A day out at Nenthead

Lead had been mined at Nenthead before the 1700s, but the first boom came with the London Lead Company in the 1750’s.

Junction with rail points.

Their Quaker heritage meant a high standard of welfare for the time, with the company building shops, schools, a clock tower, a post office and cottages for the miners.

Horse Gin

The London Lead Company gave up their leases in 1882 and were followed by a short unsuccessful spell under the control of the Nenthead and Tynedale Lead and Zinc Company until 1896.

Stone arched roof

Major modernization occurred around the turn of the 20th century when the Vielle Montagne Zinc Company of Belgium began to rework the old lead mines for zinc, with the company remaining in the area until around 1950.

Some minor attempts were made to carry on, but the glory days were over and the network of passages from over 250 years of mining activity are now a major attraction of mine and cave enthusiasts.

225 year old graffiti.

NYMCC Equipment Reviews – Oversuits.

Wetsuit

The only choice for Bogg Hall and Jenga’s new extensions. Warm when wet, immersed and moving – but offers little insulation and easily chilled when subsequently smoking fags and surveying. The wetsuits thick second skin provides significant protection from knocks and abrasion and allows a smooth, sleek profile. The latter is an advantage in a horizontal muddy squeeze, but in a vertical muddy chimney simply gives much needed amusement to others wearing Cordura. Wetsuits are often used by Wild Swimmers to great effect and the sleek profile is best observed in the likes of Elle Harrison and Professor Alice Roberts. Normal male cavers are advised to use a boiler suit (see below) to mitigate against the usual “when’s the baby due” jibes from female members.

Cavers admiring the streamlined profile of a wetsuit
A lone wetsuit illustrates its advantages

New (and later old type) Meander.

Waterproof but “boil in the bag” so you can’t afford to get sweaty. Simply the only new fabric suit available if you value waterproofness over toughness. The seams are heat-sealed and are generally tougher than the fabric itself. PVC type suits are also generally easier to clean than textile ones. The big downside is a tear can now prove difficult to fix without stitching with fishing line and doing something to prevent the stitches tearing. The use of these modern eco friendly materials means a decent crotch tear could prove terminal if the user is shy.

ICI green acid suit.

Previously used by the bellwether of the UK economy and the company that brought you indestructible socks. The green suits are meant to protect you from chemical attack so anything found inside a cave (other than Ridley Scott’s Alien) is unlikely to be a problem. Stitched and heat sealed seams, waterproof and does not shrink. These are tough, vintage, and fixable with patches of all sorts of material from DIY shops. The acid suits; when available, are sized for ICI process operators – so are a slack fit on most cavers and not sweaty. While not as sexy as an AV they are manufactured from unobtainium, are made in England, ultra rare and highly desirable. Originally they came with a 1-year warranty that did not include caving and potholing. Used examples could be purchased for a few pence on an ICI scrap chit for those cavers who were not on first name terms with the gatehouse security man.

The sleek feminine cut of an AV Titan compared to an ICI Acid suit with accompanying meander dinner jacket (the result of terminal crotch failure)

Petzl and TSA

As per the original Meander (or Troll) for those old enough to remember them. Seen as the Gucci version of the “boil in the bag” suits with the advantages of the AV in being sexy and the advantages of the Warmbac in being tough. Manufactured from defunct eco damaging materials that are fixable with easily available eco damaging solvent-based adhesives and assorted patches bought from DIY stores.

Rarity value pushes the prices up and they tend to be kept for Sunday best. Petzl’s and TSA’s do not come up on the market often and ownership can result in a non-invasive version of underground rape if used in the presence of others wearing Cordura.

A new Cordura contemplates a vintage TSA

Warmbac Cordura

The standard suit is tough but does not remain waterproof for long. It is also more flexible than the Warmbac Digger but has a zip as opposed to Velcro seal. The Digger is hugely tough, but again it does not retain its waterproofing. Essentially the Digger is Bomb Proof – but the big downside is the fabric is not supple and you can actually stand a suit up on its own after a month of use. The stiffness of the fabric develops over time and can prove to be irritating on trips longer than North York Moors classics.

