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A Short History of the Bristol Exploration Club

by T.H. Stanbury.

I do not suppose there are many members that know how the B.E.C, came into being, or the hard work that has been necessary to put the club in the position that it holds today.

It is the purpose of these brief notes to acquaint those that are interested with a few facts about the earlier days of the BEC.

The first notes will, I am sorry to say, be very sketchy as all the earlier records were lost in the blitz. They were posted to me from Keynsham and never arrived, so I have only my memory to assist me.

In 1935 a group of my fellow employees approached me and asked if I would be willing to take them to Burrington and other places caving. Most of these lads had a little experience of Caves and Caving, and as my own experience was little better than theirs, I was extremely diffident about the whole arrangement; but agreed.  The following Saturday I took them to Goatchurch, and the trip turned out to be a great success.  The next four week-ends we were similarly employed and then many difficulties loomed large before us.

How could we get to the larger caves? How could we get Equipment? Would the Owners let us into the deep caves? There were two solutions.

The first and most obvious was that we join one of the recognised and established Cave Clubs of the district.  This was debated at length and it was decided that in view of the fact that we were a group of working class men and that there were a number of points in the existing societies we did not care about, that we should not associate ourselves with any body already in existence.

The second course open to us was to form an entirely new caving club, and after many misgivings the Bristol Exploration Club was duly formed with an initial membership of about a dozen.  If we could have foreseen all the difficulties and troubles that beset us, I very much doubt if the project would have been launched.  At the inaugural meeting a set of rules were drawn up, and although they have been modified and added to, to meet changing conditions, they were essentially the same as are in use today.

For a time all went smoothly; our subs enabled us to buy ladders and ropes, etc.  We familiarized ourselves with all the smaller caves and then turned to the larger ones.  Here, too, we were successful, and our first year concluded with the knowledge that we were still in existence, and if not exactly flourishing, we were holding our own.

Membership did not increase very much in the following years. We were not keen on too many members at first as we felt we did not have sufficient knowledge to hold them after they had joined. We preferred to move slowly, consolidating our position as we went, so that when the time came, as come it would, when members started to role in, we should be in a position to offer them something good.

The outbreak of war in 1939 found the BEC in a stronger position than ever before, although membership was still only 15.  We had suffered one bad loss, our Treasurer, who was also our Photographer, had been stricken with an liction of the eyes necessitating his withdrawal from all Club activities.  The last trip that he came with the Club was to Lamb Leer, where we went as guests of the UBSS.

The older members were called up, one by one, so that except for one fortunate incident, we should have had to close down, like other Mendip clubs for lack of active members.

We were fortunate to absorb in the BEC the Emplex Cave Club. The ECC was composed of employees of the Bristol Employment Exchange and had formed a club on similar lines and for similar reasons as the BEC. There men have since done, and are still doing, yeoman work for the Club, although they are only able to be present when on leave.

1940-41 saw us jogging along as before, a number of new recruits always balancing out those called to the forces, but 1942 saw the most severe crisis in the history of the B.E.C..  There was a very violent call-up, the result being that we were left with only about a half dozen active members, all of whom were actively engaged in the war effort. As those in the Forces were all made honorary members during their term of service, we were hit badly financially. For six months we struggled along, and then came salvation.

A number of persons of fair caving experience applied for membership and from that moment our worries vanished. lt is mainly through the hard work of two of these men (not forgetting the Hon. Sec. Ed) R. Wallace and D. Hasell, that the B.E.C. is where it is today.

In 1943 a forty foot duralumin and steel wire ladder was constructed, followed later by a similar one twenty feet in length. These ladders were our answer to the problem of transporting tackle to Mendip on push-bikes.

During 1943/44/45, certain ''persons unknown'', instead of following the orthodox method of obtaining the key, broke into certain Mendip Caves and we learned later that we had been blamed for this vandalism.  We were not responsible, and we managed at last to convince others of this.  During these three years our membership increased by leaps and bounds and we emerged from our obscurity to take our place among the most active clubs of Mendip.

The year 1946 was a monumental one, our membership rose to 80 and we were able, through the generosity of a certain person, to purchase a large hut as Mendip Head Quarters.  Our dig at Cross Swallet brought us into contact with the Bridgewater Cave Club, who have since been our guests at the Belfry for their 1947 Easter Meet.  We absorbed The Mendip Speleological Group, and became, individually, very active in the Cave Diving Group.  Besides this we became members of the Cave Association of Wales and also of the Cave Research Group.

We look to the future with every confidence, and we still claim, as we did in 1935, that the Bristol Exploration Club is unique in that it is a “personal" club, wherein everyone, whatever their age and standing is welcomed, and is encouraged to take an active part in the running of their Club.

