Pre WW2 caving in South Wales

Huge

Member
A request for info on the above please.

Caving in South Wales seems to only have taken off properly after the Second World War, much later than in the other main caving regions of the UK. There has been plenty written about post WW2 caving in the region (from the founding of the SWCC and opening of OFD on) but I haven't come across much covering the period before then.

I know caves such as Llygad Llwchwr and Porth Yr Ogof were visited in centuries past. Also that Dan Yr Ogof was first explored by the sons of the local land owner (the Morgan Brothers) and some of their staff in 1912 and later by The Dragon Group (English cavers with an interest in cave exploration in Wales and members of various clubs) in 1936. I know that some Mendip and Peak clubs were active in South Wales but don't know what they got up to. And that's it really.

So, can anyone point me towards any sources of information or can anyone with greater knowledge give an overview of the pre WW2 caving scene in South Wales.

Were there any South Wales based caving clubs?

Were there South Wales resident members of the English clubs active in the region? If so were they English club members who subsequently moved to the area or South Wales natives who joined the English clubs because there weren't any local ones?

What did any of these cavers get up to?

I'm not doing any particular research or producing any report/article/book, just interested in caving history. Any info would be much appreciated.

Thanks, Huw.

 

Tony_B

New member
Huge,
some years ago I edited the 50th Anniversary Publication of the SWCC Newsletter. Using information that I had been given, I wrote that interest in caving pre-WWII in Wales was predominantly from English-based cavers, and that SWCC was founded (at Easter 1946) by members of the Wessex CC and others who had spotted the potential in the Swansea valley and elsewhere. I was subsequently upbraided by a long-standing member of SWCC (who, admittedly, had something of a chip on his shoulder about such things), who told me that there had been a 'local' caving scene before the war but that this aspect of the history had been overlooked and effectively 'airbrushed out' by the (mostly) English cavers who founded SWCC.

I can't really provide any more details than this - it would have been useful if the gentleman in question had written a subsequent article to correct things.

You're right about the Morgan Bros and DYO but they were really just curious locals rather than keen cavers. I'm also pretty sure that Pwll Swnd was explored before 1939.
 

graham

New member
Probably the best contemporary source of pre-war information about this stuff would be in the early issues of the "British Caver" and its precursor, the Journal of the Mendip Exploration Society." These were both edited by Gerard Platten.

The problem about a 'local' South Wales caving scene at that time is that it seems not to have had any publishing output which would mean that it effectively airbrushed itself out of history and would now be very difficult to reconstruct.

As Tratman used to say to us: "If you don't publish it, you didn't do it."
 
If you have a look on the history section of the Swcc website, you'll find Peter Harvey's memoirs which cover some of the early stuff.

Sent from my Nexus 4 using Tapatalk

 
http://www.dyo.org.uk/gerard-platten-logbook.html will give you a good start for the modern era of exploration in S Wales, from 1937, with references back a hundred years.

Thomas Kitchin's maps from the 1760's show The Green Bridge of Wales at Pendine with the note 'NB The Brook runs under Ground to the sea'. Henry De la Beche (later to initiate the British Geological Survey) wrote in an 1823 article 'On the Geology of South Pembrokeshire' that 'At the Green Bridge a brook loses itself in a cavern, which has been traced undergound for 360 yards, and then terminates in a hole 8 yards deep. At the distance of about a mile the brook reappears on the coast between Pendine and Marcroes Mountain.'  Kitchin also shows Dan yr Ogof, marked as Llenvah  (i.e. Llynfell) Spring, but not Porth yr Ogof, although there are numerous accounts of tourists being guided through the latter from late in the 18th century (e.g. SWCC n/l 91). The Cardiff Naturalists Society recorded some cave-related activity (e.g. SWCC n/l 19 has an extract re. Porth yr Ogof and its role in romance when 'after dinner ladies and gentlemen think it necessary to explore the cavern...')

Thomas Jenkins of Llandeilo is perhaps the first 'caver' we know of from the 1840's, through his diaries, the key bits being extracted in SWCC n/l 49.

...
 

Huge

Member
Thanks all for your brilliant replies!