A Meander suffering terminal crotch failure attempts to hide its identity and the use of an oversuit fails to hide a wetsuits belly bulge

Both standard and Digger suits shrink like buggery and need to be bought at least two sizes oversize, which is a major downside for Large People. Basically having to ask Ursula for an XXXXL special order could prove embarrassing. Many people do not believe the extreme shrinkage – hence the good 2nd hand availability of cheap used suits from individuals who think they have put on weight due to Covid lockdowns.

AV Titan.

A very well cut Gucci level design and Very Sexy kit on the right person. Especially suitable for lady cavers as the female version shows off feminine curves very well. The arse is the weak point; eventually producing a large loose flap that rather negates the above advantages.

The sleek feminine cut of an AV Titan

Waterproof for a while but eventually soaks in water, allowing the wearer to become damp. The AV Titan is very flexible, so if you are female and can do the splits – then this is the suit for you. Please be aware that Tony won’t sell Rachel one because she will definitely break it – unlike Warmbac Diggers, which she eventually breaks anyway.

Males owning AV’s have been miss-informed by sales people.

An AV Titan owner suffering from inadequate sales advice 

Boiler-suit

Commonly referred to as “Dry Grots” by anyone capable of remembering Debbie Harry singing Heart of Glass on Top of the Pops. Boiler suits are cheap, light, flexible, compact and easily washed. They form the staple outer clothing of mine explorers and are very breathable. The downside is they are not at all waterproof and once wet increase in weight dramatically. The strategic purchase of a suit with reflective stripes means that underground photographers will avoid oneself like the plague – which is a plus point. The superabundance of pockets is a significant bonus and they are often emblazoned with company logos so other users can tell where they have been stolen from.

NYMCC recommendation.

Although the above items have their uses – Tweed is destined to make a comeback.

Oversuit testing

Jackets are available from charity shops and E-bay, but one must take care in choosing the correct fabric. Irish Tweeds such as Donegal Mist are high end, hand woven items but the cashmere, kid-mohair and wool blend is totally unsuitable for anything other than a club dinner.

YCC members contemplate the benefits of virgin wool

The Harris Tweeds are available in many weights and come in assorted naturalised shades of colour. The browns and heather’s being more suited to caving than the grey’s which foreign language teachers or artists usually wear. The Scottish Border Twist’s represent the pinnacle of Tweed caving suits. These stylish jackets, made from three-ply thorn-proof & pure virgin wool are both stylish and tough. When accompanied with breeches and an orange bailing twine belt the outfit provides both ladies and gentlemen smart attire for both caving and post caving pub use – negating the need to get changed.

Hard Northern Dales cavers from the 1960’s knew a thing or two.

Tutman’s Hole (and the lady who beat us by 99 years)

Tutman’s Hole feels incredibly remote, being about 3km from the nearest road or public footpath. The walk up Gildersdale is stunning, if a little tricky with multiple crossings of the river due to lack of footpath.

I have found the cave mentioned as early as 1818 in “The scientific tourist through England, Wales, & Scotland, Volume 2” which states “On Gildersdale fell is a cavity called Tutmanhole” and it was said to have been explored to about 1 mile by the mid-1800’s

I found references to the word “Tutmen” in connection with Cornish tin miners in the 1850s, so it seems likely to me that they may have named/explored it when the moved to this area to mine lead.

Adele at the entrance

The cave was surveyed for YURT Journal 2 in 1969, then extended by DUSA in 1975 (which is recorded in MSG 8, both of these journals/surveys can be found on our website)

Much of the cave is a pleasant hands and knees crawl in fast flowing water, tide marks and scum at ceiling level suggest it would be a poor idea to visit on a rainy day. We were unable to pass the ducks on this occasion as the passage was completely sumped .

Before the first low section where you get properly wet, we noticed a large amount of graffiti, some dating back into the 1800s, although one that caught my eye was “Ellen Richardson, May 26 1921” It looks like it was written in pencil, but subsequent calcite now seals it into the walls.

A female explorer nearly 100 years ago without the benefit of neoprene was interesting, so some searches on Ancestry have turned up a 1901 census including an Ellen Richardson, a dressmaker living at Overwater, Nenthead. Her three brothers are all lead miners.