Editorial Notes

I am able to report that at last, we have acquired our own duplicator, which will enable us to issue the B.B. more regularly.  Our thanks are due to the stalwarts who, often at great inconvenient to themselves, have got the job done for the first issues.  Their efforts have been greatly appreciated.

We thank the donors listed below for the Equipment they have presented for use at the Belfry:-

Wing-Commander G.W. Hodgekinson for a complete hut stove.
Miss E.A. Barrett of Bude, for an oil stove.
Mr. A. Innes for a printing Press. (For disposal).

We have just received from Dick Woodbridge a very interesting report of a walk in the Peak District, which will be included in BB as soon as possible.

Greetings to our members in the Forces all over the world!! and thanks for the bouquets which have proved to us that the effort is worthwhile.

The lads who went to South Wales had a good time in spite of the filthy weather and hope to get another chance to visit the area in the near future.

I've just been told that "Pongo'', (Mr. R. M. Wallis), has presented the Belfry with a 24 volt Petrol Generator set. Thanks very much, we'll have Swildon's floodlit yet.

A short walk in the Peak District.

By Dick Woodoridge.

Travelling from Manchester by train we left Hayfield Station at about 1:30 and walked up to Edale Cross, following the road and path, from the top a good view was had of the Kinder Downfall in the distance and the valley running down to the Kinder Reservoir. Over Edal;e Cross (1751ft.), the path dropped suddenly down Jacob’s Ladder – descent of about 1 in 1.  Starting down very cautiously, our pace slowly increased and we finished the last 50 ft. in an uncontrolled flight.  There the path crossed over a bridge about 2ft.wide and carried on comfortably past Edale Head Hotel, through some National Trust Property.

On the hills were still patches of frozen snow remaining after several weeks of thaw, and one large patch looked rather like a ;arge bird with a wing span of about half a mile. Having dropped down to about 300ft. we again started climbing, this time following the road  and crossed Rushup Edge, the road in places being 1 in 6.  Just over the summit we saw the Blue John Cavern about half a mile below and as we walked down we saw the flag being pulled down from the shop outside the entrance. Assuming that this was a sign that they were closing, we ran the rest of the way and persuaded the Guide to take us through the Cavern.

The way in followed a natural rift, and whilst going along, the Guide explained how the cave had been broken into about 300 years age, by a party of miners, working in the Blue John Mine. These workings had been started by the Romans, but they had never reached the natural cavern, which had been carved from the limestone by the melting waters of the Ice Age.  Evidence of very strong water action was observed right through the cave, particularly in the first large chamber. There, the first 6 ft. in height was perfectly circular; above this the surface was rather irregular, and the upper walls and roof shoved the normal smooth surface cut by a swiftly flowing stream.  The exploration given of this phenomenon was that a secondary stream joined the main stream at floor level, through a small rift at right angles to the main rift, and caused a whirlpool at that level.  The intermediate level was cut by turbulent water between the normal rift and the whirlpool.  In the roof, small holes had been cut by pieces of hard rock being caught up and swirled around by the swiftly flowing stream.  Seven working levels were pointed out from which the Blue John stone was obtained, and it was asserted that a distinct colouration and pattern was obtained from each working.  The stone has to be blasted from the parent rock, and it is therefore difficult to get a large portion of the stone without flaws.

Very little formation was present, compared with some of the Mendip caves, but there was quite a lot of colouring in the Calcite covering of some of the faces.  The illumination is provided by an acetylene lamp carried by the guide, and candles carried by the party.  The Guide also has a large reflector with which he directs his light on the various points of interest during the trip.

From Blue John Cavern we had to walk a further 4 miles to Chapel en le Frith - where buses left every half-hour for Manchester, we arrived there at 8 O'clock having walked through grand country for about twelve miles.

The Squeeks of Herman.

(being a Member's impressions of the1943 Committee.)

The mob it is led by young Harry,
who's regarded as chief fetch and carry.
He can make people laugh,
And draw a good graph
His only mistake was to marry.

A well mannered fellow is Daniel
His hair is like that of a spaniel
His ears they are big,
and he eats like a pig,
And his work is dirty and manual.

Now next on the list we have Roy,
In whose presence the ladies find joy.
He has hair on his chest,
and goes caving With Zest,
And his bit of formation, Oh Boy!

Originally there were five limericks in this collection, but the other two have been engulfed in the Hon. Sees, efficient system, and we have given these up as lost.  (Ed. note:- I'm-, afraid we have dropped a bit of a "clanger'' over the last few lines of the proceeding page, so have repeated them above. Please excuse any odd slips like the above for a bit, until the ''duplicateers'' get the hang of things.

