THRUPE LITE

The History of the Thrupe Swallet Dig

Thrupe Swallet has been dug on three previous occasions. By the Mendip Exploration Society in 1936, by Norman Tuck, Dave Berry and George Pointing (1958-1960) and by the Wessex Cave Club as their official club dig (1963-1964). The published sources quoted below are the Belfry Bulletin, the Journal of the Wessex Cave Club, the Mendip Caver and Descent. Unpublished sources are the Gerard Platten Scrapbooks (held in Wells Museum Library) and Maurice Hewins' and Richard Witcombe's caving diaries.

All references to Thrupe Swallet that I have been able to find so far are here. I believe that the listing is complete up to 2003.

Tony Audsley - his mark

Contents List

The 1936 dig
Gerard Platten's Scrapbooks Vol XVII p4747-4750.
The scrapbooks contain a vast and eclectic collection of material relevant to early caving, including a rather brief account of the first diggings at Thrupe Swallet.
(Ed. G. Platten)British Caver Vol 1 pp56-58 (1937) (Added 08-Apr-2006)
(Strictly speaking, the first few issues of this publication are the Journals of the Mendip Exploration Society, but most people refer to them as British Caver).   The print quality of the original lacks a certain something (legibility for a start).   Because of this, the article has had to be retyped for conversion to HTML, although I think (hope) that it is free from transcription errors.   I have maintained the original page layout, capitalisation and quaint spacing of punctuation, but not individual line breaks.   (Many thanks to Dave Irwin who provided this copy from his archive).
E.J. Mason. Belfry Bulletin No 199, September 1964 p3
A passing remark in the February 1964 Belfry Bulletin about the unstable nature of the (then) current Wessex Cave Club dig at Thrupe Swallet stimulated Ted Mason to produce this account of early work by the Mendip Exploration Society.
The 1958-1960 Dig
The second phase of digging at Thrupe Swallet was started in May 1958, by Norman Tuck.
Hillgrove Log Books J. WCC. Supplement to Vol. VIII.
Eleven of the digging trips are recorded, between May 1958 and January 1960.
Maurice Hewins' Diary (1)
Entries for June 11th and 12th 1960
Jim Giles Belfry Bulletin, No. 157, March 1961 p2
A visit (Jan 5th1961) to the abandoned dig by Mike Baker, George Pointing, Norman Tuck and Jim Giles. Contains the immortal quote "If more interest were taken in this dig, another Cuthberts could well be the reward."
The 1963-1964 Wessex Official Dig
Maurice Hewins' Diary (2)
Entries for Saturday August 17th and Sunday August 18th 1963
J. Wessex Cave Club, No. 91, Vol. 7, September 1963 p231
The announcement in the Wessex Journal of the new Wessex Club Dig at Thrupe Swallet
J. Wessex Cave Club, No. 93 Vol 8 January 1964 p2
An announcement that the dig, which had been closed down for the winter, was about to be reopened on 11/12 April 1964
A.D. Oldham. The Mendip Caver. Vol 1, No. 4, August, 1964
A short news item about the start of the Wessex club dig.
J. Wessex Cave Club, Vol. 94, No. 8 (March 1964)
A list of WCC club digging dates for May to August 1964
Richard Witcombe's Diary
Entries for 2 August and 31 august 1964
J. Wessex Cave Club, No. 97, Vol. 8, September 1964
A note that digging weekends at Thrupe Swallet are being held every fortnight.
J. Wessex Cave Club, No. 100, Vol. 8, March 1965
A note that the Wessex club dig is being reopened after the winter and a list of dates for April to July 1965.
J. Wessex Cave Club No. 102, Vol. 8, July 1965, p267
The official announcement in Wessex club news, that the dig had been abandoned.
A.D. Oldham. The Mendip Caver. Vol. 2 No. 3, January 1966
A short news item about the abandonment of the dig.
Alan Surrall J. Wessex Cave Club, No. 107, Vol. 9, July 1966, pp80-83
Thrupe Diary, Alan Surrall's article about the dig, with a survey and a plan of the surface arrangements.
The 1999-present Dig
Richard Witcombe J. Wessex Cave Club No. 285, Vol. 27, June 2003, p68-71
Forth Time Lucky - Digging at Thrupe Lane Swallet.
Richard Witcombe Descent No. 172, June/July 2003, p16
Mendip News - New Pitch in Thrupe Swallet
Tony Audsley Belfry Bulletin No. 516 Vol. 53 p19-27
Digging at Thrupe Swallet, or the Agony and the Ecstasy. Part 1: The Agony.
Richard Witcombe J. Wessex Cave Club No. 286, Vol. 27, September 2003, p84-88
Fourth Time Lucky - Digging at Thrupe Lane Swallet. [Part II]

The 1936 dig

GERARD PLATTENS SCRAPBOOKS VOLUME XVII p4747-4750.

