In 1957 Tel Corbett, a 43 year-old local builder and former Admiralty diver, borrowed an aqua lung to try in the waters off Burgh Island, South Cornwall. After enjoying his dive, attempts to get his 'dangerously high' 1800 PSI (120 bar) bottle blown at the local garage proved unsuccessful and he was referred to a Captain Hampton in Dartmouth. He proved to be the owner of Britain's first sports diving school, 'The British Underwater Centre'. He convinced Tel that there was more than meets the eye to the aqua lung and Tel enrolled on the centre's 3 day course at a cost of £15.
Two years later, in 1959, Tel was driving past Lodge Farm Reservoir when he decided to have a look at it as a possible dive site. He was impressed with the clarity of the water and when he later dived it he found that as long as he kept 6 feet off the bottom the visibility was good. Tel continued to dive on and off for the next year until a local fisherman told him that other divers had been there on the previous Sunday.
The following Sunday Tel visited the reservoir to discover that the other divers were from the West Bromwich Underwater Exploration Club. They had recently discovered the reservoir by accident and started diving there unofficially. They invited Tel to join them, which along with his wife Hazel, he did, mainly to gain the use of their compressor which in those days were few and far between.
In 1961 Dudley Council decided to buy the reservoir from British Waterways for, it was rumoured, use as a landfill site. Tel and Hazel attended a meeting to discuss the future of the reservoir and there they met Gerald Walker who was planning to lease it from the council for water-skiing.
Dudley Water-ski and Yachting Club opened in June 1964 and the use of the reservoir for these two sports meant that it was no longer possible for WBUEC to continue diving there. They moved on to Chasewater and Stoney Cove. In the meantime Tel and Hazel had left them and joined Dudley Sailing Club.
Tel wanted to continue diving in the reservoir and tried to talk DWS&YC into allowing a diving club to use the water. These attempts failed although they did give permission for Tel and Hazel to dive. This arrangement expanded to include a few friends from WBUEC and some that Tel had trained in the Stewpony's swimming pool. The efforts of this group in the salvage of sailing equipment and laying the mooring weights for the ski jump convinced DWS&YC that a diving club was a good idea, and in the autumn of 1964 a meeting between DWS&YC and eight divers (Tel and Hazel Corbett, Phil Aspery, John and Bob Stevenson, Wilf Bradley, David Hughes and Denis Trueman) led to the formation of a diving club by constitution, whose aims were to 'promote underwater exploration, science and sport'. Tel became chairman and Phil Asprey the Diving Officer. Diving was to be allowed in the reservoir once a month up to 10 am on a Sunday for an annual fee of £10.
The fashion in those days was to give clubs a name and the idea of 'Dolphin' came from the dolphins on the fountain in Dudley market place. It was chosen as a symbol of a friendly, peaceful and intelligent marine animal, and because it would make an attractive emblem.
In 1967 two important events happened to affect the diving club. Tel left the club in order to set up BASE, a diving shop in Old Hill that was bought by Comdean following Tel's retirement in 1984.
In July of 1967 the council banned swimming in the reservoir as swimmers were becoming something of a hazard to the boats using the water. This led to a complaint two months later, in September, that underwater swimmers were using the water for spear-fishing. Police were called but could not find any evidence of spear-fishing. Despite this, the incident led to the council also banning 'underwater swimming' in the reservoir.
After some negotiation with the council, and with the support of DWS&YC the diving club was granted permission for a 12 month trial period subject to certain conditions 'in the interests of public safety and decency... as underwater swimming can be a source of danger not only to the swimmer but also to others', for a nominal rent of £10 per annum and the agreement that they would 'maintain underwater apparatus'. Diving officially began on the 1st October 1968 for one hour every Sunday from 10am to 11am.
During the year the club acted as safety divers for a water-ski gala and impressed the Mayor of Dudley. DWS&YC wrote to the council saying that the club had been 'a very good subsection of the Dudley Water-ski and Yachting club'. The council confirmed our permanent use of the reservoir on 3rd December 1969.
One of the biggest headaches for members was getting their bottles blown as compressors in those days were scarce. To solve this problem the club made its first major purchase in June 1969, an air compressor which cost £350. The majority of this money, £200, was raised as a loan from 11 members. Soon after this a decanting system was bought to compliment it and was housed in a hut 'The Compressor House' which stood in the grounds of the house next to the clubhouse. By 1974 local dive shops had been established and it was proving cheaper for the club to buy air from them rather than try to maintain its own supply, and so the compressor was sold.
A great interest with the founder members of the club was the study of fish life. This led to the club's first project in 1965, which was the study of the response of fish to light. The nose-cone of a Canberra Bomber was given to the club a local grocer. This had Fish Study Laboratory 1 painted onto it and was rigged out with lights that were powered from a supply in the clubhouse. Sinking it was something of a problem as it proved to be quite buoyant, however, this difficulty was overcome by fixing rail line fittings to the nose-cone. It was intended to have TV cameras as well but this proved to be too expensive and so divers had to dive at night to study the fishes' response. It was this project which started the night diving in the reservoir.
It wasn't until 1975 that it was realised that these night dives were outside the terms of the lease and so permission for night dives was sought from the council. This was duly granted for the second Tuesday in the month from October through to March.
The next club project was the construction of a submersible from a Hastings bomber aircraft drop fuel tank. This started in 1969 but was not completed until 1971 as interest waned. It operated on a buoyancy only control system that proved difficult to handle. On its first dive it managed both an uncontrollable crash dive followed by an equally uncontrollable buoyant ascent. It was declared unsafe and later sunk in the reservoir.
