Note that this is a re-print of the original publication, based on a scanned copy. During the process of converting the original paper copy to this electronic version, the original formatting, page layout and page numbers have been lost. All diagrams and surveys have been scanned from the original and are consequently of poor quality.
Two Caves at Cannington by BM Ellis
Holwell Cavern, the East Series by BM Ellis
Published by the Shepton Mallet Caving Club
The Mineries, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset, BA5 3AU
This Journal is somewhat smaller than average in the quantity of its content. I hope you will agree that the quality has remained the same. If material of sufficient calibre is not available we shall not be ashamed to publish a set of covers, but if Shepton members keep up the good work there will be no need for that.
Trouble in Mendip. Should we have fixed aids on our pitches? Aids have been put into place, and stealthily removed. May I pose here another aspect to this controversy. Did either of the gentlemen concerned consult Mr Maine?
There are too many people that seem to have forgotten that we all enter a cave by the permission of the land owner. So far in Mendip we seem to have maintained friendly relations between farmers and cavers and such acts as those referred to above are, to my mind, symptomatic of the beginning of an attitude in which the land owner is ignored.
We must not allow this to happen.
Cannington village, which lies three miles to the west of Bridgwater on the A39 has, to its North, a small outcrop of limestone that covers an area approximately 800 by 600 yards. The area is easily recognised as one suddenly comes across the characteristic dry stone walls and outcrops of rock. In the area are two limestone quarries, belonging to the Castle Hill Quarry Company, but only the southern one is at present worked. The northern quarry has not been worked for several years but the crushing plant is in regular use.
In August of 1963 we heard that a cave had been discovered during quarrying at Cannington and the same evening the site in the South Quarry was visited. We found that the face above the entrance had been blasted so completely blocking the cave. A close watch was kept during the following months but it was in the other (north) quarry that a cave was reported during June 1964. A few days after this it was also noticed that the entrance in the south quarry was also open again. Although no great systems were expected here were two caves to be visited "because they were there". On 3rd July 1964 Dan Hasell (BEC), Molly & John Iles, and myself visited these caves.
South Quarry Cave (ST/25134040)
The entrance is situated half-way up the face in the north-east corner of the quarry and could be reached by an easy scramble up the rubble slope at the foot of the face. The hole in the quarry wall leads to a single chamber that is roughly triangular in plan, the sides being each about 30 feet long. On the left (west) side is a narrow, steeply sloping bedding plane that might go, but does not look very promising. The right side of the chamber held a few pleasant formations, though only a few of these were still active.
North Quarry Cave (ST/24674069)
The mouth of this cave was clearly visible from the quarry floor but has since been partially covered by boulders; it is twenty feet below the top of the quarry and is easily reached from above. We found a tree conveniently situated for a belay for the 100 feet of rope used as a handling on the scramble down the quarry face and, with a long belay length, for the fifteen foot ladder which will be found very useful on the overhanging ten foot pitch with which the cave starts. Below this entrance pitch one lands on rubble in a large passage, or chamber, that is twenty to thirty feet wide and fifteen high.
The floor of this passage slopes steeply down for the first fifty feet and then runs level for another eighty feet. At the end the passage turns left and is almost completely blocked by boulder cone reaching up to, and blocking, an aven in the roof.
Squeezing past the left side of these boulders one enters a second chamber which turns left again, back to the quarry face, and slopes upwards. The passage size rapidly closes down but it is possible to climb up twenty feet to a small aven and smaller cross passage.
Returning to the boulder slope and ignoring the passage bearing towards the quarry face there is a small and awkward crawl into a third chamber. This chamber is quite restricted, one cannot stand, but contains many bones; the crawl has been blocked until the bones have been examined.
This cave has been known for several years and has been made a scheduled site by the Ministry of Works; it is referred to as the "Bone Cave" by members of the local archaeological society. Members of Cambridge University have been collecting bones from both caves, their work will not have been helped by the action of a member of another Mendip caving club who has removed at least one skull from the cave.
