Belfry Bulletin

Search Our Site

Editorial

This month the Belfry Bulletin contains ten pages mainly concerned with news of further discoveries and exploration work on Mendip.  The article by Don Coase on the recent work in Cuthbert’s, including the forcing of the final sump, illustrates the hard work which is being put into Cuthbert’s by active cavers of the club and which is resulting in a steady and continuous increase in the known extent of this large and complex system.  Some idea of the present size of the cave may be gauged from the fact – I stand open to correction if I am wrong! – that no member of the club has visited every known part of the cave.

It may well be that Cuthbert’s is now second only to Swildons in total passage length on Mendip; and from Swildons we hear rumours of the exploration of a new section of stream passage beyond the second sump entered, I believe, by blasting from Blue Pencil Passage by Dennis Kemp & Co..

Called in over Whitsun to investigate a subsidence in a field near the “Hunter”, members of the club sunk a shaft three feet square and eight feet deep in less than three hours on Whit-Monday and reached airspace.  From this point, it will not be easy to enter whatever system there may be (if any!) but we may console ourselves with the thought that if it was our club who were called in and that we carried out the initial investigation so promptly.

All the exploration referred to above occurred over the Whitsun week and as “the exploration club”, we have seem to be living up to our name.  There is still bags of work to be done in all the club holes – and since we have holes to suit all tastes, there are opportunities for all members to take part in exploration work.

 “Alfie”

June Committee Meeting

Preliminary arrangements concerning the new hut, mains water and electricity are still going on.  The water supply has been found to be contaminated (a notice appears about this elsewhere).  Transport for the blackboard is being arranged.  Re-decoration of the Belfry is proceeding.  Twenty feet of new ladder has been made.

New Members.

We welcome David Collins to our ranks.  Address will follow.

Belfry Water

We have received the following letter from Kangy: -

The water has recently (20.6.57) been examined by the City of Bristol analyst.  The conclusions are: -

 “To make this water safe, filter it, boil it, then throw it away and drink beer.”

According to his report, there is an unacceptable quantity of the sort of bug which causes stomach trouble and another unpleasant sort which originates in animal manure.  He enlarged on his report and stated that the water would be all right if used to wash dishes or, say, boil potatoes.  That is, the bugs are destroyed by boiling the water which thus has limited use at present.

An effort is being made to trace the source of the contamination meanwhile the water should be either boiled of fetched from the tap which is directly opposite the first telegraph pole between the Beeches and “Greystones” on the road to the Hunters.

*****************************************

For those who prefer their notices in rhyme, we have…………..

“There’s a pool of dirty water to the South of Lady Well
and a stream that brings the mucky stuff along
with its ‘orrid bugs and germs, and its little wriggly worms
the water comes out curiously strong.
Now its quite all right to boil a few potatoes
Or even washing dishes after stew
But to save you feeling queer, if you’re thirsty – STICK TO BEER
‘cos our drinking water isn’t good for you!…..

Sackcloth and Ashes Department.

Our most abject apologies for having completely forgotten to remind readers of the excellent lantern show given at Redcliffe Hall by Richard Kenny on the subject of his recent work on the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey.  This was a really interesting show and we are very sorry to have been the cause for some members having missed it.

St Cuthbert’s Report

The last month has been an extremely active one, seeing the completion of the engineering work on the Maypole Series pitches; the discovery of a new way into Long Chamber in the Coral Series; the discovery of a small chamber nearby; climbing High Chamber to a height of a hundred feet and last but not least, the passing of the terminal sump.  In all, four trips have been made since the last report, on Whitsunday 20 people being in the cave at the same time on a trip lasting 8 to 10 hours.  Luckily, however, not all being in the same part of the cave.

MAYPOLE SERIES.

Whitsunday, 9th June.  A strong party under Tony Rich took down the remaining section of steel ladder, and after assembly, erected the 20’ on the last maypole pitch and chained back to the existing rawlbolt.  The second pitch has a rawlbolt fixed to the top and after removing the overhanging boulders at the head of the pitch (which neatly filled up the two pools below) a chain was hung down the droop which is not quite vertical.

Saturday, 15th June.  Tony Rich, with Chris Falshaw, Norman Petty and two others added some bolts and handholds to the chain on the second pitch which makes the climb easier, but, I gather still strenuous.  The third pitch was ascended using the maypole and a rawlbolt fitted at the top.  This sounds easy -  a half a dozen words on paper – but it is rather different in practice as a 15/16” diameter hole, 3” deep has to be made in the rock and requires about an hour’s work hammering away at a stardrill.  The rawlbolt is then inserted and tightened up and there it is  - a rawlbolt fitted!  A length of chain with a large ring in the end was fitted to the bolt and a nylon rope has been left doubled through the ring.  So for future visits it is only necessary to take a 15’ ladder and having attached it to one end on the nylon, pull the ladder up the pitch.

