A HISTORY OF THE YORKSHIRE MOUNTAINEERING CLUB
The Yorkshire Mountaineering Club (originally called the Junior Mountaineering Club of Yorkshire until 1952), was founded about 1941. Several of the founders were 14/15 year old boys at Wakefield Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, who got together to go hillwalking and practice rock climbing on local outcrops. The original four were Stanley A. Craven, his cousin William H. Craven, Stuart Marsden and Colin White. Others who joined in these early years were Pamela Marsden (Stuart Marsden‟s sister), John K Ward, Shirley Heather, Margaret French, who subsequently married Stan Craven, Olive Craven (W H Craven‟s wife), Tom Friedl, John French (1946) and M.Harby.Others known to have joined the Club prior to 1950 were Douglas J McKelvie (1948), Ernest A Shepherd (1948), John P Gaukroger (1948), Enid Beaumont (1948?), James Parkin (1948), Patricia M Clarke (1949) and Kenneth West (1949).The first Annual General Meeting was held in a farm at Malham by candlelight. The constitution was drawn up sometime in the mid 1940s. The exact year is not known, Colin White was the first Honorary Secretary and he remained in office until Ernest Shepherd
took over in 1950. The first Honorary Treasurer was Stanley A Craven, followed by Douglas J McKelvie in 1949. In those early years there was no President and no committee.At first, school holidays were spent climbing in Scotland, the Lake District and Wales, using Youth Hostels, Small tents, barns and bothies. Their holidays in Scotland were meticulously planned as expeditions. Their favourite climbing venues were Pillar rock, Idwal Slabs and the Cuillin of Skye and, locally, Crookrise, Widdop, Brimham and Ilkley.
During the 1940s climbing expeditions to Skye were numerous, and the Isle of Rhum was visited illegally for three climbing holidays, two in 1945 and again for the New Year in 1946. The result was the production, in November 1946, of the J.M.C.Y. “Guide to the Isle of Rhum.” Copies are in the Y.M.C. library. This was very favourably received by the climbing world as a much needed guide book. In July 1945 a period of bad weather prevented the boat they had booked from returning to take them off and they had to survive on a diet of wholemeal for six days. A further visit was made in the New Year of 1948.
A typical early venture was an attempt by the original four to see the New Year in on the summit of Scafell Pike (probably 1943). Equipment consisted of one small tent, one blanket each (no fancy sleeping bags then), solid meths cooker, two torches, a max – min thermometer and one large bottle filled with a mixture of whatever liquers they were able to remove unnoticed from bottles at home. Twelve degrees of frost and a blizzard caused them to abandon the attempt and strike camp after about six hours huddled in the tent. It was a relief to get down and see the lights of Wasdale Head and then find a barn.
Early newssheets gave details of meets such as Ben Nevis and Glencoe at Easter, but none of these early newssheets have survived. Killarney was visited at Easter 1948. The first news sheet preserved in the YMC archives is dated October 1948, and this is now called Newssheet no. 1, there being no record of the number of newssheets before that date.The first meet report in this October 1948 issue is headed “Expedition to Corsica” and reports as follows:- First Expedition Aug 1948, consisting at the start of five members: Mesdames M.Craven and S.Heather, and messrs S A Craven, J K Ward and C White. After reaching Paris, illness
reduced the number fit to continue to three, S Heather, J K Ward and C White, who continued to Corsica. The loss of climbing boots by theft at Nice prevented any serious climbing, but the party spent eight days travelling about the island, collecting information and photographs which helped in the preparation of the second expedition.
Second expedition Sept 1948, consisting of messrs D J McKelvie and S A Craven, who spent eleven days on the island. Based on the Grotte des Anges in the midst of the main peaks, they climbed four peaks before the weather broke for a period of four days. An attempt to climb Monte Cinto, the highest peak, failed in bad weather. These visits to Corsica would be the first of the Club meets outside the British Isles.
