Volume 45 Number 1 Article 6
The Manchester Medical School Pot-holing Club 1951-55
A reply from Dr Geoff Seddon, author of Chauldrons du Diable
The article 'Cauldrons of the Devil' briefly described a report of a trip down Lancaster Hole in 1954 by a group of Manchester students. By a lucky chance, I managed to track-down the leader, Geoffrey Seddon, a retired doctor, now living near Cambridge. He was kind enough to write and describe how he founded the Manchester Medical School Pot-Holing Club in 1951 and some of their early exploits. He then went on to describe their last trip in 1955 - a failed Lancaster to County through-trip, which turned into a 26-hour epic with failing lights - the story is in his letter below:
"Our pot-holing was very basic by today's standard. Indeed, in the early 1950s few people, away from the Dales, had even heard of pot-holing. We designed and made all our own rope ladders, working in the cellars of the old Medical School. Our helmets were discarded miners' pit helmets and our lights were hand-held battery torches and a small carbide lamp on top of the helmet."
[Dr Seddon goes on to explain the photograph in the previous article. As he explains below, he is not, as I thought, the caver with glasses in the picture. His letter continues and explains all:]
"I am not in any of the photographs because I was the photographer using an old folding Kodak 120 camera and tins of flash powder for the underground shots. As you can see from the top photo, we had a simple telegraph system for communicating with the surface but we then designed a pulley system for the life-line to allow the last man to get down instead of kicking his heels on the surface; a practice which might be frowned upon today. We had no transport of our own so all our gear and the camping equipment had to be carried on trains and buses.
The chap about to enter Lancaster Hole is Keith Boothby who became a GP in Peterborough and on the life-line is Joe Rudin who became a GP in Nottingham. Roy Swinburn is feeding out the telegraph wire. Roy and I met in 1948 when we were doing our National Service. In 1950 we found ourselves at the same medical school and we started pot-holing on our own that same year. It must have been 1951 when we founded the Medical School Pot-holing Club. We often camped at Bull Pot Farm. The farmhouse at that time was empty and deserted. By 1953 we were exploring Lancaster Hole and that same year the small handbook Britain Underground was published. I believe it was one of the first books to mention Lancaster Hole and it stated that Lancaster Hole connected with the Ease Gill caves just over a mile away. In 1954 we found our way down to the bedding plane and the large stream coming from Ease Gill. Climbing up a little we got into a large system of chambers which we felt sure would lead to the Ease Gill system.
A small caving guidebook by Norman Thornber, AH & RD Stride, & JO Myers
published by Dalesman & Blandford Press in 1953
A map from the book
showing Casterton Fell, Bull Pot Farm and Lancaster Hole, but not County Pot
1955 was our last, and most eventful trip. It was the year before finals and, since most of the members were in our year, it seemed unlikely that the Club would continue after we all went our separate ways. Four of us decided upon a short three or four day trip with a single objective: to go down Lancaster Hole and come out at the Ease Gill caves. We knew we would have to drop a ladder down a 25-foot pitch in the Ease Gill cave, and this we did the evening we arrived. We went down Lancaster Hole early the following morning and got up into the system of caverns leading to Ease Gill. These were large chambers strewn with huge boulders. Surprisingly, they were bone dry and we did not see any water until we reached the Ease Gill system several hours later. We had been underground over 12 hours but spirits were high and we envisaged being out in half an hour or so. Then, walking upstream looking for the pitch we had laddered, we came upon another vertical pitch we had not known about and which we should also have laddered from the Ease Gill end. It was only about 20 feet but the rock was as sheer and as smooth as a frozen waterfall.
For 6 hours we tried to find a way up it or round it, but finally had to admit that all we could do was to go back the way we had come. We had used all our carbide and by the time we were two-thirds of the way back the last of our reserve torches was failing. No torch would reach anything like the length of a chamber. We had been underground well over 24 hours and weaving our way round the boulders able to see just a few yards ahead we lost our sense of direction and became convinced we were heading back to Ease Gill. I then remembered we had a map and I had a compass. We took a map bearing then crawled along following the compass religiously. An hour or two later we were back in the Lancaster Hole system and finally emerged in the late afternoon of the day after the day we had gone down, just as the cave rescue were getting ready to come and look for us. A silly mistake which could have had unpleasant consequences "
I would think the '25-foot ladder' in 'Ease Gill Caves' was put down the County Pot pitch. It sounds as if they took the dry, upper route to Monster Cave etc. The '20-foot' pitch that defeated them, must have been the Poetic Justice pitch into Pierce's Passage side, which would have had to be rigged from the top in advance - less than an hour from the surface! They did well to manage their return journey with failing lights, without any serious incident.