Journey” – a film by Colin D. Fearn
“The Underground Journey” – a film by Colin D. Fearn
“The Underground Journey” was originally shot on 16mm cine film in 1968/9. In 2008 a badly worn copy was donated to film maker David Webb, who spent many hours restoring and transferring it to DVD.
In 2012 at the BCRA “Hidden Earth” conference David, a long time Red Rose member was awarded the prestigious Giles Barker Award for his many years of underground filming which also includes “To Titan from the Top”, concerning the discovery of Titan, and “Fight for Life” about the tragic loss of Neil Moss in Peak Cavern. David outlines below some background notes to this project.
In the early 1960s a small group of cavers saw an opportunity to use their expertise and interest in the exploration of old lead mines and soughs as a means to supplement their incomes! They approached a few landowners with the offer to explore and map the old lead workings on their land, an offer which was taken up and which kept them busy for several years.
The group called themselves rather grandly – “The Operation Mole Mines Research Group”, or Op Mole for short, and soon they were at work on shafts and workings in the orefields around Cromford, Middleton and Wirksworth.
Doug Nash and Doug Fearn with inner tubes
In 1962, they were invited to start work on a condition survey of the great Meerbrook sough, which plays a major role in draining water from these mines which was in danger of blockage form collapses. The outcome was that they were asked to undertake stabilising and clearing work which continued for six years until 1968! During the course of the work they had persuaded team member Doug Fearn, a local photographer for a local newspaper, to film their work and the various moods of the sough. This created an amazing and pioneering project involving ex military gear, heavy batteries, car headlights and an improvised raft using a large tractor inner-tube and a canvas canoe for transporting the heavy equipment.
Meerbrook Sough with Canoe
The results of filming in the sough were so good that they decided it deserved to be made into a ‘proper’ film with a storyline. They already possessed detailed knowledge of the mines in the area from their earlier work and work started amassing enough footage to eventually produce, when edited, an exciting 45 minute adventure film. The film was shown countless times to astonished audiences throughout Derbyshire, some knew of the mines beneath their feet but few ever imagined the reality of the awful conditions of mud and water.
I eventually inherited the tired and worn 16mm sound film and spent many hours cleaning and restoring it until it was good enough to play all the way through without jumping or chewing itself up. I then filmed it on a digital format and loaded into my computer for further enhancement and DVD production.
I am often asked if the Journey was actually undertaken as depicted in the film, and there is no doubt that it would just about have been possible whilst the mines were being worked. What I can say is that what you see is as near as possible to what the old miners would have experienced had they made that journey 200 years ago..
Meerbrook Giant Boulder
It serves as a tribute to the courage and dedication, not only to a small group of enthusiasts but also to the men that carved out passages and chambers in often dreadful conditions in their quest for lead.
In the film, Meerbrook Sough is re-named “Conway Sough” and Cromford Sough becomes Longhead Sough. The reasons for this are not entirely clear but it is believed to be at the request of the Water Company who didn’t wish to draw attention to the location of a public water supply.