An interesting paragraph in the Dec 1948 newssheet reads “We are very greatful to note the steady increase in the number of members since our Oct newssheet was published. Most of them seem to have contacted us at the suggestion of the British Mountaineering Council and we are greatfull to them for their support.”
In January 1949, the JMCY Journal no. 7, edited by Stan and Margaret Craven, was issued. It was a typewritten, duplicated book of 35 pages 8.375” by 6.625”. Copies of this have been preserved, but unfortunately all six previous Journals appear top have been lost, unless any founder members have any. In no. 7 there were articles on Rhum, Corsica, Skye, the Alps, Provence (Ste Victoise) and the new Tarbuck nylon rope belaying technique.
The 1949 AGM was held at the Easter Meet, in a tent at Wall End, Langdale. Total membership was reported as 21 (13 more than the total of the whole of 1948). The Hon secretary Colin White and the Hon Editor Margaret Craven were re-elected. Doug McKelvie was elected Honorary Treasurer.
In 1949 Stan and Margaret Craven moved to Scotland and Tommy Friedl emigrated to Canada. The 1950 AGM was held at Easter in Middlefell Barn, Langdale. Colin White was unable to continue as Hon Secretary, his place being taken by E A Shepherd, who was at that time the most active member and also had the spare time to take on the job. Membership had dropped to single figures, eventually reaching a total of 12 later in 1950. It was agreed some attempt be made to recruit new members by seeking publicity if possible in local publications.
Newssheets in 1950 showed very poor attendance at meets. In the July 1950 issue Strans Gill, near Hubberholme, later to become popular, was mentioned for the first time.
After two postponements the 1951 AGM was held in Bradford, attended by six members. Attempts to recruit new members had not met with much success (3 in the latter half of 1950 and 4 more early in 1951). In the August 1950 issue of The Dalesman the JMCY was mentioned, inviting new members, resulting in 14 enquiries but only four of these joined the Club. It was agreed the Secretary should write letters to local newspapers inviting new members. This was done, and brought in a few more new members in due course. However, the most important development in the history of the Club occurred during the latter part of 1951.
The Leeds branch of the Central Council of Physical Recreation decided to hold a series of weekend courses in rock climbing at Ilkley and were looking for instructors. HaroldOakes of the CCPR contacted the JMYC Secretary and this was the start of a successful co-operation between the Club and the CCPR. The JMCY would participate in the instruction and the trainees would be advised to join the JMCY. The JMCY took no part in the first course, but did so on the second one on October 13th and 14th 1951 at Ilkley. The JMCY instructors were Keith Firth, Peter Ramsden and Ernest Shepherd.
Climbing courses such as these were typical of the time, reflecting the great surge to the hills and crags after the Second World War. From these courses many young people joined the JMCY (soon to become the YMC) and the floodgates were opening.
A third and most vital contributor to the success of these climbing courses was the West Riding Association of Girl‟s Clubs and Mixed Clubs (a title as daft as the JMCY!), which provided the weekend accommodation at their outdoor centre, Highfield House, next door to the Cow and Calf Hotel. The situation was ideal, only five minutes walk to the crags and on Saturday evenings indoor lectures, knot tying and rope handling practice sessions were held. The Secretary of this West Riding Association of Clubs, Don Sinclair, was just as enthusiastic as were Harold Oakes and the JMCY. Members of these youth clubs attended courses and some became JMCY/YMC members.
The 1952 AGM was held at the Castle Hotel, Bradford on January 15th. The Hon. Secretary compared membership figures since 1948 as follows: 1948 – 8 members, 1949 – 21 members, 1950 – 12 members, 1951 – 27 members (most new members had joined in the second half of 1951). A new Treasurer was elected, Keith Firth.
