‘PB’ Smith and A Few More Notable Adventures
Bari (Mick) Logan
Having already written about my adventures with ‘PB’ Smith when we were surface party members on the Pegasus Caving Club 1967 Gouffre Berger Expedition, which appears on the club’s website accompanied with my collection of photographs; I thought it might be appropriate and of historical interest to put pen to paper again, try and give a short character sketch of him and add a further selection of notable events that I experienced with him and others over the 4 ½ years that I knew him.
Before proceeding though, I think that it is important for the reader to note and fully appreciate that during the period covered by this article (1963-1967) standard communication between people was by either; land-line telephone (household or coin operated red telephone box), written postal letter, or organised regular face-to-face meetings.
For navigation, road atlases for cars and on land one had to be very adept at using an OS ordnance Survey map and hand-held magnetic compass.
At that time, we did not have the luxuries that todays advanced technology offers, i.e. mobile phone, i pad, lap-top computer, e mail, Sat-Nav, and very accurate GPS Systems.
‘PB’ and Some Associates
Undoubtedly, ‘PB’ Pete Smith was one of the outstanding characters on the scene during the 1960’s heyday period of Derbyshire cave exploration and for many years after that by all accounts, not only was he a very active member of the BSA (British Speleological Association) but also, and importantly, a leading light in the foundation of the Castleton based offshoot TPU (Technical Projects Unit).
I am sure that there are many from that era who can recall their encounters with him be it amicable or otherwise because it has to be said that ‘PB’ did not suffer fools gladly by any means and was certainly not afraid to openly say so with his acerbic wit and sharp tongue. But for those who caved with him on a regular basis he proved to be a loyal friend and showed a far more genuine side to his personality which he rarely revealed to others.
I first encountered ‘PB’ in a Baslow pub one evening in late 1963 at a folk event organised by The International Higglers Association and amidst the eccentric raucous behaviour of organising committee members ; Lloyd ‘Wocko’ Watkins, Bob Atkinson, Bob Proctor and Grenville Bendigo Blatherwick (alias Gruntville Blundercock) to name but a few; ‘PB’ told me about ideas that were being put forward by a few BSA members to form a so called Technical Projects Unit which would be, ideally, based in the Castleton area and in time offer great potential for cave exploration in Derbyshire. Membership would comprise of those individuals who had good practical skills in engineering, electrical, building and mechanics etc., the sort of people who could best utilise the range of equipment that the unit intended to obtain and house.
As a BSA member, rock climber and apprentice telephone engineer, ‘PB’ encouraged me to join the unit and I did.
We both resided in Nottingham and he was prepared to offer regular lifts to Derbyshire in his van in return for petrol money, also camping facilities on the caravan site just outside Castleton where he stayed in a van when up there. This arrangement proved very convenient for both day trips or whole weekend jaunts in order to explore land, caves and undertake various projects.
'PB' Smith water divining on the Molière Plateau during the 1967 Pegasus Expedition to the Gouffre Berger
‘PB’ had an extensive knowledge of caves, in particular those within the Mendip and Derbyshire regions and through his professional work in building construction as a site manager, he was not only a skilled practical craftsman but also very ingenious when faced with a problem like building an underground dam to drain a sump, shutter safe an entrance, reinforce a dig, erect scaffolding for a winch decent, design and construct jigs for manufacturing electron ladders, etc; the list could go on and on; and for these various tasks, ‘PB’ was a master when it came to sourcing, very cheaply, all the necessary materials.
He could also ‘water divine’, or so he claimed, using a pair of home-made L-Shaped copper rods which he singly placed and held lightly twixt thumb and fore-finger in the held-out fist of each hand; Then, by walking slowly over an ‘unknown’ underground water source these rods would suddenly cross-over one another thus indicating the presence of water below. Personally, I was never convinced by these findings, or should I say lack of, because I only seemed to find soil and rocks with my spade after hours of excavating the carefully plotted locations that he made, in particular on the moor close to P8.
He was a dedicated fan of the ‘Goon Show’, always tried not to miss their weekly radio broadcast and would often repeat the latest ‘punch lines’ parrot fashion with equally excruciating frequency; enjoyed jazz music, in common with Harold Lord who played the clarinet, and constantly extoled the virtues of his great trumpet tooting hero Bix Beiderbecke.
Hated smoking and smokers so would often be found in a quiet corner of a room by an open window or stand in the entrance porch at gatherings. Liked a few pints of beer down the pub with caving fraternity, following which, as the alcohol level rose, without invitation or prompt would begin to regale the happy throng with a good old bawdy rugby song of which he had a substantial repertoire and a particular favourite being ‘Hey Ho Said Rowley’, the rendition of which once got us thrown out of a Derbyshire pub by an angry and disgruntled landlord and his wife who despite purveying large volumes of alcohol to the local populace were clearly also devoted churchgoers. Pillars of society they were !
Food-wise, on occasions he enjoyed with relish a good hot curry, a Friday or Saturday night treat at a particular Buxton restaurant was often on the cards but this practice on occasions, I recall, could have some unpleasant repercussions when caving with him on the following day.
Once working on constructing a dam at the end of the long crawl in the new Oxlow series, a couple of novice BSA club members who had unwittingly volunteered their services to help, almost quitted halfway through the session on account that they claimed to be encountering high volumes of noxious gas, which they said with positivity, was rising from the floor within the confined space they were working in and making them feel very nauseous. ‘PB’ greeted this startled announcement with great amusement and just continued to ‘let-off’ his silent but deadly colonic venting, without ‘letting-on’ to those poor recipients the secret of the actual gas source, or I should say vindaloo sauce !
Through Ken Pearce, a renowned BSA member, ‘PB’ joined and became active in the CDG (Cave Diving Group), although, I never actually witnessed him dive either above or below ground he certainly had all the necessary equipment to do so and encouraged others to join the group; I declined the offer on account of inherent residual hearing problems and the inability to equalise pressure at the shallowest depth of water, others however did respond to his recruitment drive and for one individual in particular led to his untimely death.
On one occasion I accompanied ‘PB’ to a factory in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, (Chesterfield Tube), specialist manufacturers of all kinds (shapes and sizes) of pressure gas cylinders, to collect some newly designed small ‘Tadpole’ cylinders which proved very popular, side-mounts, amongst cave divers for some-time before modern safety acceptable breathing equipment became available and the accepted norm to use.
Held an official blasting licence, ‘to purchase, store and use explosives for the purpose of mining’ and more in a ‘report’ on that issue later !
His closest friends were most probably Harold and Sarah Lord who lived in a very large Victorian house in Buxton to which ‘PB’ was a regular visitor, one of the reasons being, that installed in the basement (around 1966-1967) was all the typing-printing-collating and stapling equipment for the production of BSA publications, a task that I undertook with ‘PB’, Harold and others on quite a few occasions.
There was also a small workshop on the premises, where amongst many other things, the small hand-held ‘Inductorphone’ that Harold designed for communication and surveying use on the 1967 Berger Expedition, were assembled over several months during the late 66 and early 67 period and this was another project that I put my professional work skills to.
During these visits, over light refreshments, much discussion would take place between Harold and ‘PB’ concerning the formation of the TPU, what needed to be done, what needed to be obtained, what projects should be given priority to and through their sheer determination, most things eventually came to fruition with their guidance and, it has to be said, with much practical input from other keen members.
BSA-TPU winch meet at Eldon Hole with 'PB' Smith about to descend
BSA-TPU winch meet at Hollandtwine Mine with 'Shag' Smith, Harold Lord, 'PB' Smith & Stan Brookes
One particular topic of conversation that I recall well, was about locating the elusive Castleton ‘Master-Cave’ which had been so sort after for years by many experienced cavers; Harold gave his, then seemingly completely crazy notion, to hire an industrial full-size drilling rig and punch a series of test holes near the Peak Cavern and Speedwell Cavern areas, sufficient in diameter to allow a kitted explorer to be lowered into by winch should a large natural cavity be broken into.
Looking back, what prophetic words these turned out to be, 34 years later, when one considers the major discovery in January 1999 of ‘Titan’ and the subsequent 151 foot shaft that was purposely dug from the surface to give easy access to the very top of the main shaft.
But, that prime example of rhetoric, just illustrates the level of serious thought that both Harold and ‘PB’ were continually giving to their passion for cave exploration and there seemed to be no end to it.
I cannot recall the actual year but I am guessing around 1966, John ‘Shag’ Smith arrived on the scene and was welcomed into the small growing band of devotees. He was about 18 years of age, an apprentice electrical engineer, lived in Nottingham and thus there became a ‘trio’ of us weekend commuters to Derbyshire and thankfully for me, another pair of willing hands to help out with the ever-growing list of projects that ‘PB’ and Harold kept dreaming-up.
Initially, premises for the TPU headquarters were found, by whom I don’t know, in the village of Brough, a few miles from Castleton. It was a large square building, an old abandoned mill, which had several floors and lots of metal framed windows with multiple small panes of glass many of which had been broken. Outside there was ample parking and a good deal of surrounding ground which was bounded, in a slight curve, by a clear flowing river that was deemed out-of-bounds for our use being leased out for trout fishing and other than that, the premises seemed ideal. It offered great potential as a hostel/store and a small team spent a great deal of time tidying it up, in particular hours and hours cutting glass and puttying in new window panes. Sadly however, this work proved totally pointless as every time we returned to the building, windows had been vandalised, so it was decided not to continue restoration any further and consequently the Old Mill idea for an HQ was dropped. I suspect that the building eventually fell into the hands of a property developer who possibly owned an air rifle ?
However, not long after, around, 1965 ?, new premises were found and in the very centre of Castleton, the Old Chapel Works on back street, a several storey building, being a converted Methodist Chapel, which had a large double garage attached to it offering direct access onto the main road.
The Chapel, headquarters of the T.P.U. in Castleton. photograph Pete Knight. 2020
Inside view of the Chapel after recent redecorating
photograph Pete Knight. 2020
It did not take long, with much excited enthusiasm and effort from members, whom it would be good for the records to fully identify and name at some stage, to turn the place into an active workshop/store facility, but strictly without regular accommodation other than times when a cave rescue was underway, this proviso due to opposition, for full accommodation rights, from some local residents.
Donated equipment poured into the building and some purchased at knock-down prices, pride of place being an old land-rover workhorse which was duly fitted with an alternator (generator) and thus provided a source of electricity in the field to run a variety of equipment from, ie, lighting units, drills and pumps. Thus, ‘PB’ and Harold’s dream for the TPU had in many ways come true and remarkably some 55 years on (2020), the legacy of their drive to achieve it, lives on, because the Castleton Chapel remains a very active, now national, centre of importance for caving in Derbyshire.
‘PB’ was quite a secretive person, a bit of a man of mystery really and I don’t think that I ever met anyone who could say where he had come from, place of birth, schooling, working career etc. But, by chance I did actually meet his parents once and had a very hearty English breakfast with them at their home.
I can recall the actual date very well, it was very early Friday morning, crack-of-dawn, 4th August 1967 when ‘PB’ and I were En-route to Dover for the long drive down to Grenoble France to join the Pegasus Club Gouffre Berger Expedition.