The rest of the Maypole Series was fairly well explored, without discovering anything of note.  One promising hole just above the third pitch ending after 10’ in a nasty looking loose aven.

HIGH CHAMBER.

Whitsunday, 9th June.  Last Whitsun, Paul Birt was inveigled by Don Coase, into climbing the chimney on the right of High Chamber.  He went up about fifty feet but as neither Norman Petty nor Don Coase would follow – it looked rather dicey from below – he had to stop.  This Whitsun, he came to Mendip to try to get higher, armed with pitons, and a hundred and fifty foot nylon climbing rope.

Supported by Geoff Thompson, Kangy King and Alan Bonner the chimney was climbed for fifty feet to a knife edged Arête – Paul’s previous limit, then, having traversed the Arête (a painful proceeding by all accounts)  a large stalagmite flow reported to be worth seeing was climbed for 40’ until the holds ran out.  A possible way on was to one side but the maypole would be needed to reach it.  The party retired in good order.  Comment was, ‘A very enjoyable climb’ (for those that enjoy such antics! – D.A.C.)

CORAL SERIES.

Tuesday, June 11th.  Having spent Whitsun paperhanging, Roy Bennett decided he wanted some relaxation, so, the R.A.F. having nothing for him to do, he went down Cuthbert’s with a colleague from Yatesbury and found another route into long Chamber, Coral Series.  This gives an alternative to the climb up through the very ‘dicey’ boulder pile previously used, but the words ‘loose boulders’ have been heard in connection with this new way, and knowing Bennett, it is probably as loose, if not worse than the original route!  They also discovered a further small chamber – ‘Hidden chamber’ – which contains some worthwhile formations.

Being a glutton for punishment, Roy Bennett took a party from R.A.F. Locking Caving Club for a trip on the next Thursday – the Queen’s official birthday – 5 were in the party in addition to Roy.  This time no further discoveries were made.

THE SUMP

On a previous trip, John Buxton, with a misplaced sense of humour, got very wet in the sump probing around and after some dredging with an empty paint tin some of the gravel and mud out of the bottom of the pool, said that he could get his feet up into a small air space a couple of feet beyond the right wall of the sump.  A certain amount of hammering removed some of the obstructing rock, but lack of a suitable crowbar slowed progress.

On Whitsunday, the assault was renewed, two useful crowbars being carried down and Buxton and Coase both had the same idea and brought along a diving dress.  Assisted by a large support party, including three members of the fair sex (shows how much of a tourist cave it’s getting! – D.A.C.).  An hour and a half’s work dredging the bottom of the sump produced a sizeable hole big enough to get through.  The roof was knocked about a bit as well, but although a way was chiselled to within inches of the air surface the other side, the remainder of the rock was not possible to remove without a lot of labour.

The air space beyond was quite sizeable enough to get ones head above water so Buxton and Coase had a polite chat persuading each other that he should go first.  Coase eventually won on the basis that he had been first through Stoke Lane and therefore Buxton could have the honour? of Cuthbert’s sump.

Not having a suitable reply, Buxton took a deep breath and disappeared.  Within thirty seconds he returned, reported that it looked as if there was a way on and what was Coase waiting for?  So back Buxton went followed by Coase and then started what must have been a worrying vigil for the support party, for it was not for a quarter of an hour that the two returned and called for a crowbar, sledge and shovel.  A further three quarters of an hour passed before they finally returned, having lowered the water level three inches and making the sump into a duck as there is now three inches of air space – just enough to go through on ones back with nose and mouth above water.

At the far side of the sump a small passage half full of water goes off at 45o to the right for 8 feet with either a tight squeeze over a stal. bank or an easier duck in the stream.  After this there is room to stand.  Above the stal. bank is a narrow chimney which requires investigation.   Down stream the passage swings to the left, and a short hands and knees crawl is followed by a flat out crawl three feet long under a low arch with the stream spread out over gravel.  Then once again room to stand up.  The passage turns through a right angle to the left and at the bend a narrow but high inlet passage enters five feet above the stream on the right.  This passage enters five feet above the stream on the right.  This also requires investigation, but does not look very promising.  It was above this stretch of stream passage that the pebble floor, cemented together with a sort of tufaceous calcite formation, was damming the stream and causing the sump.  Half an hour’s work in clearing a channel resulted in the lowering of the water level in the sump referred to earlier.  Further work would lower the level a little more, but not to any appreciable extent, as the stream gradient is very slight.  A pickaxe would be the best weapon to employ if anyone is energetic enough to carry out this work.

