Speech by Eric Inson. Eric and his
wife came to our club's 60th Anniversary dinner in April 2006
and this is what he had to say . . .
"Good evening everybody. Thank
you for asking me to speak to you on this special occasion. I'll
try not to be too verbose. Some of the older members will remember
a previous dinner held in Brecon when the guest speaker spoke for
an hour! What I would like to tell you is my memory of the early
days in the Club and some of the highlights of the sixties and seventies.
One regret I have is not keeping a diary, so please forgive me if
some details are not quite correct, especially dates.
The Club has been in existence for 60 years. I was not there at
the very beginning, but I have been coming to the club for 54 of
I come from Cardiff, and was in Howard Gardens
High School with Noel Dilly
(who is here tonight) - or rather what was left of the school after
Mr Hitler had done his worst. One part of the building that was
still intact was a fine Victorian Gymnasium which was two and a
half stories high, and had climbing ropes reaching up into the roof,
so we learned to climb ropes. We started caving about 1951, in the
caves and mines just north of Cardiff.
I remember Noel bribing a lad the princely sum of one shilling to
show us where the entrance of the Lesser Garth
Cave was situated.
Then we discovered the Iron Mine nearby.
This has holes and caverns hundreds of feet deep and lakes of similar
depths. Noel had acquired an old hemp rope, and I had a lifeline
of sorts (thick string). We used to slide down shafts up to 50ft
deep, and often took our friends from school. We had no proper equipment,
no helmets, just hand torches, no proper boots. We must have been
lucky as there was no Cave Rescue to call and nobody knew where
Noel and I used to cycle from Cardiff to Ystradfellte,
Pont Nedd Fechan or Merthyr,
visit the various caves and then cycle back. A round trip of 60
miles. It was nice to be young and fit. On one trip to Dinas
Rock we spoke to a man who was working in the Silica
Mine and we had a conducted tour of the workings. The mine
closed in 1964.
the beginning ?
the top ?
Cycling to the Caving Club was more
of a problem with the extra kit to carry and only an ex-army rucksack
to carry it, so we came by bus. This took 4 hours if you caught
all the connections. It was quicker by bike. We came in 1952, 53,
54 before going to university.
The people I remember of that era were Peter
Harvey, David Hunt, Bill Little, Bill Fossil, John Truman, Brian
De Graff, Edward Aslett, Clive Jones, Les Hawes, and the
Railtons. Bill Little was our mentor.
He showed us how to abseil, put nails in boots (no rubber boots
then) and how to use explosives safely. Bill used to crimp plain
deteonators on to the fuse with his teeth!
Dave Hunt gave us advice on photography
- we used flash powder, often referred to as 'flashless smoke mixture'.
I remember a number of people taking 3D pictures with two identical
cameras mounted on a frame, and a twin lens device to view the results.
Explosives were easy to come by. The licence was issued by the Local
Authority Weights and Measures department - no Police involvement.
Explosives were sold over the counter by the ironmongers in Clydach
near Swansea. A sign outside said 'Explosives
Agent'. Your purchases were wrapped up in brown paper just like
any thing else you had bought. How times have changed!
The Club Cottage was by the stream just below Dan-yr-Ogof.
It was a small two up two down - or rather 1 ½ up 1 ½
down. It could sleep 10 at a push. There was a separate falling
down cottage used for tackle storage and drying gear. The drying
room had a small solid fuel stove with a long flue pipe. There was
more heat from the flue than the stove, with a great danger of combustion,
asphyxia or CO poisoning.
Water was from a tap outside by the road. You washed at the tap
or in the river. Cooking was by a double burner oil stove called
'Florrie' or primus stoves.
The toilet was a chemical affair in a lean-to shed, and it was the
duty of the last person to leave to empty it. If the river was high,
it was easy, but otherwise you had to dig a hole in the back garden,
hoping the spot you had chosen had not been used before.
Carbide was the order of the day. Perhaps
people were not so conservation conscious then, as I can remember
being shown how to bury the used carbide in the cave or tip it into
the stream if it was in flood. The main caves were OFD
1, DYO 1937 series, and Tunnel Cave - all within easy reach
of the Club on foot. To get to OFD you paddled through the river
where the stepping stones now are at the top of the [Craig
y Nos] Country Park.
I went to College from 1954 to 1957,
and acquired a girl friend with various attributes but no interest
in caving. In 1957 I sold the engagement ring to buy a motor cycle
and could then go to the Club every weekend, only one hour from
Motor cycles were the order of the day. Myself, Bill
Harris (here tonight) Peter Harvey,
David Hunt, Seaton Phillips, Mary Boughton, Neil Jones all
used motor cycles. What cars there were were pre-war old bangers.
Later vans were bought. These had the advantage of being cheaper
than cars as they were exempt the 33 % purchase tax, but being commercial
vehicles were restricted to 30 mph! Luckily radar traps had not
yet appeared, and later the restrictions were eased and then abolished
in the early 1960's.
the beginning ?