Since the original visit local members of the Shepton have returned to the North Quarry Cave several times, one of these visits led to the discovery of the third chamber. Several hours have been spent removing boulders from the base of the aven, a fascinating, but so far unrewarding process. The first chamber abounds in small mushroom shaped stalagmites that are no more than a quarter inch in height. From the photographs given in "British Caving" it seems that these may be botryoidal stalagmites. A guide wire has been placed through the chamber in an attempt to save some of these delicate formations.
Figure 1 – Survey of Castle Hill Quarry Caves, Cannington
These caves are all situated on land that is the property of the Castle Hill Quarry Company and permission to visit them should be obtained from: The Manager, Castle Hill Quarry Company, Cannington, Bridgwater.
This article deals with the East Series of Holwell Cave at Higher Merridge, Spaxton, Near Bridgwater. It is believed that this series has not previously been mentioned in literature dealing with this cave.
Holwell has two claims to fame; it is situated well away from the main centre of caving in Somerset; and it is the only recorded site in Great Britain where anthodites have been found. (These are aragonite formations of radiating rods giving the appearance of a flower and are quite common in the United States of America.)
The entrance is to be found at NGR ST/21083400 (It is marked on the 1 inch OS 7th edition map) in a small overgrown quarry. It was probably discovered in the early 1800's but despite its long history little has been written about the cave. It has received brief mention in such works as "British Caving" and "Britain Underground", but the most complete account is to be found in Wessex Cave Club Journal No. 76. The Wessex Cave Club have also published a survey of the cave by Bryant, Griffin, and Scott. The article does not mention the East Series, nor are the passages in that series shown on the survey. The approach passages to the East Series appear to be wrongly shown on the Wessex survey also.
Holwell Cave has been scheduled as a Site of Scientific Interest.
Late in 1963 Martin Mills and Roger Biddle visited the cave and reported that they had found passages not shown on the survey. In February of 1964 five members of the club and others made an evening visit and again entered these passages. It appeared that persons unknown had been digging in the cave and so made one of the passages negotiable to a small chamber. A way on could be seen, but the hole was so small that not even a head could be got through.
In early May the cave was visited by Bill Tolfree and another from Bridgwater, this time armed with crowbar and trowel. Half an hours work was sufficient for the removal of enough silt to allow them through. Twenty feet further on into their "virgin" cave and they found names and a date scratched on the rock. The inscription appeared to be "WH Smith, B Sullivan, and - Cornford, 1963". The problem was how had this party entered these passages? Tolfree and his companion explored one passage for about one hundred feet and saw several side passages.
During the next two weeks Bill Tolfree and I (and on one occasion Roger Biddle) visited Holwell to obtain data for a survey of those passages not shown on the Bryant survey. On the first trip a half-hearted attempt was made to force a rift not entered on earlier trips. It proved more awkward than expected and as it was thought to run back to the main passage was left. However a candle left burning at the entrance to this rift was not visible from the main passage as we left the cave. Plotting the data obtained on this trip showed the rift was running parallel to the main passage and it might join with a side passage just beyond the limits of that evening's surveying. On the way into the cave on the second survey trip Roger forced the rift while Bill and I went through the excavated squeeze and the two routes, as expected, joined. The earlier party, that responsible for the inscription, must have entered by way of the rift.
During that evening the survey of the major passages of the system was completed and most of the side passages forced as far as possible. Bill Tolfree made two further visits to the cave, to force and survey fifty feet of tight side passage. This showed a possible further closed traverse and the link was confirmed on a final visit when passage detail was checked in the cave.
