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Concise History of the Mendip Caving Group


Malcolm Cotter and Dillan Evans stayed at Main's Barn, Manor Farm, Priddy

During the 18-month period that followed, a nucleus of cavers formed an affinity group, staying at Main's Barn, and began referring to themselves as the Mendip Caving Group


Formal adoption of the name 'Mendip Caving Group', suggested by Malcolm, together with some basic safety rules

The Group's Easter meet is based in Velvet Bottom (camping), ending the 'Main's Barn' era

Timber Hole dig started

First subscription rate decided at 12 shillings (60p) per year

The need for hostel accommodation was seen as an early requirement

  • First membership list:
  • D. EVANS

  • First recorded caving meet
  • On the 27th February, 1954

  • First dig
  • Begun on the 16th April, 1954

  • First Balance Sheet
  • Balances 1954
  • Note: £2 9s 6d is equvalent to £2.47½p

  • First addition to Library
  • 'Caves of Adventure' by H Tazieff
  • Caves of Adventure


Mr Ball, proprietor of the Lion Rock Hotel, Cheddar, is made an honorary member in recognition of his loaning the Group a small hut, behind the hotel, for tackle storage

Mr Saye of Sycamore Cottage, Cheddar, is similarly honoured for giving the Group access to the cave in his garden, Saye's Hole

First general meeting held


Netherwood Cottage

First AGM and Annual Dinner held in January

Petrol de-rationed in May (rationed following the 1956 Suez Debacle) resulting in an upsurge of trips to Mendip and corresponding increase in income

Hon. Treasurer absconds with funds (about £100)

We obtain the rent-free use of a tumbledown cottage in Nether Wood, Charterhouse, which we refurbish as our first Group headquarters.


Death of H.E.Balch, WCC member

H E Balch

Group starts survey of Longwood/August System


Longwood/August survey finished (more Longwood August surveys here)

Canyon Cave, Cheddar Gorge, discovered and surveyed

Goatchurch Cavern surveyed

First field meet based at the newly occupied Nether Wood Cottage at Charterhouse; this included considerable cottage work because the building was taken over as a roofed shell without facilities.

Pinetree Pot dig started

Cooper's Hole dig started

Longwood August survey 1959


First overseas meets in France: Vercors: Grotte de Gournier, Cuves de Sassenage and Alpes Maritimes - Canjuers plateau: Aven du Clos del Fayoun

Easter meet in Devon

Pinetree Pot opened

Ubley Hill Pot discovered (dug open in one weekend)


Meet in Ireland (Co. Sligo)

Meet in Austria

Work on Blackmoor Swallet started

Meet in France; Pyrenées

The Annexe, Browne's Hole entered by digging (human skeleton found during excavation)

As a direct spin-off from MCG survey work, Christmas Crawl in August Hole was opened by digging, providing easier and safer access to the lower streamway

Fred Young (of Lower Farm) made honorary member

Other discoveries by digging in caves on Eastern Mendip: Elm Cave, Hunting Lodge Slocker, Merehead Quarry Cave, Pitten Street Swallet, St Vincent's Swallet

First exploration of Stock's Hole


Second Irish meet (Co. Sligo and Leitrim)

Meet in Yugoslavia

A cave rescue conference at Han-sur-Lesse (Belgium) brings us into contact with the Swiss club Spéléo-Club des Montagnes Neuchâteloises (SCMN)

Excavation at Blackmoor (Stainsby's) Shaft breaks into mined cave

Digging at Cooper's Hole reveals passage with ancient steps hewn in stalagmite and a small chamber; further work reveals animal scratch-marks


Very severe winter on Mendip; snow on ground from New Year until end of March

First meet in Switzerland with SCMN (Siebenhengste plateau, Luzern) camped at Flühli

Charnel Shaft (Charterhouse rakes) discovered, and lost


The wooden hut under construction

Eviction from Nether Wood Cottage leads to purchase of ex-army wooden barrack hut which we dismantle at Tilshead on Salibury Plain and erect on Jim Fry's land at the Stirrup Cup, Nordrach

Jim kindly transported the monster


Group hosts a week's visit by SCMN on Mendip

Cottage warming party

Digging started at Knapp Hill Swallet in grounds of Wells Hospital


Meet in Ireland (Co. Clare). Clean-up operation in August/Longwood.


Meet in Yugoslavia. Dig at Bone Hole started. Group carries out a clean-up operation in Longwood/ August.


