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The Rise and Fall of the B.E.C. Membership (1943-2004)

By Andy MacGregor

EXPANSION – 1943 to 1951

The members who existed in September 1943 numbered 14 as one might well expect in the middle of the war. In contrast, their staying power was better than average which, again, one might expect from those people who effectively started the club going again.  Much the same remained true of the 1944 (18 members) and the 1945 (17 members) batches.

Thus, by the end of the war, the total number of club members was 47 as 5 had left, but their staying power meant that losses from these groups would be low in future years, and would thus help to keep numbers up.  Members who are still seen from time to time from these batches include Harry Stanbury (Number 1) and Bob Bagshaw (Number 20).

In 1946, with the war now over, new members started to arrive in large numbers. Some were friends of B.E.C. members who had been in the forces with them and who were now demobbed. Others had been students during the war. 'Sett' (Number 78) is an example of the latter group.  Although the staying power of the 1946 batch was only average, its large number of new members, plus the low loss batches, pushed the total up.  By the end of 1946 we had 69 members, only 15 had left from the list started in 1943.

From 1947 to 1950, an even greater expansion occurred.  Very large numbers of new members joined in each of these years.  The membership by the end of 1950 was 129.  Among this ‘intake’ of new members were a number of well known personalities including Pat Ifold (number 150); Jill Tuck (number 157); Norman Petty (number 160) and Roy Bennett (number 214).  Derek Targett's father - Fred Targett - was also a member at about this time.

BAD PATCH……(1951 to 1957)

In contrast with the expansion shown above, the club actually - and steadily - DECREASED in size from 1951 to 1957.  At the start of this bad patch, the club had 129 members, while at the end of the bad patch, it had sunk to 116.  The decrease in membership was simply due to the fact that greater than average losses occurred in nearly every year.  In other words, members suddenly began to leave the club earlier than one might expect, and this did not depend on how long they had been members.  For some reason, the club had stopped keeping its members happy - old and young alike.

In 1953, the club discovered a major Mendip cave right on its own doorstep AND negotiated an access agreement which, in those days, virtually meant that any caver who wanted to explore Cuthbert’s regularly had to be a member of B.E.C.  One might reasonably expect that this would have given membership a boost, but IT HAD NOT THE SLIGHTEST EFFECT.  Indeed, the year following the discovery of Cuthbert’s was the worst of the whole period.


In the five years from 1957 to 1962, the club quite suddenly and dramatically expanded again at a rate nearly equal to its post-war growth.  From a situation in which the club seemed to have saturated at just over a hundred members it suddenly leaped into a position where it had nearly twice that number of members.  All this happened without any external factors like the ending of the war to account for the large growth.  It is thus a very remarkable occurrence.  At the end of 1962 we had 189 members.  After 1962, the increase levelled off.

What happened in 1951 which suddenly caused members to be less satisfied with the club, and what else happened (or what stopped happening) in 1957 which so dramatically reversed this trend?

In 1951, Harry Stanbury - the founder of the B.E.C. and the then current Hon. Secretary and Hon. Treasurer, resigned from the club committee and all his offices.  Dan Hassell also resigned at B.B. Editor. Reading the B.B. before this date will show that it contained a great deal of news of club members and of social and other events on Mendip as well as caving news.  In other words, the B.B. formed a strong link between the club on Mendip and in Bristol and those members who could only appear at infrequent intervals.  Members thus tended to hang on to their membership so that they could find out what their friends were doing and what was going on 'on the hill'.

After Harry's resignation, his posts as Hon. Sec. and Hon. Treasurer were ably filled by the (then) young Bob Bagshaw.  The B.B. proved more difficult to get anyone to take on and for a year or so it was actually run from London by Don Coase and John Shorthose.  Even when Harry was persuaded to come back and edit it again, it was not the same. As Secretary, he had previously run features like 'From the Hon. Sec's Postbag' - which he could no longer write. Even members addresses were not published over most of the period 1951 to 1957.

In 1957, the B.B. was handed over by the A.G.M. to a group of active club members who produced most of the 'chat' which members said they missed and also gave the B.B. a facelift.


The period of time covered by this part is that stretching from 1962 to 1985.  This is the longest stretch covered in our review.

If you look at the graph which should have appeared in the preceding BB and can be seen below, it appears to reveal a very slowly growing club until this period, when the membership numbers hovered around the 200 mark, which when all said and done, should have remained around that figure.

The sudden boost in 1989 is due to a sudden increase of 30 new members with an average decrease. Most years previously we had an increase/decrease of approximately 17 members annually.  In 1990 the annual new members dripped back to the average of 17 with hardly any members leaving.  In 1992 we see the opposite and by 1993, the membership is back to around the 200 mark.

From 1993 to the present day we see a decline to 130 members for 2004.

The drop in 2003 can be explained by the fact that all life members were contacted to see if any of them were still around, and a few were either not interested in keeping up with the club, or had vanished.

Could the drop from 2001 to the present day be the same as for the drop from 1951 to 1957, which was attributed to the lack of a regular appearance of the BB or when it did appear, there was not much news about people and any new discoveries?

The drop from the peak of 1991 to 2001 can be attributed to the steady decline in this country of people wanting to go caving, coupled with the fact that the finding of new caves has become increasingly scarce/difficult.

2001 did not help with the Foot and mouth epidemic, in which many country side sports suffered and never recovered to the previous membership numbers.

If the BEC wishes to keep at least on a steady level of membership, the BB needs to be at least issued bi-monthly in order to keep the non-Bristol area members interested. [Any comments ? – Ed]