In the dark early hours, on just leaving the outskirts of Nottingham, our home town, ‘PB’ announced that he had to call in at his parent’s home in order to collect some much-needed personal items for the trip, he did not let on where we were actually going, but from our direction for hours, it clearly was not, by any means, the usual route to Dover.
'PB' Smith preparing the shuttering to stabilise the entrance to the newly discovered P8 cave
'Shag' Smith outside Buxton police station with the BSA-TPU Landrover, testing the telecommunications equipment
They were a very pleasant and charming elderly couple living in a lovely rural house in a small Wiltshire village, the name of which totally escapes me, we had little time to talk but just before leaving, his mother insisted that I should see her collection of cats who lived at the bottom of their very long garden just beyond a well-tended vegetable patch. On arriving there, to my utter amazement there was a high, 10-12 foot, security steel wire fence extending continuous as far as the eye could see to both left and right of theirs and adjoining neighbours properties. Through the fence was a vast area of grassland interspersed by small copses of old established tall oak trees lounging beneath which only some 60 yards away was a large pride of African lions; and this was the Longleat Estate.
‘PB’ and I said our goodbyes to them and made our way to Dover but not before a quick stop off at Stonehenge to do a bit of climbing and take a few photos. Interestingly, during the entire journey down to France ‘PB’ said nothing about the visit to his parents or reminisce on his past.
In conclusion, I now append 7, mainly anecdotal, adventures that I experienced in the presence of ‘PB’, a truly remarkable character, with at times, a very mischievous sense of humour.
Bari M (Mick) Logan
Histon, Cambridge, UK
25th June 2020
Bari (Mick) Logan in 2019 age 72 years above
Grubigstein (2,063m), Austria. with a view across to Zugzpitze (2,962m), the highest mountain in Germany.
Bari (Mick) Logan in 2019 age 72 years
at the Seebensee (1,653m), above the village of Brentalm, Austria.
Wall of Death Rider
Pearce Dive P8
Stoney Middleton Mud Bath
Egg and Chips
Alum Pot Tragedy
Wall of Death Rider
‘PB’ and I set off from Nottingham very early one fine summers morning in his old van for the journey up to Castleton via Monyash where he wanted to have a quick couple of hours exploratory wander, being alertered by a member of PDMHS (Peak District Mines Historical Society) to a very interesting old disused quarry workings thought to be of roman origin. This is situated just outside the village and above left to the head of Lathkill Dale as you go down the main footpath.
On leaving Matlock on the main Buxton road and reaching Rowsley, he took a sharp left at a junction to take what he termed, “the scenic route”, to Monyash through Stanton-in-the-Peak and Youlgreave.
The narrow two-lane road climbed steadily upwards and had a few tortuous bends along the way, with noticeably, the hill continuing up to the right and a deep verdant valley to the left where the edge of road was surmounted by a broad grey dry-stone wall about 4 feet in height.
We had not gone far up this road, and whilst I was admiring the view below, on turning a sharp bend, ‘PB’ slapped on the brakes hard and made an emergency stop and being at a time, just prior to the introduction of compulsory seat belts, I was totally at the mercy of inertia, lurched forwards and violently connected my forehead and nose with the dashboard and windscreen. Resulting in a very bloody nose and a spell of ‘stargazing’, which ‘PB’ thought was hilarious and said that I should have been paying more attention to the road ahead instead of admiring sheep.
This was not the only time that my head suffered damage from coming into contact with ‘PB’s mode of transport. The second time being a very lucky escape during the 1967 pegasus Expedition to the Gouffre Berger when I was a pissed passenger in the rear of his new Hillman Imp van.
See the photos below from P.C.N. collection and Final Days of the Expedition
Now back to the Wall of Death.
Now the reason for this sudden halt was that, in the knee of the bend, just in front of us, and on the left-hand (wrong) side of the road, was a bull-nosed Morris van with both front doors swung wide open; buried into its left front wheel arch and bonnet was a green 250cc BSA motorbike the front wheel and forks of which were bent upwards to the right and almost touching the riders seat; but remarkably, the bike remained locked in a standing upright position.
We got out of the van and ran to the scene but there was no one about, then we heard a shout coming from over the wall at the side of the road and on looking over saw, that just beyond a short level distance off grass, there was a very steep bank running down to the valley below and about 40 yards distant three men, one laying on the bank and two standing over him signalling and shouting for help.
‘PB’ ran back to the van and quickly returned clutching a large green canvas groundsheet and joined me who was now on the other side of the wall, we then very gingerly edged our way down the steep slope on our backsides to join the group below.
On arrival, we ascertained that the man on his back, about 18-19 years of age, was the motorcyclist, he was fully conscious but badly winded and in a state of shock but otherwise not injured in anyway as one would have fully expected from seeing the scene of the severe crash and considering that he was not wearing a crash helmet only a stout black leather jacket and knee length boots.
Apparently, he was travelling up the hill and positioned himself on the centre of the road in order to take the bend, a practice he confessed to do on a regular commute due to the usual lack of on-coming traffic; the driver of the van that was descending the road crossed over to the right-hand side of the road in order to take the bend, a practice that he, similar to the biker, also confessed to do on his regular commute but normally much earlier in the day. Hence the by chance mis-timed crash.
But miraculously for both drivers, they had been in the most perfect position at the point of impact to allow the motorcyclist to be de-seated and catapulted at an angle over the bonnet of the van totally miss the windscreen, then travel upwards and forwards, clear the stone wall and instead of landing on the hard ground immediately behind it, he began a falling descent parallel to the steep grass slope, eventually by gravitation joining it and sliding down with considerable velocity to a gradual full-stop, same principle as an Olympic ski-jumper.
We rolled the biker onto the groundsheet and hauled him with some considerable difficulty up the slope to the top and over the wall, where we discovered a police car and ambulance waiting, both just arrived, having been summoned there by a passing motorist who had come across the crash site just before we did and decided to drive on to Stanton and raise the alarm from a telephone box in the village.
My nose had virtually stopped bleeding by now but was very red and swollen as was my forehead, I asked ‘PB’ what my faced looked like and he said, “A Baboon’s Arse”, and my jumper bore witness to the amount of blood that I had lost.
This somewhat alarming appearance led both the police and ambulance crew to believe that I had been a pillion rider on the bike and they wanted me to go to the hospital for a check-up, but I stated what had actually happened and declined their kind offer.
'PB’, as a result, was given a leaflet from the police concerning the importance of fitting and using seat-belts.
The biker went off in the ambulance to hospital along with ‘PB’s groundsheet which, to his consternation, he never got back, we helped move the van over the road into a safe parking position, the police then took short statements from all and headed off back to the station with the two occupants of the Morris van.
‘PB’ and I, slightly stunned by this impromptu incident, me more so, got into his van and resumed our journey to the top of Lathkill Dale. On the way, I said to him, “that biker was damn lucky to get away with that unmarked”, to which he replied, “unlike you Rudolph” and the grief I got that night in a Castleton pub was almost intolerable when everyone kept calling me ‘Rudolph’ on account of ‘PB’s constant encouragement.
Bye the way, I almost forgot to mention, the Old Quarry workings above Lathkill Dale are well worth a visit with wonderful crinoidal limestone for those interested in fossils.
Pearce Dive P8
There was much excitement in 1964, when, after only a small amount of digging in a swallet on the moor near Perryfoot by a working party of BSA Manchester Group members, broke into one of the finest small cave systems in Derbyshire, P8, now known as Jackpot.
Within days of this discovery, which was kept a closely guarded secret to just a very limited few, I got home from work one mid-week evening to find an urgent hand-written message from ‘PB’ which said, will pick you up early at 4:00 Friday afternoon will be caving all night. I was somewhat puzzled by this and could only think that ‘PB’ must have some very urgent project in mind.
I managed to get time off work early and ‘PB’ and I set off as arranged, started the journey up to Castleton and whilst en-route, ‘PB’ let me into the secret of P8’s discovery the previous week and said that tonight we are invited to go in and explore with some selected others; and this would be either the 2nd or 3rd time that the cave had been entered.
I must confess that I found it a great honour to have been invited and experience something that all cavers dream about and could only imagine what we might discover in the system ourselves, and when we stopped at a café for a quick bite, I remember being almost too excited to eat.
The entrance to P8 shortly after it was discovered with hardly a blade of grass out of place
'PB' shuttering the entrance after turning it into what appears to be the site of illegal fly tipping
Eventually we arrived at Perryfoot Farm the designated meeting point and there waiting for us was a small group of BSA members kitted and ready to go;
We were briefed and told that it would be wet and that there was only one ladder pitch and that was short, but more ladder and ropes would be on hand just in case we encountered anything.
We crossed the moor to a small entrance shaft into which flowed a stream and soon we were on our way underground. I found the cave absolutely brilliant, it offered everything that a caver looked for, an entry streamway passage, several drops to shin-down, bit of wading, bit of crawling, rift passage, short ladder descent through a crashing waterfall into a fair-sized chamber, further ample passageways to sumps and very nice cave formations scattered throughout.
Parties went in different directions of choice and I still vividly remember climbing the rift above the main pitch, just before you reach it, at a point where the passage is narrow enough to allow one to chimney-up, which I did to a height of approximately 20-25 feet and reached ledges, either side, which could be straddled whilst stooping.
I then went back in the direction of the entrance and not too distant reached a small passageway to my left and by stooping and crawling reached its end, a small chamber where one could detect a very slight draft and this I thought was a good find.
But even more interesting to note on the left-hand side of the chamber, about shoulder height (or a bit less), was a small natural rock pool, containing crystal clear water, in the bottom of which rested the perfect disarticulated white skeleton of a mole, mouse or vole. This surely was proof positive that somewhere in that immediate vicinity was another entrance into P8, and I duly reported my findings to the others when we all reassembled back at the farm to exchange information and take notes.
Regarding the chambers underground position on the surface, in relation to the entrance, I would say that when facing the direction of Eldon Hill Quarry, it was up the hill a short distance and to the right.
Over the ensuing weeks and months much attention was paid to the internal exploration of P8’s system, so my reported finding was just overlooked, but now, I wonder, was that area ever excavated and if so, was my little finding on that day, finally proved to be the new entrance to P8 ?
Interestingly, on an historical fact, one of the original BSA explorers of P8 told me that on entering the area close to the main sump, where there is a steep mud slope going up-high to the left, one of the team noted two pairs of boot prints in the mud, one set going up and one set coming down and these had been left by the old man (lead miner) many, many years earlier; what a pity that there was not a photographer to record that before it all became spoilt.
Other evidence of lead miner’s presence could also be seen, and is hopefully still there, in the high rift, where on the left-hand ledge there are a few large reddish coloured stalactites which had been purposely broken off by a miner, in order to gain access, then carefully laid down on the flowstone where after constant dripping water over many years had calcified fast.
‘PB’ and I made frequent trips into P8 over the next few weeks and so got to know the system very well and I always enjoyed my time exploring there. But more immediate attention was now turning to the sumps, in particular the main one, which a few of the more experienced members thought offered best chance to further the system, if a diver could easily access and pass it.