Charterhouse area receives torrential rain; the subsequent flood scours the floor of Velvet Bottom, washing away the causeway and road and causing damage in Cheddar Gorge and Village

On the bright side it opened Upper Flood Swallet and Middle Flood (Waterwheel) Swallet and Grebe Swallet. The long campaign of digging in Upper Flood begins

Meet in Czechoslovakia


Meet in Austria


Meet in Poland


Meet in Yugoslavia


1972 Digging in Upper Flood enters a well-decorated chamber, then more passage with a further chamber


Meet in Czechoslovakia


Bone Hole opened and explored


Digging in Bone Hole continues

Planning permission granted for the present MCG Cottage. Building work commences after demolition of the old Axbridge hut, and building now severely interrupts caving activity

Dave Mitchell dies

Nordrach Cottage


Bone Hole surveyed

Meet in Ireland (Co. Clare)

First of two 30-mile sponsored walks to raise money for Cottage purchase

Group becomes a registered charity


Further surveying in Bone Hole

Second sponsored walk brings total cash raised to almost £1,000


Aftermath of gas explosion

New Year's Eve; gas explosion destroys almost-completed (not yet inhabited) cottage.


Insurance cheque for £30,000 received and rebuilding work subcontracted


New building finally completed and cottage-warming party held

Work resumes in Upper Flood.


First Group rescue practice in GB Cave


Meets in France ; Central Pyrenées (Arbas plateau, Reseau Trombe)

Honorary membership conferred on Malcolm Cotter

Start of digging at Nether Wood Swallet

Small extension entered in Bone Hole

Trial dig at East bank distributary, Blackmoor


Easter meet with GSG at Elphin (Scotland)

Group 'adopts' Longwood/August System for annual clean-up operation

Winter Meet in Mallorca

Trip with Whernside Manor to France (Vercors, Gouffre Berger)

Small finds made in roof of Great Chamber, Longwood Swallet

Work continues in Upper Flood


Winter meet in Mallorca

Major breakthrough at Upper Flood; Midnight Chamber and continuing stream passage discovered

Abandoned MCG dig in the Oxbows, Longwood /August System to concentrate our efforts in Upper Flood Swallet


Summer meet in Malaga (Sima - GESM), and winter meet in Mallorca

Discovery in Upper Flood; Hannah's Grotto

Upper Flood (Bypass Passage) dig enters short length of high passage; digging started at end


Winter meet in Mallorca

Digging in Upper Flood (Bypass Passage) achieves several breakthroughs including the Red Room


Meets in Malaga (Sima - GESM), France (Vercors), and trips to Sarawak and Thailand

Death of our neighbours and friends Jim Fry and his wife Gladys

Survey of Shale Rift (Upper Flood) and observation of near-sumping at the Lavatory Trap; short upstream section from Puddle Lake entered


Meet in France (Dordogne)

Group hosts visit to Mendip by the French Speleo-Club d'Aerospatiale

Ron Saunders made honorary member

Digging in Battery Swallet

Death of Grant Shepherd in a road accident near Nordrach Cottage. (Grant had been working in Angola but was on a course in Bristol. He had called into the cottage to find no-one at home. Continuing to the Hunters, he took the first bend after the cottage on the wrong side of the road and crashed)

Black Aven (Upper Flood) extended; voids found in Boulder Choke


Meets in Czechoslovakia and France (Pyrenées)

Trips to Italian Alps (Margaureis) and France (Vercors)

Digging in Rod's Pot; Eyeball Rift discovered

Surveying in Boulder Choke (Upper Flood Swallet)


Meet in Czechoslovakia

Digging in East Twin Swallet. M&M Passage opened


Meet in Mallorca

Digging in Milton Hill Cave

Digging in Pinetree Pot restarted


Ubley Hill Pot reopened

'A Pock Hole Lips Way' in Pinetree Pot opened

More progress in Upper Flood; Rip-off Aven


Meet in France (Jura)

Meet in Mallorca

Belize expedition


Meets in France (La Chartreuse), Ireland (Fermanagh) and Mallorca

Phil Ingold made honorary member

First attempt made to make second entrance to Upper Flood by reaching Rip-off Aven; Rip-off 3 found from below

Some digging in Bone Hole

Fish seen in Midnight Chamber (Upper Flood Swallet)

Drought allowed more progress upstream in Upper Flood from Midnight Chamber. Lavatory Trap re-excavated