Thrupe Pot - Mendip Exploration Society.

Started exploration in October 1936. The swallow is on the junction of the millstone grit and the limestone.

Report from W.J. Lawry, Esq.
Last week at Thrupe as you know, we dug a trench about 3 ft. deep until we reached solid rock. During the week Joe (Bowsher) must have gone out, and shifted some earth at the end of the trench, he went through into a small chamber. This is how it appeared to us when we reached here today.

We have now enlarged the entrance until it is fully 5 ft. across it drops steeply for 6 ft. under a solid limestone slab into a chamber about 6 ft. across in which you can in one spot stand upright. The roof is a pile of boulders but very safe and this runs for about 10 ft into the rockface.

A passage runs in for 6 ft, with solid walls covered with partly decomposed stalagmite, but is only about 2 ft. high at present.

The floor is loose cave earth and stones, amongst which I found the tusk of either a wild boar or cave lion about 3" long. (See fig I).

platt01b.gif (3K)

Report from W.J. Lawry, Esq. (20th. November 1936).
Last week we cleared the floor of the cave and got down to two huge boulders, wedged in the passage. We found quantities of bones which are now being identified. (The tusk, was that of wild boar, Pleistocene age). [?]

On Thursday evening I took Digger [Harris] out and with two shots, (of jelly) we cleared the passage. It now drops another 6 ft. and then runs down at an angle of 45 degrees; stones rumble down for 5 secs:, before coming to a halt. We can just look down and see the stream which runs about 5 yards from the end of the passage; the latter is nearly filled to the roof with loose scree and can be opened up to a depth of at least 3 of 4 ft. (See Fig II).

platt02a.gif (3K)

Report from W.J. Lawry, Esq. (25th. November 1936).
Last week we broke into a small boulder chamber formed by jumbled rocks on one side and a rock wall on the other, it is very unsafe and would take years of work to clear it. The floor is composed of loose scree, which drops away under the rock face in two places to a depth of about 6 ft. I had a look at it and came to the conclusion that it was unsafe to work and so next week, having stempled the main passage which is now 30 ft sheer, I am going to continue digging straight down through the clay floor and I think we shall make a safer job of it. The walls are covered with stalagmite and in the chamber a large white stalagmite runs down the wall and disappears through the floor. (See Fig III).

platt03a.gif (3K)

Report from B. Darbyshire Esq., Hon. Sec. M.E.S (24th. November 1936).
The work at Thrupe has produced very promising results. We came into a small boulder chamber near the surface some 10ft. by 5 ft. by 4 ft. in the widest parts. We worked down through the floor and came upon another small chamber running away through the floor, to the left, the floor choked up with silt and pebbles. We are now vertically about 20 ft. from the surface and can altogether get about 30 ft. in. The far wall is solid and well stalagmited, but the other walls consist of boulders, so it looks as though it was once a fair size chamber which has been filled up with boulders and silt.

Report from W.J. Lawry, Esq. (7th. December 1936)
Work at Thrupe is coming on as usual and we have dug out the shaft to a level of the floor of the boulder chamber, I find that it is too loose to work and if the floor is dug away, as it eventually will have to be, the whole place will collapse.

One only alternative is to open up the face of the cliff and clear the roof of the chamber off, removing the loose walls until we reach something solid. We have already started on this and have dug down through earth and loose boulders to a depth of 6 ft. (See Fig IV).

platt04a.gif (5K)



British Caver, (1) 56-58 (1937)

- 56 -
A MEETING OF THE REGIONAL WATER SURVEY COMMITTEE (SOMERSET DIST :) WAS ATTENDED BY REPRESENTATIVES OF THE CLUB AND 3 OTHER MENDIP CAVING CLUBS AND VARIOUS INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS OF THE B.S.A .  Mr DUCK , OF BRISTOL , WAS ELECTED HON. SEC.  THE FOLLOWING SHEETS WERE ALLOCATED :-

28. N.E. WESSEX C.C. 27. N.E. M.N.R.COMMITTEE.
N.W. do. N.W. do.
S.E. M.E. Soc. S.E. do.
S.W. M.N.R.COMMITTEE. S.W. do.
19. N.E. WESSEX C.C. 18. N.E. BRISTOL U. S. Soc.
- 57 -
19. N.W WESSEX C.C. 18. N.W. BRISTOL U. S. Soc.
S.E. do. S.E. do.
S.W. do. S.W. do.
40. N.E. M.N.R COMMITTEE. 42. N.W. Mr. G.PLATTEN.
41. N.W. do. 29. S.W. do.
S.W. do.
N.E. M.E. Soc.
S.E. do.
IT WAS AGREED WITH PLATTEN THAT THE CLUB'S SHEETS AND HIS COULD BE WORKED IN CONJUNCTION WITH EACH OTHER , THE AREA IS BINEGAR , THRUPE , WINDSOR HILL & MAESBURY FOR US AND OAKHILL , STOKE LANE & HOLCOMBE FOR PLATTEN .