Looking at details in the book ‘Pennine Lead-Miner, Eric Richardson of Nenthead’, I believe that Ellen Richardson was his Aunt. On the 1911 census she is listed as ‘Ellen Kelly’ but already a widow at just 33, so it possible she reverted back to the family name later.

Why exactly she was in Tutmans hole in 1921, I guess we’ll never know, but perhaps the mining family were out prospecting as the Vielle Montagne Company were in big trouble back in Nenthead at that time.

Not Ellen Richardson

Hobgoblin of Hobthrush Hall

This passing hint about Hobbrush/Hobthrush Hole/Hall appeared in Moldywarps Journal 7 in 1974.

The book it’s mentioned in is :- The Vale of Mowbray: a historical and topographical account of Thirsk and its neighbourhood by William Grainge, published in 1859

“Over Silton. In the precipitous cliffs, a short distance north-west of the village, called ‘the Scarrs,’ is a cave in the rock, known by the name of Hobthrush Hall, which was formerly the abode of a goblin of somewhat remarkable character, who appears by the stories yet current relating to him, to have been possessed of great agility, as he was in the habit of jumping from the hills above his dwelling to the top of Carlhow Hill, about half a mile distant. He was not of the malignant kind. . . . On the contrary he was one of those friendly to man. . . . The Silton goblin was a true and faithful servant to a person named Weighall, who kept the village inn, and rented the land on which his hall was situate. It was Hob’s invariable practice to churn the cream during the night, which was prepared for him the evening before, for which his reward was a large slice of bread and butter, always placed ready for him when the family retired to bed, and always gone in the morning. One night, the cream was put into the churn as usual, but no bread and butter placed beside it. Hob was so dis- gusted with this piece of base ingratitude, that he never came to churn more, and appears to have entirely left the neighbourhood. His dwelling yet remains, a rugged cave among the rocks, dark, wet, and uncomfortable, but extending a considerable distance underground.”

Today our own little Moldywarps Hobgoblin was dispatched to check the location and its still there 160 years after Grainge and 45 years after the last Moldywarp didn’t check !

The Scarrs
Hobthrush Hall
Inside Hobthrush Hall

Vintage Northern Caving Photos

An NYMCC member was recently able to purchase a number of vintage North Pennines caving slides . We believe we have been able to identify the majority as Fairy Holes in Weardale, but the identities of those pictured are still unknown.

We would love any names or additional locations

Caving in jumpers and tweed, but who ?
Clean shirt collar after a filthy trip, but who ?
The Sarcophagus – Fairy Holes
The Sarcophagus – Fairy Holes
Modern photo of the Sarcophagus – Fairy Holes (Gary Douthwaite)
Ambrosia Creamed Rice with the Choir, Fairy Holes
The Choir, Fairy Holes
Modern photo of The Choir, Fairy Holes (Adele Ward)
Fairy Holes Main Streamway
Fairy Holes Main Streamway
Fairy Holes Main Streamway
The Fairy Grotto (since quarried away) – Fairy Holes
1957 Yorkshire Rambler picture of the Fairy Grotto
Also the Fairy Grotto ?
Unknown
Possibly Elpha Green.
Possibly the”lost’ part of Fairy Holes, since quarried away
Possibly the”lost’ part of Fairy Holes, since quarried away
Possibly the”lost’ part of Fairy Holes, since quarried away
Possibly the”lost’ part of Fairy Holes, since quarried away
Possibly the”lost’ part of Fairy Holes, since quarried away
Possibly the”lost’ part of Fairy Holes, since quarried away
Possibly the”lost’ part of Fairy Holes, since quarried away
Possibly the”lost’ part of Fairy Holes, since quarried away
Possibly the”lost’ part of Fairy Holes, since quarried away
Digging by candlelight ? Where ?
Moking Hurth perhaps ?
Moking Hurth perhaps ?
The Chandelier – Hope Level Four Fathom Cave
Modern photo of the Chandelier – Hope Level Four Fathom Cave (John Dale)
Who are you ?