It was late one Friday evening that I found myself with ‘PB’ in the presence of Ken Pearce at his home in Chapel-en-le-Frith for a discussion on his proposed solo exploratory probe into the main sump of P8 the following morning; for which ‘PB’ and I had agreed to porter, with whoever else turned-up, some of his diving equipment and ensure that the main pitch was laddered and lined. He, with a few others, would meet us at the main sump at a given time.
Pearce had something of a rather bad reputation, with his brusque attitude, fiery temper and strong-arm tactics at times and with this in mind I treated him with kid-gloves, but have to say, that I actually found him quite amicable and easy to talk to.
He asked me if I had joined the CDG (Cave Diving Group) and without going into detail about my hearing problems, I just said no, to which he sharply replied, glaring at ‘PB’, “this boy needs Baptism”; and with that parting shot, ‘PB’ and I loaded the van and set off into the night.
The following two photographs show passing Ken Pearce's diving cylinders down the Entrance to P8. The Video "The 3 P,s. Pegasus, Pearce & P8". show the sherparing of Ken Pearce's diving equipment from Perryfoot Farm to the entrance on one of his subsequent dives and not the initial one referred to in this article. (P.C.N.)
I forget the actual time, that Saturday morning, that ‘PB’ and I arrived at Perryfoot farm, but it was very early and as we unloaded Pearce’s bagged equipment other BSA members began to thankfully arrive. We all got kitted-up and ‘PB’ then informed the assembled group about the proposed event which was not going to be a full dive to push the sump but an assessment for a more full-on assault later, probably within a few weeks.
He then handed out the equipment which he emphasised must be transported into the cave very carefully to the main sump where we would rendezvous with Ken Pearce and some others. With sufficient helpers to porter things, I got the ladder and rope for the main pitch and ‘PB’ a reeled-divers hand-line. We set off across the moor first and the journey down to the main sump was quick and uneventful, after all, it was a trip we had done on many occasions.
The kit, still bagged, was laid to one-side and we did not have long to wait before Pearce and two others arrived on the scene with even more bagged equipment and as space was now becoming somewhat crowded, ‘PB’ told everyone, apart from me, to go off into the system and do a bit of exploring, but to make sure to return at some stage later to help take the kit they had brought in, out again to the farm.
Pearce said very little, got kitted, which seemed to take ages and ‘PB’ prepared the diver’s hand-line, I stood to one-side, Pearce’s two companions the other. I was surprised to see that Pearce was equipped with only a small air tank and mentioned this to ‘PB’, who told me that the reason was, he was only going to make a very short dive and initially, most probably, on his back to feel the floor, sides and roof of the sump with his feet to try and assess the approximate size of the submerged passage ahead.
Pearce entered the water and took hold of the hand-line, which ‘PB’ was holding the other end of and slowly paying out, and gradually submerged and as ‘PB’ rightly said, on his back, pushed his legs into the sump entrance and disappeared into the murky water.
I found this a very anxious time and was uncomfortable with the situation because I knew just how dangerous cave diving could be, despite all the careful attention, that those that did it, took with the preparation and care of their equipment and detail, divers still got killed.
I have no idea how long Pearce had been in the sump, when ‘PB’ turned to me and said, “we have a major problem, the hand-line is broken”. He then pulled the line in and held up the end. I realised my worst fear, that Pearce must still be in inky waters and without that line to help him, he had no reference of direction to get back into the chamber.
“PB’ then told me to enter the water towards the sump about waist deep, then with my hands splash the water vigorously, to hopefully give the diver direction, he added. This I did and my heart was pounding for fear of Pearce’s safety.
I hadn’t been there long when I noticed a few bubbles in the water just in front of me and whilst turning towards ‘PB’ and pointing at them, Pearce rose from the water immediately in front of me, like a surfacing monster, grabbed me with firm hands, pushed me down and gave me a sound ducking.
I came up gasping for breath and in a somewhat state of shock to peals of laughter and Pearce on removing his mask said to me, “welcome to the cave diving group” to which I replied with a wry smile, “thank you John”. He then said, “John !, my names Ken”. ‘Sorry”, I said, “mistook you for John the Baptist”, and a great smile came across his face.
And that was the first and last time that I ever participated in a cave diving session underground, but at least I could now say, with-tongue-in-cheek, I once dived closely with the famous Ken Pearce, Ha..Ha…
As for the sump, in typical Pearce fashion, what he found he kept close to himself, and all he said to ‘PB’ was, “feels promising”, and in ensuing years that was proved true by he and others.
There were a few ongoing issues with P8 which needed to be dealt with:-
1). The entrance, through constant caver use, began to collapse, I therefore organised a BSA working party, which ‘PB’ headed-up and used his building expertise, to shutter and concrete it safe.
2). Cavers were damaging grass on the moor by criss-crossing it rather than taking a direct route to the cave entrance, which was beginning to aggravate the farmer, I made and installed a line of wooden marker pegs and an information sign for the gate at the farm.
3). There was an incidence of gas reported near one of the sumps by some BSA members and as a recommendation, accordingly, I installed a warning sign nearby.
4). The main waterfall pitch was not that easy to rig, so to help with this I fitted two angle iron loops for laddering and belaying.
During the Pegasus phase of diving in P8 they asked about the reported gas near one of the sumps. I made inquiries to Garry Kitchen who detailed the incident in the following letter. (P.C.N)
A few good pints of strong beer down the local pub with mates inevitably leads to much Pub-Talk and sometimes, in a semi-inebriated state, saying something that in a sober state later, you fully regret, and the following account is I think, a prime example of just that unfortunate but avoidable situation.
One Saturday night, ‘PB’ and I attended, a caver’s organised, pub meal and disco-do in Castleton at which all the local good and great of the sport were in attendance and quite obviously running at full-throttle. It was a very boozy and loud affair in every-way, but one did get the opportunity to meet up occasionally in a quite-corner with like-minded folk and catch-up on news.
At some stage during the late evening, ‘PB’ and I got into conversation with a couple of Sheffield group BSA members who were engaged in exploring and digging a series of mine shaft workings on the rake above Oxlow cavern, Maskill mine and Nettle Pot, which they said were looking very promising but had encountered something of a dilemma with a dead sheep.
Problem was, that one of the farmers in the vicinity, during the week, had thrown a dead sheep carcase down the mine workings in order to dispose of it, not realising that BSA members were actively digging there at weekends and as a consequence they had the most unpleasant task of hauling it out this Saturday morning and dumping it back on the hillside.
In order to try and solve the problem, later in the day, the diggers had approached the farmer in question and very politely asked him not to repeat the act in the future and for that, they would get rid of the present sheep carcass as a favour. But now, on contemplating this somewhat urgent duty, they confessed as to not knowing how they were going to actually achieve the task, as digging a large pit for it, in such very stony ground, was almost out of the question.
Almost straightway, and in a rather inebriated state, ‘PB’ said, “I can sort that out for you, very simple, I will just blow-it-up, disintegrate the bloody thing and its bits can fertilise the hillside”. There was a slight pause of disbelief at this outburst and then he added before anyone could make a reply to the offer, “I’ll do it 10:30 in the morning, bugger all else to do”.
The pair, whose full-names I forget, but one was called Chris, were delighted and agreed to ‘PB’s kind offer, shook his hand and one went off to the bar for another round of drinks; just as the music got ever-louder and some of the out-of-control rapidly gyrating throng on the dance floor, began their usual beer-throwing antics, soaking the crowd as they went with whoops of hysterical laughter, which in response from the drenched onlookers was met by an exchange of blows and foul language.
Now, I must confess that I could not quite believe what I had just heard ‘PB’ say and agree to, because to me his proposal sounded a complete crackpot idea and as a result, part of me said, forget this farce tomorrow and go for a nice long walk, whilst the other side said, go just for the unique experience it might offer, and the latter, which I finally opted for, proved astonishingly right.
It was a typical still, dank, dull, autumn Derbyshire morning when ‘PB’ and I arrived at a gate on the Castleton to Perryfoot road just below Oxlow farm where Chris and his mate where already parked-up and waiting. ‘PB’ took out of his van a small military ammunition box, a winding reel, of what looked like, brightly coloured twin-strand telephone wire and an old army green canvas gas-mask shoulder bag containing a battery.
We went through the gate and up the hill for some distance before, in a flat area, we located, the badly decomposing dead sheep which still had a short length of rope attached to its back legs tightly securing them together. ‘PB’ did a quick recce and located a couple of small shake-holes and a deep depression which he said all would be perfect for the task in hand.
He then revealed his regime which basically was; that into the depression (centrally) would be hauled the sheep, an explosive charge placed beneath it and a length of attached wire run to (the left-hand) shake-hole 1 where he and I would take refuge from the blast which he would create. Chris and his mate would occupy and keep low in (the right-hand) shake-hole 2.
He then added, that for extra safety we should all wear helmets just in case of possible flying or falling debris, and further, that on him bellowing FIRE, we should all keep our heads well and truly down, because that would be the signal for ignition to take place.
Accordingly, Chris and his mate, the good shepherds as they became known later, dutifully dragged their unbeloved animal into its proposed fragmentation site in the depression.
Meanwhile, ‘PB’ ran a line of wire from close to the beast, across and to the bottom of shake-hole 1, stripping and opening wide the wires at both ends as he went, he then returned to the site, of death and decay, with his ammunition box from which he, lovingly, first produced a block of gelignite (about the size of 1 ½ Cadburys Turkish Delight Bars); then, a thick cardboard box which contained, distinctly coloured dual-wired, copper tube detonators from which he selected one and laid it on a piece of dry paper along with the block of gelignite. Incidentally, I did note, that the colour of the wires on the detonators matched perfectly those on the reel.
All preparations made for the long-awaited explosion and heavenly departure of the sheep, ‘PB’ standing beside it, briefed us on what he was about to do after we three had taken cover in our respected shake-holes:
P B Smith striking a familiar pose
(i) Insert detonator into the block of gelatine, keeping the wires apart.
(ii) Touch the wires on the long line together, momentarily, in order to discharge any static electricity that may have built up in it, because, he added, without doing that, if any static charge is present and high enough in voltage value, it could prove sufficient to cause a premature ignition when attached to the detonator.
(iii) Wire detonator to line, carefully keeping them apart.
(iv) Place the charge, with a stick, under the sheep in the middle of its back.
(v) Retire to shake-hole 1.
(vi) Make sure that there is no-one visibly around.
(vii) When in the bottom of shake-hole 1, attach one wire of the line to the battery terminal.
(viii) Shout FIRE and instantly touch the loose line wire onto the other terminal of the battery.
And thus, hopefully he added, there should be a loud bang and the job done, so we can all then go for a lunchtime treat at Mrs Lancaster’s café in Castleton. Who’s being key-holed for that bill I wondered.
We were then ordered to our shake-hole refuges leaving ‘PB’ to carry-out the above four procedures before he joined me back in shake-hole 1. I watched him quickly wire the first terminal, then shout FIRE during which time he touched the loose wire onto the other terminal, instantaneously followed by a very loud bang and the sheep broke-up and took to the air scattering parts in all directions.