PLATTEN HAS PUT IN TEN DAYS SURVEYING AND ALREADY REPORTS THE FINDING OF AN IMPORTANT SWALLET ON ONE OF OUR SHEETS ( 28.S.E ) NEAR LECHMERE WATER , AS WELL AS 5 DRY AND 2 WET :  ALL IN A STRAIGHT LINE , NEAR OAKHILL ( 42.N.W. ) .  BOTH OF WHICH WILL BE OPENED JOINTLY BY PLATTEN'S MEN AND OURSELVES , IN THE NEAR FUTURE .  " CLAIM JUMPERS " ARE WARNED OFF .  THEN WE HAVE A STRING OF SWALLETS AROUND THRUPE ( 41. N.E. ) WHICH WE ARE STARTING ON OPENING AT ONCE .


THRUPE SWALLET EXCAVATIONS : Sept to DEC. INCLUSIVE .
THE SWALLET IS ON THE JUNCTION OF THE LOWER LIMESTONE SHALE AND THE CARBONIFEROUS LIMESTONE .
- 58 -
THE WORK HAS PRODUCED VERY PROMISING RESULTS .  WE CAME INTO A SMALL BOULDER CHAMBER NEAR THE SURFACE SOME 10 ft. BY 5 ft. BY 4 ft. IN THE WIDEST PARTS .  ON WORKING DOWN THROUGH THE FLOOR TO THE LEFT , WE CAME UPON ANOTHER SMALL CHAMBER RUNNING AWAY THROUGH THE FLOOR AND CHOKED UP WITH SILT AND PEBBLES .

WE ARE NOW VERTICALLY ABOUT 20 ft. FROM THE SURFACE .  THE FAR WALL IS SOLID AND WELL STALAGMITED , BUT THE OTHER WALLS CONSIST OF LOOSE BOULDERS , WHICH WILL HAVE TO BE REMOVED BEFORE WE EXCAVATE LOWER .  AMONGST THE BOULDERS WERE FOUND A PORTION OF A TUSK OF A WILD BOAR OF PLEISTOCENE AGE NEARLY TWO INCHES LONG , A LOWER JAW OF A WOLF AND FRAGMENTS OF ROMAN POTTERY .  THESE HAD APPARENTLY BEEN WASHED DOWN BY THE STREAM WHICH FLOWS IN TO THE SWALLOW .

))) ------- (((

THE EDITOR , WILL BE RUNNING A CAVE CAMP ON THE MENDIPS , AT SPRINGFIELD HOUSE , CHEWTON MENDIP , FROM 25TH. TO 29TH OF MARCH .  THE OBJECT BEING TO TRAIN BEGINNERS .  LAMB LAIR & SWILDON'S WILL BE VISITED . " CAMP FEE " 1/- PER NIGHT PER TENT .  " USE OF GEAR " FEE 1/- PER DAY PER PERSON .  ANY MEMBER INTERESTED , MUST GET IN TOUCH WITH HIM .  HE WILL ALSO BE RUNNING ANOTHER CAMP IN THE HIGH PEAK DIST : IN SEPTEMBER :  TO WHICH MEMBERS ARE INVITED .



NOTE: 1/- represented one shilling in pre-decimalisation British currency.   The modern equivalent would be 5p or £0.05 ( T.A. )


Belfry Bulletin No. 199, September 1964, p3-4

THRUPE SWALLET
An account of early work by the M.E.S.

"Stalagmite" refers on page 6 of the Belfry Bulletin No 192 (February last) to the excavations at Thrupe Swallet in 1936. These excavations were carried out by the Mendip Exploration Society (the Welsh branch of which was later to become the South Wales Caving Club) in co-operation with Gerard Platten.

A regional water survey Committee was formed in 1936 to investigate the Mendip water sources and, for this purpose, Mendip was divided and allocated to the five organisations existing at the time - M.N.R.C, U.B.S.S., Wessex, M.E.S. and Gerard Platten's team. The territory of the last two was in East Mendip and, to avoid conflict between clubs, it was agreed that the "water" areas would serve as the territory of each club for all caving purposes. It was agreed between the M.E.S. and Gerard Platten that they would work jointly in East Mendip for the purposes of the water survey.

