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In Belfry Bulletin No.3, Dated April 1947, there was printed a brief account of the club's history.  Since this account was written a very great increase in club contacts, facilities, membership etc., has taken place.  Below is the original article reprinted for the benefit of the hundred odd members that have joined since it was published, and brought up to date by the inclusion of an account of the doings of the club since it was written.

A short History of the Bristol Exp1oration 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 who 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 early years 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 greater 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 the difficulties began to loom large before us.

How could we get to the ‘Deep’ caves?  How could we get ladders, ropes etc. needed for them?  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.  Enquiries were made and the matter discussed at length.  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 existing body.

The second course open to us was to form an entirely new caving club, and after many hours of thought and with many misgivings the Bristol Exploration Club was duly formed with an initial membership of about a dozen.  I very much doubt if the project would have been undertaken if we could have foreseen all the difficulties and troubles that would beset us.

At the inaugural meeting a set of rules were drawn up, and although they have been modified and added to, to cope with changing conditions, they were essentially the same as are in use today.

For a time all went smoothly; our subscriptions enabled us to buy ladders and ropes, etc., and we launched out into; official’ notepaper.  A bat was adopted as our emblem, although he did not find his way to his place on the notepaper until much later.

We familiarised ourselves with all the smaller caves, and then began our attention to the larger ones. Here, too, we were successful, learning the hard way, with no-one to advise or otherwise help us.  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 few 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 we confidently expected that it would, when members started to role in, we should be in a position to offer them something really good.

As our small band moved about the hills we naturally came in contact with members of other societies, and for a time we were regarded with contempt and sometimes active dislike by a number of them.  This was perhaps natural, as we were without experience and as such were a danger in their eyes, to ourselves and others.  I hasten to add, that those days are now long past and that the most cordial relationship now exists between ourselves and every other major society on Mendip or elsewhere.  The reception by other cavers rather chilled our enthusiasm, but hardened our resolve to make the B.E.C. a success, and the outbreak of war in 1939 found us 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 affliction 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 were the guests of the UBSS.  Since these notes were written we have welcomed him back into the ranks of the faith full recovered and still keen on caving.  As we were without a Treasurer, it was decided to combine the office of Hon. Sec. and Treasurer, and I have had the honour to have held the joint post ever since.

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 lucky enough to absorb into the B.E.C. the Emplex Caving Club.  The E.C.C. was composed of employees of the Bristol Employment Exchange and had formed a club on similar lines for similar reasons as the B.E.C.  These men have since done, and are still doing, yeomen work for the Club.

1940-41 saw us jogging along as before, a number of new recruits always balancing those called up, 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 half a dozen active members, all of whom were actively engaged in the war effort.  As those members in the Forces (and still are) made honorary members during their term in the service, we were badly hit 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 troubles vanished.  It is mainly through the hard work of two of these men R. Wallace and D. Hassell, that the club is where it is today.

In 1943 a forty foot duralumin and steel wire ladder that is very much lighter than the modern French ones, was constructed, followed later by a similar one of 20 feet in length.  These ladders were answer to the problem of transporting tackle to Mendip on Push bikes.

In 1943, 44, 45.  Our membership increased by leaps and bounds and we emerged from our obscurity, as we knew that we should, to take our place among the most active clubs on Mendip.

The year 1946 our membership rose to 80 and we were able, through the generosity of a Mrs. Iris Stanbury, to purchase a large hut as a Mendip Headquarters.  Our dig at Cross Swallet brought us in contact with the Bridgwater Cave Club, the majority of which are now hardworking B.E.C. men.  We absorbed the Mendip Speleological Group, and became, individually, very active in the Cave Diving Group.  We became members of the Cave Association of Wales (now defunct) and also of the Cave Research Group.

1947, with its terrible winter the club hut was erected and became a valuable asset.  The Belfry Bulletin was instituted as an experiment and has become an unqualified success; 1947 also saw the important discovery of Lower Stokc Lane, of Browne’s Hole, and the initial penetration Withybrook Swallet, a weeks sport was held in Derbyshire and several weekends in and Cornwall were enjoyed by all.

In 1948 membership stood at 98, and a considerable increase in the caving tempo was noticed.  A survey of Stoke Lane was published and was exhibited at a Caving Exhibition at the City Museum.  This Exhibition organised by the city in conjunction with the local Societies was a great success, the photographs loaned by B.E.C. being one of the highlights of a good all round show.

1948 saw the absorption of the Clifton Caving Club, and the formation of a London section of B.E.C.

Through the years the club library has been greatly enlarged and extended, every opportunity being taken to increase it.

Also in 1948 another milestone was reached.  Thanks to the co-operation of members who between them advanced the necessary cash a second hut was purchased.  This hut still is the course of being fitted internally.

Half 1949 is behind us and for this year the activities of the club have far surpassed those of any other complete year.

We can look forward 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 or standing is welcomed, and is encouraged to take an active part in the running of the club.