A large black oval spinning object passed above and to my left gaining height as it went, the sheep’s head, which would certainly have done some damage to anyone in its path, like a cannon ball at Waterloo I thought. To my right and quite high-up in the air was the sheep’s legs still attached to part of its pelvis, I think, and trailing behind what appeared to be various sized streamers which later turned out to be lengths of large and small bowel, the guts.
This configuration was now falling back to earth with speed like a descending spent rocket, and watching its path I estimated that it just might make landfall in shake-hole 2, which it did and was immediately followed by the sound of loud screaming as Chris, poor chap, got well and truly Twatted by the remains.
I do not know what happened to the rest of the sheep other than there were bits everywhere, especially lumps of wool, just as ‘PB’ predicted.
‘PB’ and I raced over to Shake-hole 2 and discovered that Chris’s mate who was at the nearside of the hole was virtually unscathed by the event apart from a bit of smelly-spotting from the bowels.
Chris however who was at the far-side of the hole got the full force of the falling legs but was saved by his helmet so only slightly stunned; but worse was the innards which were draped on him like curtains as he stood there gasping for breath. He looked like a green slime covered monster from a primeval bog and stunk to high heaven, we were all gagging and no-one wanted to get close to him. He could have gassed at rat at twenty paces.
‘PB’ calmed him down as best he could and assured him that nothing was broken, he was just a bit dishevelled and a good hot bath would sort that out. I offered him some Kendal Mint Cake out of my top-pocket but he declined with the wave of a hand, and with that he and his mate made their way down the hill to the parked cars at the gate.
‘PB’ and I collected the equipment and quickly followed behind casting a glance at the scattered sheep remains, “where’s the head”, ‘PB’ said, “making for Oxlow entrance I think last time I saw it”, I said, to which he replied, “hope it didn’t make a hole-in-one”.
On reaching his car, Chris stripped off to his underpants and socks, put all his fetid clothes into a large plastic builder’s sack, which ‘PB’ provided, tied it tightly with string and threw it into the boot. ‘PB’ then gave him an old filthy large boiler-suit to put on, the only spare clothing to hand, this he did and without a word he and his mate got into the car and drove off, with all the windows fully opened, presumable back to Sheffield.
‘PB’ then looked at me and said, “Bugger’s, they could have said thank you, don’t think I’ll offer my services there again”.\We then drove down into Castleton to Mrs Lancaster’s café near Peak Cavern and had a hearty lunch of poached eggs on toast with beans and a large pot of tea, for which I got the bill in the absence of Chris and his mate.
Stoney Middleton Mud-Bath
I was an apprentice telecommunications maintenance engineer with the Reliance Telephone Company a branch of GEC and the area that I covered was mainly South Derbyshire a small part of Staffordshire and a small part of Nottinghamshire.
The base that I daily worked from was the main internal telephone exchange at Stanton and Staveley Iron works just outside of Ilkeston; a large open rack exchange which provided some two thousand lines to a very large industrial area and had a full-time technician who dealt with all external line faults.
I would travel there by the Kirk Hallam bus from Nottingham, mount street station every morning to start work at 08:00 and join-up with the Reliance qualified telephone engineer with whom I had been paired. We would sort out any urgent repairs to the exchange equipment and then travel out in his car to clients-premises who had called in faults the previous day to Reliance headquarters in Birmingham; this could be a factory, hospital, council office premises, solicitors, dairy or college, the company had a very wide range of clientele and so it proved interesting work dealing with so many varied business’s and people.
Opposite Stanton’s exchange was the main medical treatment and emergency centre at the back of which was the fire station and both had professional full-time staff.
Sometimes, the fire chief would call into the exchange and have an early morning cup of tea and chat and on one of these occasions I asked him if by chance he had any lengths of old hoses and fittings to dispose of and he asked why. I went on to explain about the Technical Projects Unit and that we had just managed to acquire on loan a large Flygt submersible pump but had no hoses for it; also, the fact that we were just about to affiliate with the DCRO (Derbyshire Cave Rescue Organisation) and on hearing this his ears pricked up and he said that he would see what he could do to help.
It was only a couple of weeks later after this conversation that the fire chief called into the exchange and announced that he had eight, 50 foot, lengths of hose which were about to be renewed so I could have them for the unit providing that our organisation wrote a thank you letter to Stanton and Staveley board of directors; which Harold Lord did at a future date.
An early photo of 'PB' Smith in the Four Ways Club hut at the bottom of Winnats Pass,, Castleton (P.C.N.)
'PB' Smith at Stonehenge on his way to the 1967 Pegasus Gouffre Berger Expedition
Two evenings later my father and I drove over collected the hoses and put them in the backyard of our house in Plantagenet street, Nottingham. I immediately contacted ‘PB’ who was very excited at the news and quickly collected the hoses one Friday night in his van and we transferred them up to the TPU headquarters at the Chapel in Castleton.
Next day Harold Lord came over from Buxton to inspect them, they fitted the pump perfectly so his approval was given, then came the question, where could we do, A.S.A.P., a trial run with the pump, to which much thought was given and other members of the unit consulted.
It wasn’t long before a decision was made and the chosen venue was going to be the main sump at Carlswark Cavern, Stoney Middleton. Reason being, that it offered good access for the units land-rover to the cave entrance, there was just a short distance to manually lug the pump to the sump and we would only need a relatively short run of hose.
Thus, early one weekend morning ‘PB’ and ‘Shag’ set-off from the Chapel in Castleton in the unit’s land-rover laden with, the flygt pump, lengths of hose, electrical cables and field telephones.
For some reason that I cannot recall, I met them at Carlswark Cavern having travelled up from Nottingham on the X2 Manchester bus, then via Bakewell and Baslow. Other members of the TPU also turned up and Harold Lord took charge of the days event.
‘PB’ drove the Land-rover into the pre-determined position with no trouble, unloaded and laid out the kit and a short meeting was convened to allocate specific duties to all those attending, followed by a brief on the exercise and estimated timings.
An underground party led by ‘PB’ and Harold laid an electric cable from the Land-rover to the edge of the sump in the cave, took in the pump then connected lengths of hose to the outside and extended them down, to the gutter, (cave side) of the main Stoney Middleton road, which resulted in later problems. It would have been better if we could have run the hose over the road and into the stream opposite but unfortunately, we did not have wooden ramps to protect the hose from traffic damage.
‘Shag’ and I ran two field telephone lines, one from cave sump to the Land-rover for communication with the generator controller and one from cave sump down to the main road to communicate with the person in charge of hose outflow. I then connected the field telephones and ran a call-through test to ensure they worked properly with the designated operators.
At this point, another quick meeting was convened with a re-alignment of duties, land rover engine started and the generator given a quick test run. Harold allocated ‘Shag’ with the duty of being generator controller, an important duty which entailed keeping a close watch on the voltage output dial in order to keep the needle steady to within the tolerance limits of the equipment being used and thus prevent undue damage.
Reason being, that when the land rover motor was running at idle it would sometimes give a slight surge or dip and this would be replicated in the generator operating in unison. Thus, in turn, causing a slight fluctuation in voltage output which needed to be flattened out to a constant rate manually by the controller turning a large black knob left or right..
It was a very boring job, sitting in a small noisy cabin staring endlessly at a white dial and in a fume filled atmosphere, but ‘Shag’ was a very good foot-soldier and always stood his ground well when given a task by Harold or ‘PB’.
I was to man the telephone on the edge of the road and monitor water flow, which was actually a job I looked forward to doing, being outside in the fresh air, on my own and in charge of a large fire-hose which I could, if I felt like it, stick anywhere, and seemingly overall, with not much important responsibility, what could go wrong. To break the boredom, I could also wave to passing motorists who slowed down as they passed by, curious to find out what on earth I was up to, nosey buggers, I thought.
The Flygt pump was a very robust heavy piece of kit, about 3 feet in height all metal and shaped rather like a Dalek, so narrower at the upper end than bottom, it had a big carrying handle on the top, which enabled two strong people, either side, to lift and move it or be fitted with lowering ropes.
There was a sealed heavy-duty electrical cable with a good run to an interlinking waterproof safety connector, and in the side a large slotted opening into which a fire hose could inserted. The wide bottom of the base had a mesh basket covering to prevent rubbish being sucked into the pump. It was simple in design, very powerful in the amount of water it could shift and a popular choice for drainage clearance by many companies especially those in the sewerage business.
The BSA-TPU 'Flygt' pump and hoses
The BSA-TPU Landrover: Alternator control panel
All was in place for the Carlswark exercise to begin, my telephone buzzed and ‘PB’ announced that pumping was about to commence and sure enough not long after that welcome message, the hose swelled into life and water began to flow at a steady rate, but certainly not at sufficient pressure to either put out a blaze or spray across the road at passing cyclists as hoped.
At first, the colour of the water was quite light, but suddenly turned dark brown to that which Carlswark had fame for and well known to those cavers who had visited the system and bathed in it. The road down into Stoney Middleton, towards the Lovers Leap Café, which twisted slightly, now showed the nature of its varying camber, evident by the mud-slick now on its way down there from my hoses outpouring which was being spread all-over by the increasing volume of traffic whoosing through it.
Things did not begin to look good and I noted that the majority of motorists now coming up the road in their highly muddied vehicles, were no longer slowing to take a curious look at me, but being obvious avid Winston Churchill supporters, giving me a vigorous salute, which I thought was nice of them. One chap, in a most unfriendly way, shouted in passing that he was going to beat the crap out of me for shitting-up his nice new car, in reply to which I just lifted the hose, now spewing what did look like poo, and waved it at him.
Pumping continued, I have no idea for how long, losing time in all the excitement of things, but I would estimate at least an hour, when I decided that it was time that I alerted the cave team as to the deteriorating conditions outside; ‘PB’ took the call and said he would come and take a look.
In the interim of his proposed visit to my station, the procession of mud-splattered vehicles continued and at times caused me great amusement, best of which I recall was, some Hell’s Angels on their motorbikes, a bunch of touring road cyclists, a Hulleys Bus on a sight-seeing tour full of be-mused occupants and a white (well almost white) ambulance.
‘PB’ eventually arrived and said that pumping was about to cease, which in his opinion was probably a good thing considering the terrible state of the road for which, he added, I was going to get a lot of grief, being responsible for discharging the water.
At which very time, a dual-blue coloured police car, Morris I think, with a blue pimple-lamp fitted in the centre if its roof, pulled up just above the hose outflow. The officer got out and inquired, “who is in charge of this and what is going on”. Without hesitation I pointed at ‘PB’ who simply said, “I am and we have been pumping out an underground blockage affecting the Stoney Middleton area”, a statement which when you think about it was actually true. “I, alright then”, the officer said, “I will inform them down in Stoney when I get back from my tour of Eyam”, and with that off he went on his way.
All the dirty Kit was carried down and across the road and cleaned in the stream then loaded into the land-rover for the journey back to Castleton. I managed to secure a lift into Bakewell and on driving down through Stoney Middleton noted that it looked like a road through the Somme during the first World war.
Amazingly, no-one officially complained about our activities on that day, probably because that very night heavy rain fell and continued for the next few days pushing all that mud back down into the Derbyshire underground from whence it came.
