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.
Published by the Shepton Mallet Caving Club
The Mineries, Wells Road, Priddy, Wells, Somerset, BA5 3AU
This paper has been written as part of the activities organised to mark the Twenty-First anniversary of the club's founding. Its object is to provide a brief outline of the club's history during this period and to show how the club has grown, and changed, over the years. It has been compiled principally 'for the record' but at the same time it is hoped that present members, and perhaps a few others, will find it of interest.
This history can only be brief as a detailed account would require considerably more space than can be made available here. It would also repeat much material that has been published previously, particularly more detailed reports on the club's caving activities, and is still readily available. Anyone wishing for further details is recommended to consult the source material used to compile this publication. This was:
- SMCC Minute Books, Volumes 1 – 3 (1949 – 69)
- SMCC Treasurer's Account Books, Volumes 1 & 2 (1949 – 69)
- SMCC Journals, Series 1 – 4 (1954 – 69)
- SMCC Newsletters, Original Series, & New Series Volumes 1 – 6 (1960 – 69)
- SMCC Hut Log Books, Volumes 1 – 6 (1955 – 69)
All of this material (with the exception of the current Minute and Account Books) is available for reference in the club library at Priddy. Unfortunately these sources vary from the sublime to the ridiculous in the detail that they provide, depending largely on the author. However, they have been supplemented by information from the personal records and recollections of members. The history has the Imprimatur of the club committee and is thought to be correct and with a minimum of personal bias but if any errors of fact are noticed it is hoped that the Secretary will be informed.
Much thought was given to the manner of presenting the material gathered. Although not ideal, each year has been taken as a separate entity. The draft manuscript was prepared by several members, each taking a number of years, the combined manuscript being circulated amongst the committee and other members for correction and comment. Finally it was edited by an editorial board of three members.
The difficulties for bibliographers, etc. caused by publishing an un-numbered issue in the middle of a Journal series is appreciated but there is no doubt this will be overcome. The administrative convenience to the club of publishing this paper in this manner took precedence. It is suggested that references to this publication are given in the form:
SMCC Jnl, 4, (Anniversary No.), ---- (March 1970).
The Shepton Mallet Caving Club was the first and also the ultimate name of the club, it being re-adopted in 1951 after a period first as the Mendip Research Group and later as the Shepton Mallet Cave Research Group. The club was formed by Max Unwin from a group of enthusiastic novices with the original purpose of recovering prehistoric remains from caves, and let it be whispered, primarily to recover the bones reported by Pat Browne to exist in the large chambers beyond the sump in Stoke Lane Slocker. These were understood at the time to include woolly rhinoceros, though subsequently this would appear to have been a huge leg-pull.
Unwin was working in the research laboratories of Ward, Blenkinsop Ltd which then occupied part of the Anglo Trading Estate in Shepton Mallet. His first contacts were Cliff Childs and Norman Thomas who also worked in the laboratory, together with Mervyn Pullen, Derek Walford and Ernie Gould who lived locally. All of these agreed to co-operate and since the blessing of Mr Balch was desired, he was approached and he arranged for the inexperienced members to be introduced to caving by Messrs Howard Kenney and Luke Devonish in the Upper Series of Swildons Hole. The trip was successful and the members proceeded to recruit more members and to make plans to scoop the bones from Stoke Lane Slocker before anyone else did so.
1949 – First Year
The club was formed in March 1949 and in the first couple of months several route finding trips were made to Stoke Lane Slocker and one unsuccessful attempt to remove the bones. The idea of a dig was also underway at this time and a cave opening, uncovered by quarrying, at Windsor Hill, Shepton Mallet, was selected as being handy for evening trips, especially as it was threatened by further quarrying. Work started here in mid-June and the use of a small wooden hut was obtained at the quarry in which equipment could be stored. The digging side was very active and in August Mr & Mrs Browne, who were digging Browne's Hole, invited the club to dig at a site nearby; this became known as Tommy's Dig. It was a straightforward case of silt removal after the excavation of an approach trench. A modest collection of not very old, small mammal bones was found, together with some hand cut nails and the remains of a fire found some two feet below the surface near the entrance. Early in the development of this dig a crude smoke test proved that it eventually connected with Browne's Hole.
The first successful trip to Stoke Lane Slocker for the recovery of the bones took place in May when the largest part of the skull of a large bovine animal, possibly bos taurus, was brought out in a large biscuit tin packed with sawdust. Wet suits were unknown at this time and discomfort after passing the sump was reduced by taking a minimal change of clothing, together with some food, in a variety of packages including tins and sections of car inner tubes complete with waxed stopper. Here it may be of interest to note that during the first trip sandwiches were conveyed in a biscuit tin with taped joints. The journey through the cave distorted the tin, breaking the lid seal, and admitting a small quantity of stream water. Soggy sandwiches were eaten, resulting in severe sickness and diarrhoea later in the day. At that point it became fully appreciated that drainage from Cook's Farm entered the stream.
Members of the Bristol Exploration Club joined the club on the second trip in July; there was an inconvenient but luckily not too serious accident which brought an end to activities soon after passing the sump. The third trip, which was again to have had the support of members of the BEC, took place in September without this help. All of the available bones were recovered, including a child's jaw bone freed from the stalagmite in which it was partly embedded by the judicious application of hydrochloric acid – a slow but sure method. All the bones were sent for identification and are now in the Shepton Mallet museum labelled as "presented by Mr Unwin".
The first Annual General Meeting was held on 20th October when the link between the club and the town of Shepton Mallet was emphasised by the meeting being held in the Town Hall and Councillor F Pullen acting as Chairman. The paid up membership at this time was nine and it was decided to elect a committee to run the club, previously decisions were made by meetings of all members. Thecommittee was to consist of five members in addition to the Secretary and Treasurer. The meeting also made several changes to the Constitution of the club and decided not to proceed with either a club badge or with a possible headquarters in Shepton Mallet until more funds were available. It was agreed to ask Mr CE Burnell to be the club's first President but there was concern expressed by both Mr Burnell and Mr Balch about the name of the club: Mendip Research Group. This was altered to the Shepton Mallet Cave Research Group at an Extraordinary General Meeting held in December.
In addition to the various digging operations and the visits to Stoke Lane Slocker, trips were made to several Mendip caves including Swildons Hole, Eastwater Swallet and GB Cavern. The first occasion on which a home made ladder was used on the Forty Foot in Swildons proved it to be a failure and necessitated a rope climb to regain the top of the pitch!
1950 – Second Year
Following the change of name and alterations to the Constitution made at the Extraordinary General Meeting held in the previousDecember, it was agreed by the committee that a further approach should be made to Mr Burnell asking him if he would now accept the office of Club President. This he accepted in the April. Despite the election of a committee they met infrequently and the business of the club continued to be dealt with informally when members gathered on caving meets. However they did find it necessary to meet and postpone the Annual General Meeting from October until December, several members being away from the district at the earlier date.The meeting was again held at the Town Hall in Shepton Mallet with the President in the chair. The membership by this time had increased to eleven, there being five new members admitted during the year and three of the original members resigned on leaving the neighbourhood.
Interest in caving was still high and trips to many Mendip caves were made to introduce prospective new members to the sport. These were organised as frequently as transport difficulties would allow. There was a dearth of private cars amongst members of the club and transport for most of the trips was provided by one member in his Jeep. In addition to these difficulties the weather was particularly bad during 1950 and the amount of caving carried out was less than in the club's first year. Work did continue however both at Tommy's Dig and at Windsor Hill Quarry, but with disappointing results. The former produced a few bones of minor interest and although an elaborate winch was constructed to assist with the removal of spoil, the cave was found to be going up into the hillside and becoming progressively narrower. There was little hope of it developing into a cave of any particular interest. At Windsor Hill work became very difficult as it had become essentially a ruckle of fairly large boulders resting in a shaft. "Chemical persuasion" was used on at least one occasion with good effect but much more would have been needed to clear the way. Unfortunately there was no adequate legal source of such artificial aids and manual labour was necessary. A depth of twenty five feet was reached by the end of the year and members were still optimistic of it leading to a cave system.
