Wells and Mendip Museum at risk – urgent appeal for support

The history of Mendip cave exploration is one of several themes covered at the Wells and Mendip Museum. Photo: Wells and Mendip Museum

The Wells and Mendip Museum has a long and fruitful relationship with the caving community. The late Herbert E Balch, arguably Mendip’s most famous original cave researcher, was the museum’s founder, and curator for many years. The museum houses much highly valuable archaeological material, recovered from caves in the region, and currently houses a long-term exhibition on caves and the history of cave exploration in Somerset.

To learn more about Balch’s long relationship with the museum, we thoroughly recommend reading the museum’s web page about Balch.

The Balch Room in the museum is dedicated to the work of Balch and his many important archaeological finds from caves in the area.

The museum has a significant display and presentation of the history of caving and cave diving under Mendip, using many historical artefacts associated with early explorers, such as Graham Balcombe’s ‘bicycle respirator’, which he used to make the first successful passing of Sump 1 in Swildon’s Hole in 1934. The display takes you through the years right up to the present day, and is an excellent introduction to the caves of Mendip and the adventure of exploration.

Apart from the cave-related content, the museum covers many other fields of interest, of equal significance.

The museum is currently closed due to the COVID19 crisis, but has significant continuing costs to bear, and a Crowdfunder campaign has been started to help keep the museum open in the longer term. The usual funding of the museum is entirely from donations, entrance fees, and venue hire, and it would be a tragedy to have such a valuable and, for cavers, unique museum, lost to future generations if it was forced to close permanently.

It is perhaps best to provide the background to the Crowdfunder campaign by quoting directly from the museum’s Crowdfunder page:

“Several weeks ago Wells & Mendip Museum closed its doors as a result of this unprecedented lockdown. Sadly the museum’s busy schedule of exhibitions, local community groups and talks had to be cancelled, and the collections and archives were closed to visitors. Wells & Mendip Museum is an independent self-funded charity. Unlike many museums we are not funded by local government, relying instead on donations, tickets, venue hire and shop sales.

“The museum’s survival is now threatened.

“With the loss of all room bookings, tickets and shop sales, our income has dropped significantly. We have taken steps to dramatically reduce outgoings, but it still costs £500 a week to look after the collections and historic listed building. The museum has long been an important community hub. Groups of all ages, from U3A to the Young Archaeologists’ Club, meet at the museum. Local artists exhibit there. Long-standing societies, such as the Wells Natural History and Archaeological Society, hold talks there. The walled garden offers a relaxing space for garden parties and fairs.

“Our collections contain material of national significance and are a vital resource for researchers across many disciplines. Our library is invaluable for local and family history research. The Wells City Archives, housed at the museum, are a unique repository of historic documents and maps from Wells and beyond.

“The museum is kept going thanks to the dedication of over 50 volunteers, from curatorial and library to front-of-house and maintenance. With exciting development plans in the pipeline, this is a critical time for the museum.

“We desperately need your help to get through the COVID-19 crisis.

“Please donate whatever you can. All money raised through Crowdfunder will go to the museum.

“Many thanks, The Museum Team”

Pledges of any amount are welcome, no matter how small. A pledge of £100 will gain a reward of Individual Life Membership of “Friends of the Museum”, and £150 will reward you with Family Lifetime Membership, and the benefits of these can be found on the Crowdfunder Page.

To see how you can support the museum, please visit the Crowdfunder Page.

To all club cavers,please forward this important appeal to your respective club contacts, websites, Facebook groups etc. The wider we can spread the word, the easier it will be for the museum to survive these challenging times.

Such an important museum in the long history of Mendip caving deserves our generous support.