On Sunday March 30th 1952, a meeting was held at Highfield House by the CCPR and the W.R. Assoc. of Girls Clubs and Mixed Clubs for their members who had been on the Ilkley climbing courses and had not yet taken any further steps. The JMCY Hon. Secretary and a number of interested JMCY members were also present. It was decided to continue with further courses. There was discussion as to whether to form a new club for the trainees or to link up with an existing club. There was little or no support for forming a new club and a show of hands revealed the wish of all trainees present to join the JMCY. Mr Sinclair of the W.R. Assn. stated he had no wish to interfere in any way with the affairs of the JMCY but he thought that if the Club was to prosper it would do well to think about dropping the word "Junior‟ from its title and also elect a President (which it did not yet have), preferably someone well-known. These suggestions were opinions already held by a number of JMCY members.
By the end of April 1952 the number of members in the JMCY had reached 42. A Special General Meeting of the JMCY was held on Tues. 13 th May at the Castle Hotel, Bradford to consider a number of new proposals. There was an attendance of 25 members and many important alterations were made to the Club‟s constitution, the most important being Article 1, changing the name of the Club to the "Yorkshire Mountaineering Club.‟ The posts of President and Vice-President were added to the list of officers and a new article was added requiring a committee of five members to be elected.
Yorkshire's greatest climber, Arthur Dolphin, had shown much interest in the Club and preliminary enquiries had indicated he would consider accepting the Presidency of the YMC. It was agreed that Arthur be invited to be President, an offer which he subsequently accepted. Sydney Fry of the Yorkshire Ramblers Club and Midland Association of Moutaineers was elected Vice-President, and the first committee was elected: Peter Ramsden, Wilfred Verity, John Garnett, MissPatricia Sheard and Clive Soutar.
In 1952 a YMC badge was designed and these were on sale to members in November. The Annual Report for 1952 gave the total membership for that year as 56.Newssheet n. 27, Feb 1953, reported on the YMC‟s first fatal accident. Member Brian May and a friend from Australia, John Martin, were killed on Christmas Day on Great End after climbing Central Gully in snow and ice conditions with E. A. Shepherd and Miss M Wilman. The two parties separated in the upper part of the climb in rapidly deteriorating weather (a blizzard) and Brian and John were not seen again until their bodies were found later by the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team. It would appear from the Rescue Team's evidence that after completing the climb, John must have slipped and gone over the edge and Brian was abseiling down after him when his rope anchor failed. With visibility almost nil on Great End, the other two were not surprised at not seeing them and assumed they were making their own way off the mountain. John Martin was inexperienced and wearing completely inadequate footwear. The two errors were allowing John to join them on the climb and splitting into two parties to save time in a race against darkness.
The 1953 AGM was held on January 6th at the Castle Hotel, Bradford. Albert J Darrell was elected Hon. Treasurer on the resignation of Keith Firth. Another tragedy followed in July 1953. The Club‟s President, Arthur Dolphin, was killed on the Courmayeur side of Mont Blanc on the afternoon of Saturday July 25th, descending to Courmayeur after a climb on the Dent du Geant. Aged 28, Arthur was at the height of his powers, a brilliant climber and undoubtedly the greatest of his generation in the decade after the war.
In November 1953 the YMC acquired its first hut, a small building behind Highfield house at Ilkley, rented from the W.R. Assn. of Girls and Mixed Clubs. The hut was to prove very popular, especially in bad winter weather. Also in November 1953, the YMC began rock climbing at Haw Bank, the old disused limestone quarry near Skipton. During the next few winters, occasional weekend meets were held in Highfield House and they became very popular, with films and slide shows taking place. Large numbers turned up for the Saturday evening slide shows and usually all beds in the house and hut were fully booked.
The 1954 AGM was held in Highfield House on 23rd January. Syd Fry was elected Hon President, Charlie Salisbury Vice-President, Kenneth West Hon. Treasurer and George W. Dale Hon. Hut Secretary. With Brian Hunt in the printing business and elected Hon. Publishing Secretary, the first printed YMC handbook was published that year and appeared at regular intervals until the mid 1960s.