On Wednesday 1st February 1967 at 11:30 a party of schoolchildren from White Hall Lodge Outdoor Education Centre, Buxton, were on a trip under supervision in Carlswark Cavern, Stoney Middleton when one of the party, Robert Fraser MacDonald, aged 14 years, went missing in the vicinity of the main sump.
A limited search by the party was made for him, both within and outside the cave, but no trace found, consequently the authorities were notified of the incident and DCRO (Derbyshire Cave Rescue Organisation) responded to the call for help. At 20:00 that evening, DCRO members undertook a very thorough sweep of the known Carlswark system, which also drew a blank.
The following morning, Thursday 2nd February the BSA -TPU (Technical Projects Unit) who were in attendance, with the fully equipped land-rover, pumped out the main sump and after sometime, on lowering the water level, a floating body was observed some distance up the exposed tunnel and recovered, later identified as being MacDonald.
I was not present at this rescue being resident working in Stafford at the time, but ‘PB’, Harold and ‘Shag’ were and in a later discussion with them, about the event, they said that it almost perfectly mirrored the first Flygt pumping that TPU did in Carlswark, as described above, and so proved to have been a very important exercise to have carried out.
Egg and Chips
‘PB’, ‘Shag’ Smith and I, along with some other BSA Technical Project Unit members had been very busy from early one Saturday morning making electron ladders in the Chapel at Castleton, some for club use and some, by order, destined for other caving clubs the latter bringing in a little revenue for the unit’s funds and helped to pay bills and purchase new equipment. For safety and quality control, the manufacture of the ladders was done to a very strictly controlled working regime and adhered to.
Some of the members of the unit were highly skilled engineers and they were made responsible for particular elements of manufacture which required their expertise; for instance, the aluminium ‘tolurit’ crimping by manual fly-press of end wires around metal eyelets, an operation which needed careful precision to ensure that a perfect tight crimp, to the correct given tolerance, was made. Those responsible for carrying out this work would also undertake the final ‘signing-off’, necessary strength tension test using a floor mounted double-handed lever, (an ex. British railways signal lever), fitted with a round-dial gauge set to a high upper-limit.
PB at Pindale Mine demonstrating how to split a large limestone boulder using only quick lime and water. You also need a large drill!
photograph Dave Gough
They would also, precision cut the aluminium tubing rungs and drill out holes for the wire. Other members, like me and ‘Shag’ would do menial but non the less important tasks such as carefully needle filing out the rung holes to take off burrs and insert corks, one in each end of the tube which were then tamped into exact position, a little distance towards the centre and just beyond the wire hole, attained by using a specially engineered hand-tool.
Along a central bench in the workshop, was a long wooden jig, made, from a 12 foot plank, into which the readily prepared rungs would be placed in evenly spaced slots, 10 or 12 inches apart (the step length), and then the entire run (10 feet), was tightly secured down by a single wooden bar and two large wing nuts.
Lengths of stainless-steel wire were then threaded through all the rung holes and small pointed steel pins, not unlike the ends of nails, but specifically manufactured for this work, were inserted through each internal wire stopping just short of the cork and just below the end of the tube. To achieve this rather fiddly task, the wire was opened centrally with a small marlin-spike in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other which held the pin. This process would then be repeated until all the rungs (tubes) had been pinned and the desired length of the ladder reached, which usually was no more than 50 feet, normally 25 feet, or (by order) shorter.
The completely pinned ladder was then carefully rolled, tied, and placed on a flat surface, a strong-bonding free-flowing araldite resin mixture was then carefully poured into the exposed tube ends and allowed to set overnight. Next day the rolled ladder was inverted and the resin infill process repeated and again allowed to set overnight.
The engineers would then finish off, (as described above), by accurately shortening the end wires and fitting (taluriting) 4 metal eyelets, into each of which had been placed a single steel chain ‘C’ link. These links had an angled cut in their centres on the long side which enabled them to be turned and interlocked with another one, thus allowing ladders or wire headers, similarly rigged, to inter-link, and in the case of the ladders at a perfectly spaced distance for continuity when joined.
Finally, after a thorough inspection and passing the safety tension test, a brass or copper disc was stamped and fitted, denoting the length of ladder and owners name or initial. These ladders and headers, were without doubt, top-standard, became popular in demand and much sort after. Over the years, I must have descended and ascended thousands of feet on them and never once had a failure or heard of one.
It was a warm sunny day and by late lunchtime everyone had had enough of ladder making and having reached the target number for the session, we decided to go our separate ways for the afternoon. On ‘PB’s suggestion, he, ‘Shag’ and I, should do a quick shop then return to the caravan site where he needed to do some chores and we could sit on the grass, bask in the sunshine and continue filing and corking, about 200 rungs, for the following mornings scheduled ladder making session. For this, we would get a reward, a rare treat by ‘PB’s usual standard, ‘a chips and eggs supper with chilled beer”, he announced.
So off we set. As we had travelled up on Friday evening, my mountain tent was already up and running, for ‘shag’ and I’s accommodation, so without do, we both settled down outside the caravan and got on with the filing and corking and just watched the World go by.
‘PB’, dragged a small grotty looking carpet from under the caravan and positioned it on the grass midway between the neighbours, poured hot soapy water on it and gave it a vigorous scrub with a yard brush and to my surprise, it came up looking quite clean and with a now visible pattern, he then re-positioned it in full sun to dry and made off to his van returning some minutes later with a couple of shopping bags from one of which he proudly produced a brand new large shiny aluminium chip frying pan complete with inner basket. Then from the other bag came, bottle of cooking oil, potatoes, eggs, tomato sauce and six bottles of beer, the latter destined for the fridge, so, all looked good for that promised evening supper of his.
The work on the rungs went well, in fact by late evening we were almost finished when ‘PB’ shouted from the caravan that he was about to put the first pan of chips on and at the same time an elderly lady (50 ish) came across the grass from a neighbouring caravan. She was very suntanned and wearing a very tight-fitting blue leotard which left very little to one’s anatomical imagination and although her name evades me, the vision of her on that day certainly doesn’t.
P B playing with his divining rods at a campsite in France on his way to the 1967 Pegasus Berger Expedition
P B at a diver training meet at Markfield quarry in Leicestershire (P.C.N.)
She called for Peter and Peter came to the door, she then went on to say to him that she needed urgent help with her leaking stop-cock again and could he please go over to her van at that instance and fix it with his big spanner, just like he did last time. ‘Shag’ and I just looked at each other, nodded and kept on working and tried not to snigger to much…
Without little hesitation, not surprisingly, ‘PB’ leapt into gallant knight mode dressed in a pair of flip-flops, shorts, grubby T-shirt and clutching a pair of large stillson pliers, made straightway to sort out the damsels dripping pipework; but not before, on immediately leaving the caravan door, ordering ‘Shag’, who was sitting closest to it, “keep an eye on the chip pan on the stove and don’t overcook the chips”, of which he said, intended to do two large lots.
He then went into the neighbour’s caravan and for a while there was much shaking of the structure and banging going on as he made good the urgent repair.
It wasn’t long after, a couple of minutes or so, that I distinctly detected the increasing smell of burning in the air, quickly followed by a ‘Whooff’ sound and then black plumes of smoke began to exit ‘PB’s caravan. ‘Shag’ also noticed this and being the appointed official keeper of the chip pan, leapt into action and entered the caravan, I followed standing closely behind him. Sure enough, the neglected chip pan was on fire; ‘Shag’ looked at me and I said, “turn off the gas and cover the pan with a damp towel”.
Credit to ‘Shag’, this he did, gas off, but with no towel to hand he grabbed the nearest thing he saw, a small pile of clothes, threw them on top of the burning pan and sure enough the flames extinguished straightway. He then ordered me to get out of the caravan, lifted the pan off the stove and carried it outside at which point it began to dawn on him just how hot the handle had become, graphically shown by his screwed-up countenance and excruciating screams, thus he decided with increasing urgency, to rest the pan down as quickly as possible and did so, right in the middle of ‘PB’s newly cleaned carpet.
Now, the pan had not been resting there long when I noticed that it appeared to be sinking into the carpet and in so doing revealed its manufacture of, not top-quality wool, but cheap, probably Co-op vinyl by the acrid smell of plastic that it let off. ‘Shag’ being alerted to this and not undaunted by his previous experience, grabbed the handle once again lifted the pan up and revealed a perfectly circular hole in the carpet, he then ran across the grass to a concrete slab-paved area where he laid it down.
Interestingly, when looking at the carpet, through the hole one could only see grass which suggested to me that the circular piece of carpet itself was still attached to the bottom of the pan.
‘PB’, now returned to the scene, I quickly sat back down on the grass and continued filing and corking the rungs, leaving ‘Shag’ to explain what had happened and how in an act of great bravery he had saved the day, a fact that I confirmed and gave him much praise for.
On inspection, the caravan had not been smoked damaged, just left a bit smelly; the carpet, which turned out to be the neighbours (lovely lady with the leaking pipe) that ‘PB’ had offered to clean as a favour, was ruined other than, as I suggested, turning it into a Poncho, it certainly had a decent sized hole in the middle for a head to go through and we had plenty of rope to make a waist tie, but the idea wasn’t received with much enthusiasm by the onlookers as I modelled it and therefore dropped.
‘PB’ then turned his attention to his beloved new chip pan, lifted off the pile of charred clothes which he discovered to his horror was his mid-week clean wash identified as three pairs of underpants, three pairs of socks and two T-shirts. He then attempted to lift the pan off the slab but discovered it had stuck fast and I thought what a truly innovative genius ‘Shag’ was, because he had just discovered or invented the perfect aluminium-to-concrete vinyl-weld and he ought to get a patent for that A.S.A.P.
At this point ‘PB’ began to grow distraught and muttering a string of obscenities paced over to his van quickly returning armed with a bolster chisel and lump hammer with which he intended to raise the adherent pan, but not before ‘Shag’ had ladled out all the now cooled oil therein.
Eventually retrieved, the new pan was declared by “PB’ to be, “a right-off” and it was immediately and unceremoniously dumped into the nearest bin. I announced that I had just finished filing and corking the last rung so work for the day was completed just as it began to rain heavily.
‘PB’, who had calmed down a bit from all the excitement, then said that he was taking ‘Shag’ down the road in his van to get us all a fish and chip supper for which ‘Shag’ would foot-the-bill an account of the, totally avoidable, chip pan disaster that he had caused. I was to remain, lay the table in the caravan and make a large plate of bread and butter slices.
They returned sometime later and ‘Shag’ was soaking wet on account that when they reached the chip shop ‘PB’ took money off of him went inside with the order and joined the queue, but made him stand outside because he said, “you might set fire to the place”.
Oxlow Cavern, although well-known and visited by many cavers since the early 1900’s; it was not until 1964, that after a very well thought out daring assault, three BSA members (B.Parkin, B.Mee and M.Cook) made a major discovery that would eventually lead to linking the cave to others and make it, for a period, the deepest known underground system in the UK.
