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Conversations with Edgar Reed


In October 1961 the site known as Higher Kiln Quarry, Buckfastleigh came up for sale by auction. This was an important site first visited by the Rev J MacEnery in the early part of the Nineteenth Century. In 1859 William Pengelly visited the nearby Baker's Pit Cave which had just been discovered through the quarrying operations. The real importance of the site only became known in 1939 when members of the subsequently formed Devon Speleological Society made two important discoveries.

The first was Reed's Cave, where, on May 6, an extension containing many beautiful calcite formations was entered. In June, further exploration at the southern end of the quarry revealed a cave, now known as Joint Mitnor, that contains a rich Pleistocene bone deposit.

In the years from 1939 to 1961 much work was done on the site. Under the direction of Mr A H Ogilvie of the Torquay Natural History Society and, later, Leslie Neale and Antony Sutcliffe, the talus deposit in Joint Mitnor was partially excavated and a demonstration site set up. Further work was carried out on the geology of the area and in studying the Greater Horseshoe Bat population and other fauna such as cave dwelling shrimps and springtails.

Thus, when the site came up for auction, a considerable amount of research had already been carried out and the importance of the site realised. Less than a week was available between notice of the sale and the auction and Dr Sutcliffe and his colleagues had to act quickly to secure the site. He persuaded the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves to acquire the site, Higher Kiln Quarry, the field overlying the caves and two old stone farm buildings, to enable him to continue his work.

On 31 March 1962 a meeting was held, chaired by N Riley, secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, to discuss the future of the site. It was decided to set the site up as a cave demonstration and research centre that would eventually be able to own, sustain and manage the site itself rather than through the Society and the local Devon Naturalists' Trust. It was agreed that committees should be set up to govern and manage the site. The first chairman of the Centre Governing Body was Ian Mercer, the Warden of the Field Studies Council Centre at Slapton Ley, and the first chairman of the supporting Advisory Committee was the well known Devon Naturalist, Henry Hurrell. Much support was received from the Nature Conservancy to enable work to continue.

Thus the embryonic William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust was formed as the Association of the William Pengelly Cave Research Centre, in December 1962, with Antony Sutcliffe as the first Hon Secretary. In June 1969 the Association became the Trust that we know today.

The objects for which the Association, and later, the Trust, were established have never altered. They remain for the Public Benefit:

  • To advance the science of speleology
  • To advance education in the science
  • To promote the conservation of scientific features of caves and their environs

In order to further these objectives the Trust is empowered to purchase or otherwise acquire property and other assets, to publish and to promote lectures and meetings. From the outset the Trust has continued to publish Newsletters, its Journal, Studies in Speleology, as well as occasional publications. The Trust also runs guided walks around the Buckfastleigh Hill SSSI both as a part of its public programme and for organisations, such as schools, universities and societies. To support these the Trust occasionally runs a lecture programmes and encourages the use of the Centre for educational and scientific purposes in the widest sense.