In the autumn of 1954, at the instigation of the Mountaineering Association, the Education Authorities in Bradford and Leeds established evening classes in mountaineering, with practical exercises at weekends. E.A.Shepherd (Bradford) and C.M.Dixon (Leeds) were the appointed instructors. During the years these classes were run, the YMC recruited many members, the most famous coming from that first year in Bradford viz: Ian S. Clough and J. Allan Austin.
The 1955 AGM was again held at Highfield House on Saturday January 29 th. Officers remained unchanged. That same year (April) the first printed YMC Journal, edited by Margaret Craven, was published. Other Journals followed in 1956, 1957/58, 1960, 1962 and 1965. The Club's first Annual Dinner was held on Saturday February 26th 1955 at the Rose and Crown, Ikley, attended by 48 members and guests. Unfortunately, who was to have been Guest of Honour, was unable to attend. In December that same year the YMC Committee appointed a Guide Books Sub Committee to collect information on new climbs.
The 1956 AGM again took place at Highfield House on Jan. 28 th and some changes were made to the constitution in a meeting which lasted three hours. Officers were as before, whilst Bruce Wynne and Brian Hunt were appointed organizers of the Annual Dinner. The second Annual Dinner took place at the Cow and Calf Hotel, Ilkley, on February 18 th and the Guest of Honour was Winston Farrar, who, in pre-war days pioneered many climbs at Ilkley and elsewhere. Sixty members and guests attended the function.
During 1956 the YMC took part in planning the 1957 Yorkshire Himalayan Expedition, led by Bill Cowley who had ideas for exploration and first ascents in the Pin and Parbati areas. YMC member Ron Hirst was appointed deputy leader and no. 1 climber. November 1956 saw the YMC library housed in the Student‟s Room at Bradford Central Library, where it remained for a number of years.
Highfield House was again the venue for the 1957 AGM (Jan 26 th) and Officers remained unchanged except for the addition of W.N.Todd as Auditor and J.C. Foster as Librarian. For his services to the club, E.A. Shepherd was elected an Honorary Member. A sub-committee was appointed to make efforts to acquire a hut in the Lake District. The Cow and Calf again hosted the Annual Dinner on February 23rd, when chief guest was Ian McNaught Davies. Despite a tremendous snowfall, there was a record attendance of 97 members and guests.
On April 17th the same year, the Club Treasurer, Kenneth West, died at his home. Only those at the inquest and the YMC Officers knew it was suicide, secrecy being maintained at the request of his parents. An obituary appreciation of Kenneth appeared in the July 1957 newssheet. The Committee appointed William H. Todd as new Treasurer. The same newssheet gave a brief summary of the 1957 Yorkshire Himalayan Expedition. Ron Hirst reported the most atrocious weather with snow 500 feet lower than it should have been, narrow escapes from avalanches and no possibility of climbing a 20,000‟ peak. However, much valuable survey work was done in untrodden territory. In the autumn of 1957 Ron Hirst showed his colour movie film of the Expedition at Leeds City Museum at one of Mike Dixon‟s slide/film shows.
The 1958 AGM was again at Highfield House on February 1 st. Ashley Petts was elected Vice-President, Charlie Salisbury wishing to relinquish office. R.B.Evans was elected Journal Editor with B.A.Smith his assistant. Some changes were made to the constitution.
In March 1958 the new guide book, Vol 5 Gritstone Guide, W.R.Area, edited by Alan Allsop and Brian Evans (YMC) was published, but not by the YMC. The June newssheet reported YMC members Ron Hirst and Ron Hields had made the first direct ascent of the Kilnsey main overhang. Also in this issue was a note about the continuing demand for the CCPR courses at Ilkley. In the 71⁄2 years since these courses started, more than 1,000 beginners had received instruction. John Foster had moved to Carlisle, his place as Librarian being filled by Allan Austin.The 1959 AGM at Highfield House on 24th January saw Ashley Petts elected as President, Syd Fry as Vice-President, Bernard Wilde as Treasurer and Anthony M. Wharnes as Ilkley Hut Secretary. Allan Austin continued as Librarian.
