Jura Expedition Report
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In at the Deep End

Cambridge Underground 1972 pp 35-40


Regular readers of this Journal (if there are any?) will remember that a couple of years ago CUCC celebrated its 21st; in this number we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cambridge caving. Read on and all will be made clear.

It was a clue in Baker's 'Caving', that set us on the trail. He mentions a man called Barton who apparently used to spend several days at a time on his own down Swildon's in the early '20's, and who later went up to Cambridge. Further research brought up the following facts:

John Churchill and Christopher Long met up at school; in 1920 they visited Cheddar, and it occurred to them that there was an enormous amount of money in the show-cave business.

In 1921 they went up to Derbyshire to get in a bit of 'hard' caving with some other potential speleologists. A long time was spent perfecting photographic technique in Blue John Mine; they even went to the extent of developing the plates underground. An attempt was also made on Eldon Hole which involved pushing a hand-cart loaded with tackle for 7 miles over the moors. Their real trials began later, when they tried to climb down the 200' pitch on an emergency fire-escape which, by the sound of it, rather resembled a modern knobbly-dog. Perhaps it was just as well that the weather foiled this attempt!

The two of them went up to Cambridge in the same year, and met Barton. That winter Long went to Harrogate and made a solo visit to what was then known of Stump Cross Cavern. He only spent a few hours in exploration, but what he saw persuaded him that the cave continued.

Easter 1922 saw a return visit by a five-strong party from Cambridge. Long had decided on a point at which to dig, and the group was fully prepared to stay underground until the cave 'went'. For transporting their gear they had built a large wooden handcart known as 'the Ark'. They assembled it at Pately Bridge railway station, and loaded it with sixteen hundredweight of food, bedding, ropes, ladders, digging gear and cameras, after which the 'cavalcade set out at 11.30am through the falling snow and the amused derision of the natives.' Arriving at the cave four hours and nine miles later they unloaded the Ark and went underground to sleep.

Success seems to have come fairly easily - if, that is, it is easy to spend 168 hours underground and to dig through 240' of clay infill. The Yorkshire Post quotes Long as saying, 'After I had dug about 15 yards I struck a small hole and found draught was coming through. It rapidly increased showing promise of a big cavern. I at once called Mr. Barton, who last year did Swildon's Hole in the Cheddars, and asked him to carry on while I had a few hours sleep. For 48 hours he worked at the head, and I beside him, and finally we struck into the first chamber.' Their find was the March Caverns a series of small but exceptionally well-decorated chambers.

After a week underground they were invited out for a drink by a party from Leeds University who were on a surveying course in Hebden village. The lure of the fleshpots proved too much for most of the party, and they departed with the exception of Churchill and Long who hired a cottage from the Post Office at Greenhow and carried on digging and taking photographs. 'Then Mr. Churchill left, and during the time that remained Mr. Long compiled single-handed a compass-chain traverse of the discoveries, which was extremely accurate, and which revealed several features of interest.'

So ended that expedition. The next, a few months later, lasted from June to October, if only in the sense that Long was there the whole time! He returned to Stump Cross on the first day of the summer vac and hired the Post Office cottage again. He intended to work on his own for a fortnight, but within a few days he had again broken into new ground. The extensions, most of which he explored on his own, were about a mile long and well decorated. Only the link with the March Caverns presented any real difficulty, being rather awkward and including in one place a hole which measured 7"x11" (the precursor of Marble Sink's Bastard Hole?). In July John Churchill and another caver arrived and started enlarging the entrance passages so that surveying and photographic gear could be taken through, as well as 'apparatus for the gauging of water flow and wind pressure'. After about five weeks of this they had a lucky escape from death when a huge boulder fell on them in Calamity Canyon. One man fell a considerable distance and another was lucky to get away with nothing more than bruises.

The party got a lot of attention from journalists, and some of the newspaper articles are very amusing, illustrating as they do the public's attitude to speleologists. A reporter from the Yorkshire Evening Post had this to say after visiting Long:

'Speleologists do not wash much, perhaps once a week, and they do not shave, and it was a curious figure that unbarred the door for me - arms yellow, legs yellow, face yellow; and I venture to state that the striped rug which he wore draped about his shoulders was covering a body which was yellow from top to bottom.' A few hours later the same reporter, having donned his 'life-saving illuminatory helmet', emerged from the hole covered in the same yellow mud, a sadder and a wiser man.

