RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 42 Number 2 Article 2
November 2005

Red Rose's Caving Lantern Slide Collection

The RRCPC Library is full of surprises. One of its treasures is a collection of old-style 3¼ x 3¼ inch glass lantern slides dating from 1928-1931. The 68 glass slides are stored in a nice wooden box with a leather carrying strap. Some are cracked or have minor damage but most are in good condition. There are a few surface shots but the majority are of well known caves - underground views lit by magnesium wire.

The slides were taken by Jack King from Accrington, a founder-member of the Northern Cavern & Fell Club (NCFC). He must have been a keen photographer; the slides have a sepia tone, they are well composed, nicely lit, and most important, they are clearly labelled! The NCFC was founded in 1928. In those distant days caving expeditions took more organising than the modern SRT trip - heavy rope ladders, hundreds of feet of belay, tents, food, beer(?), photographic equipment, cave gear etc. - all had to be transported to the cave location.

Such 'club camps' would last a weekend or a few days - the lantern slides record such expeditions in 1928, 1929 and 1931. Why there are no slides after that is unclear (perhaps he turned to prints?) During the war, cave exploration was greatly curtailed; Jack joined the Royal Navy and sadly 'died in action' in 1944. The slide collection remained in the NCFC archive until the 1980s when they were shown at a RRCPC meeting, after which the glass slides were purchased for the Red Rose Library. Boyd Harris, a RRCPC member, made modern 2 inch-square-slide copies. In 1988 these were lent to Harold Eccles (a member of the NCFC before the war and friend of Ron Bliss) who carefully studied the slides and made some helpful type-written notes about each slide. These comments are filed with the 2-inch slides, which are also in the Club Library. The 2-inch copies are good and easy to view on any modern projector, however it is hard to beat the clarity and detail of the original glass lantern slides when projected through a 'magic lantern' onto a screen.

The 1928 expedition concentrated on Alum Pot. There are several interesting pictures of Long Churn including the Waterfall, Double Shuffle and Plank Pool - so called because the pool is bridged by a plank! (Ron tells me the plank was in situ until the 1950s - he has a nice picture of it with some caver testing it out.) One nice shot is called 'The Cave Hunter' (fig.1) and shows a 1920s cave explorer, (probably Jack King), dressed in a tweed suit and best shoes, no helmet and carbide light in hand. Another shows him descending long Churn Chimney (fig.2), hand over hand on a rope, again in his best shoes and no helmet!

Figure 1 : The 'Cave Hunter', Long Churn, 1928 (probably Jack King)

Figure 2 : Jack King climbing down Long Churn chimney, 1928

The Alum Pot slides are excellent - from above, from below, the Bridge (fig.3) etc. There is a magnificent final shot of eight intrepid cavers posing at the Alum sump - dressed in various attire (no helmets of course), one holding a torch, and another pluming the depths of the sump (fig.4).

Figure 3 : Two cavers at the top of the Bridge, Alum Pot, 1928

Figure 4 : Eight cavers at the sump of Alum Pot, 1928.
(J King is the nearest, also W Haworth, but other names uncertain)

The slides for the 1929 camp include Sell Ghyll, Gaping Ghyll, Hull Pot (fig.5), Gavel and another visit to Alum Pot. The picture of five cavers rolling up the rope ladder in Sell Ghyll gives a good impression of the difficulties - but how relaxed they look (fig.6).

Figure 5 : Nice view of Hull Pot, 1929

Figure 6 : Rolling up the ladder in Sell Gill, 1929

Easter, 1931 was a big undertaking with a major descent of Gaping Ghyll. There is a dramatic time-exposed picture of the main chamber showing their rope ladder disappearing into the light of the shaft (fig.7). Another interesting view shows a 'night party' - four happy explorers resting in Sands Cavern - one holding an oil storm-lamp. The focus and composition of the slides is remarkable, especially when you consider the difficulties involved taking the camera and flash equipment down the rope ladder into the Main Chamber. Many of the slides show advanced cave photography techniques - back-lit passages, prolonged exposure, close ups etc. Huge potholes, mysterious passages, isolated chambers, waterfalls, formations, caving techniques are all represented.

Figure 7 : Ladder in Gaping Gill, Easter 1931

The lasting impression from this collection however, is not the photographic excellence, but that of fellowship - a brotherhood of adventurers and friends from a time long past; not just caving history but also a snapshot of social history from that period of brief optimism between the depression and the war. We know many of the names: Jack King, Frank Scott, Whittaker, F Windle, M Jowett, J Bradley, H Chapman, Bill Hardaker, G Almond, Bill Simpson, C Clegg, C Wragg (who helped with the photography), but it is difficult to name individuals in each picture. One picture conveyed the camaraderie more than others (fig.8); it shows a group of five in Sunset Hole (1928), one is starting to climb a rope, hand over hand, up the final pitch (15m!). He is belayed by two friends while two watch with interest - they are wearing pullovers, some in shorts - the only concession to the conditions are their woolly socks. The next time you SRT-up that pitch with helmet, gloves and knee pads, think of these guys!

Figure 8 : Climbing out of the final pitch in Sunset Hole, 1928.
J King, G Almond (on rope), B Simpson, C Clegg (in charge of flash)

The original glass lantern slides are fragile, but the 2-inch slide copies are available in the RRCPC Library and we have also scanned the original slides onto CD, which is also in the Library. Nevertheless there is no substitute for the experience of viewing the originals projected by a magic lantern. They were shown some years ago at the Club, but perhaps it would make an interesting social/fund-raiser evening at the Farm to show them again, if the technical problems can be overcome!

Peter & Julie Mohr and Ron Bliss

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