Brendan, those photos are superb. I didn't realise Penderyn Quarry Cave was so large. There is nothing for scale in the photos in Limestones and Caves of Wales.

Tony, I have the 50th Anniversary SWCC Newsletter, it's were all my knowledge of the early SWCC and the early days of OFD comes from. I wonder if the local Welsh caving scene back then included any clubs. This long standing SWCC member, he didn't have an interest in remotely detecting caves did he?

Graham, thanks I'll have to find out were I can find old copies of the British Caver - maybe the SWCC library? You're right of course about not publishing things. I remember Bill Gascoine telling me that he would read in the Cwmbran CC newsletters about various caves, in the area between Pontypool and Blaenafon, that they had 'discovered' and named but which he had visited previously.  He hadn't of course published anything. This included Ogof Draenen.

Thanks JessopSmythe, I'll check that out.

Cheers Martin, I hadn't looked at the DYO site before. It's great stuff, very interesting. Hadn't realised the Morgans had done so much in there. Was Thomas Jenkins the one who quoted the outflow from Llygad Llwchwr in Hogsheads?
 

Tony_B

New member
Huge said:
Tony, I have the 50th Anniversary SWCC Newsletter, it's were all my knowledge of the early SWCC and the early days of OFD comes from. I wonder if the local Welsh caving scene back then included any clubs.

I don't think so. This would explain why nothing was published.
 

robjones

New member
A pretty full biography of Thomas Jenkins of Llandeilo basd on his mid C19 diaries was published in "Carmarthenshire Historian" - there is full free online access on the 'Welsh Journals Online' section of the National Library of Wales website. This includes very full extracts from his diary concerning explorations in LLygad Llwchwr in the 1840s.

A literature search for Pentregwenlais Cave/s will throw up a lot of (derivative?) accounts of exploration of a 'bone cave' that was unusually long and deep and hence involved more genuine caving than was usual with mid C19 archaeological / antiquarian sites.

Close reading of 1930s local newspapers of localities like the upper Swansea valley (full lists of all titles and of locations of extant runs are on the 'Newsplan Wales' portion of th NLW site) might provide a few articles indicating who was active and what caves were receiving attention.

A through trawl of the Cardiff Naturalists' Society Journal (full free online access on 'Welsh Journals Online', as above) might well provide further snippets on some caves.

There was a similar society in the Llandudno area and it published a journal - it may contain some relevant information on North Wales exploration. I'm not sure about further east in north Wales though.

As was observed up-thread, there seems to have been modest local interest in a number of locations but frustratingly, nothing published - or at any rate very little found so far which doesn't rule out that athefew published accounts may have been overlooked to date...
 
Huw, correct!

Entry from The Diary off Thomas Jenkins of Llandeilo 1826-1870 (as edited by D.C.Jenkins, published 1976 and 1986):

1848
July 14th. Went to Llygad Llwchwr cave together with Revd. John Lewis, Messrs. D.Lewis, R.W.Lewis, H.Bundy and J.Roberts. Left coracle inside. Entered 10 a.m. Out 4 p.m. Thermometer in the shade outside 68 deg. Water 49 deg. Quantity of water discharged per minute 450 ft. - 28,325 lbs. - 12 tons 11 cwts. 12 lb. - 45 hogsheads.
Holywell discharges 84 hogsheads per minute.

...
1855
Aug 23rd. Edward Price, Thomas Jones and self went at 6p.m. to Llygad Llwchwr to see if the coracle left there by me some years ago, was in a fit state to make use of. Found it completely decayed. Returned home 1 a.m. 24th
The Revd. Lewis Price's 'Guide to Llandilo' 1883 says of Llygad Llwchwr cave ...'in the interior of this wonderful cave there is a large pool which, some years ago, afforded much amusement to gentlemen residing in the neighbourhood, who undertook the difficult task of constructing a coracle suitable for wading it, and which was left there for the amusement of others, until it got unfit for any longer use.'

