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Stock's House Shaft - Towards the Hundredth Ton.

by Tony Jarratt

Continuing the series of articles from BB’s nos. 502, 504-509.

BB 508 article - correction: The drawings of the bronze bearing liner and "timewaster" were not, as stated, reproduced at the correct scale but had been reduced in size by the printers.  The length of the latter is 154mm, width of blade is 60mm.  The bearing is 60mm x 39mm x 27mm.

For a couple of weeks in November only Alex visited the Upstream Level on one occasion, 'flu, work and idleness having wreaked havoc on the rest of the team.  On the 3rd of December the deep rake near the tumulus c.110m north of the Shaft was investigated for possible dig sites in the hope of by-passing the flooded terminal choke.  The floor of the rake is composed of loose boulders but major excavations would be necessary to open up any underground workings.

Back at the Shaft work continued on clearing the Upstream Level and the bag pile in the Rat Trap and Greg's Level.  51 loads were winched out on the 8th.  The Treasury of Aeops stream diversion was still working well - to the extent that Five BuddIes Sink was found to be almost sumped just before the initial choke breakthrough point.  With this Autumn being the wettest on record this was hardly surprising but at least the stream in the Shaft, though sumping up the terminal choke, was not backing up to any degree.  This bodes well for open passage beyond.

On December 11th a visit to Pipe Aven revealed another roof fall which had again luckily occurred during our absence.  The large spur of rock supposedly held in place by the long Acro-prop had come down, prop and all.  Just beyond it the hanging death once supported by Old Men’s deads had also come down and the Level was again partially blocked.  This was actually very good news as these Damoclean "Henries" had been a continual source of worry to diggers passing warily beneath them.  The enormous boulders hanging in the now spacious void above will also undoubtedly come down in the near future and should hopefully wedge across above the Level to provide a relatively stable ceiling.

A map of all known cave and mine passages along the road between the Hunters and the Miners was given to the civil engineers putting in roadside trenches for fibre optic communications cables.  They were very grateful as no-one had informed them of possible dangers and one of their planned sites for an underground junction box was exactly on the site of an "old trial shaft" - now lost and not marked on recent O.S. maps!  (Incidentally this road is referred to in Gough's Mines of Mendip as Harptree Way).

The 13th saw a three man team clearing all bags and rocks from the Upstream Level and then leaving it severely alone as further extensive roof falls in the Pipe Aven area appeared imminent.  113 loads came out on the 17th and many of these were wheelbarrowed onto the Reserve where they were used the following day to construct a temporary dam at the head of the flowing stream behind Stock's House.  It is hoped that this will divert the water from the Upstream Level and into Five BuddIes Sink.  The remainder of the spoil was used to level the ground between the Shaft and Forestry car park in order to make winch access easier.  Another 124 loads came out on the 20th making a total since the start of this dig on the 25th August 1998, of c.7,6S0.  At an average, probably under-estimated weight of 251bs this works out at 78 tons brought to surface so far!!!

The surface drainage trench into Five BuddIes Sink revealed another interesting relic of the 19th century washing operations on the 22nd of November when a rusty iron bolt was spotted in its floor.  A few minutes work with a spade showed it to be just a tiny part of a section of cast pipe with a "flow diverter", broken but otherwise identical to one previously found in the wheel pit, rusted solidly onto one end.  The total length being 1.148m - see drawings appended.

The Christmas week saw very few diggers, lots of hangovers, much clearing of the Loop Level, Treasury of Aeops and the deposited silt in the start of the Upstream Level.  By the end of the year another 105 loads had reached the now frozen and snow covered surface.  At last the continuous rain seemed to have stopped (or at least turned lumpy) and it was hoped that a good freeze would dry up the inflowing streams. A note in The Pew (Priddy, Easton and Westbury parish magazine) states that the rainfall in Priddy during 2000 amounted to over 1270mm (50").  The standard average rainfall in the Chew Valley being 1100mm (43").

On the last visit of 2000 a short length of rigid aluminium ladder was erected in the Treasury in an attempt to avoid climbing over the huge and unstable boulder partway along. Suddenly it proved to be very unstable as it slid towards the ladder during tidying up operations.  The digger was prepared for this and rapidly retreated to the Shaft to plan a future banging project! In the meantime this level should not be entered.

New Year celebrations took their usual toll and it was not until the 3rd of January that a return was made to bring out 101 bags of spoil.  A return was also made to the awful, depressing wet weather.  11 more bags came out on the 8th when the Upstream Level collapse was utilised as the base of a dam for future water retention. A 6" plastic pipe was installed here on the 14th and the dam further built up the following day. Another 85 loads emerged on the 17th when surface and underground water levels were noted to have dropped considerably.

A banging trip on the morning of the 22nd of January disintegrated two boulders in the U/Level collapse, two at the Shaft bottom and obliterated the front of the huge "Henry" in the Treasury.  In the afternoon much of the resulting debris was bagged up by Alex.  The rest was cleared on the 24th when Trevor poked the looming remains of the "Henry" with a long bar then left it to hopefully slump down to floor level.  On this occasion the standing water level in the Downstream Level was found to have dropped over a foot.

On the 28th another 71 bags came out and the winch was removed to the Belfry.  All the rock dumped at the roadside was transported to the Mineries dam for repair work.  This continued on the following day when Stock's House Shaft was tidied up on the surface as the writer was off to Meghalaya to find some REAL cave. During the next three weeks only Alex could be bothered to turn up on six solo clearing trips in the Downstream Level.  The current foot and mouth scare has now curtailed all work on the site for the foreseeable future.  Total amount of loads out to date is c.8023 about 82 tons!

Additions to the Digging Team

Clare Thomas ( Cardiff Univ. C.C.), Ben Barnett. Bill Cooper.