Meets in the Picos region (Spain) and Mallorca


Meet in Ireland (Co. Clare and Fermanagh)

Meet in Mallorca


Start of digging Pontypool or Bust in Ogof Draenen

Meets in Fermanagh and Belgium

Expedition to Madagascar

Permission renewed to dig Blackmoor Swallet via Stainsby's Shaft


Second expedition to Madagascar

Meet in Mallorca

Digging in Ubley Warren Pot


Expedition to Argentina


Second expedition to Argentina

Meets in Belgium and Mallorca

Digging in Carcass Cave


Ogof Draenen extensions in Pontypool or Bust

Third Argentina expedition

Meet in Greece


Fourth Argentina expedition

Meet in Mallorca


MCG Fiftieth Anniversary Dinner

Discovery of Golden Chamber, Upper Flood Swallet

Fifth Argentina expedition

Meets in Slovenia and Mallorca

Deaths of Phil Ingold and Bruce Dean

Digging recommences in Blackmoor Shaft

CRoW Act becomes law in December, creating open-access


At the start of our second half-century: Cottage fees are £2 for members and £3 for Guests; MCG membership is £30 for Full members or £15 for Associates; BCA insurance is £18 for cavers or £6 for non-cavers

Roman Rake opened by archaeologists

Two beech trees outside the MCG Library are felled

JP's dog Ted dies

MCG Annual Dinner at Lyncombe Lodge Hotel, cost £22.50

Tim Francis predicts it will be 10 years before the next breakthrough in Upper Flood Swallet

MCG trips to New Zealand and Mallorca

MCG dig begins at Roman Rake

JR (Jon Roberts) seriously injured in road accident, he makes a full recovery

Death of Geoff Davies, member since 1961

Digging continues in Pontypool or Bust, Ogof Draenen

Another attempt made to connect UF2 to Upper Flood Swallet


Nordrach Cottage closed for several weeks so that floor can be relaid

Breakthrough in Upper Flood (Streamway Regained, beyond Golden Chamber)

Cow Hole and Ubley Hill Pot reopened

ICBINC* Shaft found (mistaken for Charnel Shaft, last descended 1963)

*I can't believe it's not Charnel

MCG trip to Gibraltar

Malcolm Cotter (founder of MCG) dies of a heart condition on his way out of Upper Flood Swallet on April 30th

Major breakthrough in Upper Flood Swallet, 10th September; over 2km of cave added (Blackmoor Master Cave)

Death of Eric Dowley, member since 1972

Upper Flood featured on BBC Points West

MCG trip to Argentina


Exploration continues in Upper Flood and more discoveries follow

MRO purchase a traction splint by combining the MCG donation received following Malcolm's death with other donations

Smoking indoors is banned

MCG and Upper Flood Swallet feature heavily at Hidden Earth

MCG finally purchases its first computer

MM Mine is extended

Tony Knibbs retires from caving after re-enacting his first trip to Swildons in 1953

Death of Ted Gabb, an MCG member from 1960-64

Death of Ron Arkless, an MCG member in the late 80's/early 90's

A new lid is fitted to Upper Flood, openable from the inside without a key

Occ Pub 5 ( a history of MCG to 2004) is published

Upper Flood Swallet is 3.1km long in October

A survey of Upper Flood shows the importance of Stainsby's Shaft; digging here suddenly becomes increasingly popular


More discoveries in Upper Flood. Digging continues in Stainsby's Shaft and Roman Rake

Upper Flood Swallet celebrates its 50th birthday in July

Broadband and wifi are installed at the cottage

200m of SRT rope purchased

Battery Swallet dig restarted (again)

Fire alarm installed in cottage

MCG trip to South Korea

Death of Tony Jarratt (JRat) of the BEC; Bat Products closes


Exploration continues in Upper Flood - a total of 45 dig sites have been investigated so far

Roman Rake no longer being dug but Battery Swallet sees a concerted effort

Second investigation of Stocks Hole, Stoke St Michael (see 1961)

Heaviest snowfall since 1963

Quantitative Easing begins in the 13 Squeezes, Upper Flood Swallet, to improve access

WW2 bomb discovered in wall in Velvet Bottom by CHERT, not far from MCG's 1950's campsite

Wood stove installed in cottage lounge

More than 10 children and 16 adults attend the MCG Family Weekend in June

A legacy of £93.89 is received from the estate of Tony Jarratt with the stipulation that the money is used for digging