I did a lot of caving with Bill Harris.
On the Gower, we could go from cave to cave by motor cycle without
having to change clothes or helmets in between.
DYO was easy to get into, as there
were several large gaps in the entrance passage giving access from
the river. The cave was opened commercially in 1939,
closed during the war, and not re-opened until 1964 due to a dispute
between the family shareholders. Originally the Club was allowed
in, but then stopped, so we used to creep in at night or early morning,
walking up the river from the club very quietly so as not to wake
the dogs at the farm.
There were no wet-suits, so each person had a large polythene bag
and a towel. You undressed at the lakes and re-dressed on the other
side. One memory I have from about this time was the early cave
divers with cumbersome dry-suits, lead weighted boots, ex-submarine
re-breathing sets and the 'Aflow' device
with light, reel of cable and compass etc.
Club membership was increasing, putting a strain on the accommodation.
Powell St Penwyllt became available
and was purchased in the late 1950's for the great sum of £200.
Much work had to be done. There was great enthusiasm to knock holes
in walls, but rather less to build up again. One of the first jobs
was to build a septic tank. Bill Harris
and I used to go up to Penwyllt early in the morning and do a couple
of hours digging before going caving. When the pipes were laid out
they were about 2ft short so we had to dig the hole 2ft longer.
Finally the move was made (1960 ish). It was possible to travel
to the club by rail until Dr Beeching
[famous for closing many of Britains branch lines] came along in
1962. It was useful to have Bill and Betty
Burton living in cottage No. 5 until they bought the bungalow.
Heating was rudimentary, a fire in the long common room and a stove
in the small room which also heated water. The water supply was
always a problem, with old iron pipes going to buildings demolished
a long before. Repairs were made with old fire service hose and
jubilee clips. There were severe winters in 1961/2
and 62/3. A gang of us spent Christmas
at the club. Everything was frozen, the quarry had to stop because
the diesel fuel froze. We had to get drinking water from the OFD
resurgence, and to smash the ice on a pond that used to be near
Cwmdwr to get water to flush toilets.
Cooking was a problem, the butane cylinder was in the kitchen but
we had to light a small fire under it to cause any gas to come out!
All windows were covered with ice on the inside. However there was
excellent ice climbing on the old quarries by the engine house and
we played a sort of ice hockey near the lime kilns.
The 1960's and early 70's
was great time for cave discovery in the Swansea
Valley and for trips further afield. Bill
Birchenough (here tonight) made the first Ogofone
[low frequency radio for communication through solid rock] although
there was no phone at that time, and Morse
Code had to be used for communication. The top entrance to
Tunnel Cave was located and Laurie
Galpin and I were in demand as we were the only ones who
the beginning ?
Cwmdwr entrance was dug, and work started
on the dreaded crawls. They had to be blasted from one end to the
other, and after each blast it took an age for the fumes to clear.
Fortunately it was near the HQ so we used to arrive on a Friday
evening, go straight down and set off a charge, and leave it until
the next morning to clear the debris. I think many of us would have
given up the job if it was not for Clive Jones
who somehow managed to keep up the enthusiasm.
Bill Little one day appeared in a new
fangled thing called a wet-suit. It
was a single skinned unlined 3mm suit which obviously would not
last 5 minutes in a cave, despite being worn under a boiler suit.
After a year he was still wearing it, so the rest of us took notice.
They were all home made, and you needed assistance with the marking
out to get a good fit. Later the thickness increased and they were
lined. The aqua-lung appeared and a number of club members took
up cave diving, some using dangerous ex-gov cylinders. This enabled
the divers to get through the OFD sumps
into OFD2, and one of them found the
route out through the boulders into Cwmdwr.
The route was so convoluted that a cable was laid for people to
follow. It was later improved. A short time later Top
Entrance was found using the Ogofone.
Shortly afterwards the Dan-yr-Ogof
crawl was passed by Eileen Davies and
exploration there opened up. It all happened in a very short space
of time. There was a bit of controversy as the biologists wanted
some time to themselves to survey the cave before the explorers
trampled over it. It came to a compromise that Virgin
Passage in the Lower Series
should be left for them.
Unfortunately when we descended the Abyss
we inadvertently blundered into it from the other end. A very pleasant
week's camp was held in DYO Bat Chamber
in the late 60's. Dave Judson was surveying,
and various bits were found. It was very comfortable to be in dry
kit for the duration, as we were beyond the
lakes and Green Canal.
the beginning ?
There was one later incident which turned out to be amusing in the
end. Dave Judson was trying to bypass
the long crawl. The dig started to fall in, and the others in the
party drew back. Dave carried on and became entombed. Fortunately
it was a Good Friday, and as people arrived for the Easter weekend
they were directed straight to DYO
and Dave was duly rescued. To show his gratitude he bought a barrel
of beer and started something of a precedent.
