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The Cave Book 1837-1855


New member
Press Release by the Yorkshire Dales Millenium Trust
06 January 2020

Long-lost cave exploration book has resurfaced

A unique record dating back to early Victorian times about cave explorations in the Ingleborough area has recently been rediscovered.

In 1837, members of the Farrer family of Clapham instigated the exploration of what is now called Ingleborough Cave. From that date and until 1855, they recorded their progress, thoughts, surveys and experiments within The Cave Book.

Over the years this hand-written tome has gone missing on more than one occasion, but has recently come to light at Ingleborough Estate. The document, now in a fragile state, has been deposited with the North Yorkshire County Council Archives in Northallerton. Recognising the book?s importance to speleology (the scientific study of caves and cave systems) and to make it publicly available for the first time, the Estate has given permission for twenty copies to be reproduced. Each copy, of approximately 110 A4 pages, will feature a new and complete text transcription and will be printed and hand bound on archive paper in a buckram-covered hard binding.

The work will be led by Kevin Dixon, a member of Bradford Pothole Club and a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. Kevin estimates that the work will take around thirty days, which he is doing unpaid in his own time. The materials and printing costs are being paid for by a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.

Kevin said: ?This fascinating document is one of the earliest speleological records and is of international significance. As well as containing a wealth of scientific data such as the growth of a stalagmite called the Jockey Cap and an analysis of the mineralogical content of the dripping water to determine growth rate, it also includes a very evocative description of the cave explorers swimming with candles on their hats to light the way! I wish to express my gratitude to the Farrer Family of Clapham, Ingleborough Estate, North Yorkshire County Council Archives and the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust for their support.?

Copies will be deposited at Ingleborough Estate, NYCC Archives, Skipton Library Reference Section, the British Geological Survey Library, and the six National Libraries. The remaining copies will be available to Caving Clubs and Associations to buy for their libraries. Priority will be given to libraries that have a close association with the Gaping Gill cave system, have appropriate storage facilities, and are best positioned to increase exposure of this important record.

Kevin added: ?It?s well-known that in 1895 Edouard-Alfred Martel was the first person to descend the Gaping Gill shaft and reach the main chamber floor. Martel is often described as the Father of Speleology, but given that Ingleborough Cave was being explored two generations before him, perhaps we should be considering those earlier explorers to be the Great Grandfathers of Speleology.?

Philip Farrer has said ?We are extremely grateful to Kevin Dixon for the immense hard work that he has put into this project and are delighted to be able to share more widely this important historical record of early caving. Our thanks also go to YDMT for their support?

The project is part of Stories in Stone, a scheme of conservation and community projects concentrated on the Ingleborough area. The scheme was developed by the Ingleborough Dales Landscape Partnership, led by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.


New member
The above announcement will also appear in the next issue of Descent.

Any Caving Club wishing to obtain a copy for their library can contact me via PM or direct.

This is currently a very limited edition and Books will be assigned based upon the association of a club with the Gaping Gill Cave System, the extent of the club library and geographic coverage.

Books should be available towards the end of March 2020 subject to my progress.

Any individuals wishing a copy should contact me and I will compile a list for consideration by all the parties involved.


Well-known member
Well done Kevin for taking this on; are there any plans to make the content available in digital format, and could I suggest the BCRA Library as an appropriate place for one of the hard copies to go?


New member
Further Information.

There will not be a digital copy, this is part of the agreement for this limited archive quality replication.

The hand writing, original surveys and sketches are being cleaned up pixel by pixel, having started with 600dpi scans. Below each cleaned up original sheet will be a completely new transcript done independently from prior art.

Conservation grade acid free paper with long life pigment inks, archive board, hand sewn linen thread, archive glue and Heritage Library Buckram cloth covered. The book will be in a Buckram covered slip case. Everything is being hand done by myself, so will take some time.

For those of you who have expressed interest in a personal copy.
The initial twenty have been subsidised by YDMT and the Heritage Lottery for deposit with Libraries and Archives. Any further copies for personal ownership will be subject to agreement with all the parties involved and will be at a higher price to cover the production cost which is predominantly my time and the cost of conservation materials some of which have big MOQ's.

When contacting me about this, please make it clear whether it is for a Club or yourself, thanks.