Entering the cave by the Main Entrance a large passage leads to the largest chamber (Andrew Crosses Chamber) of the cave. At the bottom of some steps cut in the floor of this passage, about forty five feet from the entrance, a hole low in the left wall gives access to a small chamber that has a small pit in the floor. On the left of this chamber is a small passage more awkward than tight except for a couple of places where wedged boulders do make it tight. After fifteen feet the passage opens out and there are three ways on. To the left a tight rift that must have been the original route into the East Series, sharp right leads to a pile of boulders very close to the pit in the first chamber (on two visits it was possible to actually reach the pit along this passage but since then the boulders have fallen and blocked the passage), the third way, to the right, is exactly opposite the rift, and ends in a low tight cross passage. Ten feet along this third passage however is another passage on the left which leads to yet another small chamber. This passage has probably been dug at some time as it does not appear on the Wessex survey. At the far end of the chamber is the very tight squeeze opened by Bill Tolfree. Beyond the squeeze a low passage on the right connects with a passage met further into the cave but we could not pass the two tight corners it contained and so the connection is visual only. At the top of the passage beyond the squeeze is yet another squeeze that leads to a junction of three more passages. The left leads back to the top of the rift, (this was probably the original route into the East Series), right is the inner end of the oxbow already mentioned whilst half-right leads on into the cave. After another twenty feet this passage becomes too tight but a passage on the left eight feet earlier enables one to pass the constriction and reach a small chamber. If one continues left an awkward S-bend (complete with puddle) can be passed to reach a boulder pile. Throughout the East Series there are numerous side passages that can be forced for distances of up to twenty feet; reference should be made to the survey shown.
Figure 2 – Survey of East Series, Holwell Cave
Although the original survey by Bryant et al is claimed at grade six, and it would obviously have been preferable to survey additions to the same grade, we were only able to work to grade five. The survey was made using a calibrated, liquid filled, prismatic compass and calibrated Abney level, both instruments being hand held; distances were measured by a fifty foot Fibron tape. This is as good as a steel tape from the point of accuracy but does not suffer from the problems of rusting and folding. The 'leap-frog' method was employed and, as we were without tripods extra care was taken to minimise errors of station location.
Since the location of stations are not shown on the survey by Bryant it was decided to survey from the cave entrance, this would enable us to superimpose the new over the old plan. A discrepancy appeared between the two surveys and so this part of our work was checked by the taking of forward and back bearings, and repeating with a second compass. It was necessary to assume that although a higher grade was claimed for the older survey the approach passages to the East Series wore only sketched in at a lower grade; this is not indicated on the plan, however.
A further check was made at a later date by carrying out a closed traverse in the main cave at Grade Six. This traverse closed with an error of 0.45 % and angular error of zero but did not agree very closely with that of Bryant. It was therefore assumed that the greater errors lie in the older survey and our survey of the East Series is here published independently. Our efforts to correlate the two surveys were not helped by the fact that although a North direction is given on the Wessex survey there is no indication whether it is True or Magnetic.
The surveyed length of the East Series is approximately 275 feet, added to the earlier figure of 690 feet quoted by Bryant this makes Holwell just under 1000 feet in length, by far the longest of the non-Mendip caves of Somerset. The East Series are typical of the remainder of the cave in that the passages are small and arranged in a maze-like network, more like Devon than Mendip. This Series provides more interesting caving than the better known parts of the cave and a trip round the complete system is now quite a strenuous affair; it is well worth a visit.
by TC Bryant and CH Kenney
published by Speleo Services Ltd., at 3/6.
It is not to be expected that two authors such as these would write anything but sound advice, and this is the case; although read in a very critical mood it could not be faulted.
The title is self explanatory and it deals with the subject fully and sensibly; it is the book for anyone who is thinking of taking up caving. The problem will be to ensure that copies reach those for whom it has been written, but copies are on sale at such places as the Hunters and Priddy Stores. It would have been more likely to succeed had the price been lower. Three shillings and sixpence for twenty duplicated pages, without the benefit of a card cover, is very much too much. It will be a pity if this high cost defeats a good venture.
Copies are available, (presumably) from Speleo Service Ltd., 15 Filton Avenue, Bristol 7.
Published July 1964 (for 1963) by the Association of the William Pengelly Cave Research Centre, London, at 25/
This is an excellently produced Journal, probably the best yet, but this has made the price high for a caving publication. Incidentally copies are free to members of the Association and the annual subscription is only £1. The editorial policy is unusual and only time will show whether it is successful or a high ideal that comes to little or nothing.
The articles cover an extremely wide field, but none are written for the specialist and this, with the high price may deter many purchasers. An article on the conservation of caves in England was found to be interesting and informative, as was one on some caves in Borneo, but this cannot be said of all the articles. An article on cave studies as an introduction to field studies for secondary school children appeared to have no point. There are other articles on caves in Kenya and New Zealand, on bats and William Pengelly, on the interpretation of archaeological deposits and on cave research centres in the United States of America.