The difficulties experienced the previous year when trying out the new ladder in Swildons Hole were quoted out of context in a local newspaper report of the Annual General Meeting, and then misconstrued by Mr Balch who expressed his views in a letter to the paper. As a result, extra effort was put into the construction of the next ladder. Having wire ropes and wooden rungs it was heavy by the standards of a few years later but it was considerably more convenient than the usual wood and hemp rope ladders of that time. Onenovel feature was that it was tailor made to suit the Forty Foot in Swildons Hole, being the exact length and having headers long enough to belay the ladder exactly around the natural belay at the head of the pitch. It was in use for many years and was only pensioned off, still in excellent condition, when lightweight ladders were constructed in 1956. One other effect of the correspondence that appeared in the local paper concerning climbing the Forty Foot on a rope was the receipt of a letter from the officer commanding the Territorial Marine Commandos in Bristol. This stated that it appeared club members were just the type of people he was looking for, and how about signing on. No-one took up the offer.
1951 – Third Year
An unusual decision (for any club) that was made by the committee during the year, and ratified at the Annual General Meeting, was to reduce the subscription. In 1949 the subscription had been fixed as ten shillings per annum for men and 7/6 for women – a clear case of sex inequality! – but these were reduced to a single rate of 2/6 a year. This was thought to be possible because of the relatively largeincrease in membership during the year, there were twelve new members in the twelve months, and also because each year so far the club had been making an excess of income over expenditure. Although this excess was only £2 each year, the total money passing through the Treasurer's hands in a year was only £6 and so this was a high percentage. Income in these days came solely from subscriptions and expenditure consisted of purchases of caving equipment, postal expenses by officers and the hire of a room for the AGM.
A precedent had been set for the Annual General Meeting and this year it was again held in the Town Hall at Shepton Mallet in November, with the President present to take the chair. During the meeting, which dealt with the usual routine business and thereduction in the subscription that has already been mentioned, it was also agreed to appoint a further officer to the committee. He was to be responsible for the organisation of all club caving meets and he was given the title of 'Expedition Secretary' – a title that continued to be used in the club for this position until 1965 when the Constitution was extensively revised and it was changed to the more mundane 'Caving Secretary'. In these days with cars being a rarity amongst members it required planning of almost expedition proportions to arrange transport, even to Mendip for those wishing to go caving.
Although still difficult, the problem of transport was by now a little easier. Trips were made during the year to many of the Mendip caves but principally to Swildons Hole and Stoke Lane Slocker. Visits to the former were assisted by the construction of a further twenty foot ladder, this one having wire ropes and Dural rungs and was built to replace one that was the personal property of one of the members which had been used previously. It was considerably lighter and less bulky than the ladder constructed for the Forty Foot in the previous year. On the digging side some work was carried out at Windsor Hill Quarry, and a small band of enthusiasts continued working at Tommy's Dig. No important archaeological finds were made during the year although several bones and artefacts were still awaitingidentification at the end of the year. Parties of Boy Scouts and members of several other local youth clubs were introduced to caving during the year, both by members giving lectures on the subject and by taking parties underground. One such organisation, the Girl's Training Corps at Shepton Mallet, asked for and were given four such lectures as well as being taken on a trip to Swildons Hole. One club member later married the GTC leader. A tackle fee of one shilling per trip was agreed at the Annual General Meeting but it seems that the idea was never put into practice; at least, no entries for fees received appear in the Treasurer's accounts.
At some time during the year the name of the club reverted to the original Shepton Mallet Caving Club but there is no record of when or why the actual change was made.
1952 – Fourth Year
Although a committee was elected each year at the Annual General Meeting, by 1952 they had ceased to meet formally at all during the year. The business of the club was run almost entirely by its officers after sounding the opinions of members when they gathered on club meets. Their actions were then approved, usually, by the following AGM. Membership of the club was obtained simply by writing or speaking to the Secretary and paying a subscription to the Treasurer.
One decision taken at the Annual General Meeting was to allow the Exeter University College Caving Club to become affiliated to the Shepton Mallet Caving Club – the only club that has been allowed to do this so far. As these members were not wage earners, the EUCCC paid a single subscription of 2/6 per annum. Another decision related to the design of a club badge; this was chosen from six designs that had been submitted by members for consideration. The design chosen was that of a candle standing on a coil of rope, the whole surrounded by an endless loop of rope and the words "Shepton Mallet Caving Club". The design was not changed until 1961 when the present pattern was adopted of a candle standing on a pile of rocks. This was done because all attempts to draw the coil of ropeseemed to end up looking like a pile of rocks. It was also agreed to start a club library and some money was spent on the purchase of publications. These were sent to members on a roster system by post, the idea being that after reading them it was posted to the nextname on the list, and so on. Although all very well in theory, the system did not work very well in practice as some members failed to post publications on and consequently they were lost. It is amusing to see that an account of the Annual General Meeting that appeared in the "Shepton Mallet Journal" states that the Treasurer reported "a balance in hand of approximately £50". Presumably the reporter could not believe the correct figure which was £4 – 17 – 8d!
The membership continued to increase during the year and began to lose its parochial nature. Not only had some of the original members left the Shepton Mallet area and introduced newcomers from their new areas, but new members joined from the London areaafter making contact with the club independently. This, of course, is a trend that has followed ever since.
Caving carried out by the club followed the pattern of earlier years. There was a regular monthly programme of trips to the Mendip caves, including Stoke Lane Slocker, Eastwater Swallet, Swildons Hole and the caves of Burrington Combe. In addition to the club programme, members began caving with others and in their own parties that they brought to Mendip; there was also the caving beingcarried out in Devon by the affiliated club at Exeter. A little further work was carried out at both the Windsor Hill Quarry cave and at Tommy's Dig but the majority of the enthusiasm had waned and no significant discoveries were made.
A sign of the continuing and improving regard with which the club was held by others was shown by the fact that members were invited to attend lectures and meets arranged by other caving societies. A number of lectures were again given by members to youth clubs, etc. in the Shepton Mallet area and these provided useful contacts with prospective members.
1953 – Fifth Year
The increasing stature of the club was also shown when in 1953 the club applied for, and was granted, club membership of the CaveResearch Group of Great Britain. The club could also be seen to be growing, not only from the continuously increasing number of members but also from the wider caving programme that was arranged. Thus, for the first time there were visits to the caves in South Wales which were very successful, and a further 'away' trip was organised to Devon. Unfortunately the last mentioned did not takeplace due to a lack of transport. On Mendip itself, the monthly programme of club trips included visits to GB Cavern, Swildons Hole, Eastwater Swallet and, of course, Stoke Lane Slocker. It was a very well attended meet that visited Stoke Lane and the occasion was used to bring out some of the charcoal from Bone Chamber. This was sent away to France for carbon-fourteen dating but there is no record of any result ever being received by the club. Similarly, the Secretary had to report to the AGM that a copy of the report on the bones removed four years earlier was still awaited – it still is. During the year a party visited the Fairy Cave Quarry area and were the first cavers to visit the recently opened Pixie Cave. Like many other caves since discovered in this quarry it was well decorated but was quarried away shortly afterwards. No work was done during the year in either of the digs, it being generally agreed that further progress was now impossible at Tommy's Dig.