[original diaries in D.C.Jenkins Collection, Manuscripts Dept, National Library of Wales]

Another name to look out for from the 1930's and 40's is T.A.J.Braithwaite. In 1938 he wrote an article in the 3rd number of the BSA's 'Caves and Caving' magazine on 'Porth yr Ogof and its Neighbours' which I think covers the Little Neath area, including White Lady and Bridge caves. I think he was a mining engineer in a family which owned collieries in S.Wales,  and that he emigrated to run a coal mine in N.Rhodesia after the war...
 

alasdair neill

New member
There were newspaper reports of a fairly extensive cave near Pontypool being explored and surveyed by miners in October 1833, which don't sound too fancyful. I assume this site has never been rediscovered. This was reported in Cornish newspapers, no doubt copied from a South Wales paper. This would represent a chance discovery rather than a caving scene at the time.
 
http://papuraunewyddcymru.llgc.org.uk/en/page/view/3391405/ART15/cave

Monmouthshire Merlin 21st September 1833 p3

DISCOVERY OF A CAVE.—About three weeks since, some workmen on the lime-stone works at Mount Pleasant, near Pontypool, discovered a natural opening, which led into the interior of the rocks, forming a convenient approach to an extensive apartment, of the height of about 18 fret, most magnificently ornamented with hanging crystals and petrifactions, and a variety of fossil curiosities. From this apartment several passages spread in different directions, and, it is supposed, extend to the distance of three miles from the entrance. It is to be regretted that the beauty of the cave has been, in some measure, destroyed by the anxiety of visitors to possess themselves of portions of the petrifactions, &c.

Limekiln Road runs N from one of the main Draenon risings on the E bank of the Afon Llwydd: this is where the limestone is, opposite Mount Pleasant.
 

richardg

Member
I recall a conversation with a friend who was one of the team  who explored Dan Y Ogof.

This was during the war, Gerald Pattern their leader had rather a passion for stale bread.

Unlike todays caver easily recognizable  in our one piece custom made waterproofs,  these guys would have been dressed very oddly in whatever attire they thought of as best for combating the cold and negotiating the underground waterways. they stood out  rather dramatically

At the time these mid war cave explorers would have  also stood out as not being of local origin on account of  their pronounced out of town posh english accents, and for us to remember this was deepest Wales with the deepest of welsh accents and the Welsh language being spoken at that time.

Gerald dispersed his comrades in the local shops in search for stale bread, and this being wartime it wasn't long before suspicion was aroused and the  group were promptly arrested and taken to the nearest police station where they were interrogated on suspicion of being German spies.

My friend told me it took a lot of persuasion as to their innocence before he and his fellow cavers were released.

Richard






 

For my friend who recounted this incident 
 

alasdair neill

New member
The Monmouthshire Merlin article was repeated in various other papers, but I don't think is the one I havd seen before because I am sure there were refs to miners surveying the cave. Will look and see if I can find it again.
There are two sites near Pontypool named Mount Pleasant on OS maps, I assume this is the one on the south side of Cwm Ynys-cou where the ca 1882 OS 1:2500 map shows quarries & limekilns.
 

moletta

Member
T.A.J Braithwaite was a WCC member - their first Welsh Secretary I think, poss 1938. He studied at University College Wales, def involved with Neath Valley as his name appears in the guide to South Wales. Not to be confused with caving brother/s
Platten seems to have moved over from Mendip to cave mainly in Wales when DYO was re-opened. I think the Mendip Exploration Society went downhill because his focus changed to South Wales. EE Roberts was involved too so maybe something in the YRC Journal. British Caver developed out of the MES journal.
 

Graigwen

Member
The Monmouthshire Merlin article was repeated in various other papers, but I don't think is the one I havd seen before because I am sure there were refs to miners surveying the cave. Will look and see if I can find it again.
There are two sites near Pontypool named Mount Pleasant on OS maps, I assume this is the one on the south side of Cwm Ynys-cou where the ca 1882 OS 1:2500 map shows quarries & limekilns.
zzzzzzzzzzzzz... 8 years pass.

CCR map

Martin has put this on the Cave Registry map in what we think is the right place. It is site 2020-2. It is in the quarry in the main limestone, not the one to the east in the Castell Coch Limestone. Some public spirited person should check out the quarry. There is parking right outside it and it has a path through it. Just think, three miles of unexplored cave!
 
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