Upper Flood makes it on to the 2009 Hidden Earth flyer (Picture of The Streamway by Rob Eavis)

The Mendip Cave Survey Scheme (administered by Joan Goddard/MCG for the last ten years) transferred to the Mendip Cave Registry and Archive

MCG win Best Club Stand at the 2009 Hidden Earth Conference

Bone Hole - galvanised walkway protecting bone slope

Fixed ladder and sloping floor of galvanised steel mesh installed in Bone Hole to protect the archaeologically important bone slope below the entrance shaft

Electronic door access system replaced at the cottage

Double glazing installed at Nordrach Cottage

A more secure Hut Fees box is installed following theft of cottage fees

Left: Bone Slope, Bone Hole


Julie Hesketh visits Jamaica

Heaviest snow since 1963 (even more than 2009!), photo of Upper Flood Swallet entrance by Kevin Speight

Death of Willie Stanton (Wessex CC), one of the Reservoir Hole Team who dug at Upper Flood Swallet from 1971 to 1976 in conjunction with MCG, making several important breakthroughs before abandoning the project to dig elsewhere.

Digging out the entrance to Upper Flood, photo Kevin Speight

New look for MCG News and a new editor (Ed Waters) who takes over from Yvonne Rowe. (A series of temporary editors stood in from Apr09-Dec09: Bill Chadwick. Richard Woollacott and Linda Milne)

Swildon's Hole re-opens after a 1-month closure over Xmas 2009 / New Year 2010 following movement of boulders in the Showerbath area just inside the entrance.

Biff Frith suggests a way to extend the Cottage including individual showers, drying room, bigger tackle store, another toilet, bigger changing area, a fourth bunk room, a meeting room come members room, bigger kitchen, more storage and a fire escape (to double as a practice tower for SRT and ladder) and also allow a circulatory progression around the cottage.

Digging at Perforation Choke in Bone Hole

Warnings of car break-ins at Ebbor Gorge and Blackmoor Reserve car parks

New News

Mike Richardson revisits Austria, 25 years after his first visit

Jeremy Gilson and Angela visit New Zealand

EGM held to ratify the non-constitutional 2010 AGM!

Nordrach Cottage car park completed (after 30 years!) and new gates fitted

Nordrach Cottage car park 2010

LED lighting becomes widely used for caving

Mendip sees a spate of significant finds by many clubs - including breakthroughs in Charterhouse Cave, Manor Farm Swallet, Balch Cave, Bowery Corner Swallet, Rod's Pot and East Twin Swallet

MCG expedition to Spain

Hayley and Ed Waters visit Tenerife

Honorary member Ron Saunders celebrates his 90th birthday

New sump discovered in Upper Flood Swallet just before Zebra Aven

Keith at Speleo Technics retires, and the company ceases trading. Over 26 years they produced a series of revolutionary lamps designed for caving: FX2, 3 and 5 which used sealed NiCad cells. In the 1990s the introduction of the Headlite made us all wonder why we had been carting around huge batteries on our waists, and with the Nova they introduced the first of the LED mega lamps


The BEC mascot, Bertie the Bat, is kidnapped and his whereabouts remained unknown despite a series of comical ransom demands appearing on the web, until March 2011 when he was freed at Wookey Hole Caves (just in time for the school half term)


Work continues by MCG in Upper Flood Swallet, Grebe Swallet, Battery Swallet, Bone Hole and Stainsby's Shaft

Annual Dinner held at The White Hart Hotel, Wells on 26 March 2010 (meal £26.50, coach £8.50 return). Guest Speaker Andy Sparrow - the Burrington Project.

Compiled by Tony Knibbs (1953 - 2004, information assembled from a variety of sources, with thanks to Joan Goddard, Tim Francis and Malcolm Cotter for providing the information where the timeline offered only blanks) and Martin Rowe (2005 - 2010 from MCG News and MCG Newsgroup)

This page is intended merely as an overview of MCG history. The MCG Library is where you will find answers to detailed questions

See also Occ Pub 5 - MCG, A Retrospective View

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Page created 18 December 2008, page last updated 19 March 2011

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Mendip Caving Group. UK Charity Number 270088. The object of the Group is, for the benefit of the public, the furtherance of all aspects of the exploration, scientific study and conservation of caves and related features. Membership shall be open to anyone over the age of 18 years with an interest in the objects of the Group.