The Annual General Meeting was well attended and the question of annual subscriptions was again considered. In view of a decision made at the meeting to purchase some further caving equipment it was agreed that the subscription should be raised to 7/6 a year. This decision was assisted by the knowledge that for the two previous years, since the subscription had been reduced, the Treasurer had had to report an excess of expenditure over income and that the total club money at the time of the AGM had fallen to only £2 – 13 – 2d. It was also realised that with the dispersing membership further expense would be involved on postage instead of relying largely on word of mouth communication. The possibility of producing some form of club publication for circulation to members was also discussed and it was decided, after a very lengthy discussion, that an effort should be made to produce one early in the following year. Production was to be in the hands of the Secretary and the Expedition Secretary. The Secretary had to report on the failure of the postal roster system for items from the club library and so the system was stopped and material was available on application to the Secretary. The meeting had been held as usual in the Shepton Mallet Town Hall in November.
After five years existence, the membership had changed from one that lived entirely in the Shepton Mallet area to one where nearly half lived outside of a ten mile radius, mostly in the London area. This trend has been continuous from the beginning until the present day when only four percent live within ten miles of the town. Club badges in cloth were obtained during the year and sold to members. It was three years before it was noticed (and by a non-member at that) that the name around the badge was spelt: "Shepton Mallett Caving Club". No formal committee meetings were held during the year; business continued to be dealt with by the officers and discussed by members on club meets.
1954 – Sixth Year
At the beginning of the year the first issue of the club Journal appeared. The title "Journal" may now appear a little grandiose, it was the beginning of a series of publications that continues today even if the standard of production and the editorial policy have changed somewhat in the meantime. The first issue contained club news and notices, together with a report of the previous Annual General Meeting, and notes on some caving books. It was thought that a means of keeping members in touch with each other and with the club was required. The intention was to publish a quarterly journal but, like so many similar efforts before it and since, it ran into publication difficulties. A second issue appeared in May but that was all for the year.
Monthly caving trips were arranged that met with varying degrees of success. Thus a trip arranged for the Easter holiday had to becancelled due to lack of support and two others early in the year were poorly attended, but a trip to South Wales in March was a great success. As guests of the local caving club they were able to visit the recently discovered Tunnel Cave. A further trip to this caving area was arranged for later in the year and in addition to a visit to the caves of Devon, trips were arranged to most of the major Mendip caves. In addition to club activities, caving by individual members took place. One member was particularly active at this time and, spending several weeks of the summer on Mendip, he visited most of the caves in the area. This included being in the party that made the second descent of the 170 feet deep Primrose Pot in Eastwater Swallet.
No further work had been carried out for some time in Windsor Hill Quarry and following a discussion between club members and the quarrymen who originally discovered the cave it was decided to abandon the attempt. A new cave dig was started at Hansdown, near Maesbury railway station (that used to be). A dry stream bed leads to a depression where the dig was started and by the end of the year access had been obtained to about fifty feet of narrow passage, further progress being blocked by a boulder choke. Early in theexcavation some bones were found, including a skull, that were dispatched for expert examination. It was learnt later that they were the remains of an iron-age woman.
The Annual General Meeting was held in November at the Town Hall, Shepton Mallet. In addition to the usual business there was considerable discussion on club meets and the need for more caving tackle. It was also agreed that as in previous years, regularcommittee meetings would not be called but that club business would be dealt with when there was a committee quorum at club meets.
At the very end of the year a group of members obtained the use of an old barn near Priddy for conversion into a club headquarters. This was situated just off the Hunters Lodge to Priddy road, about half a mile from the former. Those who know the club headquarters only from more recent years would have difficulty in recognising the barn of that time. The "accommodation" consisted of one room seventeen feet by ten feet, by ten feet high, and a low loft of approximately the same floor area. The only opening to the outside was one doorway; there was no door and no windows. Still it was a start, had possibilities, and the rent was only three pounds a year.
1955 – Seventh Year
The obtaining of the barn was to be the cause of several changes in the club. Although its use had been obtained at the end of 1954, apart from a few spartan visits it was not really habitable until the Easter holiday. Even so it was not until later in April that a properwindow and door were fitted, and there were still various holes in the loft floor. The only table was a piece of chipboard balanced on three piles of stones and visitors for tea had to bring their own cups or, if they were lucky, drink out of jam jars. Considerable work was carried out to improve the facilities and during the summer a sink was fitted but there was no running water and the waste was a piece of corrugated iron taking the water through a hole in the wall; a proper table was also constructed. Although the Secretary's report to the AGM at the end of the year stated that the roof still leaked, even these meagre facilities were sufficient to give those members living away from Somerset a permanent base on Mendip. It also allowed local members to spend more time in the caving area and thus theyestablished closer contacts with members of other clubs. Furthermore, a new type of member was introduced to the club – cavers who were already experienced members of other caving organisations but who joined the SMCC because of the availability of the accommodation on Mendip, something that has continued ever since.
One innovation connected with the establishment of a headquarters at Priddy was the keeping of a "Hut Log Book". This was started on April 1st and enables a much more comprehensive account to be given of the club's caving activities. During the year caving trips were made to all of the better known caves on Mendip and to many of the smaller ones, the most popular being Eastwater Swallet and Swildons Hole, followed by Longwood Swallet and Stoke Lane. Members assisted cavers from other clubs on many projects. They were involved in the exploration of Mud River Rift in Swildons Two, and the investigation of various side passages in the Paradise Regained series of the same cave. Assistance was given with digging and surveying in the recently opened Hilliers Cave, the surveying of EasterHole and the electronic survey check carried out in Longwood Swallet. They also helped with digging at Midway Slocker, Hunters' Hole, Tankard Hole (or Toad Hole as it was then known) and in Swildons Two. The club's own dig at Hansdown was the scene of some activity at the beginning of the year but interest waned later. Some more bones were discovered here and these were sent to Wells Museum for examination. Two small caves that had been opened in a quarry at Stoke Lane were investigated; one of them was well decorated and included a chamber some fifteen feet by twenty, the other was a boulder ruckle that was penetrated for about twenty feet.
As in the past the Annual General Meeting was held at Shepton Mallet during November. A new position on the committee was created, that of Hut Warden and the first holder of this office was, very conveniently, the daughter of the club's landlord. It was also agreed to change the date of the AGM from November to Easter. This was for the benefit of the increasing number of members living away from the Shepton Mallet area who had to travel to Somerset to attend.
After the start made the previous year, the club Journal still suffered from production difficulties and a shortage of suitable material. Only one issue appeared during the year, in January, and this contained articles on the Devon caves and on taking dry gear through the sump in Stoke Lane Slocker in addition to various club notices and news, and a report of the previous Annual General Meeting.
1956 – Eighth Year
Following the decision made at the previous meeting, the Annual General Meeting was held in Shepton Mallet over the Easter holiday. No minutes have been found for this meeting but from a cryptic comment in the Hut Log Book it seems that the attendance was poor. Unfortunately, unlike for most of the other gaps in the Minute Book, no further information can be obtained from the club Journal as the only issue to appear during the year did so in February, before the AGM was held, This issue reported the previous Annual General Meeting and included a short article on the Double Pots in Swildons Hole, a book review and the usual club notices and news, including a membership list. At this time the club had a membership of thirty two, of whom about one third still lived within a radius of ten miles from Shepton Mallet.
Considerable work was carried out during the year on making improvements to the club headquarters. Early in the year the existing cooking facilities (which consisted of one Primus stove precariously balanced on top of a rusty milk churn) were replaced by a three burner paraffin stove given to the club by a member. This in turn was augmented later in the year when some of the regular hut staying members banded together and bought the club a two burner Calor gas cooker, together with the necessary ancillary equipment. Various other items of equipment were donated by members and their parents, the latter probably worried for the well being of their offspring! These included a Valor heater which was quite effective provided that everyone sat around the table with the stove between their legs. Further improvements included the fitting of a wastepipe to the sink to replace the rusty corrugated iron shute, and then the installation of running water. The hut was also wired for electric lighting which was connected to the mains at the very end of the year – the first Mendip caving headquarters to have either mains water or mains electricity. Comfort as well as convenience was improved. The roof was insulated by placing hay and straw filled polythene tubing under the tiles to cut down heat losses. Other repairs to the roof also removed the necessity of sitting underneath the table if one wished to remain dry when it was raining hard outside.
