Historical Caving Attire


New member
I'm looking to do some research on the history of caver attire. (from tweed caps to hard hats!)

-Does anyone recollect information from any books they know about the history of caver attire?

-Does anyone have/know a friend who would be willing to lend me a working carbide lamp? For those protective over it, I would be very happy to just sit, do an interview with you explaining how it works.

-I have explored the internet, but if there are any links you'd like to give me, I'd be very happy to read through them.


Well-known member
Any of the "how to" books from each period.

The complete hill walker rock climber and cave explorer (1934): reliable lamp (acetylene or electric), old clothes, nailed boots - no mention of helmets or indeed headwear


Active member
Have you emailed the British Caving Library? I bet they would be able to help! And if you are Derbyshire based you can even pop in for a brew and a biscuit :) (Email first as it is not open everyday!)

Mrs Trellis

Well-known member
In COPD last edition there are some good photos from the past including one party who went into Giant's in peacetime and came out at war with Germany.

Iirc helmets came in after the war when the pits were nationalised and cavers used the NCB compressed cardboard type with lamp bracket. I can remember Jimmy Lovelock using a WWII GI helmet - I think there are photos in one of his books.

I started in ganzies (old clothes plus boiler suit) then bought an ex-RAF survival suit known as a "goon suit" then got a British Sub-Aqua diy wetsuit. I started with my mum's old hiking shoes (nailed) but soon bought a pair of boots with Vibram soles from F. Ellis Brigham's.

Then Caving Supplies opened and kit became much more "professional".


Well-known member
Speaking of the Peak District, isn't there that superb image of Henry Mares with his obituary in an Eldon Journal? That'd give you an idea of what the rank and file cavers might have been wearing at the time.


Well-known member
The Derbyshire Pennine Club, based in Stoney Middleton, also hold much of JW Puttrell's photo archive, and there's some superb examples in there - Jim R and me used a couple in The Castleton Mines book. of parties about to enter Speedwell and Blue John Cavern. Three-piece suits were definitely preferred by those guys. Very interesting acetylene tank protectors made of rope webbing too.

Roger W

Well-known member
Here's something from a bit earlier, from Brian Woodall's 1979 guide to the Peak Cavern.


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Mrs Trellis

Well-known member
Ah - the good old days of caving in top hats with candles stuck on 'em. Shame they went away really.

Speaking of headgear - I'm sure I read somewhere that the first known UK sporting caving fatality was in Alum Pot where the unprotected victim was struck by a rock chucked down by a passer-by/rambler/hiker.

Jenny P

Active member
If I knew how to post the picture on here I have a beautiful photo of me in a goon suit dated from the late 1960s when we all wore them - just before wet suits came in.

We also had "Ladysmith Busywear" boilersuits (made of thin nylon fabric so they didn't soak up water), in fetching shades of pink, baby-blue and yellow. Mine, of course, was pink. I kept the wrecked upper half as a sort of jacket, long after the lower half had disintegrated, so I could wear it on top of my wetsuit, belted at the waist, because it had a useful pocket and wetsuits didn't have pockets. (Dunno what I kept in the pocket though - it wasn't a hankie.)

Jenny P

Active member
Also worth having a look at the section of the British Caving Library website www.caving-library.org.uk called BCRA Archives. This has some vintage photos of chaps in their caving gear in the 1930s - smart tweed jacket, shorts, long socks, polished shoes but no helmet (this is in the Rev. Black's Archive). There is also the Peter Binns Archive with early photos starting in the 1930's when they seemed to favour dirty old macs (the waterproofs, not the computers), and battered trilby hats with the front brim turned up, or berets, on which you could hook some kind of a light.


Well-known member
Somewhere I have seen a photo of a young lad by the now broken stalagmite boss in Giants Hole. To get to that point his team would have had to fully immerse in the now gone "Portcullis" and negotiated the also gone flat out "Pillar Crawl" at the top of the ramp leading down to the now drained "Backwash Pool"
The lad in question is relevant to this thread in that he was wearing a one-button suit! I am not putting a search into google for the photo though! It has been linked on here before, but no idea in which thread - conservation maybe?