Formation of the Red Rose,  & Early odds & Sods

Following a request from Alan Jeffreys (GSG) asking for information on the early days of the Red Rose, Sandra and I did some digging, and it’s surprising what gems came to light when we delved deep into the Red Rose library archives.  Jim Eyre had lodged some of his caving note books in the library many years ago and we think that these notes were written around 1996. They have now been collated from the original note book and as far as we are aware it is the first time that it has been published. Some of his comments may nowadays cause eyebrows to rise but .....     So read on ………..

Some minor changes have been made to aid easier reading.             Mel Wilkinson

Wilf Taylor the founder member of the Red Rose Cave and Pothole Club and I met in 1942 whilst working at Armstrong Siddeley Lancaster making aircraft parts for the Lancaster Bomber. Wilf had been introduced to "potholing" as the sport was then known by a fellow cyclist John Simpson and a couple of others and the two enthusiasts used to cycle from Bury to Settle most weekends. The Bury Cycling Club soon became the Bury Potholing and Cycling Club and after becoming fascinated by Wilf's well thumbed black & white photographs I soon joined them and explored my first cave, Skirwith and Skirwith barn soon became our   first  HQ   -  handy for the Ingleton nightlife which in those days was wild with swinging pubs eventually disgorging inebriated youths into the dance hall above the Ingleborough Hotel. It is perhaps indicative of the 90's that this Mecca of youthful exuberance  should  now be an old folks home. Wilf was the original caving enthusiast, he thought of nothing else and soon introduced me to the BSA and  Eli Simpson  (no relation) and a BSA decimated by the war, and we did a few caving trips with the legendary Bob Leakey and some hard men before both going off into the navy. I next bumped into Wilf quite by accident in 1946 when he appeared out of the mist near Marble Steps with two others, Jack Price & Tommy Helme and he announced that he was thinking of forming his own potholing club. It was going to be called the Red Rose and he didn't want no women, which was fair enough in those days as women and caving didn't mix. Before the shorn headed, tattooed ladies get their knickers in a twist let me point out that this was before all the "ists" and feminist and gay groups had been invented and PC was a police constable. Did I want to join the fledgling club? asked Wilf.  "Well I would but can't"  I pointed out as I introduced him to my new wife who stood at my side. "Well we can change the rules" said Wilf and a hurried conference brought the Red Rose to four men and one female. I was still a member of the BSA at this time and even managed to get some official trips into Lancaster Hole with the legendary Bob Leakey. On one memorable occasion I was detailed as surveyors assistant  to Dr Jack Aspin who was  most pissed off  when he reeled in his survey tape to find the end held down on a rock and his assistant flown, exploring "caves measureless to man".  The disintegration of the BSA and the formation of two new clubs NPC and Red Rose created a fairly unique working partnership, with both clubs working together on furthering the exploration of Lancaster - Oxford, and a possible link up. It was during this period that we became acquainted with a certain George Cornes who had worked with Wilf and was living in Lancaster. We soon were involved in unravelling the mysteries of Leck and Casterton Fells, and George became a sort of eccentric father figure to the younger local cavers. 

Caving in the 40's involved complete dedication. There were no caving guide books, no caving experts, no fancy gear, no grants and very little transport. There was just the fells, the mysteries they contained and the enthusiasm needed to unravel them, plus a complete imperiousness to cold, pain, the strength of a weightlifter and the ability to see in the dark. Of course an understanding ma or wife who could face a wet sack of muddy soggy clothes helped, especially considering that not every household owned a washing machine.  Caving was very much a silent service in this period and in spite of risking life and limb in order to achieve lasting glory there was hardly anyone to brag to and if you wrote about your exploits and would have to wait several years later in the form of a misspelt Roneo replica print to be read by a handful. No "Descent", no "Caves and Caving" - no bullshit! in fact a situation in which no modern minded cavers could it exist.

The other thing about the self sufficient forties and early fifties is the fact that cavers had to make their own ladders and ropes. The top of the range specification included "rungs of straight grained ash"  1/2" hawser laid manila and 101/2" spacing with 5/8"  best manila for lifeline and belays. Many an hour was spent outside 12a St. Oswald Street Lancaster assembling and riveting rope ladders which ended up resembling a very kinky haired caterpillar.  Having been wary of a whipped rung, I had been introduced to many one way caving trips as the whipping had disintegrated and a graceful and clicking descent was achieved. It was never compensated for by the difficulty of returning the climb up two knackered ropes. One's lifeline team was of the upmost importance as very often it turned out to be literally a lifeline between one world and the next   – rope ladders frequently broke!  On one memorable occasion an unfortunate Yorkshire man had a rope ladder break on one side and then the lifeline break as he was hauled up just in time to cling on the remaining good rope side above the break.  The language was classed as hysterical masochistic pornography.

The Red Rose slowly moved from being a few caving mates sort of seconded to the NPC to being a club in its own right and we had a weekly Friday night meet where we paid 1/- a week and began work on our own club hut which was conveniently situated behind the Marton Arms. We could never quite get the hang of laying stones above six feet and we eventually made do with a six foot lean to with a tarpaulin for a roof and a wooden prop to keep the middle up if then it rained. Our next (first?) move was to Hellot Scales Barn where we would sleep under a cart until one night it rained and nearly  squashed Taylor's  ribs -   Bullpot back room ??

