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Discover the history of caving and cave diving, learn about the hidden world beneath the Mendip Hills, and explore the science of speleology.

Netherworld of Mendip

The Netherworld of Mendip explores the fascinating subterranean world that lies hidden beneath the Mendip Hills. The exhibition charts the development of caving and cave diving, and the history of cave exploration.

The displays show how the geology of the Mendip Hills enables such magnificent caves to form. Learn how the network of stream passages and chambers are carved out from the limestone, emerging into daylight at places such as Wookey Hole, Cheddar and the great springs that give Wells its name.


Cave diving began in Britain under the Mendip Hills. From its origins in the 1930s right up to the present day, the rooms follow the evolution of caving. On display is the very first piece of diving equipment designed for the exploration of flooded passages. Known as the 'Bicycle Respirator', this machine was used by Graham Balcombe in Swildon’s Hole in 1934. Another striking exhibit is the representation of a mid-1950s' diver, cumbersomely kitted out to explore Wookey Hole. 


Learn how flat caps and candles have given way to helmets and LED lights, and rope ladders to the latest 'SRT' devices. Fly over the Mendip Hills via an interactive screen and explore the areas where caves occur. You will be absorbed by an immersive soundscape and transported to an underground world.


Click here to download the Netherworld of Mendip guide

The exhibition has benefited immensely from the input of the caving community, with particular thanks to Jim Hanwell, and those who helped build the displays and set up the computer graphics. The room has been funded through the AONB Sustainable Development Fund (Mendip Hills) and local businesses and caving equipment suppliers. The museum warmly thanks:

Bailey & Sons Ltd; Cave & Climb; The Creative Edge; CRS Building Supplies Ltd; Lyon Equipment; Microbitz; Milk Street Brewery; Scurion; DMUK lightboxes; Fosseway Press; Geni Printing; Harris & Harris; The Swan Hotel; Tincknells Country Store. Photos by Gonzo and Joe White

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