In the years following the first full descent of Gaping Gill Main Shaft by E.A.Martel in 1895, members of the Yorkshire Ramblers Club made several descents into the Main Chamber, and explored the main passages branching from it. It was not until 1906 that Parsons (of Booth and Parsons Crawl) discovered South-East Passage. The following year Booth, Horn and Hastings of the Y.R.C. reached the bottom of what was then called Flood Pot but is usually known as S. E. Pot. In the summer of 1908 members of the Yorkshire Speleological Association descended halfway down S .E. Pot to the large boulder slope, where they noticed earth worms amongst the boulders. From this they concluded that there might be a comparatively short route to the surface.
Retracing an underground survey on the surface they soon came across a shakehole containing boulders. By rolling away a few of these (placed there by a shepherd to prevent sheep from falling in) they uncovered the first a1ternative entrance to the Gaping Gill system.
The first description of this cave which they called Flood Entrance Pot (Flood Exit Pot), since it was passable when the Main Shaft was in flood, vividly depict the problems that the explorers had with the first tight pitch, probably the tightest pitch British cavers had encountered at the time. They aptly named it 'The Agony' or 'The Bottleneck', but of course it has since been superseded by far tighter pitches.
While describing one of the first exploratory trips, W. H. Greenwood made the following comment: "In the exploration of Flood Entrance an innovation was introduced in the shape of a miners open lamp, burning acetylene, and giving steady light for over eight hours. It behaved admirably, and with this greatly improved illumination we were able to observe many details of the passages which are invisible in the dim light of a candle flame". Is this the first reference to the use of a carbide lamp in Yorkshire caving?
The Y.S.A.'s accounts of the exploration of Flood Entrance Pot are long on personal misery but short on cave description. They gave the name Cigarette Chamber to a useful resting place en route, and inaptly called the crawl below the first two pitches The Portcullis - apart from that, the system bears no name tags. It is not known when or by whom the side passages were discovered.
The sump at the bottom of S. E. Pot has been dived unsuccessfully on numerous occasions. Eyebrows were raised in May 1977 when Stuart Davey claimed to have passed through a window in the left wall and reached a depth of 120 feet in a shaft of enormous proportions, and plumbed even deeper. However in August 1978 Ian Plant dived to a depth of 90 feet and reached a floor of thick mud, the water escaping between 4inch high pendants. No other way on could be seen.
The Lost River Series, which extends along the fault to the south-east from the S.E. Pot, was entered and explored by John Cordingley and members of the CPC in August and September 1996.
Wade's entrance was found in 1951 by members of the B.P.C. and provided an easier bypass to the tight first pitches of Flood Entrance. The entrance was first opened by Eric Wade who upon failing to get down Flood Entrance, dug in the adjacent shakehole getting through after an initial voice connection.
Entry into Bar Pot was not gained until September 20th 1949, when a group of the younger members of the B.S.A. looked at: the north-western end of the shakehole. After a couple of hours rolling boulders the diggers were able to gain access into a narrow rift running steeply downwards. Having overcome the problems encountered at the head of the first pitch due to its constricted nature at the top and rocks falling from the walls, they found two passages leading off from the bottom. A stoop at the side of the boulder slope led into a second chamber. This way became known the Minor Series. The other way on was through a hole in the boulder slope, sliding over a fallen block, later to be named 'The Greasy Slab, into a large chamber with a rock bridge spanning it - Bridge Hall. This route down through Bar Pot became known as the Major Series.
During the initial exploratory trips, the Minor Series was the only route through to the big pitch, via a large rift known as Whitehall. Later, R.D.Leakey decided to crawl between the boulders at the end of Bridge Hall, emerging halfway along Whitehall and bypassing the Minor Series pitch. Meanwhile Horrocks noticed a draughting hole close to Leakey's Way, and enlarged it quickly to gain access to a series of chambers leading to the head of the big pitch again.
The explorers were disappointed to find that the big final pitch dropped into the already known S.E. Passage, and so in a desperate effort to find further ways on, Horrocks and Stearn struggled along a tight rift at the top of the big pitch, only to emerge at the aven immediately prior to the 40m pitch in Flood Entrance Pot.
South East Rift was first explored in 1931 by Sale of Yorkshire Rambler's Club, who pushed though "glutinous mud" to enter a hundred yards of passage with two climbs.
The hole three metres up the wall opposite the foot of the big pitch in Bar Pot was first entered in the same year by Fred Booth with the help of a shoulder. He reported that digging could break through to a region of noisy water. It was not until August 1964 that members of the Gritstone Club re-entered the passage, then known as Fred Booth's passage, but failed to dig through the mud choke.
In June 1968 two members of the B.S.A. succeeded in digging through the mud to the avens beyond, which were later scaled and were surprisingly found to emerge at a sloping mud balcony 30 m above Far S.E. Passage. The skeleton, found just beyond the initial dig was later identified to that of a wild cat and gave the passage one of its names - Wild Cat Rift.
Members of North Ribblesdale Caving Group climbed up to the top of the bridge in Bridge Hall in 1959. From here they entered the nearly dry inlet on the right hand side of the bridge, eventually emerging at an aven, which they named Graveyard aven after the liberal scattering of mole bones over the floor of the aven. The aven was easily climbed but was found to tighten at the top. In 1976 members of L.U.S.S. returned and with the aid of a lump hammer passed the squeeze to enter about 20m of passage to a solid calcite/earth choke. This was later radio located to be near the surface. In July 1993, John Cordingley turned his attention to the main aven above the Bridge and discovered Violet Ground Beetle Passage. Returning a decade later, he established a voice connection between a small passage leading off from here, and a crawl half way down the entrance shaft, and also with a small rift on the surface.
O.B.J. Hole was broken into by members of B.S.A. after only about an hours digging in August 1949. In T. Crossley's report on the discovery of O.B.J. Hole he explains: 'The pothole acquired its name after a certain refreshment consumed by Bill Cavill which sustained the frantic efforts to break in', "O.B.J" being a popular bottled beer of the time brewed by Duttons Brewery of Blackburn.
In about 1975 members of N.C.C. were about to blast the fissure at the bottom of the final pitch when they heard the voices of a party who were in the area below the avens just beyond the zig-zags. In 2009 the B.P.C. re-opened the hole, and in the following year widened the passage at the bottom of the first pitch and pushed a route into the top of the avens.
Small Mammal House was first entered by Phil Johnstone and Fran Bagenal in around 1976 during the LUSS resurvey of the system. Small Mammal Pot was opened in April 2005 by Mike Wooding and John Gardner, following an ascent of the Small Mammal House aven, and Stile Pot was connected to Small Mammal House in August 2008 by a team made up of John Gardner, John Sellers, Dave Checkley, and Phil Johnstone after a long siege.