I say daring, because these three individuals managed between them to carry sections of light-weight aluminium ex-army scaling ladders, up the hillside from the farm, to Oxlow entrance. Then carefully lower and negotiate the sections down the first pitch, a 55 foot, somewhat restricted lead mine shaft, followed by a further three pitches, with dangerous sloping ground in-between, of 40ft – 45ft and 40ft respectively, to reach the foot of their target in West Swirl Passage. And, if that wasn’t enough effort, they also had to rig all four pitches with electron ladders and belay ropes.
Some 60 feet away from the base of the 4th pitch, in West Swirl Passage, they then assembled the ladder and laid it against the north wall in order to gain entry to a small opening, situated some 30 feet up, that they had noticed earlier in the year and thought looked promising.
I have no idea who was the first to climb the flimsy assembled ladder and enter that small entrance, but it must have been a very exciting experience, especially when joined by the two others and together crawling into the tunnel, now known as Pilgrims Way, which took them a distance of some 950 feet, and along the way, finding side passages, avens, small streams and eventually sumps. Their discovery was the New Oxlow Series. Within weeks, news of this major discovery spread to other BSA members who kept it a secret and formed small organised working parties to begin exploring the new system in earnest.
At some stage, I cannot recall when, I helped one weekend with the installation of rigid iron ladders, lowered in sections, bolted together and hauled from top ropes into position, to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th pitches and one leading up to the entrance of New Oxlow. This not only speeded up access to the bottom but also made the portering of equipment to the end of the system much easier.
I made many excursions into Oxlow with these exploratory groups and well recall on the very first occasion, which was within a week or so of the discovery, accompanying Brian Mee and having to climb the very wobbly scaling ladder, still in place and roughly anchored with a header, making it very hairy and somewhat dangerous when alighting into the small tunnel opening at the top, and in reverse likewise.
Within a few weeks, this was replaced with an electron ladder which also proved a difficult climb at the top 6 feet, on account of the outward tilt of the cave wall, which caused the rungs of the ladder to become tightly trapped against it under the weight of the climber; replacement therefore of this, at a later date, with a rigid fixed iron ladder was in my opinion a very good thing and much appreciated by those who made regular trips.
The scaling ladder was disassembled and, would you believe, taken by a team down Pilgrims Way where it was utilised to explore the avens, I wonder if it is still there, if so, I think it should be left as a lasting monument to those three pioneers who discovered the system.
In all of this, ‘PB’ was in his element and it wasn’t long before he was recruiting volunteers, over a pint down the pub, for his dam building project at the end of Pilgrims Way. But this was not to be a single dam, but three, having worked out what space he thought would be required, in terms of containing the large volume of water to be displaced by baling.
‘Shag’ Smith and I joined his little team on quite a few occasions, him more than me I think, and at these do’s each participant received a present from ‘PB’ at the start of the day, a small canvas kit bag lined with a sealed thick-gauge poly-bag containing cement, about a ¼ the size of a normal builder’s sack of cement I would estimate, but still awkward and heavy to manhandle. The kit bag had a carabiner in the top for lowering it on the pitches and short length of looped rope for hauling it the 950 ft length of Pilgrims Way, which those who undertook the task re-named the long crawl the Knacker-Cracker.
There was one sump in particular that ‘PB’ focused on, which had a very small flow of water going into it, and to cut this story short, over months of work he and his many helpers, after much toil, managed to get all the three dams built and it would be interesting to know just how much (weight) of cement it took to achieve it.
Almost emptying the sump took between 1 to 2 hours after manually baling it; and ‘PB’ discovered that although there was a detectable passage going on, it appeared to be narrow and restricted in places, a solution to which he declared, one night down the pub with a gleam in his eyes, “needs some hefty persuasion to make it bigger”, and by this turn of phrase he clearly meant blasting.
Thus, according to plans, very early one Saturday morning, ‘PB’, in the company of ‘Shag’ and myself, arrived at the entrance to Oxlow, which as previously agreed, had already been laddered and roped by a BSA survey team; we descended carrying with us the necessary equipment for our blasting foray in the depths.
On reaching the bottom of the 4th pitch, we met the other team who were doing the survey, their intention was to plot the entrance to Pilgrims Way then measure its precise length and direction. ‘PB’ informed them of our blasting task and we then agreed on a time to re-convene at the bottom of the 4th pitch for a joint pull-out.
Always busy, PB rolling up his sleeves on the Moliere Plateau during the 1967 Pegasus Berger Expedition
On the path to the Berger entrance, P B doing what he always did with a problem, used his head
One of the key members of the party was Paul Deakin a member of the Eldon Pothole Club, Buxton, who I had known for some time. He was a professional mines surveyor and regarded as the finest cave and mine photographer in the UK ever. In conversation with ‘PB’ and I, Paul distinctly said, that in his opinion if we did manage to blast a way through the sump that day, he would expect us to arrive somewhere in Giants Hole, a prediction, which a few weeks later, turned out to be spot on, but sadly a trip that I never managed to make.
We went on our way and after the arduous crawl again, eventually reached the dams where straightaway we began bailing the sump and when the water level was deemed low enough ‘PB’ began to prepare and place his explosive charge. As I have already described, as well as I could recall, ‘PB’s technique of using gelignite explosives in my previous chapter entitled ‘Dead Sheep’, I do not think it necessary to repeat the text again here, so I ask the reader to kindly refer to that reference at some stage.
We had three items of equipment with us, ‘PB’ a small ammunition tin containing six blocks of gelignite and box of detonators, ‘Shag’ a reel of twin wire and myself a shoulder bag containing a battery. A length of wire was spooled off and the end secured under a rock, ‘Shag’ then made his way back down the passage, unreeling wire as he went and followed by ‘PB’, I came last carrying the battery, and when ‘PB’ considered that we had reached a safe distance around a few bends, he told us to stop.
The twin ends of the wire, which were standing proud, from the drum of the reel, were divided and spread wide, then ‘PB’ told us to stay put whilst he returned to attach the other ends of the wire to the detonator, this he fairly quickly did and returned. The battery was removed from the shoulder bag and after a warning, ‘PB’ wired onto the battery and there followed, not a loud bang as I had expected, but more like a big dull thud, as the charge went off.
As the only one with a watch, I was designated time-keeper and now had to indicate when 15 minutes had passed before we could return to the site of the explosion; reason being, to ensure that any noxious gases caused by the explosion had cleared from the rather confined space of the passage.
‘Time-up”, I announced, and with that we speedily returned to the sump, ‘PB’ carrying the ammunition tin, he evaluated the success of the explosion, “quite good”, he said, then taking a small army trenching shovel removed the broken limestone laying in the bottom of the sump passageway.
“needs more though”, he said and with that, began to carry out the charge laying exercise once more for the second time, and following that sometime later, a third, but that little restricted tunnel still doggedly refused to yield its secret.
So, ‘PB’ said, “we need another go”, and thus another, 4th charge was eventually laid.
From doing this, on the way back down the passage, about halfway to where the battery and safe position was, ‘Shag,’ who was behind, tapped me on the back leg and said he was desperate for a pee and as there was a little short hollow in the wall to his right, enough to kneel and get behind he was going to use that. I carried on with ‘PB’ and when we arrived at the battery he asked were ‘Shag’ was and I said that he was getting a stone out of his boot and would be along in a minute because ‘PB’ took great exception to people who pissed in caves.
All was set; we were all back in our safe position for the 4th bang, ‘PB’ applied the wires but nothing happened. He applied the wires again, nothing happened. He then pushed a length of wire across the battery terminals and it gave off a spark so it wasn’t the battery at fault. A third attempt was made and the wires held there for about 10-20 seconds and still no explosion at which point ‘PB’ looked at me and said, “keep an eye on the watch we need to wait fifteen minutes”.
So we did, and I must say that there was an air of worry beginning to grow, more so, when I announced time up and ‘PB’ grabbed the bag with the battery in and the reel of wire, then told ‘Shag’ and I to stay where we were and that he would be back very soon, and off he trundled back to the sump. ‘Shag’ and I sat there in total silence and as time went on we both grew increasingly worried, more so when there was a sudden bang from down the passage.
We both looked at each other in horror and I said to ‘Shag’, “we need to go take a look now and I hope to god that ‘PB’ hasn’t done something silly” and with that ‘Shag’, credit it to him, took the lead and began a rather slow and hesitant crawl back towards the sump shouting out “PB, PB” as he went, but to no reply whatsoever.
We carried on, now both shouting for ‘PB’ and as ‘Shag’ turned the bend at the very spot, where only a short time earlier he had emptied the full contents of his over-stretched bladder, in the little hidey-hole he had found, with a GREAT YELL out leapt ‘PB’ straight onto the very top of him pinning him to the floor of the passageway. To which ‘Shag’s utterly terrified response was what I can only describe as a truly epic mega-performance, by flailing his prostrate body in all directions and screaming obscenities at the top of his voice.
‘PB’ rolled off of him and just lay grinning in the passage, his overalls trouser legs giving off a slight whiff of urine, he then said, “think I was dead”. My heart was thumping and I was in both quite a state of stunned amazement and, above all, utter relief that ‘PB’ was safe. Eventually ‘Shag’ calmed down but continued to shake for some considerable time from the shock of the event and some weeks later confided in me that after the experience he now hated crawling in confined spaces underground and passing tunnels either side of him.
I looked at my watch and declared that time-was up for us to pack the kit and return to the bottom of the 4th pitch for our agreed rendezvous with the other party and joint pull-out, so off we set at a pace, noticeably ‘Shag’ in front and by far the fastest crawler, wonder why ?
In the pub that evening, ‘PB’ got the drinks in and on coming back from the bar said to ‘Shag’ and me, that we had done exactly the right thing today on his planned Misfire exercise, adding, ”cheers”, to which I responded by saying, ” I thought ‘PB’, as usual, you was just taking the piss again”, and ‘Shag’ just put on a very wry smile and chuckled knowing that our secret there was safe.
As the for the sump, well it took a few more of ‘PB’s blasting excursions before access was finally gained by others.
Alum Pot Tragedy
In the Autumn of 1966 at the age of 19, I was invited by Dick Bell, who ran the Meadow Boys Climbing Club, in Nottingham, to visit the club one evening in their headquarters, a large youth club in the meadows area, and give a short talk about caving. The reason being, that a few of the members had expressed an interest in extending the clubs activities to include caving and they wanted to know what it would entail regarding equipment and costs etc. As a favour, I accepted the invitation having been a former member of the club some years earlier when I first took-up climbing on gritstone edges in Derbyshire.
The evening talk seemed to go well, I took books, information about the BSA and equipment, there were lots of questions which I think I managed to answer and generate some interest in the sport. Some weeks later I received another invitation to visit the club, this time to meet Dick Bell, some of the committee members and the full-time warden of the youth club.
They said that they were keen for the club too take-up caving but needed someone with experience and qualifications to get things up-and-running, adding that substantial funds would be available for the project from a national youth organisation of which they were members. They then asked if I would be willing to take on the roll. Now, in all my years of caving, I never heard of anyone gaining an official qualification for the sport and hadn’t a clue as to where to go and ask about it.