Soon after this territory system was established, Gerard Platten drew attention to the possibilities of Thrupe Swallet and excavations were carried out from September to December 1936. A small low chamber (about ten feet by five feet by four feet high) was found near the surface and on working through the left hand side of the floor, a small chamber at a lower level was discovered, filled with silt and small stones. The final depth reached was twenty feet below the surface. The far wall was solid and well stalagmited, but below and around the remaining sides, nothing but boulders could be seen, and the task of trying to remove these was a heavy one.

The excavations almost ended in tragedy. As the last member of the team was crawling back through the small entrance chamber the ceiling - which consisted of a large rock - subsided and would have completely settled down, had not the head of the pickaxe which the member was carrying prevented it (Memo: Always carry a pickaxe through unstable squeezes! - Ed) He was held firmly between the floor and the ceiling in the space separated by the points of the pickaxe. Gerard Platten and the other members of the team worked frantically to lift the huge rock and release the man who was shocked, but none the worse for the incident. After this, the entrance of the swallet was in such a chaotic state that it was decided, coupled with the experience of a near fatality, that the team would abandon further work at Thrupe Swallet.

For some time, the jib erected by M.E.S. over the swallet, consisting of two long larch poles - one as a mast and the other cabled to it as a swinging jib (the pulley blocks were removed) remained as witness to the excavations.

A report on the swallet appeared in Volume I (1936-7) of the Journal of the Mendip Exploration Society.

Edmund J.Mason.

The 1958-1960 Dig

J. Wessex Cave Club, Supplement to Vol. VIII. (The Hillgrove Log Books)

17th. May 1958.
THRUPES SWALLET
[sic]
Accompanied by N. Tuck the above mentioned [R. Wooley, B. Harvey & P. Hancock] travelled to Thrupes Swallet. We there worked very hard for several hours.

25th. May 1958.
THRUPE SWALLET.

The above mentioned [R. Wooley, B. Harvey & P. Hancock] travelled to Thrupe Swallet with N. Tuck to carry on with some interesting work started last weekend. A lot of hard work was done. p52.

21st. June 1958.
THRUPE SWALLET

N.Tuck, B.Harvey, R.Wooley spent the afternoon at Thrupe digging. About 1 1/2 tons of material was removed. We later joined many others working on the extension at Washingpool.

30th. March 1959.
THRUPE SWALLET.

R.W.Horton and F.Harris (guest) arrived and went over to Thrupe Swallet to dig with N.Tuck. Dig is promising, we are down about 12 ft. and have come to our first large boulder.

5th. April 1959.
THRUPE SWALLET

Messrs Tuck and Bywater went over the Thrupe Farm to continue their dig.
M. Holland.

16th. May 1959.
THRUPE SWALLET.

N.Tuck, B.Harvey, R.Wolley arrived and after a meal departed for Thrupe Swallet where an afternoon was spent very actively.

17th. May 1959.
THRUPE SWALLET.

Continued at Thrupe. Much mud and stones were removed and good progress made. We were disturbed during our dinner by a report of the entrance of Swildons falling in from a Scoutmaster. We went to Swildons entrance but could find no evidence of a fall.

5th. July 1959.
THRUPE SWALLET.

N.Tuck, R.Wooley, Pete Hancock, G.Peckham spent the day digging at Thrupe Swallet,. Much useful work done.

13th December 1959.
THRUPE SWALLET.

George Pointing, Dave Berry, A.M.Gully, I.S.Moodie (B.G.S), G.Meader (non-member) spent a successful day digging at Thrupe.

3rd. January 1960.
THRUPE SWALLET.

Dave (Berry) and George (Pointing) assisted by Gully and Padfield inspected Thrupe Swallet but found it too wet to dig.
M.Holland.

17th. January 1960.
THRUPE SWALLET.

G.Pointing, D.Berry, A.Gully, M.Padfield, M.Bonner (guest) dug at Thrupe Swallet. We removed a considerable amount of debris and found a promising hole leading down at 30 degrees from the last chamber. Unfortunately, digging had to be discontinued due to an accumulation of loose rocks which we removed from their precarious position.

Maurice Hewins' Diary

June 11th and 12th 1960
... [Describes a Swildons trip] ...Back at Hillgrove we met George Pointing and we spent the evening in the Hunters with him and Dave [Berry].

On Sunday morning we went out to Thrupe for a digging session. They have now gone another 10 ft or so since I last saw the dig and are under a dicey great boulder that looks most unsafe. [ Some things never change ! (T.A.) ] Below is a choked stream passage. They were going to follow this passage but we spent an hour or so chasing a red herring and removed 10 buckets or so of earth and boulders from the "wrong place". George made an opening into a small chamber and nearly killed himself. There was an ominous crash, a curse and then silence - we wondered what had happened. George had dislodged a fair sized chunk of rock and after that he decided to dig in the streamway after all. However rain stopped play when the surface party (Dave Causer) called a halt. When we released the dam which had held back the stream, a torrent of water poured down the shaft. - It must go somewhere.

