Wealden Cave and Mine Society - Join the club

PUBLISHED: 12:22 02 November 2011 | UPDATED: 16:13 20 February 2013

Wealden Cave and Mine Society (Pete Gardner)

Wealden Cave and Mine Society (Pete Gardner)

There's a whole subterranean world of caves and mines beneath Surrey, and one group of committed residents who spend their lives exploring them. Here, we speak to Peter Burgess, of the Wealden Cave and Mine Society, to find out more

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2009

There's a whole subterranean world of caves and mines beneath Surrey, and one group of committed residents who spend their lives exploring them. Here, we speak to Peter Burgess, of the Wealden Cave and Mine Society, to find out more

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When was the club set up?
Our club was formed in 1967 and brought together a number of like-minded people who were keen to get underground and explore caves and mines in Surrey.

How often do you meet?
We have a diary of regular events, monthly social meetings in Merstham and run visits for members to Surrey mines. We also go on trips to caves and mines further afield.

What's the best thing about the club?
There are several things I really like about being a member. I think getting underground has kept me fit and healthy and, as I'm no fan of competitive sports, it's great to combine keeping fit with a curiosity to explore unusual places.

On a totally different note, being a member of a caving club has also allowed me to study and investigate some very unusual local history in the ancient mine-workings and tunnels that we explore. Sharing this knowledge with others via our publications and our website is also something I love to do.

Do you find being surrounded by like-minded individuals inspiring?
It would be difficult to derive much benefit from our society without having like-minded people around. Caving is very much a social activity, and much of the fun would be absent without the friendships that develop, or the wider contact we have with other clubs.

How many members do you have and what is the age range of the group?
We have about 100 members, and nearly all our new members join through our website. Our adult membership starts at 18, and our oldest member is in his 80s. Children of a full member can join as a junior, usually once they are 16.

Do you have links with other clubs?
When you enjoy an activity as unusual as caving, it is inevitable that you will meet and forge links with other groups.

WCMS is a member society of the National Association of Mining History Organisations, which allows us to make contact with other groups around the country, arrange visits to places they study and reciprocate this for them in Surrey. We are also a member of the British Caving Association, and this provides us with similar contacts in the caving community throughout Britain.

What's the most interesting story from the group's history?
There is no one specific event that stands out, but there are plenty of stories.

When I joined in the 1970s, it was an ambition of the club to help preserve the sand caves under Reigate. At the time, we were not really taken that seriously as the caves were considered a public liability by many. But by the 1990s, we had arranged for some of the caves to be made safe for public tours and were running regular open days, something that continues to this day.

For the last 25 years, it has also been an ambition of the club to have a permanent headquarters where we could stay while caving away. After much fundraising, we are this year hoping to secure the use of a cottage in the Brecon Beacons, right next to some of the finest caves in Britain. We hope this will be the start of a new chapter in the story of our society.

...and the funniest?
I always laugh when I hear the story of the cavers who were exploring the old mine-workings at Merstham - at a time just before the M23 motorway was built. Contractors had drilled holes into the ground to find out where the old mines were located and some of these had come through into the tunnels beneath.

One day, a group of cavers were at the bottom of one of these holes, and could hear voices on the surface. They shouted up to the family who were out for a nice Sunday afternoon walk. Totally astonished to hear voices coming out of the ground, and unaware of the old mines that run under the fields, mum, dad and the children were completely flummoxed by the voices of The Little Green Men who lived under the North Downs.

All was revealed later in the pub, much to the relief of mum and dad, no longer convinced they were going mad!

When is your next event that is open to the public/potential new members?
We have four days each year when we open the Tunnel Road caves and Barons' Cave in Reigate and people can come and chat to us. The next one is on Saturday September 12 from 10am to 4pm.

Describe your club in five words...
Motivated. Ambitious. Welcoming. Diverse. Busy.

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