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Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 15:06 UK
Cave treasures saved from the skip


When Manchester caving expert Dave Checkley took a call from the widow of his recently-deceased archivist, he knew he had to move quickly.

The entire UK archive of the British Cave Research Association (BCRA), which at the time filled the woman's garage, was on the brink of being thrown out.

"He [archivist Roy Paulson] was a bit of squirrel to be honest," said Dave.

"But when he died, she wanted rid of it. So we had to hire two storage rooms or she was going to put it in a skip!"

What Dave, the BCRA chairman, discovered was a treasure trove of caving material including thousands of photographs, glass slides, negatives, maps, record books, cave surveys and even paintings dating back to the early 1900s.

One highlight is a large hand painted survey of Peak Cavern made in 1936, a limestone cave in the Peak District village of Castleton which boasts the largest natural cave entrance in the British Isles.

On 19 August 2009, the archive is being handed over to the British Geological Survey to be put into safe storage.


Dave Checkley
When he died, she wanted rid of it. So we had to hire two storage rooms or she was going to put it in a skip!
Dave Checkley, BCRA chairman

The archive, begun in the 1930s by influential British caver Eli 'Cymmie' Simpson, chronicles a century of cave exploration in the UK when early adventurers went underground with only rudimentary equipment.

It was then taken over by the BCRA and added to by their archivist Roy Paulson until his death.

"The photographs show what caving was like in those days, young men in tweeds and women in skirts, who would often cycle to caves and explore them with candles," added Dave, a caver with 40 years experience.

"But, in a way, the most impressive part of the collection is the log books [of cave expeditions]," he said. "You open them up and they're packed with photographs and hand drawn maps. In themselves, they make fantastic reading."

But, with sophisticated cave surveys available, what relevance do they have today?

"Some of cave entrances have been covered up by farmers and can't be explored anymore," added Dave. "Or there are mines which were open then and have since collapsed.

"So they're not just a bit of history, they still have a real value."

Anyone wishing to access the BCRA archive, should contact the National Geoscience Data Centre.

In pictures: caving archive
18 Aug 09 |  History


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