After a pint at the Rose and Crown, we went back to Hillgrove for dinner and I left about 3-15. I was home by 6-40 - fair going for a two stroke.

Belfry Bulletin No. 157, March 1961, p2

CAVING LOG
January 5th. Brimble Pit & Thrupe Swallet.

Mike Baker; George Pointing, Norman Tuck and Jim Giles.

Brimble Pit was inspected, also Thrupe Swallet. This latter is situated about two miles north of Croscombe and was first dug by M.N.R.C in 1936 but was considered unsafe. A few years ago Norman had another go at it and shored up the loose stuff. The shaft is now about thirty feet deep at which point the stream is reached. The stream disappears through a hole which is partially blocked with scree. Apparently this has accumulated since the summer. If more interest were taken in this dig, another Cuthberts could well be the reward.

Jim Giles

The 1963-1964 Wessex Official Dig

Maurice Hewins' Diary

Saturday August 17th - Sunday August 18th 1963
... [Filming in Swildon's] ...
Because of the late start, we were not out of the cave until 8 and it was 9-30 before we reached the Rose and Crown for a shorter than usual evening session.

The next day, the others set off for a trip to Swildons 4. I arranged with Alan Surrall to go over to help in the reopened dig at Thrupe Swallet. This has now been adopted as a Wessex club dig. Working on the basis that it will take a long time, the policy is to make everything big and roomy as we go.

We spent 5 hours that day in enlarging the main entrance shaft and in levelling and tidying site. The traversing pulley block and gear used at Cow Hole has been assembled at the dig and the hoist is worked by a mangle type winch.

J. Wessex Cave Club No. 91, Vol. 7, September 1963, p231

CLUB MEETS
Club Dig

Having re-opened Cow Hole the digging team has now turned its attention to Thrupe Swallet, and intend to make it a regular fortnightly event. Write to Alan Surrall [...] for dates and details

J. Wessex Cave Club No. 93 Vol. 8, January 1964, p2

CLUB MEETS
12 April: Club Dig at Thrupe Swallet.

It is intended to recommence operations on the Swallet on April 11/12th and on alternate weekends after this. It is also intended to stage a large scale effort over the Whitsun Holiday. Will all members or friends interested in this pleasant outdoor summer activity please contact Alan Surrall. The following are brief details of how to get to Thrupe from Hillgrove:-

  1. Turn right at Green Ore.
  2. Proceed some 2 miles straight on, crossing the main Bath Road, until the right "Maesbury" fork is reached.
  3. Go down to the station, turn left and proceed to the first right turn.
  4. Proceed down this turning to the village - 1-1½ miles.
  5. Upon reaching the village the gate is on the left about two thirds of the way through the village and is marked "W.C.C. Thrupe".
  6. Please close the gate and use the field edges for access.

The Mendip Caver, Vol. 1, No. 4, August 1964

Thrupe Swallet.
Maesbury NGR ST 6O6/458. This cave is being excavated by the Wessex Cave Club under the leadership of Alan Surrall. The cave is situated in a rocky shakehole at the edge of the Mendip Plateau just before it drops down to the village of Croscombe. Digging takes place every fortnight and a party of 8 are required to manipulate buckets in the cave and operate the two winches (hoist and traverse).

The cave consists of a 40 ft. deep shaft through boulders and against a rock face. Recently a tunnel has been uncovered dipping at approximately 20 degrees with a solid rock roof and a stoney gravel floor through which the stream flows. Much timbering and shoring have been necessary in the shaft which has been kept to a fairly large size to assist in the easy removal of spoil. The stream enters the cave to the right of the entrance shaft and joins it lower down. Damming the stream reduces the flow to a comfortable rate for about an hour at a time. Many modern animal bones have been uncovered, the most recent being fox. Progress is at present very encouraging but hampered by the active stream.

J. Wessex Cave Club, No. 94, Vol. 8, March 1964

CLUB MEETS
16/18th. May , 30th May, 14th June, 28th June, 12 July and 1st/3rd August. Club Digs at Thrupe Swallet.

J. Wessex Cave Club, No. 95, Vol. 8, May 1964

CLUB MEETS
13/14 June, 18/19 July and 1st/2nd/3rd August Club Dig at Thrupe Swallet.

Richard Witcombe's Diary

2 AUGUST 1964
VISIT TO THE "OFFICIAL WESSEX DIG" AT THRUPE LANE

A small stream sinks at the foot of a fault aligned cliff (20' high). Alan Surrall et al. have sunk a shaft through a rather chaotic boulder ruckle. Much timber shoring is required. The stream is dammed in two places but the dig is still rather wet. Two winches raise the buckets of spoil, one being used for traversing.