The 1960's also saw Club trips to Yugoslavia
which represented a considerable amount of work in organisation
and engineering. SRT had not been invented
and the winch was king. Frank Salt
organised trips to Greece and France,
some more successful than others. In both Greece and Yugoslavia
there were shafts at the bottom of which were human remains and
One very interesting visit was to the Rhosydd
slate mines at Cwm Orthin near Blaenau
Ffestiniog in Snowdonia. These
connected through to the mines at Cwm Croesor,
the entrance to which was protected by barbed wire and 'go away'
notices. The mines are vast, so much so that in cloudy weather the
cloud forms inside the caverns. To get from one mine to the other
there were bridges suspended by cables from the roof, but these
had been purposely destroyed. The party of us included John
Osborne and Rob Williams (both
here tonight). We used some long lengths of ladder to get down the
slopes and the last vertical drop to the bottom.
On walking into the Croesor mine things
were very different, clean and tidy, lights on at one point and
a pump to keep the lower level dry. We went up to the next level
and found ourselves in the middle of thousands of tons of war-time
military explosives. There was chamber after chamber after chamber
stacked up to the roof with boxes of TNT and cordite marked 'made
in Canada 1942'. The explosives were in good shape, being non-hydroscopic,
but the same could not be said for the containers. There was rot
and fungus everywhere and in particular there were steel drums of
flaked cordite. The drums had disintegrated spilling the stuff all
over the floor just waiting to be trodden on.
the beginning ?
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I made some enquiries to find out who was responsible for the site
- it turned out to be ICI, and John informed the police. ICI eventually
made the place safer by flooding the lower level, but some electricity
workers found their way in via a level passage and ICI was forced
to empty the place. There could have been some very nasty occurrences
if the wrong people had found out what was there.
In the 1970's a very interesting project
was finding the dry route from OFD1 to OFD2.
Bob Radcliffe was the main mover. Attempts to get from Boulder
Chamber fizzled out, so we went through Cwmdwr
to climb the Divers' Pitch where a
line had been left for a skyhook and ladder. However the line jammed,
so I climbed up the opposite wall and discovered the bypass (where
the rope now hangs). Pete Cardy joined
us and we laddered down into the sumps, swam across, and climbed
Niphargus Niche to try to dig a way back to Boulder Chamber. Unfortunately
the passage filled with water, so attention was then given to the
very narrow passage from Boulder Chamber
which is now used. This turned out to be underneath a water filled
passage, but by a great stroke of providence the water burst through
when there was nobody there, or someone would have drowned.
One person I must mention is Gwyn Sanders.
Gwyn was a pillar of the Club for many years, and there are many
photographs of him in the common room. Any visitors to the Club
were sure of a warm welcome. Gwyn was also very generous, and was
always giving people presents, usually made of metal, which were
either useful tools or interesting artefacts. Our house has a dozen
or more such objects, including a nickel sculpture, a set of stainless
steel fire irons, and a mediaeval weapon - a spiked ball and chain.
the beginning ?
I'll stop at that point, but I must mention Cave
Rescue. The first major rescue I remember was from Llethrid
Swallet on the Gower in the
early 60's, when a man sustained a
broken leg. Unfortunately the Police Chief
at the time dismissed us as a bunch of amateurs and called the Mines
Rescue, who were completely out of their depth. We ended
up having to hospitalise the casualty overnight in the cave. Dr
Rob Williams (Lisa's father)
set the leg, and I was sent to a local hospital for supplies, bed
pans and such-like. The next day, the rescue officer Gordon
Clissold told us to get in and get the casualty out, which
we did, in a short time. Times have changed since then.
Over the years, I was involved in many rescues, including sadly
the recovery of five deceased persons, fortunately none of them
being club members. In the 70's there were quite a number of searches
for parties lost on OFD through trips,
and various dislocations and breakages including Bill
The Rescue Organisation was part of
the Club, and it was suggested that it would be better as a separate
organisation, as it would be easier to incorporate members of other
clubs and to attract sponsorship. Bruce Foster was one of the people
actively proposing this action. As you know it did happen, and there
was a ceremony at Dan-yr-Ogof when
Simon Weston of Falklands fame presented
me (as Treasurer) with the keys of the first purpose built Land
Rover. Great strides have been made since then.
I have not been very active recently, but I have had a great deal
of enjoyment from the Club and its activities for many years. I
would like to think that the Club will still be here in 60 years'
time. I will not, but some of you younger members will be, so keep
the tradition going! "
Eric Inson, April 2006
[Of the people mentioned in Eric's speech, Peter
Harvey, Laurie Galpin, Noel Dilly, John Osbourne, Pete Cardy,
Rob Williams, Bill Harris and Bill Birchenough were present that
[Items in [ ] are clarifications by PCW for those not familiar
with life in the valley!]
to the beginning ?
to the tour ?
the top ?