MCG Occasional Publication No. 5
Concise History of the Mendip Caving Group
written by Tony Knibbs
1953. 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.
1954. Mendip Caving Group formally adopts the name, 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.
1955. 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.
1957. First AGM and Annual Dinner held in January. Petrol de-rationed in May (rationed following the 1956 Suez Débâcle) resulting in an upsurge of trips to Mendip. 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.
1958. Death of H.E.Balch. Group starts survey of Longwood/August System.
1959. Longwood/August survey finished. 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.
1960. 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).
1961. Meet in Ireland (Co. Sligo). Meet in Austria. Work on Blackmoor Swallet started. Meet in France; Pyrénées. 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.
1962. 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 Neuchâtelloises (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.
1963. Very severe winter on Mendip; snow on ground from New Year until end of March. First meet in Switzerland with SCMN (Siebenhängste plateau, Luzern) camped at Flühli. Charnel Shaft (Charterhouse rakes) discovered.
1964. 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.
1965. Group hosts a week's visit by SCMN on Mendip. Cottage warming party. Digging started at Knapp Hill Swallet in grounds of Wells Hospital.
1966. Meet in Ireland (Co. Clare). Clean-up operation in August/Longwood.
1967. Meet in Yugoslavia. Dig at Bone Hole started. Group carries out a clean-up operation in Longwood/ August.
1968. 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.
1969. Meet in Austria.
1970. Meet in Poland.
1971. Meet in Yugoslavia.
1972 Digging in Upper Flood enters a well-decorated chamber, then more passage with a further chamber.
1973. Meet in Czechoslovakia.
1974. Bone Hole opened and explored.
1975. 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.
1976. 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.
1977. Surveying in Bone Hole. Second sponsored walk brings total cash raised to almost £1,000.
1979. New Year's Eve; gas explosion destroys almost-completed (not yet inhabited) cottage.
1980. Insurance cheque for £30,000 received and rebuilding work subcontracted.
1981. New building finally completed and cottage-warming party held. Work resumes in Upper Flood.
1982. First Group rescue practice in GB Cave.
1983. Meets in France; Central Pyrénées (Arbas plateau, Réseau 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.
1984. 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.
1985. Winter meet in Mallorca. Major breakthrough at Upper Flood; Midnight Chamber and continuing stream passage discovered. Abandoned dig in the Oxbows, Longwood /August System.
1986. 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.
1987. Winter meet in Mallorca. Digging in Upper Flood (Bypass Passage) achieves several breakthroughs including the Red Room.
1988. 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.
1989. Meet in France (Dordogne). Group hosts visit to Mendip by the French Spéléo-Club d’Aérospatiale. Ron Saunders made honorary member. Digging in Battery Swallet. Death of Grant Shepherd in road accident near Cottage. Black Aven (Upper Flood) extended; voids found in Boulder Choke.
1990. Meets in Czechoslovakia and France (Pyrénées, Mâne). Trips to Italian Alps (Margaureis) and France (Vercors). Digging in Rod's Pot; Eyeball Rift discovered. Surveying in Boulder Choke (Upper Flood).
1991. Meet in Czechoslovakia. Digging in East Twin Swallet. M&M Passage opened.
1992. Meet in Mallorca. Digging in Milton Hill Cave. Digging in Pinetree Pot restarted.
1993. Ubley Hill Pot reopened. "A Pock Hole Lips Way" in Pinetree Pot opened. More progress in Upper Flood; Rip-off Aven.
1994. Meet in France (Jura). Meet in Mallorca. Belize expedition.
1995. Meets in France (La Chartreuse), Ireland (Fermanagh) and Mallorca. Phil Ingold made honorary member. 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). Drought allowed more progress upstream from Midnight Chamber. Lavatory Trap re-excavated.
1996. Meets in the Picos region (Spain) and Mallorca.
1997. Meet in Ireland (Co. Clare and Fermanagh). Meet in Mallorca.
1998. 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.
1999. Second expedition to Madagascar. Meet in Mallorca. Digging in Ubley Warren Pot.
2000. Expedition to Argentina.
2001. Second expedition to Argentina. Meets in Belgium and Mallorca. Digging in Carcass Cave.
2002. Ogof Draenen extensions in Pontypool or Bust. Third Argentina expedition. Meet in Greece.
2003. Fourth Argentina expedition. Meet in Mallorca.
2004. MCG Fiftieth Anniversary Dinner. Discovery of Golden Chamber, Upper Flood. Fifth Argentina expedition. Meets in Slovenia and Mallorca. Deaths of Phil Ingold and Bruce Dean.
This article has been assembled from a variety of sources. It is intended merely as an overview of MCG history. The Library is where you will find answers to detailed questions. My thanks are due to Joan Goddard, Tim Francis and Malcolm Cotter for providing the information where my timeline offered only blanks. Tony Knibbs (Mig)
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.