List of Members 1949.  No. 6

Assistant Inspector Coase, B.G., N.R. Police, P.O. Box 17, Lusaka, N. Rhodesia
Hal Perry                           20, Northfield Ave., Hanham, Bristol.
Pat Ifold                             ‘Fylde’, Weston Road, Long Ashton, Bristol.  LA3266.
J.E. Monson                      32, Coburg Road, Montpelier, Bristol. 6.
Francis Young                   The Barton, Stanton Drew, Nr. Bristol.
Garry Vincent                    68, Branksome drive, Filton, Bristol. 7.
Cliff Brodie                         56, Gerrish Ave., Redfield, Bristol.5.
Colin Andrew                     170, Westbury Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol.  65841.
N.L.J. Fillmore                   14, Delving Road, Southmead, Bristol.
Miss Jill Rollason               157, Pen Park Road, Southmead, Bristol.
Miss Diana J. Beaumont     1579, Bristol Road South, Rednal, Birmingham
Maurice Brain                    22, Blaise walk, Sea Mills, Bristol. 9.
Norman Petty                    12, Bankside Road, Brislington, Bristol. 4.
Miss Christine Hobbs         The Bungallow, Crown Hill Farm, Winford, Nr. Bristol.


The Belfry Bulletin is very urgently in need of articles suitable for publication.  Surely somewhere in the club there are some who do something interesting sometimes?  Except for about half a dozen there seems to be no one who ever goes anywhere, sees anything or even hears anything.  The publication of the BB depends on the efforts of ALL to keep it going, and if others will not stir themselves to help it will have to be closed down.

T.H. Stanbury


The old order changeth.  The heading for this BB was drawn by Sybil Bowden-Lyle.  Don Coase who is the official ‘Draughstman’ of the club is very busy and is able to help us for a few issues, so Sybil bless her heart, has stepped into the breach.  Thanks a lot Sybil


The wanderers have returned from the International Convention at Valence.  They all agreed that they had a wonderful time, Setterington who led the party say that it was the best week he has ever had in his life.  Those who were able to go were: -

Tony Setterington (Leader), S.G.SW. Herman, R.J. Bagshaw, K. Dobbs, G. Fenn, L. Peters, M. Brain, R. Brain, J. Ifold, R. Ifold, F. Young, C. Andrew and R Woodbridge.

Between them they are writing a report on their doings, which will, after being suitably edited and censored, be printed in the BB.

Hon. Sec. has returned from the Pyrenees and will also write a short resume of his wanderings when the piles of correspondence that he has to wade through have suitably lessened.

Meeting Place for Bristol Members

Our new meeting place at St. Michael’s Parish Hall has been a great success, and we have extended our lease of that room until the end of the year.  Originally we stated that meetings would take place until Sept. 29th., but this is now amended to read until the end of December.  Bring your friends along there is plenty of room for them.


I have seen the official photograph of the B.E.C. delegation taken during one session of the Convention at Valence.  Never have I seen such rapt attention on so many faces before.


Greetings from

Hon. Sec, has received the following from the Treasures, who are on vacation in .

A card to greet you from , hoping you are well and enjoying life.  No signs of caves here, plenty of holes (mines down 5,000ft) Yours sincerely, The Treasures.

Important Notice to London Section

John Shorthose has moved from Marius Mansions.  His new address is: -

W. J. Shorthose,
26. Gateshead Road
Upper Tooting,
London S.W.17.

John’s phone number will remain BALham 7545, but there will be a delay whilst the P.O. engineers do their stuff.  During this period John can be reached at work, REGent 4126 during working hours.

To reach Gateshead Road, from Trinity Road Tube Station walk south along Balham High Road about 150 yards to Beechcroft Road, turn right.  The first left is Fishponds, and Gateshead Road is first left right along that.  This all sounds very involved, but less than five minutes walk from Trinity Road.

The Belfry

Thank you; Mr. Browne for the gift of a bell; Mrs. Miller of Redcatch Road and Messrs. R.J. Hurford for the gift of a full size bath and a sink, Mrs. Rendell for a mattress, and some carpets for the sleeping quarters.

Welcome home to Pat Ifold.  Pat, the third of the Ifold ‘Triplets’ has recently reached home after walking from Sicily.  We are hoping he will able to tell us all about his doings and undoings during his trek.


How many members know the procedure to follow in the event of an accident underground?  There has been of late a very noticeable increase in the number of accidents that are taking place underground.  The Hon. Sec. fractured his ankle, Sybil got biffed in the back by a boulder, John Morris fell of a ladder on Swildon’s 40’ (where was your lifeline John?) and sundry smaller incidents in other caving organisations.

The next issue will contain a reprint of the instructions for calling out the Mendip Rescue Organisation, as large numbers of members have joined since the original instructions were printed and there still no M.R.O. notices displayed at Mendip Cave Entrances.