During this period a phony war with the BSA caused us to use Hellot Scales quite often as we sneaked across the moor for midnight pirate trips. Imagine a group of  young keen cavers let loose in a Lancaster Hole that had only perfunctory exploration. The dried mud floors had barely been marked and half of the night would be spent going starry eyed at the underground wonders and the other half trying to find our way out as our bell batteries became flat and our bulbs emitted a dull yellow glow in the large passages revealed just three feet ahead, and often came out on our hands and knees searching for clues.

The route to Bull Pot Farm in those days was just a rutted track - quite a challenge for our ancient motor bikes and Hellot Scales lost its popularity when Roland Johnson parked his bike at the top of the road and vaulted the wall in the fog. The steep drop soon parted Johnson from his senses and we eventually returned a much battered caver to his well strewn belongings. 

John Pollit, Bewes and another accompanied us down Lancaster Hole on a photography  expedition with an expert photographer - the results were b……. awful.

We had a small group, we had a Friday night meet at the Moorlands Hotel, Lancaster where we paid a 1/- a week but we were short of members so we decided to advertise into the local rag - we got one member - pretty good value for money as it turned out as it was Ron Bliss! Another innocent later appeared, Bill Leyland arrived on his James two stroke – Bill was quite useful as he used to pinch some of his mothers gin and his father's cigars and bring them up to  Bullpot, when by this time we had got use of the back room.

There had been a change of tenants and Walter Scarr and his wife had taken over - we were made quite welcome until we lit a fire in the old fireplace. The chimney was blocked by birds nest and the whole farm fogged out with Walter on his hands and knees with a towel over his face "rescuing" people. A great deal of exploration took place in Lancaster Hole in this period and we amalgamated with the NPC in exploring the Easegill Caverns and the  system has been well documented as Lancaster Hole and Easegill Caverns became one - and then the  exploration of this massive cave system really took off. It may seem strange to modern cavers that I began to find Easegill boring, every week down the same cave, every week we discovered new passages and chambers and every week we re-discovered passages and chambers we had discovered before.  Cave surveying was for the very few in those days and despite the fact that a mere handful of cavers in the Red Rose and the NPC were finding new stuff every weekend nobody found an imagination for the stressful formality of it being written up or printed. Myself and a few likeminded cavers were becoming starved of adventure and the thrill of descending some of the more demanding caves soon led us away from the monotonous Easegill exploration and we frightened ourselves to death down places like Nick Pot, Penyghent and Juniper Gulf which we classed as real caving – and with rope ladders it was! Every trip an epic, staggering to a railway station or a bus or on a bike, completely and utterly knackered, those with motor bikes reliving the excitement over and over again in the pub.

During this period we managed to obtain the use of a barn at the rear of the Flying Horse Shoes - alongside the Bradford Dump and this was our new centre. About this time we obtained a new and very valuable member Ray Barker - Ray did more for the Red Rose than any other member at this time and after he had been brought back more dead than alive from some of our more epic trips,Ray swore to make electron ladders, in spite of my protestations that we couldn't afford it, and lacked the expertise. I didn't reckon that Ray was a genius and he made 500'  of  high  quality  electron ladder for the Red Rose, and I would be surprised if some of these aged ladders were not in use today.

Thanks to Ray the humble Red Rose became a "Tigers" club and in the 50's there was nothing we couldn’t do and we developed a reputation as hard cavers as we went into a positive orgy of hole bagging, crossing off all the caves in the newly published “Pennine Underground” and “Britain Underground”.  We began travelling to far off Mendip and Derbyshire and when Aggy was discovered the incredible Ray Barker said he could get a lift in a RAF jet, and he did. He waved us off from Lancaster on heavily laden motor bikes and he met us on the escarpment!  When we did the Derbyshire pits he took 500' of electron ladder there on the train.

Ron Bliss, Bill Leyland and a few new members including Pete Ashmead were persevering with Easegill and it had been suggested by some university types in the Cave Research Group that the Red Rose should improve the original NPC survey and somehow I found myself involved weekend after weekend,  continually climbing through the intricacies of Easegill clutching a grubby notice board and writing undecipherable notes, bearing in mind, could my notes be deciphered by Pete Ashmead  who was resurveying the whole system. This took two years and every so often I had to go  down a  wet nasty pothole  to cleanse  my soul.  But  Pete Ashmead cleaned out his front room and erected a large table and began the  most exacting task  undertaken by a caver  who  was  not  a  qualified surveyor or who had any specific training. He put together the Easegill survey as it exists today before  the Pippikin connection. This complicated survey, topographical account, geological listing and geomorphology  and complete list of explorations was eventually published by the CRG – “Lancaster Hole and the Easegill caverns, Casterton Fell, Westmorland – 1967”.  A fine achievement for such a small club and it is doubtful if any single caver can emulate Pete Ashmead’s achievements, and in spite of the availability of computers and other technology in 1996 the caving world is still awaiting an update of the Red Roses'. After a joint expedition with the BPC to the Casteret ice caves in the Pyrenees our horizons broadened and we began caving in France – all done on a shoe string budget and all great fun. We even managed to bring out a club Journal to record these early trips ......      


Jim Eyre

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Oxford Pot

          Jim Eyre and Bill Leyland, Oxford Pot  1950



          Jim Eyre and Bill Leyland, Oxford Pot  1950




       Jim Eyre - Platypus Junction 1950



Ron Bliss, Wilf Taylor, Bill Leyland, Ken ?, Tom Sykes      .and Harry Bewes outside the Marton Arms HQ 1950



 Harry Bewes, Jim Eyre and Wilf Taylor