Likely destinations so far:
01. Ingleborough Estate, Clapham
02: NYCC Archives, Northallerton
03: British Library London
04: Bodleian Library, Oxford
05: Cambridge University Library
06: Scottish National Library, Edinburgh
07: Welsh National Library, Aberystwyth
08: Trinity College Library, Dublin
09: The Folly Museum, Settle
10: Skipton Library
11: BCRA Library, Buxton
12: BGS Library, Keyworth
13: Royal Geographical Society Library, London
14: Bradford Pothole Club, Brackenbottom
15: Craven Pothole Club, Horton in Ribblesdale
16-20 YSS, YRC, NPC ???
It would be good to see increased geographic availability caving wise eg. S.Wales and Mendips but I appreciate it is a Northern Book.


Active member
Wow sounds amazing. I look forward to seeing a finished copy at the CPC sometime this year!

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Jenny P

Active member
Just to be clear, No. 11, "The BCRA Library, Buxton" is now called the "British Caving Library", funded by BCA and BCRA and managed by BCRA on behalf of all British cavers.  This is our own national caving library, housed at Glutton Bridge near Buxton, which serves all cavers in the UK and abroad.

We will be very proud to house one of the copies of this extraordinary book and are extremely grateful to Kevin for putting in so much time and effort in producing such a high quality reproduction.  We very much look forward to receiving a copy in due course.

Jenny Potts
BCRA Library Co-ordinator



Well-known member
& will the British Library copy actually go to London, or their storage facility near Wetherby...


Well-known member
It does if you want to go look at it! The delivery address is the Thorp Arch branch.

Numbers 04 to 08 only have to be supplied if they request them...
While I may be able to discern the reasoning behind a high quality reproduction of this volume being published as a sort of modern-day take on a religious icon (might a copy, some day, be paraded around Hidden Earth by relays of Yorkshire cavers?, I wonder), the restriction to physical access does not seem to fit with the assertion that it is of 'international significance'. If it does contain valuable new insights on early Victorian exploration, tourism, surveying, and science, surely the transcript should be available in its own right for anyone to analyse for themselves, and for the truly interested to comment, and build on, in the light of other information? Presumably John Phillips' observations on the Jockey Cap come from here [ eg https://archive.org/details/riversmountainss00phil/page/34 ], and the temperatures given by J.W.Farrer to the Geological Society [ https://archive.org/details/quarterlyjournal51849geol/page/n185 ]? I suspect that a more interesting book could emerge using this volume as a basis, and hope that will be encouraged - perhaps by making the transcript available online?

On a related theme, I would recommend viewing of the Stories in Stone website and its links; in particular the Yorkshire Dales Community Archives which contains a substantial amount of (digitised) caving interest [ https://www.dalescommunityarchives.org.uk/content/subject/caving-and-potholing ]. If you delve deep enough you will even find several pages of poetical 'Lines on Ingleborough Cave' by Robert Story, published in Skipton in 1840. Now I wonder if 'The Cave Book' has anything on him?

Finally, should not at least one of the copies go to Europe, where much British geological thinking derived from ideas and people encountered on continental tours, with visitors from the continent reciprocating. Belgium, I think, had the speleological edge at that time, and now stands for Europe....


Well-known member
Martin Laverty said:
On a related theme, I would recommend viewing of the Stories in Stone website and its links; in particular the Yorkshire Dales Community Archives which contains a substantial amount of (digitised) caving interest [ https://www.dalescommunityarchives.org.uk/content/subject/caving-and-potholing ].

Thanks for that link - it was new to me. There's a couple of gems in that.


Well-known member
restriction to physical access does not seem to fit...

Having very high quality archival limited production is a fantastic idea and will preserve the information for decades to come (as opposed to fickle electronic formats).
At some point in time could a version be made available to us unwashed lesser mortals? Perhaps using some print on demand service might be suitable to reduce overheads?


Well-known member
kdxn said:
Any Caving Club wishing to obtain a copy for their library can contact me via PM or direct.
Books should be available towards the end of March 2020 subject to my progress.

The above sentences are in one of your posts above (kdxn) - as we're into March now, could you update us on this excellent project?

Also, I've sent a few emails and a PM or two about this but haven't had a reply, as yet. Please can I confirm that the NPC committee is VERY enthusiastic about having one of these copies and I've been asked to liaise with you about it. So please could you send a PM - or email me directly?

Many thanks.


New member
The Cave Book went missing for 45-50 years because of one Lancaster based Caver.

The intention of this project was for this caver, to redress the situation by making some long life copies available to the British Caving community lest the record be lost permanently.

It is a personal family journal and the Farrer family have graciously allowed a limited reproduction of this subject to conditions.

Unfortunately there have been demands of a harassing nature upon me and others demanding copies for their club or personal copies over and above what has been allowed. This has resulted in jeopardising the grant for the book materials and causing me more work and financial commitment.

It is early March, my earlier communication was that it would be towards the end of March. Because of the above issues, it is now likely to be later.