Sounds of Yesterday

This page is dedicated to recordings made on and under Mendip round about the 1970s. At that time relatively small cassette recorders were appearing on the market and it was possible to use these underground, providing the cave was not too wet. Richard Witcombe has a large collection of these recordings and we are now sorting and transferring them to CD while the cassettes are still readable. We have to suffer hearing them again so it seemed a good idea to inflict a few of them onto you as well.

Hearing the sounds today

The sound files are presented here using <audio> tags, one of the many new features in HTML5. This system does not rely on proprietary plugins, instead it uses the built-in capabilities of modern, standards-compliant browsers. In other words, it will work with Firefox and its variants, as well as Google Chrome, Safari, Opera and Epiphany.

1: Rhino Rift, Bomb Alley

This recording was made in 1971, from below the third pitch in Rhino Rift. At the time, we were enlarging the then impassable squeeze which now leads to the fourth pitch.

When the cave was first entered, the ledge at the top of the third pitch was a jumbled mass of unstable boulders. Today, after some 40+ years of clearing, it is still regarded with a degree of suspicion.

During the digging phase, there were continual rock-falls and there was not really any place to hide as the rocks ricocheted from wall to wall rather in the manner of a gigantic pin-ball machine. We used to refer to it as 'Bomb Alley', but the name never made it to the survey. Luckily, we were using NiFe cells at the time and we couldn't really see what was coming at us, so there didn't seem much point in worrying about it. Had we had today's mega-lumen-light-every-detail lamps we might well have worried; ignorance is bliss.

I would guess that even today it is important to have a delicate and fairy-like foot fall on the ledge while there are cavers below. On this trip we had Stan up above us. Whilst he could never be described as light footed, on that day he was in clog dancing mode. Such is life.

Party members (from memory) were; Glyn Bolt (did most of the talking), Greg Pickford (muffled), Richard Witcombe (with the recorder), Stan Chappell (up above), Tony Audsley (silent).

2: They Words - Singing in the Hunters'

These recordings were made in the old back room of the Hunters' Lodge by Wally Willcocks, known as Black Wal (pronounced WOL but spelt WAL) some time in the early 1970's. In those days, singing was of a rather more robust nature than is the case today and the songs make frequent use of what landlord Ben Dors eloquently referred to as 'They Words'. These generally refer to male and female genitalia using what is sometimes described as Anglo-Saxon terminology. These are words which are succinct, short, pithy and well honed by centuries of use. They are useful and expressive words, but some people do find them offensive.

Times have changed, as they are ever wont to do, and such singing is no longer a regular occurrence. A lot of the songs were modifications of service songs, originally learned on active service or by later generations while doing National Service. The words were then adapted and bent towards the caving theme; not difficult as the caving environment is ideally suited to descriptive 'Anglo-Saxon terminology'. Songs were learned by listening to the singers and then joining in, helped by lots of beer to keep the muse alive.

For the sake of nostalgia, here are two examples from that era. They have been digitized, normalized and equalized but NOT sanitized.


If you are not used to the ways of cavers,
then you are likely to find these recording offensive.


But if you do want to, THEN CLICK HERE

3: Thrupe Lane Swallet - Simon's Lunch

While digging the entrance shaft at Thrupe Lane Swallet, Nelson Butt and Simon Meade-King discuss Mrs Gates' dog which had snatched Simon's lunch (two scotch eggs and a fried egg sandwich) earlier in the day.

4: Rich Witcombe 'interviewing' John Cornwell about Rhino Rift

This recording was made on Sunday 21st March 1971 at Upper Pitts (WCC HQ). Richard was trying to pry information out of John about the recent breakthrough a the dig. In order, the voices heard belong to Richard, John Cornwell, Trevor Carp, Tony Audsley, and then (outside) Glyn Bolt. Finally the magnificent sound of a pair of red MG Midgets leaving for the dig. (Those were the days!)

5: The Rhino Railway

The Rhino railway was a twelve inch gauge wooden railway with a truck based on a plastic supermarket tray running on supermarket trolley castors. Incidentally, one of the original diggers was the manager of the Whitchurch branch of the Co-op supermarket, but this is merely a coincidence. The track ran from the hut outside the entrance rift to the T-junction with the strike passage leading to the head of the first pitch. The railway was used very successfully during the excavation of the cave and then later during the exploration phase to transport the large quantities of tackle (ladder) which were needed in those days. The photograph shows the railway in active use complete with telephone system. (The chamber at the head of the first pitch is yet to be found; it lies behind and below the squitting fogger - sorry, I meant squatting figure).

When this recording was made in 1971 ladders and ropes were being hauled out of the cave at the end of a trip. The original telephone system had been removed and commands to the surface were being relayed by a bod stationed somewhere in the middle (faintly audible). As far as I am aware this was the only recording made of the railway in use. Voices belong to Wally Willcocks and Tony Audsley.

Created: Mon Sep 19 08:28:28 2011