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Tribute to "Alfie" - Stanley John Collins

Stanley John Collins, known to all his friends as "Alfie", passed away at his home in Litton, near Chewton Mendip, on 16 October 2007 aged 83. He had been a member of the Bristol Exploration Club for sixty years.

In his eulogy at the funeral in Litton Parish Church, Tony "Sett" Setterington explained how Stanley became "Alfie" - At the start of the Second World War, Stanley Collins was a pupil at a school in Maidstone, Kent, which for safety reasons was evacuated to Dorchester. While there he joined the Junior Training Corps, a precursor of the Army Cadets, and he found that he had to conform to Regular Army rules and wear a greatcoat in winter. Wartime rules required that brass buttons were clean but not shiny, a difficult condition to achieve, especially so if the buttons were not a matching set, which was true in "Alfie’s" case. At the time there was a film entitled "Alf’s Button", which told the fictional tale of a soldier, named Alf, whose greatcoat had one button made when Aladdin’s lamp was melted down and which retained magical properties when it was rubbed. "Alfie’s" odd button didn’t have any magical properties but it did earn him his nickname!

From school, "Alfie" progressed to the University of Bristol where he studied radio science, or in today's terms, electronics. He became an active member of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, demonstrating his fitness by cycling 100 miles in a day and posting cards en route as proof.

In due course he was directed to work at Kolster Brands in Sidcup, Kent, where he was a member of the team designing the first, post-war, 12 inch, black and white television set.

During his stay in Kent "Alfie" regularly travelled to Mendip on long weekends, and when wartime restrictions on jobs were lifted he moved to Bristol to work in the aircraft industry. When he was living in Clifton he married Jean and they had a daughter Sue, now living in North America. Unfortunately Jean became unwell and had to move into a care home where she eventually died.

"Alfie" joined the Bristol Exploration Club in 1947 and was soon actively caving and digging, especially on Eastern Mendip where he was involved with Pat Browne and his father in work in Stoke Lane Slocker and Brownes' Hole. He gave his name to Alfie's Room in the latter cave. After trial excavations in the late 1940s, he became a key member of the digging team which eventually opened up St. Cuthbert's Swallet in July 1953, but the tightness of the original Entrance Rift restricted access at first to only the smallest members of the BEC. The Rift was progressively enlarged and "Alfie" was able to join the exploratory trips and later assisted Don Coase with a preliminary survey of the cave.

On Saturday evenings the BEC would enjoy another of "Alfie’s" talents, playing the piano for sing songs in the Hunters’. At this time, he began composing his "Spelaeodes", lengthy comical recitations describing the travails of such fictional caving characters as Percy Pound, Dennis Drain and Kenneth Lyle. With cartoon illustrations by fellow BEC member Jock Orr, a collection of them were published as "Reflections" in 1971.

"Alfie" was a very capable DIY builder and, assisted by Jill Rollason, he erected the stone tackle shed at the Belfry. He also bought a pair of miners' cottages in Bishop Sutton near Mendip and, with some help from friends, converted them into a single house. For some years "Alfie" edited the Belfry Bulletin and when relieved of this duty following a Committee dispute he edited an alternative newsletter "The Bulletin", publishing it twice yearly for some 30 more years. He also continued to organise annual dinners for the older section of Mendip cavers.

With his second wife, Sally, and children, Jacqueline and Deborah, he moved to Long Roof Barn in Litton, but later "downsized" to a smaller cottage in the village when Jacqueline left home and Deborah sadly died.

A subsequent decision to build an extension for Jacqueline, her husband, Steve, and their family ended in disaster when a mistake by a builder caused a fire which burnt down the house, taking with it furniture and contents including computers, archives and musical instruments. A much-enlarged house was eventually rebuilt and both families moved in, but tragically Sally contracted septicaemia from which she never recovered. This was a terrible blow to "Alfie", who was already suffering with breathing problems and deteriorating health and he never really recovered. Although he planned to attend the recent "Veterans" dinner he didn’t manage it and died at home on Tuesday 16 October.

"Alfie" was a man of many talents, and any caver who was fortunate enough to hear him recite one of his famous Spelaeodes in the Belfry or the Hunters' will vouch for his wonderful command of the English language and his sense of humour and fun.

Based on the original eulogy read out during the funeral service by Tony "Sett" Setterington, amended and enlarged by Rich Witcombe

Membership News

In the last few months we’ve had a number of new members. Please join me in welcoming the following: Mark Stephens, Kate Humphries, Jo Hardy, Maxine Bateman, Jinni King, Sissel Balomatis.