Cave Registries
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A Note on the C.R.O.

Cambridge Underground 1971 pp 14-17


At the invitation of your Editor, this article examines the Association from its origins in the 1930's to its present state and future role.

The Origins

In the 1930's caving was increasing in popularity. It was organised by a handful of clubs and societies and in many ways was still a gentleman's pastime. Interests in caves fell into two main categories, the first of which was the exploration of caves and potholes for pleasure and knowledge. The second was the study of the prehistoric contents of caves. In general there was not much interaction between say, cavers in Somerset and Yorkshire although contacts obviously did exist. The regular 'away trip' of to-day would have been exceptional.

In this situation a number of eminent speleologists felt the need for an organisation to increase contact between regions and spread information on advances, discoveries and techniques. L. S. Palmer in an early paper deals with the insularity of the regions up to this time and states that much had been done to break this down by the holding of Speleological Conferences which attracted up to two hundred delegates. Among the many activities started by the Association were the collection of published material on caves from all over the world, and the organisation of continental tours to contact overseas cavers. At home a survey of the major underground rivers was carried out to assist the Inland Water Survey Committee of the Ministry of Health. A systematic survey of British Cave Fauna was started and field trips and meets were organised to study specific areas and caves. If one studies the names of the Council Members of those days it is amazing to see how truly national in coverage the Association was and the first major publication - Caves and Caving - gives an idea of the early success it gained.


This period was characterised by three different factors. Firstly the war deprived the Association of many able cavers and administrators, inevitably leaving it to be run by a handful of individuals. Following the war came the well known series of personality clashes which resulted in a split and the formation of the Cave Research Group and several other organisations. Thirdly, normal caving and research activities were continued by strong local groups of the Association. In Yorkshire many classic explorations were carried out and endless effort went into maintaining records of caves. To-day these manuscript volumes of records are a major source of information. The Library was steadily built up and is now one of the better reference libraries devoted to caves and mines. In Derbyshire much work was concentrated on Giant's Hole, rated among the most arduous cave exploration work ever carried out. A new journal called Cave Science was started which ran to some 40 issues before changing its name in the late sixties.


These years saw a modern generation of cavers joining the Association and slowly assuming its administration. Considerable attention was focussed on whether the Association as it existed had any worthwhile rôum;le to play in the modern context. Caving had increased very rapidly during the 1950s, there being some three hundred clubs now existing. At the same time, the Regional Councils for Caving were emerging and the idea of a national body came into being from them.

Within the Association it became obvious that what had once been a truly national organisation for caving was unlikely ever to regain its original popuiarity, mainly because cavers will always create a new organisation rather than adapt an existing one. There could be no question of stating that the Association was "the national body", because any organisation can only represent its members. Attempts to do this met with the opposition they deserved.

Very sincere attempts were made to recognise the faults of the 1945-60 era, and if possible to correct them. Contact was made with the Cave Research Group and due to efforts on both sides the past difficulties were largely overcome, and a policy of friendly co-operation was established.

On the credit side, the Association existed with a large membership, permanent headquarters, a vast collection of information on caves in the form of records and library and an established publication. It was felt that there was a definite need for an organisation that was in a position to provide information services and foster contact between cavers.

1963 saw the first of the series of post-war Speleological Conferences, held at Sheffield, it allowed cavers from all parts of the country to meet one another for a week-end, hear lectures on topics of interest, display their work and sell their publications. The response was tremendous and every year since 1963 has seen a similar Conference and Exhibition. The 1970 Conference in September still showed a record in the numbers attending.

In the information field it was obvious that we had a great deal in our possession in the form of manuscript material, library, plans and surveys and the many experts and specialists among the membership. For many years the Association's Headquarters had acted as an address for enquiries to be sent to. Over the years the services have ranged from providing cavers of their nearest club, supplying addresses of equipment stockists, advising authors and publishers, supplying information to government agencies (such as the C.C.P.R. and the Nature Conservancy) and so-on.

Publishing among caving clubs had reached a pitch never seen before. For example, in 1964 some sixty four separate series of publications were produced by about fifty five clubs. Even major caving libraries had a job keeping up and for the keen caver it was virtually impossible. A group of bibliographers within the Association got together and recorded everything published that they could lay their hands on. The result was a publication, Speleological Abstracts, which has appeared every year since 1962. With it one can keep up to date on work at home and abroad. The latest issue runs to some 160 pages containing abstracts of some 750 articles.

Publications generally were another information service. Papers submitted could be published by the Association in style and automatically find their way to libraries all over the world. Up to 1969 four separate series were produced:

Bulletin - a quarterly news-type issue to members.

Cave Science - a twice-yearly Journal of the Association.

Proceedings - annually, containing the papers given to each conference.

Speleological Abstracts - a yearly bibliography for speleology.

From 1970 onwards we will publish the last three series under the collective title of Journal of the British Speleological Association subtitled accordingly.

Membership has always been open to individuals and clubs. In the individual category we aim at as cheap a subscription as possible supplying Bulletins and facilities of membership in return. Other publications can be bought at a cheap members' rate. For clubs we also aim at a cheap subscription, currently £2.25 for which the facilities of memberships are provided plus copies of all publications free. In some areas individual members have got together and formed groups of the Association operating rather as caving clubs within the Association. They are autonomous and they greatly aid the Association in practical ways such as publishing.

Another section of the membership, interested in technical and mechanical aids, has formed a Technical Projects Unit with its own permanent headquarters at Castleton. The T.P.U. has contributed a great deal to caving since its inception, providing, amongst other things the communications system for the 1967 Gouffre Berger Expeditions. The pumping of sumps, rock drilling, magnetic induction surveying and ladder making, are all carried out, and wherever possible, the T.P.U. will assist cavers with such problems.

The Future

In brief, the Association has changed its image over the years. From once being recognised as a truly national body it has become a large association of cavers and clubs providing facilities at national level which most cavers and clubs cannot do for themselves.

The future will depend on several things. The first is a membership sufficient to provide cavers to act and money to act with. New-members are always welcome and there are no complicated election procedures. Any organisation should be controlled by its members and should only represent them when requested to do so. This is important, as far too often administrators impose representation and action without being asked. In the Association any keen active caver (preferably under thirty) is encouraged to come forward and serve on the Council. This policy has been successful in keeping administration in touch, and is an excellent way of avoiding a static administration.

The major problems of the coming years are not those concerned with caving politics and organisations. Pressure on caves from cavers and modern society will be the biggest; quarries, towns and roads destroy caves and cavers themselves wear caves out by covering them with mud, depriving them of their speleothems, creating access problems and upsetting the cave environment. The Association as at present working with the C.R.G., the Pengelly Trust and the Regional Councils to see what can be done.

Useful Information

Hon. Secretary: Dr. G. Stevens

Permanent Headquarters: Duke Street, Settle, Yorks.

Individual membership costs £1.50 pa. club membership £2.25 p.a.

Publications can be obtained by members or non-members from the H.Q. by post. A catalogue of back numbers is available.

Several Cave Surveys are published by B.S.A. including Agen Allwedd and Giant's Hole. Apply to M. Statham

If seeking information from the Association please enclose a stamped addressed envelope.

I. J. STANDING, B.D.S, Hon. Chairman B.S.A.

Cave Registries
CU 1971 Contents Page Next:
A Note on the C.R.O.