Belfry Progress Report

I regret to state that since the last report, very little work has been done on the Belfry. The major factor has been the better weather which has tempted every one to 'cave' again.

At Easter, the Belfry proved its worth, and was fully occupied all the time, and on the Sunday night, a record was set up by 16 people sleeping there, although we had only reckoned to sleep 12 bods.  Several more bunks have been fitted in the 'married quarters', and the stove presented by W/C Hodgkinson fitted. A start has also been made on the foundation for the P.E. generator.  The roof still requires waterproofing in one or two odd spots, material for which is now at hand. Although the majority of the lining has still to be fitted,- this is held up for the moment until the wiring of the Belfry for electric light is completed. A 'power house' for generator and batteries has also to be built at the back of the Belfry.

nas a:y member any of the following articles to spare, as good use of them can be made at the Belfry. A Soft Broom, a Scrubbing Brush, Milk Jug (quart), and a Clothes Brush.

D.A. Coase,  5/5/47.

Whitsun Meet

A meet will be held at the Belfry over Whitsun.  No set programme has been arranged, but trips will be fixed up on the spot. If anyone is energetic enough, work will proceed on Bog Hole.

Please let Hon. Sec. or Hut Warden know if you intend staying at the Belfry, so that we can provide any necessary shoe horns and/or tin openers.

Dig at ''Stewart's Hole''

A dig was commenced about 300 yds. from the ''Hunters Lodge Inn'' on the 12th April, 1947.  Good work was put in on the first day in the main swallet, and a depth of 6 ft. reached terminating in thick mud. Some bones were found, and later, tentively, identified at Bristol Museum as possible human, waterworn, and of considerable age.  Diggers were A. Withers and P. Stewart.  Work continued the following weekends, a subsidiary swallet in the wall of the depression being dug.  Work has continued on the main dig but is rather held up due to thick mud.  We would like to thank the following for giving their time:- (What 6 months or a year? Ed.)  P. Browne,H. Stanley, R. A. Setterington, M.J. Akers, J.M. Tompsett, T.White. Work is progressing - anyone invited.

Bristol Speedway

A less well known activity of some of the members is to shout their heads off every Friday night at Bristol Speedway.  If any other club members would like to do the same, you'll find them in the 1/9 's on Smelly corner. If you don’t know where Smelly corner is, use your nose. That’s what it's for.

Stop Press

We also have to thank for contributions to the Belfry, D.C. McKee of the B.C.C. for a sleeping bag, end J.M. (Postle) Tompsett for two 12 volt Batteries. Not forgetting Uncle George for about a dozen sheets of corrugated iron.

List of Publications available in the BEC


Discovery of Man                                  S.Casson.
Ancient Burial Grounds.
B.C.                                          S.E. Winbolt.
Early .                                        J. Hawkes.
Prehistoric London                                E.O. Gordon.
Roman Folkestone                                S.E.Winbolt.
Report on a Human Skull found
at 's Cavern                                    Sir A. Keith, F.R.S.

Guide Books

Bath and Bristol Guide.
South Devon and Cornwall Guide.
Bude to Newquay Guide. (North Cornish Sea Caves).
Torquay Natural History Society. Guide to Museum.
A Short Guide to the National Museum of . 1945.


Coral Reefs                                          Charles Darwin.
Knotting                                               Gilcraft
A Brief History of Ancient Times             Breasted and Hugh Jones
The Scientific Study of Human Settlement.
The Adam Chasers                               B.M. Bower. (Fiction).
The Story of the Doones. (Tourist Edition).
Unbeaten Tracks of the West                 P.E. Barnes
Proceedings of the Bristol Naturalists Society. 1935.


6 inch to the Mile sheets of Mendip:-


1 inch to the Mile sheets of:

20 Kirby Lonsdale & Hawes
25 Ribblesdale.
90. Brecon & Llandovery
101. Swansea & Aberdare.
111. Bath, Bristol & District
118. Barnstaple
119. Exmoor
120. Bridgwater & Quantocks.
131. Wells & Frome
127. Bideford & Bude.
135. Bodmin.
137. Tavistock & Okehampton
138. Exeter.
143. Truro & St. Austell
145. Torquay.
145. Lands End & Lizard
Peak District. Tourist Edn.
Weston Super Mare & District. Tourist Edition.

½ inch to the Mile sheets of:-

Bristol & District
31. North Devon.
35. S.W. Cornwall & Scilly Isles.
36. South Devon.
57. Weymouth, Yeovil & Taunton.