A reasonable but not spectacular amount of caving was carried out in 1956, though it was limited to relatively few Mendip caves and was largely of a "tourist" nature; with no active members living locally the amount of work that could be done was limited. Swildons Hole was by far the most frequently visited cave and assistance given here to cavers who were attempting to get beyond Blue Pencil Passage; Eastwater Swallet and Stoke Lane Slocker were also popular. One of the trips to Eastwater was to introduce Sir John Hunt to the 'joys' of caving by several club members. After getting stuck in Hallelujah Hole for some time he was heard to say that he preferred Mount Everest.
Some digging was carried out assisting others at Tankard Hole, Hunters' Hole and Browne's Hole but no work at all was done in Hansdown Swallet. Members did find a small cave at Cheriton in Devon (well outside the caving area) and explored it. It consisted of a bedding plane passage some thirty to forty feet long, ending in a boulder ruckle. It was intended to make a further visit there but if this did take place the result has not been recorded. During the summer four members visited Ireland on a caving-cum-drinking holiday, thus starting a tradition eagerly followed to the present day.
1957 – Ninth Year
At the 1957 Annual General Meeting was made one of the most momentous policy decisions yet taken by the club: the decision that new members should only be admitted at an AGM. Since the club had obtained its headquarters, many members thought that it might attract too many new members with the result that the benefits of a small club would be lost. The question was discussed at great length during the meeting and several possible methods of controlling the growth of the club were considered. A fixed maximum of members was rejected and in the end it was decided to adopt the idea that new members could only be admitted at an AGM. Although modified slightly in 1961, and again in 1967, the principle is still applied. Other matters dealt with by the meeting, in addition to routinebusiness, were the decisions to support financially the Mendip Rescue Organisation and the recently proposed Mendip Cave Registry.Several amendments were also made to the Constitution and Rules but there is no record as to what those were.
Caving activity was again spread over a large number of the Mendip caves, with one club trip being organised to Devon for a visit to Pridhamsleigh Cavern and Bakers Pit Cave. Individual members also carried out an appreciable amount of caving away from the south west, particularly in Yorkshire. On Mendip, Swildons Hole was the most popular cave as usual and during the year the first entry into Swildons Four was made by members of the Westminster Speleological Group. The club's close association with the WSG meant that members were involved in assisting with the work in Blue Pencil Passage and also the early exploration of Swildons Four itself. Other work was carried out assisting the Bristol Exploration Club in St. Cuthbert's Swallet. This included digging at several places in the Rabbit Warren extension, and also in the Maypole Series. Most of the more usual Mendip caves were visited, for some reason unknown Cuckoo Cleeves being surprisingly popular for tourist trips. Some medium grade surveying was carried out in Great Oones Hole and in Goatchurch Cavern but this work was never completed.
Another event of 1957 was the holding of the first Club Dinner, at the Star Hotel, Wells, in December. It turned out to be a veryenjoyable affair and thus started what is now an annual event.
Improvements continued to be made to the club headquarters at Priddy, in particular to the roof. The tiles were removed and roofing felt laid under them, in an effort to make the roof more weatherproof. A small window was also set in the end wall of the loft to provideventilation to the sleeping space, and numerous small alterations and changes were made.
Two issues of the Journal appeared during the year, in February and July. Number Five contained two articles, on Dowber Gill Passage (Providence Pot) and on a caving trip to Ireland the previous year, together with just a few notices and items of news. The next issue, the last of Series One of the Journal, contained a report of the AGM, a copy of the Club Constitution and Rules, and some amendments to the book 'Britain Underground'.
1958 – Tenth Year
The years caving centred principally around Swildons Hole, particularly in attempts to progress further downstream, though members were also involved in several discoveries made in St. Cuthbert's Swallet. Several preparatory trips were made to Swildons Four carrying equipment ready for the diving operation that later passed Sump 4 and discovered Swildons Five. It was on one of those trips that the strong smell of the stream descending the avens near Sump 4 was noticed which led to the theory, later confirmed chemically, that the inlet might be close to Mr Maine's farm on Priddy Green. Assistance was given by club members on the diving operation itself, and also on a later one when Sump 5 was passed. The avens in Swildons Four, near the sump, were climbed but without much success, and Swildons Five was explored. The downstream side of Sump 3 was also examined thoroughly. Other work in Swildons Hole includedattempts to enlarge the squeeze in Blue Pencil Passage after a practice rescue had shown that it was impossible to get an injured caver out from Four. Members were also involved in three maypoling exploits in St. Cuthbert's Swallet which resulted in small discoveries, and were associated with the discovery of the September Series of this cave. High grade surveying was carried out in Hunters' Hole and in St. Cuthbert's Swallet. Tourist trips were made to most of the larger and many of the smaller Mendip caves, and also to Yorkshire (Gaping Gill) and to South Wales (Ogof Ffynnon Ddu).
For the first time in the history of the club the Annual General Meeting was not held in the Shepton Mallet Town Hall but at a membershouse in the town. The business dealt with was the usual for such a meeting, with the addition of agreeing that the club Dinner, held at the end of the previous year, had been an unqualified success and that it should become an annual event. It was also decided that as the majority of active members now stayed at the club headquarters, the venue for the Annual General Meeting nearer to Priddy would be more convenient. Meeting immediately after the AGM, the committee agreed to continue supporting the Mendip Cave Registry, and that in the interests of security the lock on the headquarters should be changed for one of a better pattern. A further meeting of the committee was held in October to settle the details of the new lock, including taking the decision that the deposit money paid by members on keys should be kept separate from general club funds. A ruling was passed that all new members would be required to obtain their own key – a ruling which, it might be added, has never been enforced. It was also agreed to produce a new series of Newsletters but these did not, in fact, start to appear for more than another twelve months. No issue of the Journal had appeared since July of the previous year, and none was published in 1958.
Soon after obtaining the club headquarters use was made of the small stone hut on the other side of the track, though without permission from the (unknown) owner. During the year this shed was renovated, the roof recovered and a door fitted so that it could be used for the storage of gear. A chemical toilet was also installed. Many small improvements were made to the headquarters and early in the year a number of bunks were constructed; these were not particularly satisfactory but in the periods between repair they did saveone from sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Another innovation was when a collecting box inscribed "CMS" was found. The letters obviously (?) stood for "Conscience Money to Shepton" so it was placed in a position to receive donations in return for the various services provided by the club and for which no charge was made. It was, and still is, a useful source of income for the club.
1959 – Eleventh Year
This year saw the start of some members taking an active interest in cave diving in as much as they started training to be divers themselves. Early in the year an attempt was made to re-enter Swildons Six in what was to turn out to be the last of the massive diving operations involving dozens of 'Sherpas' to carry the equipment required. Several members assisted in this capacity but the attempt had to be called off when the cave started to flood. Later in the year Swildons Five was entered on a couple of occasions and the high levelpassages were fully explored, but without any significant discoveries being made. 5.30AM (!) on 26th August saw the start of digging on Priddy Green in an attempt to find the quick connection to Swildons Four taken by the water sinking at this point, the connection having been proved chemically earlier in the year. The digging started as a combined operation between members of several clubs, members of the 'Shepton' providing a large percentage of the effort. Work on this dig was continued by club members almost every weekend from the start of operations until the end of the year. Tourist trips were made to several of the major Mendip caves and there was one visit each to Derbyshire and Yorkshire but this type of caving was not as frequent as it had been in the past. Withybrook Slocker was fully probed, assistance given on several other cave diving operations and some other work carried out in St. Cuthbert's Swallet and in Swildons Hole. During the summer a party of members visited Ireland and recorded several new caves in the Marble Arch cave of County Fermanagh.