Dick then told me about the C.C.P.R. (Central Council for Physical Recreation) who had a series, of what was called then, Outward Bound Centres, scattered about the country and had been running certificated training courses for years in the disciplines of, fell-walking, climbing, canoeing, orienteering and mountaineering. He further added that they were just about to add caving, and if I was prepared to take a course then Meadow Boys would foot-the-bill on my completing it.
This put me in a bit of a quandary, which I pondered over for a few weeks, without discussing it with anyone else, and finally decided to take-up their offer because the club had been very good to me in the past and I therefore felt it something of a duty to give something back. Dick said he would arrange for some information to be sent to me and a few weeks later a large package arrived at my home and I was amazed to note that the office headquarters of CCPR, was about 250 yards from where I lived in St.Ann’s, Nottingham, in Victoria Buildings, Commercial Square.
So, one morning or afternoon, don’t remember which, I paid them a visit to get more specific information about a Caving Proficiency Course that they were about to run at White Hall Lodge near Buxton, Derbyshire, over a three- weekend period, Friday to Sunday evening, six full days in all. Accommodation and meals would be provided throughout and all that I needed to take was personal equipment and provide my own transport to and from Whitehall Lodge, which would be easy for me because the X2 Nottingham to Manchester bus stopped right outside the premises.
All looked good and I felt it would be an interesting challenge, so I signed up there and then, paid the fee but can’t remember how much, and then waited for the information about the course to arrive from Whitehall Lodge. I cannot remember the exact dates of the first and last scheduled weekends, only the middle (second) one, but I think it was around the middle of December 1966; that late one dark Friday evening, I got off the X2 bus and alone made my way up the long drive to, the well-lit, White Hall Lodge and signed in at the reception.
The X2 at Nottingham's Huntingdon Street Bus Station 1968
Copywright of Terry Walker & shown with his kind permission
White Hall Lodge Outward Bound Centre Nr. Buxton
Photo reproduced from their website, hope they don't mind and thank you
The building was very clean and well laid out with, a canteen facility, teaching rooms, equipment rooms, drying rooms, locker room, shower and toilet facilities and dormataries fitted with bunk beds, catering for mixed gender courses. I dropped my kit in the storage area, found my allocated bunk space, had a quick meal and then attended an introductory talk in a teaching room given by the Warden Kim Meldrum, who informed our small group of six, comprising two females and four males, about the C.C.P.R. and the role that White Hall Lodge played in supporting its aims in promoting outdoor pursuits for young people.
He then introduced us to Mr Dick Wilkinson who he said was an experienced full-time instructor at White Hall Lodge and would be in charge of our three-weekend course, the programme for which would be revealed in the morning at an outside practical session along with two expert cavers who would be assisting the course throughout and Mr Alfred Dawson who was a student instructor.
The short meeting then ended and we made our way into the canteen area and had drinks and a chat to familiarise with one-another, unfortunately I cannot remember their names other than one of the boys was called Wilf and another Jim (James Drummond) and one of the girls Rosie.
The two girls hailed from just outside Ilkeston as did Jim who had travelled up on his motorbike, he worked in an office, had never done caving and had joined the course because some members of the church youth club that he attended wanted to start caving and if he got a certificate of competence then they could get funding, so, he was there for the same reason as me.
The girls were at college and had attended a few courses at White Hall lodge already so were very familiar with the place and knew most of the staff by name and told me that Dick Wilkinson, our appointed instructor was the expert there in canoeing. The other two boys were both employed and I recall one them telling me that he had received funding through his employer to do the course.
After an early breakfast, we were taken by Dick Wilkinson to the equipment room and each person was kitted out accordingly with helmet, lamp and overalls, I cannot remember if they issued wet suits and boots, perhaps so, because they were certainly available but didn’t notice because having brought my own caving kit, I was quickly off to the changing room.
We then went outside to the back of the building on a lawn area to meet the two expert cavers and I stood totally aghast when up turned Harold Lord and Pete ‘PB’ Smith; and equally, they were visibly shocked to see me standing there as a pupil on the course. This caused a bit of an embarrassed stand-off for a few minutes until ‘PB’ faced up with a grin and quietly said to me, “what the xxxx are you doing here”, in reply I explained as best I could the reason, with Harold close-by listening in, but I don’t think they were that impressed.
At one side of the grassed area was a large tall tree and divest of leaves because it was winter; from a stout upper branch hung a 25 foot electron ladder and above that, on another branch, a rope-loop and carabiner through which a belay rope had been passed from the ground.
‘PB’ stepped forward attached himself to the rope and Harold, anchored to another tree, belayed him as he demonstrated how to climb up and down a free-hanging ladder emphasising the importance to place the ball of the foot on the centre of the rung every time and push with the legs, like riding a bike, keeping the hands and arms fairly low, to provide balance, and not to attempt pulling yourself up with them, because by that you would get tired very quickly.
After the demonstration, we were then given a short length of rope each and had to practice looping it around the waist in the correct position and tying a Bowline to secure it in place. Volunteers were then called for and one-by-one each pupil had to climb the ladder, some more than once, to ensure that they were as competent as could be, and accordingly this practice went on for several hours. As expected, I got an excellent, from Harold and ‘PB’, but the rest really struggled to master the technique apart from one of the boys who had done a bit of caving before.
We then went back to the classroom for a brief where we were told that on the Sunday, next-day, after early breakfast we would be taken in the lodges twelve-seater land-rover to Castleton to meet-up with Harold Lord and ‘PB’ Smith at Perryfoot farm. We would then be split into two teams, one to descend P8 cave and the other to journey further up the road towards Castleton to descend Oxlow Cavern. The latter with the proviso, that although there where fixed iron ladders in place on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th pitches, the team had to rig and use electron ladders running parallel to them.
Sunday morning, we were up early, breakfasted and all keen to go on our first caving adventure together as a group and after a short journey we arrived at Perryfoot farm, near Castleton, to meet-up with Harold and “PB’ who were already there waiting for us. We were then split into two teams, Harold and Dick Wilkinson the main instructor, selected Jim and the two girls for their trip down P8.
‘PB’ and Alfred Dawson the student instructor, chose me, wilf and the other boy and we quickly made the additional short journey up the road towards Castleton to Oxlow Farm for our trip down Oxlow Cavern. We took with us a load of BSA kit, ladders and ropes for the entrance, 2nd, 3rd and 4th pitches and these were distributed amongst the team for the carry-up to the entrance shaft where ‘PB’ appointed me last-man-in. He would go first and rig each pitch on the way down, the rest would filter between us, the student instructor being my bottom-belayer.
The descent went very well with no problems and we soon assembled at the bottom of the 4th pitch in West Swirl Passage, so it was a quick ascent up the fixed iron ladder into Pilgrims Way and a rapid crawl to the first aven and back again. The pull-out went equally well and everyone said that they had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
On arriving back at Perryfoot Farm, we met up with the other team who were just returning from their trip down P8 and all said that they had had a fantastic trip, really enjoyed it, and no issues to report from Harold and Dick Wilkinson. So, overall the day had proved a great success for instructors and pupils alike.
Before departing back to White Hall Lodge, Harold stepped forward and announced that the next, second weekend of the course, which was scheduled around four weeks-time, for the 13th, 14th and 15th January would be in Yorkshire.
We would travel from White Hall Lodge on the Friday evening to a caving club hostel in the Horton-in-Ribblesdale area, so would need sleeping bags, and next day, Saturday would do Alum Pot main shaft and Long Churn Cave in two teams and make an exchange through trip. The Sunday had yet to be planned.
The weather was rapidly turning to mid-winter and it was on a bitterly cold, dark, early evening that I arrived at White Hall Lodge on Friday 13th January 1967 to join the others for the journey on, up to Yorkshire. Harold and ‘PB’ travelled up independently in ‘PB’s van. I remember being very tired, having worked since early morning and then making the two-hour bus journey from Nottingham up to the Lodge; then on top of that having to endure the extra uncomfortable Land Rover ride up to Yorkshire. So, when we finally arrived at our destination I, like the rest of the party, was well and truly ready to turn in for the night.
Accommodation in the pothole club hostel was in an old farmhouse, the upper rooms having single beds with mattresses and downstairs a sitting room with coal fire, the only form of heating, a modest kitchen and outdoor basic toilet facility. It was cold and damp, so not a good night’s sleep for all, added to which breakfast was very rudimentary, and did not therefore provide a good start to the day. Thus, moral was rather low when we set off in the Land Rover for Selside to meet-up with Harold and ‘PB’ who had stayed elsewhere that night.
It was a very dull grey day and on the way it began to rain lightly, occasionally, turning to sleet and snow flurries, it was very cold with a biting wind when we met up with Harold and ‘PB’. I do not recall were the ladders and ropes for the trip had come from, ropes from White Hall Lodge I think, but the ladders puzzled me because the rungs were spaced at 12”, not a distance favoured amongst many cavers, especially for long descents and climbs.
We walked up the hill to Alum Pot main shaft, dotted around which, were ash trees and a small dry-stone wall to keep animals out; anyone viewing this vast open natural impressive structure for the first time must be awe-struck and, if intending to descend into it, both intimidated and daunted at the thought of the task in front of them and shear exposure when dangling on a free-hanging ladder.
Entrance to Alum Pot Feb. 1986 Photo: Dave Gough
Entrance to Long Curn Feb. 1986 Photo: Dave Gough
At a chosen spot, Dick Wilkinson and Harold began to set-up the belay which was anchored to an ash tree set well back from the edge of the shaft, ‘PB’ and I unrolled the ladders and linked them together, I seem to think that there were, three x 50ft and one 30ft or something close to that. Dick then anchored himself onto the rear ash tree, same as the upper end of the rope, Harold tied himself on to the lower end of the rope and Dick then belayed him out to the edge of the shaft where he attached a header around an ash tree which was virtually on the very lip of the drop. He then attached the ladder and slowly began to lower it with the assistance of ‘PB’ and myself, standing well back feeding it to him hand-over-hand.
Ladder established in position, Harold then said to all that he would descend the ladder first to the broad rock ledge about 120 feet down, Alfred Dawson would then follow and after that the three pupil’s, Jim and the two girls (rosie and her friend). Nothing was said about Dick Wilkinson, as I recall, and I like ‘PB’, assumed that he was not intending to descend into Alum Pot but remain there as the belayer for the day.
At this point, I have no idea of the exact time, but it must have been around lunchtime, that ‘PB’ and I, along with Wilf and the other boy, now a team of four, picked-up the ladder and rope for the 50 foot pitch and made off up the hill to Long Churn, a walk which did not take long and on reaching the entrance, we discovered that another group of cavers, that we found out later were from the army, had already entered and laddered.
There had been quite a lot of rain in previous days and as a result, there was now quite a flow going over the top of the pitch and on seeing this, ‘PB’ said that to put our ladder through the driest part of the waterfall and away from the other groups ladder, we needed a longer header because the one that we had to hand was much too short. Therefore, we needed to very hastily go back to the top of the main shaft, where on the grass, in the spare kit, we should find one.
