RRCPC Newsletter
Volume 45 Number 1 Article 1
March 2008

'Cauldrons of the Devil': a note from 1954

You can come across articles about caves and potholes in some unexpected places. The Manchester Medical Students Gazette is a typical students' magazine with various items about social and college events, and articles about sports are common. Nevertheless I was surprised when I came across a report in a volume from 1954 describing a trip down Lancaster Hole, illustrated with two interesting black and white photographs.

The article, Chauldrons du Diable, was written by Geoffrey B Seddon, a medical student who organised the trip. His introduction explains that in ancient times, pot-holes were cloaked in superstition, and the early cave explorer was 'an atheist, a saint or a lunatic', he goes on to say, 'now, of course, we can smile at these old wives tales, and today pot-holers are generally regarded as being just plain lunatics.'

He doesn't go into much detail about the descent or the route, but he mentions they went to the 'great Master cave of the system… 300 ft. below the surface'. The photograph shows them at the top of Lancaster Hole with one man in boots and socks on belay and next to him a rather dapper fellow in a flying jacket. Geoff (I think) is in the foreground holding a torch. What is interesting is that they seem to have on earphones and the man in the flying jacket is holding a roll of wire, so it looks as if they used a telephone link to monitor the ladder climb up and down Lancaster Hole (what a good idea.) The second photograph shows the happy group in a dry passage, but I'm not sure where, possibly the Graveyard?

Going Down

300 feet underground

Boots and jackets are not the only change over fifty years; Geoffrey's article reveals the early traces of a 'new man.' He explained:

'There were four women students in the party and for two, it was their first real pot-hole. For an hour and a half we were wading, at times waist deep in cold, fast flowing stream. Later when asked what they thought of it, they remarked that they would not have missed it for the world. They are as sane as the average medical student, and they enjoyed it, and they did it again the next day…!!

While down a pot-hole we endeavour not to deprive ourselves of the simple comports of life. We take a paraffin stove to brew coffee and boil soup, and I think we can safely claim to be the only club who have ever had a meal down a pot hole consisting of fried bacon with bread and dripping, followed by a quarter bottle of sherry.'

Geoff clearly had a good attitude to caving. I not sure if he was in any formal caving club - he describes his group as the 'Medical School Club' and offers to take anyone interested into the 'Devil's cauldron'. He qualified in 1956 and worked as a GP in Worcestershire; if anyone has any more information about him, please let me know.

There is a copy of his article in the Club Library.

Peter Mohr

Continued in Article 6

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