Following the decision of the previous Annual General Meeting, this years meeting was held at the New Inn, Priddy, a few weeks afterEaster. The position of President was vacant following the resignation of the club's first president at the previous AGM due to ill health.Mr Stock, a local farmer who had always been extremely friendly and helpful to cavers, and particularly to members of the club, was elected as the new President. In addition to routine business the meeting agreed to publish a twice yearly Journal, and to attempt to obtain more room at the club headquarters. It was hoped to accomplish the latter by renting the room at the back of the headquarters building.
The first of a new series of the Journal appeared in May. This incorporated a change in policy from earlier issues in that club and social news were kept to a minimum and a definite effort was made to raise the standard of the contents. The second issue duly appeared in November and therefore started a practice that has continued to the present time – the publication of a regular Journal of serious content.
Difficulty over access to land owned by the Bristol Waterworks Company had necessitated the forming of an inter-club body. This in turn necessitated the calling of a club committee meeting in August to hear the results of initial negotiations with the Bristol Waterworks Company and to appoint a representative for the club. At this meeting it was also agreed that a series of Occasional Papers should be published, the first paper to be a report on the discoveries made in Ireland earlier in the year.
Trouble was still being experienced with the roof of the club headquarters and so the tiles were again removed and the weatherproofingimproved. Comfort was improved by the purchase of a paraffin burning stove which, if the wind was in the right direction, workedexcellently. More often than not, though, the wind would be wrong, and there would be periodical explosions that blew the lid of the stove across the room. All in all it was not very satisfactory as the wear on ones nerves was greater than the warmth received. The appearance of the interior of the building was considerably improved by the application of a coat of whitewash.
1960 – Twelfth Year
A considerable amount of caving took place during the year, the main places of attention being the Priddy Green Dig, various places in Swildons Hole, and a number of sites that were investigated by the cave diving members of the club. Priddy Green Dig (or Sink as it became known later) was the scene of activity for most weekends of the year and in the circumstances considerable progress was made. Well over one hundred feet of cave were made accessible to cavers, for most of the distance it being necessary to enlarge the passage by blasting. Although this had started as an inter-club activity by far the majority of the work done during the year was carried out by members of the SMCC. Work in Swildons Hole included an attempt to pass the Second Boulder Choke in the Black Hole Series, an investigation of the Damascus Sump, and work at the head of Blue Pencil Passage which resulted in the discovery of the DoubleTroubles. A considerable amount of work was also put in at the bottom of Shatter Pot in an attempt to extend the known cave. Several members were by now active and fully trained cave divers, and during the year a number of sumps were investigated, both on Mendip and in Yorkshire. These included a detailed examination of Springhead Rising at Rodney Stoke which was carried out for the mutual interest of both the cavers and the Street Urban District Council who use the water. On a visit to Yorkshire in August, what was thought to be a previously unentered extension of Roger Kirk Cave was discovered. A number of tourist trips were also made throughout the year to the usual caves, some surveying was carried out in St. Cuthbert's Swallet, and an extensive survey of the swallets and surfacefeatures of Central and Eastern Mendip was made.
The Annual General Meeting was again held at the New Inn, Priddy, a fortnight after Easter. Although no Minutes are still in existence, from the report appearing in the Newsletter it appears to have been a reasonably straightforward meeting though the business did include a decision that a definite approach should be made to purchase the club headquarters building if the owner was willing to sell – these present at the meeting promised over £70 in loans for this purpose, should the approach be successful. A committee meeting was held in May and informed that the request to purchase the building had been turned down but that the owner had offered a six-monthly tenancy at a rent of ten pounds a year. As this was the best that could be arranged it was agreed to accept and then continue with improvements to the building; these included increasing the available space by putting in a new floor above the main room.
The first two numbers of the club's series of Occasional Papers appeared at the end of the year, one covered the discoveries made in Ireland the previous year, and the other the results of two members investigations of the caves in North Wales. A member was able to type and duplicate the first hundred copies of each at no cost to the club with the result that money from sales was nearly all profit. The standard of production of the Journal fell to an "all time low" due to the difficulties with the duplicating machine being used (it cost the club ten shillings at an auction sale.) The contents included several interesting articles on the exploration of Swildons Five, the results of diving the sumps in Hensler's Passage, Gaping Gill, and a detailed report on progress in Priddy Green Sink, together with various trip reports and a few notices and news items. The low standard of production emphasised the need for a reliable duplicating machine, the result being an approach to Showerings Ltd (as another Shepton Mallet organisation) to see whether or not they had an old machine they were willing to donate or sell cheaply to the club. In reply one of the firm's Directors purchased for the club a reconditioned Gestetner duplicator on the understanding that the club would repay the cost (£29) as, when and if the money was available.
1961 – Thirteenth Year
In 1961 the policy concerning the Journal was changed further with the start of a third series, it was to contain only articles of an original nature. To enable this to be done a separate newsletter was started which contained all the club notices and news, social news and general chatter. At the same time the standard of presentation of the Journal was improved; for the first time copies were sold to non-members. Twice yearly production of the Journal was continued though the Newsletter appeared at irregular intervals depending on the material available. It was found possible to repay ten pounds during the year towards the cost of the duplicating machine, the moneybeing obtained solely from the profit made on the sales of Journals and Occasional Papers. This was assisted in no small way by the club having a very cheap source of duplicating paper at the time.
Once again the caving activities of the club were of a serious nature and tourist (or caving for the hell of it) trips were few and far between, most of these that did take place were occasions when members acted as guides for parties from other organisations. Interest in Priddy Green Sink had waned and only one visit is recorded in the Hut Log for the whole year. Considerable work was carried out in Swildons however, starting in the January with the break through into Shatter Passage. This was followed by a thorough exploration and a survey. Further extensions were made to the Double Trouble Series, however the major portion of the work and discoveries were in the downstream section of the cave. After several preparatory trips, diving members of the club took part in a careful and thorough exploration of Swildons Six. On the same trip they dug out the bed of the streamway in Six so that the water level was lowered and Sump 5 turned into a Duck. Sump 6 was passed by one member on a further trip a few weeks later but it was not possible for him to do more than look at Swildons Seven from the far side of the sump. The club's divers also investigated the sumps in the recentlydiscovered Balch Cave but without making much progress. Digging took place at Springfield Slocker and Bottlehead Slocker on EasternMendip. It was not possible to make much progress at Springfield but digging at Bottlehead gave access to several hundred feet of cave. Other work included surveying Blake's Farm Swallet, parts of St. Cuthbert's Swallet and the Valentine's Landing dig in Lamb Leer. Water tracing experiments were carried out, proving the connection between the stream sinking in Plantation Swallet and various parts of St. Cuthbert's Swallet.
The Annual General Meeting was held as usual at the New Inn, Priddy, shortly after Easter. From the resolutions passed at the meeting it can be seen that it was now thought necessary to formalise certain activities of the officers, due to the gradual change of membership and nature of the club. These resolutions fixed the limit of cash that could be held by members, the size of cash transactions requiring committee approval, the authority required for changing hut fees and so on. It was also decided to raise the annual subscription from 7/6 to 15/-. The only discussion that this raised was whether the increase was large enough. A change was made in the regulationsconcerning the admission of new members in as much as the word "annual" was deleted to allow admission at any General Meeting. As it happens, new members were only admitted at AGMs until 1969.
During the year ownership of the property used as a club headquarters changed and the new owner expressed a willingness to lease the property to the club. The terms of this lease were negotiated and approved by the committee in December. It was agreed that an Extraordinary General Meeting should be held in the New Year to allow members to consider the lease, and if agreeable to alter the Constitution to allow for the appointment of Trustees.