I was stationed half-way down the shaft and suffered a glancing blow from a passing "boulder" during the course of the afternoon.

Alan Surrall is a likable Midland man, quiet spoken and calmly dedicated. I also met Phil Davies, chiefly remarkable for being the owner of a Citroen Safari, a French masterpiece.

31 AUGUST 1964
THRUPE LANE

Dig progressing. I was stationed one stage lower down than on the last occasion, and had to manhandle buckets from the "digging cell" itself right the way to the open shaft. In the afternoon I met Willie Stanton, a man of great enthusiasm with a perpetual and genuine smile.

Curious Note:
In the first "boulder chamber" of the dig, I recorded a remarkable piece of animal ingenuity. A small species of spider had hung his web from two boulders, but found the floor of the chamber too far away for the final anchoring thread. In order to overcome this difficulty, the creature had taken a small stone, and attaching this to the bottom thread, allowed it to hang, pendulum-wise, thereby maintaining the web successfully taut.

J. Wessex Cave Club, No. 97, Vol. 8, September 1964

CLUB MEETS
Thrupe Swallet. Digging weekends are at present being held fortnightly. Details from Alan Surrall...

J. Wessex Cave Club No. 100, Vol. 8, March 1965

CLUB MEETS
The Club Dig at Thrupe Swallet is being reopened after the Winter and work will be going on during the following weekends:- April 3rd/4th; May 8th/9th, 22nd/23rd; June 5th/6th/7th (Witsun Camp), 19th/20th; July 3rd/4th. Organiser: Alan Surrall.

J. Wessex Cave Club No. 102, Vol 8, July 1965, p267

CLUB NEWS
Club dig at Thrupe Swallet

Digging has now been terminated, due to depth and difficulty of removing spoil. The two years spent on this project have been very well attended by Club members and friends and many happy hours enjoyed. An article with descriptions and survey will appear shortly in these pages just to keep things tidy. Our thanks to Mr. Keen of "Thrupe" Farm for tolerating us in his fields.

The Mendip Caver, Vol. 2 No. 3, January 1966

DIGS ABANDONED

Thrupe Swallet

Maesbury N.G.R. ST 606/458. This swallet was first dug by members of the Mendip Exploration Society in October 1936. During the course of the next twenty-two years it saw little activity until May 1958 when odd Wessex members showed interest. Thus the swallet simmered until the spring of l964 when the Wessex designated Thrupe an official club dig. From then on hordes of members descended the cave at frequent intervals. The cave grew deeper but alas at a depth of about 30 ft. they hit a tunnel, the roof consisting of a long slab which everyone hoped was bedrock! As the passage grew longer so more diggers (and shoring) were needed to remove spoil - consequently Thrupe has now been left to sink back into obscurity again.

J. Wessex Cave Club, No. 107, Vol. 9, July 1966, pp80-83

THRUPE DIARY

Alan J. Surrall

Thrupe swallet is located 1¼ miles above Croscombe NGR605457 and is in fact the easternmost swallet of a group lying on the Thrupe fault. A small permanent stream which appears from a spring runs along the surface for some 80 yds before it encounters the depression and cliff face of Thrupe itself. It actually disappears at the foot of a small cliff, which is some 17 ft. below field level.

Records show that the Mendip Exploration Society dug there in 1936 when two small chambers were encountered and a depth of some 30 ft. gained; however nothing major was discovered and digging was discontinued, partly due to instability and partly to general difficulty.

Little is known of activity in the area until 1958 when George Pointing, Dave Berry and Norman Tuck started work again. They managed to drive a shaft down to a small chamber and then on to a choked and restricted passage. Difficulty in maintaining a working party was contributary to the cessation of work once more.

1963 saw Cow Hole open once more and with the desire to keep the digging group together a meeting was held at Hillgrove on June 23rd to discuss a future site. From a short list Thrupe was selected and after a visit and discussion with the farmer on whose land it lay it was adopted as the club dig for at least two years.

The first work was during August Bank Holiday 1963, when the old windlass was re-sited to permit debris to be lifted from the shaft and brought clear; much the same system that had been used in the early days at Cow Hole. A fair amount of earth moving was necessary to stabilize the bank to the side of the shaft, but this was accomplished in two days. The third was occupied in removing debris from the 1958 shaft. After some l0 ft. a large boulder was encountered which would have prevented a clear lift for the buckets, so explosives were used to eliminate it. What timber still remained was pretty unstable so a new shaft lining was fitted. Fortunately one side was solid rock, which permitted the use of a compression framework, also a length of narrow gauge railway line from the previous activities helped considerably.