The Cleckheaton and Spenborough Guardian (no joking!) has a fascinating paragraph which genuinely seems to argue for Long as one of the original 'hards':

'This stream is now forming a temporary check to further progress, a point having been reached where the roof of the cavern and the surface of the stream meet. The obstacle formed is a difficult one, but Mr. Long does not intend to allow it to prevent further progress. His present idea is to dive under the rock, with a rope fastened to his legs to pull him back by in case he fails to get through. Such adventures are common enough in fiction, but are seldom met with in reality.'

It is not known, in fact, whether he carried this out, but the risks involved seem in any case to have been considerable. On the subject of safety the Yorkshire Post has this to say:

'The mention of the safety bag is a grim reminder of the risks run. Mr. Long told me it contained boxes of matches in impervious metal cases wrapped in rubber tobacco pouches to keep them perfectly dry, candle and other requisites and 'our visiting cards and addresses, in case we should be cut off, so that subsequent explorers may learn who we were!'

Six weeks were spent surveying, aided by some Leeds cavers, 'weeks of heart-rending toil where progress was depressingly slow and the conditions of work often excruciating. Frequently it involved standing in water some 6° above freezing point for hour after weary hour. With one's head and back bent forward by the low roof, and with the water up to one's waist, one held chain, compass, candle and note-book, took offsets and bearings and entered them as one stumbled forward.' When this was finished the rest of the time was spent taking photos. Incidentally, both the photos and the survey are of an extraordinarily high standard. 'Work was continued up to the last possible minute, until, finally, Mr. Long again bade farewell to the North and returned to Cambridge.'

In Cambridge an article in the Caius College magazine noted that 'A club, known as The Troglodytes, has been formed for the benefit of those in this country who are interested in speleology.' An inaugural dinner (eight courses!) was held on November 25th, at which the guest speaker was E.A.Baker.

Not much more is known of the Troglodytes' activities, but in May/June 1923 Long, whose health had been poor, was advised to spend a holiday in North Somerset in the company of his parents. He appears to have found this somewhat tedious, since he spent his nights cycling secretly to Holwel Cave, where he amused himself by carrying out a single-handed survey!

His health was so bad, in fact, that he decided that in future he would not have time for both caving and studies; his solution was typical - he gave up his studies!

It will be remembered that at school Churchill and Long had been interested by the profitability of a show-cave, and in the summer of 1923 they started wandering around Ingleborough with the specific intention of finding one. Investigations on the moorland had led them to suspect a very large system around here, and almost the first place they tried was a little cave at the lower end of Chapel-le-Dale, known at the time as Playfair's Cave. It was nicely situated in a low cliff just below White Scars, and a short distance from a big resurgence. The cave had been thought to end a few yards in, at a pool, but Long entered the pool and found a way on behind a flake of rock.

Most of the next 1,200 ft. was crawling often with as little as six inches air-space above the stagnant water. The draught at one point was strong enough to blow out their candles. A bit of dry ground led to a stal grille which they smashed: on the other side was a waterfall and the main stream of White Scar Cave. On that day they followed the river upstream for a considerable distance between fine formations, until they reached a lake, where Long swam an estimated 200 yards before turning back.

If all this sounds a bit hard without wetsuits, the Yorkshire Post explains how they survived:

"In reply to my question, Mr. Long explained that the outfit consisted of all-leather clothes, thoroughly treated with dubbin; a helmet, with three candles and an electric lamp, served by a battery and switch attached to their belts; rock-climbing boots and a plentiful application of vaseline to such parts of their body as were exposed", which was quite a lot, to judge by one contemporary photograph: it shows Long standing in the entrance, wearing a sleeveless jerkin and shorts, with three candles stuck in his helmet and a hammer swinging from one hand.

Exploration continued, and Churchill and Long decided to blast open the entrance crawl and turn White Scar into a show-cave. They were unable to raise sufficient backing on their own, and were forced to receive a third member into their group in order to obtain a loan of £1000. The blasting went well, but disaster struck just before they broke into the main cave: Long died, the money ran out and Churchill, who was unable to find more, dropped out of the venture.

And that is all we know about early caving at Cambridge. The Troglodytes were a small club, but their ideas seem to have been remarkably advanced. Certainly, Long's concepts of surveying bear this out. This was in the days before digging became really popular, so to undertake a dig of 240 feet implied a very clear understanding of the hydrology of the system concerned. There can be no doubt that, had Christopher Long lived, he would have been the best caver this country had ever known.

Where no references are given, the extracts are taken from the magazine of Conville and Caius College, Cambridge.


Jura Expedition Report
CU 1972 Contents Page Next:
In at the Deep End