1962 – Fourteenth Year
In January the Extraordinary General Meeting was called to consider the terms of the lease offered by the new owner of the clubheadquarters, and also to make the necessary amendments to the Constitution. Despite the far reaching effects of these decisions only a quarter of the membership attended the meeting. Trustees of the club were appointed and the various legal documents completed. The club now had a five year lease on the building, including the downstairs room at the back and the small hut adjacent. In addition to the clauses usual in such a lease, the club became liable for all its own repairs and payment of rates, and also the legal fees of both parties. The rent was increased to £26 per annum. There was no right of removal at the end of the five years but in return all our fixtures and fittings could be removed when the lease was terminated. There now being reasonable security of tenure, a programme of repairs and improvements was drawn up. To finance this, members were invited to loan the club money, interest free, for an indefinite period. Over half of the membership responded and more than £90 was raised. A committee meeting held the following month arranged details of the work to be done,
Caving again centred around Swildons Hole. The South East Inlet series in Paradise Regained was fully explored, the avens in Swildons Four were climbed to well beyond the previous limit of exploration (a very amusing account being published in the Journal) and digging took place in Vicarage Passage. The divers continued their explorations downstream, by re-entering Swildons Seven andexploring this section of the cave. A second trip, also in June, completed the exploration and one member passed Sump 7 to enter Swildons Eight but the remainder of the party found their equipment too bulky to pass the squeeze in the sump. These explorations were made easier by being able to proceed all the way downstream instead of having to reach Swildons Four by way of Paradise Regained. This followed the first passing of Sump 3 by one of the club's divers early in the year. The divers were also successful in passing Sump 2 of Stoke Lane Slocker for the first time, this led to the discovery of a further eight hundred feet of cave. Following the climbing of the avens in Swildons Four, interest was rekindled in the digging of Priddy Green Sink and several working trips were made there. Again tourist trips were in the minority and, as in the previous year, about half of these that did take place were when guiding parties from other clubs. Surveying was carried out in St. Cuthbert's Swallet and of Bottlehead Slocker.
As the club now had the use of the whole building as a club headquarters it was possible to improve considerably the facilities provided for members. Instead of a single room for cooking, eating and living it was possible, with the doubled floor area, to separate them. The original room was divided into a kitchen and a changing room / tackle store / workshop, while the new room was converted into a living and dining room. The occasion of these alterations was used to carry out several improvements such as an overhaul of the cooking facilities, the provision of beds and a coke stove. It was necessary to lay a new floor in the back room; also cupboards and lockers were provided in the kitchen and living room. The opportunity was taken to provide space for the club library in the headquarters which made its use considerably more convenient for members. Perhaps because of the improvements, or maybe because of the work being carried out, the number of people staying in the headquarters reached the highest annual figure so far, 830 bed-nights.
There was further discussion on the admission of new members at the 1962 Annual General Meeting but it was agreed that there should be no further change in policy. The committee only met when required but the changes in the club were making these meetings morefrequent. In addition to the two meetings earlier in the year, a third was held in the November but no minutes of this are in the records.
1963 – Fifteenth Year
The Annual General Meeting in April was a very quiet and straightforward affair but during the year differences of opinion between a group of members and one of the club officers came to a head when those members asked the officer to resign from his position. After a meeting of those concerned, the letter was withdrawn and it was agreed that had the committee held regular Committee Meetings this trouble could probably have been resolved long before reaching the position that it did. Regular committee meetings were started late in 1963 and one of the first tasks was the drawing up of a set of rules, mainly concerned with the club hut. These were published in October and came into effect in December. Even after publication of the rules, all differences between members were not settled and there were threats of resignation and even a move to cancel the club Dinner "due to the feeling within the club". However by the end of the year things were more or less back to normal and the Dinner was held at the Red Lion in Shepton Mallet.
There was an idea put forward during the year to provide an Annexe to the club headquarters for the use of married members and their families. The idea was to create a small wooden hut for this purpose and a suitable building was offered. However a site for the hut was not found and the idea was finally forgotten. Towards the end of the year the Secretary found it necessary to resign his office due to pressure of work and the committee appointed one of its numbers to the position.
The weather was particularly bad at the beginning of the year and serious caving did not start again until March. Several members had now given up cave diving principally due to family commitments, and the only diving carried out in Swildons was a further visit to Seven to make a high grade survey. However some diving was carried out at Stoke Lane Slocker and Stoke Three and Four were carefullyexplored. Later in the year Sump 4 was passed and a small extension to the cave discovered. A survey was made of Stoke Three and Four, but attempts to lower the streambed on the downstream side of Sump 2 were unsuccessful. Digging was carried out in ShatterPassage, Swildons Hole, without any result, and an underwater dig was started in the sump in St. Cuthbert's Swallet. Caving activity had decreased considerably when compared with the previous few years although a reasonable amount was still taking place. There was one club trip to Devon and another to Steep Holme where some of the caves were surveyed. In addition, two members were on the British Expedition to the Gouffre Berger which was successful in passing the sump at the bottom of the cave for the first time. A long article on the expedition was published in the Journal and later republished elsewhere. The final £9 outstanding from the purchase of the duplicating machine three years earlier was paid back during the year.
Many of the proposed alterations to the headquarters had been carried out the previous year and several more were completed in 1963. A new window was built into the wall on south side of the building which considerably improved the lighting in the kitchen, racks were provided on which to hang the ladders and ropes, and further lockers provided for the storage of members personal belongings. Theelectric wiring was renewed yet again. One side effect of moving the club library to the headquarters was to encourage the building up of a comprehensive collection, it now being much easier to see what was available and what was not. Money was spent on purchasingmaterial, the emphasis being on club publications rather than on descriptive books and this policy is still followed. One member verygenerously donated a copy of the new edition of "British Caving" to the club library.
1964 – Sixteenth Year
After the upsets of the previous year, the Annual General Meeting was quiet and concerned primarily with financial matters. There had been a large outlay, for a club of its size, on the various modifications that had been carried out in the club headquarters during the previous years. In addition, there was £13 to be paid towards the legal costs, etc of the recently formed Charterhouse Caving Committee, this figure being the club's share as a member of the committee towards the costs involved in maintaining access to caves and land owned by the Bristol Waterworks Company. The Company had threatened to close permanently the caves, principally GB Cavern and Longwood Swallet, and expensive negotiations and agreements were required to prevent this happening. The annual subvention to the Charterhouse Caving Committee has been a recurring cost to the club ever since. Another item discussed at the AGM was the possibility of purchasing a different typewriter for the club in order that the appearance of the club Journal could be improved.The existing typewriter had been given to the club several years earlier but was now badly worn. A typewriter was purchased shortly after the meeting, the money being obtained by adding a compulsory levy of five shillings to all subscriptions for 1964/5.
This was a fine year's caving for the club. Trips were well supported and there were many tourist trips to most of the Mendip caves. Digging took place mostly in Swildons Hole, including a determined effort to pass the First Mud Sump, and also in St. Cuthbert's Swallet and at the back of Valentine's Landing in Lamb Leer. North Wales and Yorkshire were visited several times each, and nearer home work was done in the Quantocks with the investigation and surveying of the East Series of Holwell Cavern. Two caves were also investigated in a quarry at Cannington near Bridgewater, one of which was extended and some animal bones discovered. A weekend visit was made to Steep Holme and both the Priddy Green Sink and Sandpit Hole digs were restarted.
The first of many "social weekends" was held after the Annual General Meeting; the hut was available to members only and the meeting was followed by a communal meal and a barrel of beer – hence the popular term of "PU weekends". The following day saw the inauguration of the Burrington Fancy Dress trip in which club members descended Goatchurch by candlelight and in fancy dress. This caused much amusement amongst others in Burrington Combe and in Goatchurch! Once again the Annual Dinner at the end of the year was held at the Red Lion, Shepton Mallet, but it was not thought to have been as successful as earlier functions owing to a "lack of understanding" by the Management
This year saw the largest number of new members yet admitted to the club at one time, thirteen applications of which nine were granted; also the second highest total of members and guests staying at the club hut – 787 bed-nights. Improvements were again made to the hut, including putting a ceiling in the kitchen and upstairs, and repainting the kitchen. A large proportion of the Committee's time was spent in preparing a draft revision of the Club Constitution ready for the following AGM.