During August a further two weekends were occupied on work in the shaft and in trying to gain ground to where a small boulder chamber ran off at the bottom of the shaft. The weather had been traditional, hut even so working parties numbered about eight. Explosives were also proving to be of their usual value to reduce large boulders to manageable proportions. This work was helped by the nature of the tamping materials to hand, a glutinous mud, not too wet, not too dry, which was skillfully compounded by Denis Warburton. Denis also provided two ejection seat parachutes of about 2 ft. diameter which were used very successfully as boulder nets, though their capacity necessitated double purchase hoist working. They were also used for mud and gravel removal, though they were apt to leak over the surface party which, of course, helped the light entertainment side.

Autumn is generally the time when surface digs are put to sleep; a practice which was started at Cow Hole and will be used on club digs in future, for being a club dig and having considerable surface activity it is the intention to have the family group along, making a very pleasant and sociable affair, but when the nights draw in and it becomes cold and wet then one can only expect the hard core of members to turn out. So it was that the fence along the cliff top and along the stream side was overhauled and the fixed rigging taken down at the beginning of October. This really concluded work for the first year.

On January 25th of 1964 Phil Davies and the author made an inspection. A little attention was required to the fencing but otherwise things were satisfactory. Jim Hanwell suggested that we try Ubley Saw Mill for offcut timber for shoring. This was done and an A35 van full of use-able miscellaneous timber was obtained. The management of the Saw Mill generously refused payment.

The diggers were now awakening from their hibernation and on March 14th the rigging was set up, the dams rebuilt and the path re-cut through waist-high stinging nettles, etc. The first official dig of the season was April llth/l2th and a good party, including Atty and two friends and a small group from Bristol Grammar School were occupied in timbering the small chamber and starting to press on through the floor. Skillful work on plugging the dams made conditions underground tolerable for the period required for them to fill, otherwise an exposure suit was the order of the day.

Towards the end of April the chamber was heavily timbered and it was possible to drop through the floor into what appeared to be a small streamway. One incident serves to illustrate the capricious nature of digs. The cliff face immediately above the shaft was riven with a number of clefts of varying depth, some full of earth and others merely closing down, but none suggesting instability. However, while the party were at the Rose and Crown, Croscombe, partaking of a diggers’ lunch, a slab some 4 ft. by 2 ft. by 18 inches thick slipped from the cliff face and jammed across the shaft, almost completely blocking it. This obstruction had to be blasted apart in situ, a plaster charge underneath being used. This reduced it to four manageable boulders and several buckets of small stuff.

The weather so far this year had been good and it was therefore decided to have a Whitsuntide camp spread over three days, May l6th/l7th/l8th, on the site. In blazing sunshine the site was prepared, Phil Davies had provided a large tent for cooking and the tents for the permanent staff were also erected. These included Glen Tomkinson, Tony Dingle, Les and Jill Teasdale, Phil and Pat Davies and their children, Denis Warburton, and the author and his wife. With so many people resident and the possibility of casual labour, a pool to supply fresh water was considered a good idea. So it was planned to widen and deepen a section of the small surface stream. A small quantity of explosive saved a lot of labour and provided the passengers and crew of a passing train a fine view of a column of mud and stones rising into the air. The experiment was repeated to produce a gash pit. Work got under way and continued until about 7.30 p.m.

During the day a new winch was assembled and made operational, having been built by apprentices at a Midland car firm. 8.0 a.m. was the starting time on the Sunday, the weather being glorious. For most of the day some 25 people excluding children were at Thrupe, and again 12.30 saw the traditional retirement to the Rose and Crown, and then another useful afternoon session, which was followed in the evening by a barbecue of beer, sausages and songs. Whit Monday started more leisurely at 10.30 a.m. The Bath group, Geoff Moore, Richard West, Ian Appleby and their friends were made to do a stint before being allowed to have breakfast. During the afternoon a few anxious moments were passed when Glen became stuck by the foot while lying full length in the newly-excavated section. However, the gentle use of a crow bar freed him. It was the stream carrying small stuff forward against the dam formed by his foot that had caused the trouble. Work had to be terminated at about 3 p.m. for the camp to be struck, the field tidied up and the party dispersed. This occasion was one of the last when the Farnham Group were together, Maurice Hewins, Terry Hall and John Thomas, the central members, had worked all the holiday, returning each night to Hillgrove; this group had worked on Thrupe with George Pointing some years earlier but fortunately had not been disheartened. Parties of various sizes worked on alternate weekends and in late June Will Edwards assisted with a depth check which came to 39 ft. Since shoring materials were again running low, a visit was made to a derelict quarry that was handy and a very useful supply of ironwork was obtained. Some of this material was immediately pressed into service for holding back a bank in the streamway. Willie Stanton also joined the party on a return basis for work done in Gough’s.