BB114-CuthbertsSurvey.jpg 

From the bend, the passage runs reasonably straight four to six feet wide and six feet high with occasional chert bands projecting out of the mud coated walls.  Above this passage is a long narrow rift, twenty feet high at least which still has to be looked at.  At the end of this rift and passage, a fair trickle descends the rift and flows over some rather dirty stal. curtains before dropping into the stream.  At this point the passage widens into almost a small chamber ten feet wide and gravel floor, with the stream meandering in a small channel until it flows into a further sump on the right where the wall slopes smoothly down at an angle of 45o.  The sump itself is about four to five feet wide and a small pool leads into a passage one foot high sloping down at the same angle for at least a depth of four feet.  Not very promising although it may be possible for the gravel floor to be dug out to give room for a diver to investigate further.  The sketch gives a rough outline of this new section of cave, estimated at two hundred feet.  It now wants some keen types who don’t mind getting wet to look at the places still to be investigated although none of them look very hopeful.

In all a very successful month’s caving in Cuthbert’s or rather a week’s, as from Whitsunday to the following Saturday 4 trips were run with a total of 34 people entering the cave.  If this popularity persists, consideration will have to be given to installing traffic lights between the entrance and the bottom of the entrance pitch and at either end of the wire rift.

D.A. Coase.

Mendip Mining

…….Part II of a series of three articles…………….

by Mervyn Hannam.

THE MIDDLE AGES

Towards the end of the Roman occupation, mining activity on Mendip declined, and during the seven hundred years immediately following there is no evidence of British or Saxon mining.  Gough suggests that lead was still worked to some extent to provide roofs for churches.  However, very few remains of this period have been revealed.  Possibly the Derbyshire Peak was a more important centre for lead.  (It would be interesting to hear of any Saxon or early English finds known to our friends in this district).

Collinson, in his “History of Somerset” quotes some Domesday book records of the sizes and wealth of MANORS, of what later became important mining centres, but these Norman records give no hint of a lead mining industry.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, mining and mineral rights were granted to the Bishop of Bath and Wells (Not the present Bishop – Ed.) and to the Prior of Witham to enable them to work lead on Mendip.  From this time onwards, numerous records of the lead industry are known.

The mining areas, during the period thirteen hundred to seventeen hundred, were governed by four “Lords Royal” – the Lord of Chewton Mendip, The Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Lord of Harptree and a fourth Lord, who was always the current owner of “Hydon” or Charterhouse-on-Mendip.  The Lords were guided in their ruling by a code of ten laws.  Two of the most interesting are quoted: -

  1. “When a workman hath landed ore he may carry it to cleansing and blowing to what minerdrie he do please for ye speedy making of same so that he do truly pay the tenth thereof to the Lord of the soyle.”
  2. “If any man do pick or steal ye lead to ye value of 13½d. the Lord may arrest his lead with all his works and keepe them as forfeit and shall take ye person and bring where his house and tools belonging to his occupation be and put him in his house and sett fire about him and banish him from that occupation for ever.”

Lead mining reached a maximum productivity during the period 1600 – 1670 but another branch of mining was established by then.

Brass was introduced into Britain by the Germans during Elizabeth’s reign, and in 1560 zinc was being mined on Worle Hill.  The zinc mining industry soon became established in the dologmitic conglomerate of western Mendip and in later years took precedence over lead mining.

Methods or raising and smelting ore are of interest.  Shafts or “gruffs” were dug everywhere and, although not usually vertical, they could attain a depth of one hundred and eighty feet.  Single ropes and wooden ladders were used for descent, and for the sides or bottom of the shafts, timbered “leers” followed the ore veins.  Ventilation was sometime obtained by running a subsidiary shaft into the main shaft some ten feet below the surface.  This caused a flow of air through the working.  People were often digging in such close proximity that they broke into one another’s workings, causing complex legal arguments about ownership.

On being raised, the ore was taken to one of the four mineries for cleaning (budling) and smelting in a rotatable hearth furnace.  These furnaces were turned to catch the wind from any quarter, and bellows were used to increase the draught due to the wind.  After smelting, the miner had to give one tenth of his lead to the Lord of the Manor in which it was raised.  This toll was known as “lead lot.”

The seventeenth century produced a lot of the old slag in the Belfry Mineries area.  It was also the time during which most of the pits and hollows were made.  The present forestry land north of Stock Hill was exhaustively worked for lead about 1690.

The minery pools, flues and black slag came later and will be mentioned in the concluding article.

Book Review

The Caves of Mendip” by Nick Barrington.  (Dalesman)  6/-

reviewed by Bryan Ellis.