A new series of newsletters appeared during the year, the idea being to produce a regular means of communication between members.Items of club news and notices, etc were published for internal consumption but the policy of publishing all material of original work in the Journal was maintained. Irregular foolscap sheets, usually a single page, were replaced by a multi-page quarto newsletter appearing five times a year.
On the broader field, the club became a founder member of the Council of Southern Caving Clubs that was formed to counter pressure from clubs in the north of England to form a national association of caving clubs.
1965 – Seventeenth Year
The Annual General Meeting was held for the first time in the club headquarters, and was again quiet, the only business of note was the passing of the new Constitution that had been prepared by the committee. Although no radical changes appeared in the new Constitution it tidied up many loose ends and brought together various rules concerning the running of the club. The meeting was followed by the now established social weekend comprising "PU", films and the Sunday trip to Burrington in fancy dress.
A considerable amount of work was carried out underground during the year, particularly in the earlier months, much effort beingexpended in an attempt to pass the First Mud Sump in Swildons Hole. This involved the construction of a large cement and mud dam, behind which the water and mud from the sump itself could be stored. The sump passage was entered on one occasion but found to be very constricted. There was also a revival of interest in the Priddy Green Sink dig at the beginning of the year but no further progress was made. In addition to the usual tourist trips to all the larger Mendip caves, and many others, there were also three visits to Yorkshire and one to Derbyshire. Some surveying and also some successful water tracing experiments were carried out in the course of two visits to the caves of North Wales. On Mendip both the Trench, Fault Chamber aven in Swildons Hole and High Chamber in St. Cuthbert's Swallet were climbed by members of the club. During the summer members discovered and explored the downstream section of St. Catherine's II Cave in County Clare, Ireland.
The second half of 1965 saw the commencement of what was probably the blackest period in the club's history to date. Although notvery apparent from a study of the Hut Log Book, the amount of caving being carried out decreased and club officers had difficulty in raising enthusiasm for club affairs. The trouble can perhaps be said to have started when a request on behalf of the Mendip Cave Registry that copies of the club Newsletter be donated to a central collection of caving literature being formed in Bristol Reference Library was refused by the committee at their July meeting. This was done on the grounds that the Newsletter was for club circulation only and that, in their opinion, donation would be contrary to the interests of the club. To "strengthen" this view a Newsletter was published in October which contained an article that was possibly in doubtful taste. Exception to this Newsletter was taken by several members both in its lateness of publication and its general content, even to the extent of the publication by one member of an unofficialissue of the newsletter. Discontent among members continued and was measured by the circulation of an unofficial referendum obtaining members' views on both the committee's decision regarding donation of the Newsletters to Bristol, and on a suggestion that embarrassment might have been caused by the "doubtful" Newsletter. A summary of the results of this referendum was forwarded to the club Chairman before the end of the year for him to deal with as he thought fit.
The Annual Dinner was held at the Caveman Restaurant in Cheddar and the change of venue was found to be a considerableimprovement as the Management were remarkably tolerant.
Two issues of the Journal appeared as usual during the year. These contained articles describing the Blue Pencil aven in Swildons Hole, complete with a survey, and a design of surveying unit that has since proved popular with many Mendip cave surveyors. Also published was an account of the "Great Flood" in Eastwater Swallet that occurred in 1910, the manuscript was by one of those present and had recently come into the possession of the Editor.
1966 – Eighteenth Year
The political strife that had troubled the club for the final months of 1965 continued into 1966 and was not settled until halfway through the year. The January committee meeting already had a discussion of the offending Newsletter on its agenda. This meeting decided that the two opposing factions in the club should each publish their points of view in the Newsletter for general club digestion prior to the AGM. However this decision was negated the following day when the Secretary resigned his position as he felt that he could not continue as secretary in the circumstances. The consequence of this action was a decision to call an Extraordinary General Meeting in February. This meeting, however, did little to clear the air, the ex-secretary was re-elected as Secretary and one member was censured for his actions. This unsatisfactory state of affairs continued until the culmination of the preceding year's political strife at the Annual General Meeting in May. At this meeting it became obvious that there was very serious disagreement between the two factions in the club. In spite of appeals from several members for reconciliation the dispute ended when several long-standing members left the meeting following a vote; they later resigned their membership. An almost entirely new committee was elected who began to run the club onmore formal lines. This included more frequent committee meetings and the publication in the newsletter of a précis of the committee meeting minutes.
The AGM resolved the question of donating copies of the newsletter to the Central Caving Collection at Bristol Reference Library by means of the usual compromise. It was agreed that copies would be forwarded at the end of each year, by which time any "confidential" material that they might contain would no longer be relevant. Even after the AGM the clubs political troubles were not fully over, the newly elected Secretary and Caving Secretary both resigning after a few months. This resulted in a reshuffle of the committee with the appointment of a new Secretary, Treasurer and Caving Secretary, and the appointment of another committee member.
With the formation of this new committee club affairs began to show definite signs of improvement. There was a gradual but decisiveincrease in the amount of caving carried out. Swildons Hole and St. Cuthberts Swallet were the two most popular caves but tourist trips were also made to various caves in Yorkshire, South Wales and Ireland in addition to most of the Mendip caves. A dig in Vicarage Passage of Swildons Hole was adopted as an 'official' club dig and at the same time digging was carried out in Lamb Leer, at Hyatt's Hill Farm near Stoke St. Michael, and in the terminal sump of St. Cuthbert's Swallet.
At the beginning of the year a reprint of early issues of the club Journal, covering the years 1954 to 1960, had been published. The format of the current Journal was changed during the year, reverting to quarto size and at the same time starting a new Series, the fourth. Other publishing ventures during the year were the appearance of the third Occasional Paper (a bibliography on the caves of North Wales) and also a reprint in one volume of the first five numbers of the third Series of the club Journal. The latter used the original stencils and the paper and covers made surplus by the change of Journal format and therefore was very cheap to produce.
During the year it was necessary to appoint new Trustees due to the resignation of some of the original Trustees. Negotiations were also started for a renewal of the lease on the club headquarters that was due to expire early in the following year. Due to losses, part of the library had been kept under lock and key for most of the year and as this had not caused as much inconvenience as had been feared, it was decided to lock up the remainder. The decision to lock the library was taken with great reluctance but irreplaceable items were being lost through carelessness thus reducing the value of the library.
1967 – Nineteenth Year
The amount of caving being carried out by members of the club continued to increase during the year. A considerable increase in the number of trips away from Mendip took place, particularly to South Wales which had become much easier to reach since the opening of the Severn Bridge. In all, nine trips are recorded in the Hut Log to this caving area, many of them being with the object of examining the sumps in various caves. Diving members also made an investigation of Pridhamsleigh Cavern in Devon. There was a trip to the North Wales caving area with the object of surveying, and tourist trips to Devon and Yorkshire. On Mendip a considerable amount of work was done. The entrance of Eastwater Swallet collapsed in the late summer and members spent a lot of effort in trying to re-open the cavebefore becoming discouraged by the almost complete lack of support from the other clubs who were supposed to be assisting with this project. Another scene of great activity was the Sump in St. Cuthbert's Swallet where many hours were spent trying to clear a way through the silt. Assistance was given with digs at North Hill, Blackmoor Swallet and East Twin Swallet in addition to continuing work at Hyatt's Hill Farm. The survey of Holwell Cavern was completed and published during the early summer, and some surveying was carried out in St. Cuthbert's Swallet. It was in November that the national epidemic of 'Foot and Mouth' disease reached alarming proportions with the result that access to practically all caves was prohibited and caving activity came to a virtual standstill for the last six weeks of the year.