The third project of the club was the construction of a training platform for the reservoir. It was to be used for drills such as mask clearing, free ascents (from 10M!) etc. Constructed over the winter of 1970/71 for the sum of £2.3s.6d, (£2.18p) it was sunk in 1971.
Ordinarily divers used compass bearings to find these submerged objects, along with the pump house. This method often caused divers to miss their chosen site and in the early 1970's the underwater items were roped together to make underwater navigation much easier.
The club's first away dives were at other local sites such as Dawley, Dosthill and Stoney Cove. Every now and then the club ventured further afield to dive in the Welsh Lakes. Llyn Padarn and Pwllheli along with the Blue Pool near the Horse Shoe Pass being particular favourites.
The Welsh Lake dives led to the club's first sea dives on the coast around the Llyn Peninsula. These were shore dives as it was not until 1969 that the club could afford to buy its own boat, a small inflatable. Around this time the interests of the club started to turn to the location of wrecks. Some time was spent trying to locate a wreck by research but this proved unsuccessful.
In 1970 the club decided to move its diving to the South coast to gain better visibility and, no doubt, because of the number of wrecks in those waters. The position of Projects Officer was created as it was planned to use local hard boats which entailed some forward planning.
The first trip was to Weymouth and proved so successful that further trips to venues such as Portsmouth, Southport and Newton Ferrers took place, but it was at Plymouth that the diving and visibility proved to be the most enjoyable.
On a trip to Oban in June 1971 many of the divers dreams were realised when club members discovered the remains of a schooner in the Firth of Lorne. Many items of 'tat' were recovered and the club decided that In the case of subsequent finds of wrecks or parts of wreck found by members of our club on club dives that they will be held in bond by the club in that person's possession until the committee has had an opportunity to convene and decide on the future of the items concerned. Interestingly this has never been repealed.
Often difficulties were encountered when attempting to book hard boats and in 1972 the club bought a dory to solve the problem. This proved successful and was used mainly in Plymouth, but by 1975 more hard boats were available and the dory was proving difficult to transport and so it was sold.
The club's Easter holiday in 1975 was to Polperro on a boat called the 'Gay Lass'. The divers were not impressed with the 'Gay Lass' or the diving around Polperro and they mentioned this to the owner of the diving shop in Fowey where their bottles were being filled. He suggested that they try a local boat called the 'Asthore'. They booked her for their Spring Bank Holiday trip. The first dive was on 26th May on a new site called Owen Rock where the divers had 8 meters viz at 35 meters. Other sites such as the 'Kantoeng' and 'Dodman Point' were tried - the diving proved so successful that the club returned many times in the following years.
Divers in the mid 1960's were a different sight to those of today. Most of them wore a 3/19 inch home -made wet suit with a hood made of sponge from a car seat. They had no buoyancy compensators and normally used a single 40 cu ft (5 litre) bottle with a twin hose regulator. They did not use contents or depth gauges, but relied on experience to gauge depth, and the regulator going fight to indicate that they were running out of air. Decompression was not much of a problem as 50 ft (15 metres) was considered deep, most divers either ran out of air or got cold before their no-stop time was reached.
Things improved in the early 1970's with single hose regulators becoming popular together with the widespread use of both contents and depth gauges.
The club made ABLJ'S compulsory in 1972, against the wishes of some members who considered them dangerous. Many divers began to use their ABLJ to lift 'tat' from the bottom but this resulted in several spontaneous buoyant ascents when the 'tat' was dropped. The practice was outlawed by the club and the use of lifting lines was introduced. This involved fixing a line to the item to be recovered and then bringing the other end of the line to the surface where it was hauled in. This method was successful for a few years although it did lead to the boat's propeller occasionally becoming entangled with the line. Lifting lines were eventually replaced by lifting bags. Day glow hoods were introduced to the club in 1974 as a further safety measure.
The interest in fish life was the reason the club didn't join the BS-AC at its inception as the BS-AC supported spear fishing. Instead the club was registered with the British Underwater Centre. The club did not have the use of a swimming pool at this time and had to either send its new members to be trained at BUC or train them in lodge Farm. In 1966 the use of Dudley Victorian Baths on a Thursday night was gained. The pool training was followed by a club night at lodge Farm DWS&YC. At first the BUC'S training was followed but this was changed to BS-AC'S in April 1967 when the club printed its own logbooks to record members' training.
On the 8th March 1970 three of the club's committee members were amongst representatives of ten independent sub-aqua clubs who met at the Cobden Hotel, Birmingham. This meeting resulted in the formation of the Association of Independent Sub-Aqua Clubs. It was not until a unanimous vote at the next club A.G.M. on July 14th 1970, that the club became officially associated with this body. At the same meeting the club rejected becoming a branch of the BSAC because 'whilst the BSAC is a fine organisation ... there would be no benefit to the club by becoming a branch.'
By 1976, however, things had changed. Members were concerned both about the threat of certain dive sites being closed to non BSAC clubs and about the possible need of obtaining internationally recognised qualifications to enable them to dive abroad. This led to the club becoming an open branch of the BSAC in March 1976. As the club was already using the BSAC training programme all qualified divers received the Third Class (Sports / Dive Leader) qualification except the Diving Officer who was made a Second Class (Advanced Diver).
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