For a long time now, Mendip cavers have had to rely on the very scanty and unreliable information given in “Britain Underground” to find the location of caves in their own area, what tackle is required &c.  Because of the untrustworthy information and large number of caves not given in B.U., Nick Barrington’s book is particularly welcome.  This book was compiled in late 1955 for publication in the February of the following year but it was held up by the printing dispute and we have had to wait.  But it was worth waiting for.  About 140 caves are listed and the information given for each is and similar headings to those in B.U.  But the information itself is reliable and more comprehensive.  We find a grading of the cave; the Grid reference and a description of how to find the entrance; when the cave was discovered and by whom; altitude; length and depth of the cave; a description of the cave itself including any equipment required; and finally a list of literature, references, and a note on where a survey can be found if one is available.

From this you will see that the information given for ach cave is comprehensive.  Apart from the usual six gradings of severity form “easy” to “super severe” we also find the term “show” which is self explanatory, and the term “dig” for those caves still being dug or have been abandoned before any worthwhile system was entered.  Vee Swallet has this grading.  To the above list of information given for each cave is added a list of the caving clubs active on Mendip and also six maps showing the cave entrances in Priddy, Cheddar, Stoke Lane, Burrington, Wookey and Charterhouse areas.  Add finally a list of accommodation available in the area and you have an idea of the contents of the book – a very good six shillings worth and a “must” for every Mendip caver.

M R O

A practice rescue trip was carried out in Eastwater recently, the rescue team being made up of members of the B.E.C., M.N.R.C., U.B.S.S. and the Wessex.  The B.E.C. stretcher was used to haul the unfortunate “victim” out of the cave.

Snow & Ice in Scotland

by Eric Houghton.

A fortnight’s winter climbing in Scotland provided the material for this short account of the experiences of a Mountaineering Association Snowcraft course, of which the writer was a member.  It should provide some nice cool reading for climbers if we get a heat wave in July.

Five M.A. members assembled at Fort William on 23rd February.  Each had some previous experience of Alpine climbing.  The M.A. had been lucky to get Hamish McInnes, recently returned from the Himalaya, as tutor.  ‘Mac’ has packed an immense amount of climbing into his life so far, as well as many other interesting experiences, including gold prospecting.

The first week was spent at Steall, the hut of the J.M.C.S., in Glen Nevis.  It is three hours walk from Fort William and pretty bleak and damp when you get there.  Cooking for six on one primus tends to get a bit ‘frictional’, but it makes up for this by boasting a magnificent wood stove, and being near many good practice gullies on the S and S.S. aspect of Ben Nevis and Aonach Beag.  Excellent practice was gained in step cutting and belaying, and in addition, in a show of misguided enthusiasm, the writer undertook to cut a tunnel through a nine foot thick ice cornice.  Three hours later - - -

The second week was spent in the height of (climbing) luxury at Black Rock Cottage in Glen Coe and has everything except hot and cold running women.  To add further to the bliss, a pub is but twenty minutes away as the thirsty climber flies.

Sron na Creise, at the back of the hut, provided fine gully climbs which appear to have been completely neglected in the past.  One ice pitch in particular gave interest for two hours while a vertical distance of six feet was ascended.  However, it is the BUACHAILLE ETIVE which is the main magnet in Glencoe for summer and winter climbers.  W.C. Murray’s books are full of it.  It must be the finest mountain in Britain, and has certain features in common with the Adang Kamin in the Dolomites.  Undoubtedly harder winter routes do not exist in Europe.

The reason for the high technical standards of snow and ice work in Scotland is of course the terrific rainfall, combined with the character of the gullies themselves.  180 inches of rain has been recorded on Nevis as compared with an average of about 28 inches in the Alps.  The gullies are often at over 70 degrees and do not tend to fill up with debris as in the Alps.  Weather conditions can be a great hazard, especially the westerly gales.  At 150mph wind on Nevis makes crawling even impossible and it should be remembered the wind at 4,400 feet ‘weighs’ a lot more than at 14,000 feet.

Intending winter climbers in Scotland would be well advised to the correct equipment.  Tricouni nailed boots are definitely recommended and crampons are very useful.  An ice-axe is of course essential, and a piton hammer comes in handy for bashing it in up to the hilt in hard snow.  (Mine looks very dog-eared!).

An extra short axe or ice hammer is well worth having, especially for negotiating overhanging ice and for tunnelling.  They say in the Alps that the older the mountaineer, the shorter his ice-axe.  It is possible to make an excellent tool from a piece of chrome-steel tubing and the head and spike of an ex-W.D. ice axe.  The adze could be replaced by a hammer head.

When belaying in snow, the ice axe must be above the belay stance and it is advisable to fix the rope to it with a clove hitch.  Ice pitons are useful, but tend to come out, as Hermann Buhl says, “Like a zipper being undone.”

*****************************************

All contributions for the Belfry Bulletin may be given to any member of the Editorial Board or sent direct to the club Sec.

Secretary.             R.J. Bagshaw, 56 Ponsford Road, Knowle, Bristol 4.
Editor.                   S.J. Collins, 1 Kensington Place, Clifton, Bristol 8.