Wigmore Swallet Dig

Provisional Report - The Story So Far:

By Tony Jarratt

From:- Belfry Bulletin No 356, December 1977.

Inspired by visits to the Windsor Hill and Viaduct dig sites in June of 1977, several B.E.C. members decided to begin a surface dig to last them through the pleasantly festerous summer months till once again they could adjourn to the Hunter's fireside, and with beer fuddled minds dream and talk of things they had done in ages past. So various sites were investigated, including the old Bucket Hole site of Jok Orr's (Who?) and Wigmore Swallet. The latter showed most promise, and the day after our first visit, on June 21st, Tony Jarratt and Nig Taylor negotiated preliminary permission, digging starting a mere ten minutes later!

The dig is situated in a pleasantly tree-shaded depression in the coppice adjacent to the Old Wigmore Farm barn, roughly a mile north of the B3135 Frome to Cheddar road (NGR: 55715256 , Sheet ST55SE.) An obvious dry stream-bed leads into the depression which, at the time of our first visit, was full to some six feet below the lip of the shaft.

The site was originally dug from 1934-37 by M.N.R.C. and in 1938 by the W.C.C. At thirty feet the shaft was abandoned for no obvious reason, though the war may have caused this. It is a six feet wide by "N" feet long in-filled rift in rock of County type, Sandstone/Conglomerate nature. Large amounts of ochreous material and poor quality iron ores are present in the spoils.

THE PRESENT DIG: During the first few weekends the depression was cleared of nettles, scrub and general farm waste, and a cableway, hauling bucket (Ex Plantation Swallet) and a hand winch (generously loaned by the Al Mills Foundation) were installed. An overhanging boulder was soon removed from the top of the shaft by the Mendip Chip Bang and Chisel Company's last Survivor, Mr. 'N', and Stu Lindsey erected what appeared to be a squirrel box on a nearby tree!

With a variety of diggers, mainly B.E.C. but also C.C.G., G.S.G., W.C.C. and, of course, the M.C.G., work began in earnest. The infill included many old, but worthless bottles, dead sheep and even deader dogs, rotten shoring, etc. Soon the hand of 'J. Arthur Rat' was to be seen erecting craftsman like walls around the spoil heaps (all above three feet so as to be put onto the next O.S. maps). At shaft bottom Ross White re-enacted his ancestors by smashing up boulders!

By the end of July we were twenty feet down, into a six by eight feet shaft. Minor events kept the diggers entertained, a full spoil bucket missing Trevor Hughes by ¼", and the incessant inane bickering of the infamous duo, Bob Cross and Mr. N.

More unsuspecting diggers were press-ganged during the following months including Milch, and the Pitten Street team, and the M.C.G. Showband, who supplied the dig with a Villiers 250 c.c. Motor winch. To house this mechanical marvel our resident craftsmen (?) Chris Batstone and Bob Cross constructed what at first appeared to be a sixth rate brothel in Vietnam, but later emerged to be an engine house, the seed from which grew the Wigmore Mining Company.

Now boasting the name 'Wheal Wigmore' and resplendent with tea-pot, and garden furniture erected somewhat uselessly by an equally useless Dig Carpenter the dig lowered to thirty feet.

In early August the team, and Mendip Folklore; were enriched by the addition of Snab, family and dog. The former promptly wrote two songs on the spot, whilst the latter commenced his own dig in a nearby rabbit hole. The site was now becoming somewhat of a social centre with visits from the usual Mendip horde, and fellow cavers from further afield: Ian Lewis from Australia; Linda Hastie from Canada; Mario Vitale from Italy; Stephen Kemp et al from Germany; and Jeff Philips from the Irish Caving Club (?).

More recently, latest work has concentrated on trundling vast boulders into the dig purely for the benefit of Alan Thomas who then casts spells on them for the rest of us to remove again as gravel or even bigger boulders! Because at the depth, it became necessary to shore the sides of the excavation. This later proved much to the disgust of Phil Ford 'The Miner' when he graced us with his presence in the late summer.

Prospective timber men, face workers stopers and grovers are requested to contact the adventurers and Old Men at the Myne. They will be dealt with in strict rotation!! Apologies to all not mentioned in this article, Captain J. Rat, Overseer and Maister, Wheal Wigmore, for the Wigmore Mining Company.

Access: The site is on Lord Waldegrave's land, and we are privileged to have his permission for the dig. Vehicles can cause disturbance to cattle and farm traffic. Park on the main public road only, and walk up the farm track past the dairy to the old barn. Only use the gates and stiles, leaving them as you found them. Do not climb over any fences. Also, bring 10p each for the dig fund! It's expensive these days.

Acknowledgements: To Lord Waldegrave for permission to excavate the site, and to Messrs. Majors and Thompson, and Mr. Booth for materials, assistance and bewildered understanding!

References, compiled by Nigel Taylor:

  1. Ms. Diary, H. Murrell, 2 49 (1934) Start of old dig.
  2. MNRC Diary/Report (27) 65 (1934) Note on dig.
  3. Ms. Diary, H. Murrell, 131 (1935) History of dig.
  4. MNRC Report (28) 42 (1935) Brief excavation notes.
  5. Thornber, Stride, Meyers, Britain Underground (1953) p.203.
  6. Barrington, Caves of Mendip (1957).
  7. Barrington, Caves of Mendip (1962).
  8. Barrington, Caves of Mendip (1964).
  9. Barrington & Stanton, Complete Caves of Mendip. (1971).
  10. Barrington & Stanton, Complete Caves of Mendip. (1972).
  11. Barrington & Stanton, Complete Caves of Mendip. (1977).
  12. Mendip Cave Register.
  13. Dig Log.
  14. Gough, Mines of Mendip.
  15. Ms. Diary, A. Jarratt (1977).
  16. Ms. Diary, N. Taylor (1977).

On the next page we are pleased to publish one of Jayrat's sketches - this one of Wigmore Entrance.

Wigmore Swallet

Page Created: 09-Dec-2009