It was a quiet and unspectacular Annual General Meeting that was held in the club headquarters early in May. The meeting considered that it was necessary to increase the annual subscription to one pound, and at the same time increase the hut fees for non-members to three shillings. The method of presenting the club's accounts had been changed and it was now possible to see that the club hut was only just about paying its way (even at the best interpretation of the figures) whereas it had been believed generally that the hut helped to subsidise the cost of various other club activities. A major decision made at the meeting was to amend the Constitution to give the committee the power to grant probationary membership at their discretion during the year. Any such probationers would be considered for election to full membership at the next General Meeting. The committee admitted four new members as probationers during the year, three of them later being elected to full membership. A form of application for membership was introduced during the year, partly with the object of dismissing some of the misconceptions concerning admission that had existed outside the club ever since membership had been restricted.
The lease on the club headquarters was renewed in March for a further five years though it was necessary to agree to an increased rent of twelve shillings a week. The tenancy being secured for a further period it was desirable to carry out a certain amount of work on the building and hut working weekends were re-introduced but poorly supported. However several repairs and improvements were carried out, including the installation of a considerably more efficient stove. The question of a hot water system was raised again and an appeal for donations towards the purchase of a gas-fired heater was launched with a very generous donation from one member. The storagearrangements were now too small for the club library and for a short time it was necessary to keep some of the lesser used material away from Mendip. A new, larger cupboard was obtained, and installed, that was large enough to house all the material.
The committee decided that to reduce the club's financial liabilities, those members with "Hut Improvement Loans" still outstanding from 1962 should be invited to convert them either into a donation or into advance subscriptions. All were converted and the relatively large liability removed quite painlessly.
1968 – Twentieth Year
Access to most caves was still prohibited for the first two months of the year due to the 'Foot and Mouth' disease epidemic and apart from visits to a few caves situated in quarries and similar situations there was little caving until March. When caving did start again it started in earnest, due to an energetic Caving Secretary and perhaps in part to renewed enthusiasm following the enforced abstention.Admittedly the caving was done by a fairly small percentage of the membership but a caving programme for practically every weekend was arranged and, in general, carried out. It was probably the most active caving year yet experienced by the club and the emphasis was on working trips. More than forty such trips were made to St. Cuthbert's Swallet alone where, with members of the Bristol Exploration Club, much effort was put into digging at the back of the Dining Room. Club members were with two parties that visitedIreland, one of which surveyed St. Catherine's II Cave found several years earlier, and the other discovered several new caves totalling over 1,000 feet of passages. South Wales was again a popular venue for many trips and visits were also made to Derbyshire, Devon and North Wales. Other sites for work on Mendip included May Passage in Lamb Leer, Vicarage Passage, First Mud Sump and the Sidcot dig in Swildons Hole, the entrance of Eastwater and assisting at North Hill.
Due to a change of ownership, work could not be resumed at Hyatt's Hill Farm but permission was obtained for a final visit in May to remove tackle, make a survey and close up the entrance.
In addition to the caving, the club headquarters was another casualty of the 'Foot and Mouth' epidemic as not only was there no caving but persons were actively discouraged from travelling to Mendip from other parts of the country. The resultant loss of persons staying overnight gave the lowest monthly figures for over ten years and a corresponding loss of income. Several improvements were made to the building later in the year. These included the installation of the gas-fired water heater purchased with donations from club members, and moving the position of the stove to improve the waterproofing of the roof and space available in the living room. The front door and window were replaced as well.
During the year it was suggested that the twenty-first anniversary of the club, that would occur in 1970, should by celebrated in a suitable manner. The question was discussed both by a special sub-committee and by the Annual General Meeting that was held as usual at the club headquarters in early May. This matter was in fact the only point raised at the meeting apart from the usual routinebusiness. Two of the suggestions made were the organising of an expedition abroad in 1970 and the preparation of this club history. Meetings were held of those possibly interested in the expedition and after considering several possible venues it was agreed to be 'different' and investigate the lava caves of Iceland. Planning for this trip started towards the end of the year.
One matter that occupied a certain amount of the committee's time was consideration of the desirability of the club owning its own freehold property instead of continuing to lease the present headquarters. This came about because of the possibility of a nearby barn being available and not because of any deterioration in relations with the landlord – these continued to be very good. Considerablecorrespondence followed between the club secretary and the owners of the barn, another caving club. With the committee admitting a further six probationary members during the year, membership reached its highest figure so far at 48 paid up members.
The usual two issues of the club Journal were published during the year; the standard of the Newsletter continued to improve and six issues appeared containing the lighter material such as news, notices and trip reports. The fourth in the series of Occasional Papers was also published. This was a printing of extracts from the first two volumes of the Hut Log Books, covering the years 1955 to 1958. The club library continued to expand at a rate of over 200 additions a year and contained more than 2000 items.
1969 – Twenty-First Year
For the first time in the history of the club the Secretary had the unpleasant duty of reporting the death of a member when, in September John Norris died at eighteen years of age after a long illness.
The amount of caving carried out in 1969 was even higher than in the previous year but it was carried out by relatively few of the total membership. Over the last two months of the year, an average of more than six trips a week was recorded in the Hut Log Book alone.The main sites of activity were St. Cuthbert's Swallet and the recently opened Shatter Cave in Fairy Cave Quarry. In St. Cuthbert's Swallet there were weekly digging trips; at the beginning of the year these were mainly to dig at the back of the Dining Room, and later to construct elaborate dams in an attempt to pass the sump. Towards the end of the year the latter was successful and a party from theclub, with members of the Bristol Exploration Club, were the first to enter St. Cuthbert's Two. A high grade survey was made of Shatter Cave and on several occasions digging took place in the same cave. Early in the year there were visits to the digs in Vicarage Passage, Swildons Hole, and May Passage, Lamb Leer, but neither was visited after the first few months. Assistance was also given with digs at North Hill and Gargill Pot. Many tourist trips took place during the year, the majority being to Swildons Hole, but many of the smaller caves were also visited. Many trips were made to caves away from Mendip. A small party travelled north each month and bottomed many of Yorkshire's "super severe" potholes. Several trips were also made to the caves of South Wales, on to Devon and another to Sutherland. Abroad, members were on two parties to Ireland and also on an original exploration in Austria.
The main business at the Annual General Meeting was to consider a proposal that the club should own its own freehold property. The proposal was adopted and a sub-committee was set up to investigate all aspects of purchasing both the existing club headquarters and also the barn owned by the BEC. The Treasurer suggested in his report that it would be desirable for the club accounts to be audited and, as a result, two auditors were appointed for the first time. The meeting also agreed to raise the hut fees for members to two shillings a night, but defeated a proposal that annual subscriptions should be raised to provide money towards a new headquarters.
Planning for the club's expedition to the lava caves of Iceland continued throughout the year. Twelve members intended to go with the joint objectives of looking for previously unrecorded tunnels, and of carrying out scientific investigations, including photography and surveying, in the known caves. It was decided to centre the expedition on the largest and best known of Iceland's caves, Surtshellir, but at the end of the year it was learnt that permission would not be granted for work in this area so an application was submitted for theRaufarhólshellir area. With the needs of the expedition in mind in particular, further surveying equipment was purchased during the year. This gave the club four sets of instruments, all of it purchased from the profits arising from the sales of cave surveys.
The committee had a very quiet year, the business being largely concerned with considering the possibilities of owning property. Thereport of the sub-committee appointed at the AGM was considered by the committee in October and it was decided to call an Extraordinary General Meeting on the afternoon of the club Dinner in December. The business of this EGM did not proceed as smoothly as it might have for a variety of reasons but it was agreed to accept the sub-committee's recommendations to negotiate the purchase of the ruined barn further up the track from the existing headquarters. A 'Building Committee' was set up to organise this.
Publication of the Journal was very late during the year due to publishing difficulties; the June issue did not appear until October and the December issue was still awaited at the end of the year. Despite these difficulties the committee agreed to the issue of three other publications for 1970 and work was started on them: the club history to appear as a special issue of the Journal, a reprint of the second half of the third series of club Journal, and the fifth in the Occasional Paper Series.