For the weekend of August 15th, Ian of the Bath Group brought along a new bucket that he had made. This was based upon considerations and shortcomings of standard buckets and a diagram is shown in fig.2. The important features are its oval shape, to prevent rolling when being dragged, handles upon the bottom to facilitate tipping, and a lock on the hoist stirrup to prevent accidental tipping while being lifted. This bucket proved most satisfactory throughout the remainder of the work and will be used on future projects.

By the end of September the tunnel below the small chamber was lengthening and following a smooth roof which was dipping steeply. No sides were detected, the material coning out was a mixture of mud and boulders, all very wet because the stream was following the dig (or vice versa). Although the dams held the water back to a great extent the diggers in the three forward positions still found "goon suits" the only means of making conditions bearable.

Once again October saw a shortage of surface parties and the site was put to bed for the winter. The winter of 1965 was not particularly severe, although fairly wet. After an exploratory trip in March a start to the digging was made on May 8th, The weather was typical - mist, rain and wind, but a party was assembled including Will Edwards and Tony Dingle. Resetting the internal timbers was the first job and this was followed by some useful work on deepening the lower passage. The following day Alan Ash made a brief appearance after too long an absence. Unfortunately pressure of work prevented his regular attendance. By July a fair section of tunnel had been driven downwards at a steep angle following the smooth roof found the previous year. Occasionally small cavities would be revealed between the jammed boulders, but the stream continued to flow in a random manner. This section of tunnel had its sides braced with 4 inch pit props. Undercutting was always a problem and in fact caused two run—ins. One involved Geoff Moore when a bank slid towards him, but with great agility he managed to avoid being trapped by the legs. With help from Richard and Tony he was got clear of the slide. On a similar occasion whilst in the lower tunnel Denis Warburton had a large slab detach itself from the left-hand wall and this tended to push him farther down and, of course, prevented his retreat. Quick work by Richard West with a crow bar prevented the slab from completely blocking the tunnel and allowed Denis to scramble clear. All those sort of incidents caused unfortunate delays, for the material fallen down had to be removed and more timbering put in place.

Whenever it was practical the roof and walls were made to support themselves by back filling or stone walling, for the compressive strength of rock exceeds by far that of wood and does not suffer from microbiological decomposition. Also during July John Church made a transistorised communication system; this used moving coil earpieces supplied by Tony Dingle for surface reception, and a speaker and amplifier underground where the noise level was much higher. Certain teething troubles were experienced, but it was later improved. Atty brought two friends along to help, it being their first time underground it is to be hoped it did not deter them too much.

It was becoming more and more obvious as the weekends slipped by that there was no particular way on, although the stream was still following a steeply descending course. With only one solid rock surface and that at some 40 degrees dip, it gave the impression that the route being excavated had no particular significance, but that it was a large boulder and mud filled cavity with many possible routes by which the water could descend until it finally entered the limestone proper. In these circum- stances and with the very large team needed to work the site it was decided to conclude operations. These had occupied over two years and had yielded the swallet shown in fig.l.

Therefore during August 1965, under extremely heavy water conditions underground, a survey was made and tools and gear removed. The shaft was blocked halfway down with angle iron, etc., and the top half was filled with rock. The winches were removed and the cables taken down and the fences put to rights, so leaving the site tidy. One day with better techniques for digging, or if some system of geophysical surveying proves the existence of a substantial system, then I am sure that Mr. Keen would be willing for the site to be reopened, for as a club activity the Thrupe dig had been most successful, many people have spent a great number of happy hours associated with the various aspects. It is the author’s hope that many of those people will be seen at the next enterprise, and that next time it may end in success.

Thrupe - The Survey and Site Plan

oldsur3.gif (4K)


oldsite4.gif (9K)


oldbkt.gif (1K)

The Fourth Dig, 1999-2006

J. Wessex Cave Club No. 285, Vol.27, June 2003, p68-71

Forth [sic] Time Lucky - Digging at Thrupe Swallet
Richard Witcombe.

See the WCC journal for details

Descent No. 172, June/July 2003, p16

Mendip News - New Pitch in Thrupe Swallet
Richard Witcombe

See Descent 172 for details

Belfry Bulletin No. 516 Vol. 53 p19-27

Digging at Thrupe Swallet, or the Agony and the Ecstasy. Part 1: The Agony.
Tony Audsley

See the Belfry Bulletin for details

J. Wessex Cave Club No. 286, Vol.27, September 2003, p84-88

Fourth Time Lucky - Digging at Thrupe Swallet [2]
Richard Witcombe.

See the WCC journal for details

Top of Page

Last Modified:   23-Jun-2007