagged tailings and mud are being used to build a temporary barrage in the gully behind the main sink.  By this means we have diverted most of the Treasury of Aeops water into Five Buddles Sink but the source of the Upstream Level water needs to be found before that too can be diverted.  The Treasury water did one good thing by washing away debris obscuring two borer holes driven towards the Shaft and indicating that the Old Men had mined inwards to here from the surface sink, probably following a natural streamway.

The temporary surface dam was commenced by Alex Livingstone and Pete Hellier on October 4th - with Lindsay Diengdoh doing sterling service wheelbarrowing spoil across the road from the Shaft.  Another 104 loads were hauled out and the in-washed silt behind the temporary Upstream Level dam was removed and bagged.  Further visits on the 6th, 8th and 9th continued this work in ongoing wet conditions.  A small section of clay pipe stem and a tiny piece of china decorated with blue spots were found.

Another major session occurred here on the 11th with activities being videoed by Neil Wooldridge (W.C.C.) who has been conned into producing a film of the dig.  It has been decided to call the huge boulder presently blocking the Upstream Level "Rupert Jnr."  A historical precedent had been set by the late Graham Ba1combe who named a two ton boulder, in his dig at the nearby Waldegrave Swallet, Rupert.  See the article by Dave Irwin in this BB and the forthcoming Speleo History Bulletin - copies available from him - essential reading for Stockhill and cave digging enthusiasts.

A considerable amount of trenching and banking was done on the surface by Trevor, resulting in a good flow of water into Five BuddIes Sink and a reduction of that entering the Treasury of Aeops.  Half a small bronze horizontal bearing liner was found near the excavated buddle pit - doubtless part of the ore washing machinery.  It bears evidence of "load lines" due to excessive wear (see appendix).

Over the next two days about a hundred bags of spoil were filled in the Upstream Level and a large amount of rock was dragged back from beyond "Rupert Jnr." by careful manipulation of the long crowbar. Another tiny fragment of grey and blue decorated china was found.  By inserting drain testing dye (fluorescein) into the surface stream we were able to prove that the Upstream Level sink must lie south east of the old tramway to the Waldegrave Works - the water on the north west side only entering the workings via the Treasury of Aeops.  Further testing in this area has so far failed to reveal the actual sink.

121 bags came out on the 18th and about fifty bags were filled from the silt traps in the streamway. Next day a shallow shaft-like feature about forty feet south of Stock's House ruins was excavated to a depth of six feet.  Probing in all directions with a crowbar failed to hit any solid rock or ginging so this site was abandoned as a possible alternative entrance to the Upstream Level.  106 more loads came out on the 25th when Neil W. was kept busy dragging them to the Shaft, hooking them on and videoing the operation at the same time!  Further clearing was undertaken over the next two days and on the 30th - when the writer, digging out the floor of Pipe Aven, was distressed to find lumps of wet clay sporadically dropping from the ceiling. The drone of a Forestry J.E.B. grading the car park somewhere above did not help his composure and so a retreat was made to H.Q.  A mighty waterfall was found to be thundering down the "wheel pit" entrance to Five BuddIes Sink.

On the 2nd November, following an hour spent vainly trying to keep the winch running properly, hauling plans were abandoned and Neil U. set off below.  He returned fifteen minutes later in a state of depressed shock to report that a large roof fall had occurred at Pipe Aven and that the rest of the Upstream Level was now inaccessible.  All went down to view this tragedy and note the ominous series of cracks in the SE wall of the Level which gave warning of further, imminent and catastrophic collapse!  The accessible tools were rescued leaving three spades and two crowbars interred beyond the fall and the place was left to sort itself out.  A large quantity of fallen clay had added to the silt problems in the streamway and so work commenced on bagging this up - a project which will keep us going over the next few weeks.  We were fortunate that no-one had been crushed by, or trapped beyond this fall.

Bob Smith's birthday was on the 6th November so, as a special treat, he was allowed to hook on 100 bags for removal to the surface.  Another 117 came out two days later - courtesy of Alex, whose birthday it wasn't.  Further work on clearing the Pipe Aven collapse was done on the 13th when the writer, supported by Alex, also dived for some 15-20ft downstream to reach the flooded terminal choke but did not feel confident enough to squeeze up past the stemples into the assumed limited airspace above.  With lower water conditions this is still a feasible diving/digging proposition but the great amount of silt creates zero visibility and makes things generally unpleasant.

During a major silt bagging session on the 15th November more of the Pipe Aven collapse was gingerly removed and shoring was commenced with the placement of a long Acro-prop. Two days later a couple of short Acros were installed, more rock cleared and the choke gingerly passed beneath in order to rescue the tools from beyond.  A major shoring project is now required here.

To be continued; (Due to the current high water levels the ground plan of the Shaft bottom cannot be done and will be left for a future article.)

Appendix - A Timewaster in Five Buddles Sink and more on the clay pipe saga.

On 9/2/98, at the base of the Cornish Shaft in Five Buddles Sink, a wooden spatula-like tool was disinterred. It was assumed to be a scraper for cleaning mining equipment. The recently published "The Copper & Lead Mines around the Manifold Valley, North Staffordshire" by Lindsey Porter and John Robey has a photograph of an almost identical artefact on p.141.  This was found in the Royledge Mine and probably dates from the 1850s.  It is described as a" .... 'timewaster', a tool for removing clay from boots." It's Mendip cousin and the bearing liner found on the surface are shown below - drawn to full scale.  Both are destined for Wells Museum.

Bob Smith, via David Cooper (a clay pipe maker at Amberley Chalk Pits Museum, West Sussex) has contacted David Higgins of the Society for Clay Pipe Research.  He was very excited by the drawings of the decorated pipe and writes as follows:-

"Many thanks for your letter and most interesting enclosure which arrived this morning.  I have had a look through various publications for the area and cannot find any good matches for this unusual pipe.  The bowl form and style of the leaf-decorated seams suggest a date of around 1740-90 for this piece, but the other decorative elements are very hard to match.  Most of the Bristol area products were plain until towards the end of the C18th and so this looks like an early example.  There does not seem to be anything quite like it known to date!  The W in a circle looks like a typical cartouche mark as used in the Bristol region, but extending up as far as Gloucestershire and down into Devon and Cornwall.  It is slightly unusual to have a single letter rather than a two letter mark. Marks with dotted borders like this occur on pipes of c 1700-50 in Cornwall.  Given the combination of form, mark and decoration a date of somewhere around c1750-75 would seem most likely for this piece.

Given the rarity of this design it would be useful to get a note of it published.  Would your contact be prepared to write a covering note describing the pipe and saying where it was found to go in the SCPR Newsletter?"  (This has been done.)


Additions to the Digging Team

Brian Kharpran Daly (Meghalayan Adventurers, N.E.India), Lindsay Diengdoh (M.A.), Gregory Diengdoh (M.A.), Mark "Shaggy" Howden, Brian Johnson, Liz Kitts (Southampton U.C.C.), Michele Potzsch (Ziloko Gizonak), Mick Barker ( Lincoln Scouts C.C.), Adrian Burrows, Matthew Higgins.

Additional Assistance

Dave Carter (Show Power), Dany Bradshaw, Mike Wilson, David Cooper (clay pipe maker), David Higgins (S.C.P.R.).