So, we all hastily set-off and within minutes reached the top of the main shaft and both ‘PB’ and I very quickly noticed on arrival there, that something was not quite as it should be. Harold, Alfred Dawson and Jim were not present, just the two girls sitting there to one side holding one-another and Dick Wilkinson standing in silence and staring at the ground. ‘PB’ called his name but he gave no response.
I then said to rosie, “What’s wrong”, and she replied that Jim had fallen off the ladder, but said it in such a way and tone of voice, that it did not appear that anything serious had happened. I then looked at the belay rope and although it was correctly around Dick Wilkinson’s waist and he was holding it in both hands in a belaying stance, but to my horror noticed that the entire length had played out over the edge and presumably down the shaft, virtually all 200 feet of it, apart from the short belay length secured at the top to the ash tree.
‘PB’ also noted this and without hesitation and a belay on himself, edged to the ash tree, to which the ladder was belayed, leaned over the shaft and attempted to shout communications down to Harold and Alfred Dawson but the noise of falling water made it very difficult to understand anything, but he could clearly see the situation. He then turned and stared at me and the look on his face said it all before he shouted, “this is serious, go to the farm now and call out the rescue”.
Without hesitation, I took flight, ran down the hill at top speed and after sometime, which then seemed eternal, reached the farmhouse, banged on the door which was quickly opened by an elderly man and women. I explained to them about the accident and need to make an urgent 999 telephone call, which I did and was put through to Settle police station where the officer on duty took all the details and said that help would be on its way. The elderly couple, who I assumed was the farmer and his wife, kindly offered me some refreshment and I had a quick couple of glasses of water thanked them and set off back up the hill to Alum pot, where the scene that greeted me was not a particularly pleasant one.
Dick Wilkinson was now untied from his belay and sitting on the grass, speechless and obviously in a severe state of shock, ‘PB’ said he hadn’t spoken a word since I left. The two girls were crying and the two boys sitting with them in silence. I told ‘PB’, that rescue had been alerted and would be on their way A.S.A.P, but both he and I knew that might take some time.
He then got the rope that we were going to use for our Long Churn trip, tied it to the rear ash tree, shortened off a loop and I anchored on to it, he then tied himself on the end and I belayed him to the ash tree on the edge of the shaft, where he leaned over to try and find out what was happening and alert those below that rescue was on its way. After a short while, he returned and said that Jim was laying at the very bottom of the shaft 50 feet below the ledge, Harold and Alfred Dawson was with him. He then added, that Harold had waved his hands and indicated that Jim was dead. So, there was little that we could do now but wait for the rescue teams.
Alum Pot free hanging ladder pitch. Photo: Paul Deakin
The light rain and sleet continued, darkness began to fall and I had lost time when land rovers began to arrive on the hill below and in procession drive up to our position, it was a very welcome sight and I breathed a sigh of relief.
We were quickly surrounded by individuals, ‘PB’ gave a brief to the controller and his assistant whilst others silently listened in. Lights on the top of one of the vehicles illuminated the immediate area, kit was speedily unloaded and from the ambulance land rover a Neil Robertson stretcher was drawn.
Several of the rescue team used a short ladder to fit a large metal pulley block high in the ash tree above the shaft then threaded a heavy hauling rope through it and brought the end back to the ambulance and attached the Robertson stretcher. Then one of the rescuers stepped forward and tied onto the belay line, that the team had set-up, it was Pete Livesey, the climber who both ‘PB’ and I knew, he said a few words to us, nodded, then made his way to the ladder in the shaft and descended to the bottom with the Robertson stretcher close behind him.
Dick Wilkinson was being interviewed whilst the other four were given hot drinks and food, the first meal they had had since breakfast at the pothole club hostel early in the morning. ‘PB’ and I just stood out of the way and looked on to see what help we could provide. Two rescuers positioned either side of the ash tree above the shaft signalled that all was ready for the haul, a team was mustered, which ‘PB’ and I joined, and we took our positions along the length of the rope on the grass.
On the controllers order we began to haul and as we did so, at every turn of the metal pulley, it gave off a resonant loud eerie screech. It was not long before the Robertson stretcher appeared above the shaft with Jim’s body firmly strapped in it, the two rescuers either side of the tree grasped the foot end and drew it back towards the vehicles, two more joined them and together they carried it over to the ambulance and set it down on the grass, where medical personnel were in attendance and waiting.
‘PB’ and I went over and just looked on in silence and I still have a vivid memory of seeing Jim’s pure white face staring up at me and recalling how only a matter of hours earlier we had sat together and chatted in the back of the land rover on our way for a day’s adventure in Alum Pot and just what a day it had turned out to be.
Things now began to move-apace, Jim’s body was put into the ambulance land rover and taken to the local hospital. Alfred Dawson appeared, having climbed the ladder up the main shaft, closely followed by Harold and Pete Livesey. The rescue team then began to de-tackle and pack-up. Our ropes (curled) and ladders (rolled) were put to one side.
I was standing with ‘PB’, Harold and Alfred Dawson when the controller came over and told us that we needed to go down to Settle Police Station and make brief statements on the days event, along with Dick Wilkinson. We then collected the tackle and with Dick Wilkinson and the others, made our way down the hillside to our vehicles and then journeyed back to the pothole club hostel. Harold drove the lodges land rover and I went with ‘PB’ in his van.
On the way he told me, that Harold had told him, that he and Alfred Dawson were safely positioned on the ledge looking up to watch Jim descend. He got onto the ladder and had not climbed down far when he suddenly seemed to be in some sort of difficulty, left the ladder and, without any apparent check on the lifeline, plummeted downwards, without a sound, the rope spiraling behind him; he hit the edge of the ledge they were standing on, then continued his fall another 50 feet or so, to the very bottom of the shaft and lay there motionless, with the rope still attached to him and out of their reach.
Some of the army team who had entered the shaft through Long Churn and laddered all the way to the bottom, observed this and communicated with Harold to cross the rock bridge and use their ladder to reach Jim, which he did followed by Alfred Dawson. He went on to say that Jim, was remarkably still alive, but with a faint pulse and losing a lot of blood from somewhere. His breathing became shallow and stopped so he administered mouth-to-mouth respiration which he continued for some time before Jim finally succumbed and quietly passed away without a word. It was virtually at this point, that ‘PB’ appeared looking over the top of the shaft to try and establish with Harold, what was going on. ‘PB’ then went silent and said no more and just carried on driving.
We all reached the pothole club hostel, got changed and journeyed down to Settle Police Station where we were told on arrival, that in fact, the only people they needed to interview was Dick Wilkinson, Alfred Dawson and Harold Lord. So, with that “PB’ and I took the others to a fish-and-chip cafe for a hot meal, but I recall not much was eaten. Eventually the other three arrived from the police interviews, they ate some food during which plans were made for the return to White Hall Lodge early the following (Sunday) morning. Harold agreed to drive the Lodges land rover as clearly Dick Wilkinson was in no fit state to do so, I would travel back with ‘PB’ in his van.
Before we traveled back to the hostel, we were given the opportunity to telephone our homes to give the sad news, because the incident had been reported at peak time on national radio and television, but the name of the deceased person omitted. Most arranged for parents to collect them at White Hall Lodge next day. Back at the hostel, in the bunk room and the bed next to mine, I, along with one of the other boys, packed up Jim’s belongings in his big zip-up bag which had large loop-handles and put it into the back of the Land Rover. We then went into the sitting room, where a coal fire had been lit, and sat there for most of the night just making conversation about anything.
Breakfast I recall, was quick, Harold and ‘PB’ arrived and we were on our way back to White Hall Lodge, arriving there early lunchtime to find that some food had been laid on for us, but Harold and ‘PB’ declined, had a quick discussion with Kim Meldrum the warden and left for Harold’s house in Buxton, they waved me a goodbye and said they would see me next weekend in Castleton on a working party session at the BSA chapel.
We were taken into a teaching room, kept well away from any other pupils attending the lodge and Kim Meldrum then gave us a talk expressing his regret at what had happened, without saying exactly what had happened.
Parents duly arrived and everyone set-off, except me, because I had to wait for the next X2 bus to Nottingham, which was not due for some time, so I sat alone in the reception area. In fact, it was dark when I set off down the long-drive alone, it was bitterly cold and sleeting when I passed the illuminated cycle shed to my left and noticed Jim’s motorbike standing there with two strong cords hanging from the rack on the back ready to secure his bag for the journey home, a journey which of course, he was not now going to make.
James (Jim) Drummond - 1945 – 1967 Clerk-Accountant Ilkeston, Derbyshire.
died on Saturday 14th January 1967 aged 22 years from injuries sustained in a fall into Alum Pot, Selside, Yorkshire, whilst under supervision by a professional instructor.
At a coroners inquest held in Settle, Yorkshire on Friday 27th January 1967, at which Dick Wilkinson, Harold Lord, P.B.Smith and others gave evidence, a verdict of misadventure was recorded.
After a reasonable night’s sleep on the Sunday, I went to work as normal very early Monday morning and George, who I was apprentice to, said to me, “did you go potholing at the weekend”, to which I replied, “yes”, he then said,” one was killed in Yorkshire, did you hear about that”, to which, I again replied, “yes”. We then set off for an urgent telephone exchange repair at a biscuit factory in Uttoxeter.
I gained a day off work to attend Jim’s funeral in Ilkeston, arrived late due to a bus issue so stood at the very back of the packed church hall. There were many young people there, presumably Jim’s church club friends, Rosie and her friend were there, as was Wilf and the other boy, but I do not recall anyone else of note but they could well have been there at the front of the throng. On leaving I did say hello to Jim’s parents and shake hands with his father, but they had no idea who I was and I didn’t tell.
‘PB’, Harold and I remained good friends, working on various projects with the BSA-TPU in Castleton and later in the year in France, as surface party members on the Pegasus Caving Club ‘Gouffre Berger Expedition’.
I never heard a thing from White Hall Lodge from the day I left there, that Sunday 15th January 1967, so some months later, I wrote to the head of CCPR at their headquarters in Nottingham and inquired about my Proficiency Certificate. They replied, that according to their records, I had yet to complete the course that I had enrolled on, being one weekend short, but, if I wished, I could do so free of any further charge. I declined their most kind offer and never had anything to do with White Hall Lodge again.
Thus, now in my 73rd year (2020), I remain a totally unqualified caver.
John ‘Shag” Smith - Died at the age of 25 years on 28th July 1974 whilst attempting a solo sump dive in Merlin’s Mine, Eyam, Derbyshire.
Ken Pearce - Died at the age of 60 years in 1992
Dr Harold Lord - Died at the age of ?? years in 1996 of a suspected heart attack.
‘PB’ Peter B Smith - Died at the age of 60 years in 1998 as a result of an 8 foot fall from scaffolding on a building site in Leeds. An obituary by Paul Deakin which appeared in Caves & Caving, Spring 1999 can be seen by clicking here.
Bari (Mick) Logan in 2019 age 72 years reflecting on his past, overlooking the Heiterwanger See near the village of Fischer-am-See, Austria.
Photographic Copyright: (P.C.N.) refers to the Pegasus Club Nottingham collection. All photographs without credits are by Bari (Mick) Logan. View all the authors photographs in 'Galleries'