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Belfry Destroyed By Fire

Members living in the Bristol area will already know the terrible mews when it appeared in the Evening Post.  The ‘Belfry’ was destroyed by fire late on Monday 15th September 1969.

The loss of the Belfry will mean much to most members of the B.E.C; now it can only be kept alive in the memories of members who spent many enjoyable hours there.  That black, twisted ‘old shed’ just off the road to Priddy was on of the homeliest caving hunts in the country; it was warm (in both senses of the word); comfortable; the ‘homing’ point for cavers past and present and above all it was the ‘centre of the universe’!

Now it has gone what now? Your Committee are well ahead with their plans and the reports and announcements that appear else where in this issue of the B.B. will outline to members what is taking place.  A second Committee Meeting will be held in the very near future when definite plans will be drawn up to present members with a clear picture at the Annual General Meeting on the 4th October 1969.  What is emerging is far from black and it is hoped that members will respond to help put the emergency plans into operation as quickly as possible.


To get the news and latest information out to members as fast as possible the October B.B. (already printing) has been completely re-hashed and I hope that members will bear with your Editor with rather a hotch-potch arrangement of material. Apologies are given to contributors, many of them harassed by the Editor to get them in on time, for holding back their material until the November or December B.B.

Precis Of Special Meeting

A special meeting of the Club Committee, with some additional members was held in Bristol two days after the fire.  This enabled the meeting to hear the first reactions from the insurers, and to see the letter which ‘Alfie’ wrote to the government grant body asking for immediate priority.  The meeting took some immediate decisions to press ahead rapidly with the insurance claim; to obtain a definite reply from the granting authority and to go ahead with emergency plans for the Belfry site.  A further meeting has been scheduled one week from the first meeting, and at this meeting, those present will be in a position to formulate definite plans to put before the Annual General Meeting.  The immediate response by members attending the meeting – giving it priority over all their other engagements – and the speed and orderly fashion with which the business was conducted speaks well for the future.  As many members as possible are urged to attend the A.G.M. where they will hear the up-to-date position and have the approved scheme put to them for their approval.

Members present: Messrs Bagshaw, Irwin, Thomas, Riley, Townsend, Petty, Stafford, Collins, Orr and Sybil Bowden Lyle.

What Happened?

The fire was discovered by members staying at the Belfry; they had intended to stay until Wednesday. At eight o’clock they banked the fire up and went to Wells for a meal.  At eleven o’clock, when they returned, they found the Belfry on fire. As the all windows and doors were closed the building was probably in smouldering state and would remain so until the windows broke due to the heat.  The lads opened the door and saw a blaze in front of the fire place. Filling a dustbin full of water from the ‘Drinking Pool’ they threw it onto the Belfry floor but to no avail. The smoke and heat was too great for them to do anything but call the Fire Service.

Apart from the three lads, the Searle’s and ‘Jok’ Orr were soon on the spot.  By the time they had arrived the Belfry was burning well – although the fire was still contained within the building.  The first problem that faced the firemen was – ‘where were the gas cylinders?  Luckily Dave Searle soon supplied the answer. 

In the search for the mains electricity point the firemen broke into the stone Belfry and the tackle store.  By about 1.30am on Tuesday morning the fire was out leaving a smouldering ruin of a Belfry.

‘Jok’ returned to Bristol and woke ‘Wig’ at 2.15am and being ‘Wig’ he took the news as a pretty bad joke so early in the morning.  However, Jok eventually managed to get through to him and they went and woke Bob Bagshaw at 2.45am.  Having delivered the message they went out to the Belfry, calling on John Riley on the way.  The three and John’s brother went to the Belfry and recovered as much of members valuables as could be found.  Several tins of money were collected and given, later to Bob and other items from the lockers, except food, was collected into plastic bags and put into the changing room.  Under nife cell lights, thick fog and a smouldering Belfry produced a miserable picture indeed.  The three returned to Bristol for work on time.  Later in the day the three plus Dave Turner returned to the site and generally cleared up the debris left by the firemen and left it in separate piles for the Assessor who visited the site on Wednesday accompanied by Bob and Alan Thomas. During the rest of Tuesday several members came up to the site and several ‘phoned through to the ‘Hunters’ for information.  More information will be given at the A.G.M. and in the November issue of the B.B.

Insurance Claims


All members who had personal gear at the Belfry at the time of the fire should identify and recover their property as soon as possible.

Insurance claims should be made as follows: -

Most members will probably hold insurance on the contents of their dwelling.  These policies normally cover belongings against fire damage whilst temporarily removed from home, usually with a limit of 15% of the total sum insured. Persons in this category should notify their insurers as soon as possible and recover their loss from them. Members normally residing with their parents will be covered under their parents policy.

Members insurers will probably require to know that the club hold policy number 11/7760021 with Pearl Insurance Co. Ltd., and that the claim is being dealt with by Cunningham and Gibaud of Baldwin Street, Bristol 1.

Damaged articles for which claims are being made should be retained for inspection by insurers if required.

Members who hold no insurance of their own may be able to make a partial recovery on the club policy. Those persons should draw up their claims setting of the details as follows:

Item No.


Date purchased

Original cost

Salvage value (if any)

Amount claimed

Articles should be retained for inspection (if found).

All claims should be sent to Bob Bagshaw, 699 Wells Road, Knowle, Bristol 4 by 30th September 1969 at the very latest.

Important Notices

Alfie’s ‘Spelaeodes’, Part 1 will be published on 4th October 1969 – the proceeds are going to the Hut Fund.  The price has now changed to 4/- minimum and after the 31st October the price will be 5/- minimum – please give generously to the HUT FUND

Late News

September 25th is probably the last time that the Club will be meeting in the Waggon and Horses.  A presentation will be made to Mrs Suter who will soon be eighty.  Future meetings on a Thursday will probably be at the ‘Seven Stars’ near Bristol Bridge.  More details in the NOVEMBER B.B.