Whilst in the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team, YMC member Ian Clough had led a number of new climbs in Scotland, both summer and winter. After leaving the RAF he remained in Scotland, climbing new routes with Hamish McInnes. During the winter of 1958/59, Ian led the first winter ascent of Point Five Gully on Ben Nevis, “the last great gully problem on the Ben”, a very fine achievement.
In the spring of 1959 the YMC acquired its first Lake District hut, renting a cottage at Dale Bottom, 21⁄2 miles SE of Keswick. Hut secretary was Dr John C.Foster. During the next two years or so, much work was done to improve the hut. Once again Highfield House was the venue for the AGM held on Jan 30 th 1960. Officers were as before, except there was now no Assistant Editor and Peter G.Drumm was elected to the new office of Press Secretary. A sad loss to the Club occurred on 6th December 1960 when one of the Club‟s most popular members, George Dale, died of a brain tumour, leaving a widow and baby daughter.
The 1961 AGM saw a change of location, being held on January 28 th at the Co-op Institute in Bradford. The only changes in the election of officers were: the addition of the new office of Assistant Secretary, Donald N.Bailey being elected; B.Hunt resigned as Publishing secretary, C.A.Bennett replacing him. John Farley was elected Hon. Auditor. During the summer, Club member Ian Clough teamed up with Don Whillans and Chris Bonnington on their historic first ascent of the Central Pillar of Freney on Mont Blanc.
The 1962 AGM remained at the Co-Op Institute on February 17th. Allan Austin was elected Newssheet Editor to ease the work load of Hon. Secretary Ernest Shepherd, who had written the last 59 editions numbers 10 to 68. Mrs Joyce R.Bailey was elected to the new office of Meets Secretary. Other changes were: Ilkley Hut Secretary Jack Wilson, Dale Bottom Hut secretary Malcolm Lomas and Librarian Derek Farley. There was a long discussion about purchasing the old Greenside mines Powerhouse, Glenridding, for a Club hut. The proposal was carried but the idea subsequently abandoned after the vendors turned down the YMC offer. A new rule was added to the constitution enabling the Club to appoint three trustees, the only way the Club would be able to own property.
The summer of '62 was an outstanding one for YMC members in the Alps. Some great routes were climbed and at least four YMC parties climbed at grade 6 level. The greatest achievement came from Ian Clough when he joined up with Chris Bonnington to make the first British ascent of the North Wall of the Eiger, after they had climbed the Walker Spur on the Grandes Morasses. The list of YMC members‟ achievements included the following: Ian Clough climbed the Solda Route on the Marmolada, Brian Evans climbed theTofana Pilastro di Rozes and the Maestro Route on the Rotwand in the Rosengarten. Allan Austin climbed the Andrich crack on the North Wall of the Civetta. Dave Roberts and Geoff Grandison climbed the North Face of the Drus at the same time as Ian Clough. In the Bregaglia, Pete Hindle, Malcolm Lomas, Doug Milnes and Ronnie Hields climbed the North Ridge of Piz Badile. Doug Milnes and D.English with Pete Hindle and Malcolm lomas (in two parties) climbed the Cassin Route on the North Face of Piz Badile to bring the total YMC ascents to date of the route to four. Brian Evans (with Ian Howell) did the West Face of the Dru, the East Face of the Grand Capucin, the North Ridge of the Peigne and the West Face of Ratti-Vitali route on the Aiguille Noir.After a brief lecture tour (n.Wall Eiger) with Bonnington, Ian Clough went on the Patagonia
Expedition which climbed the highest of the Towers of Paine.
During 1962 attendances at meets fluctuated wildly, as always, from nil to 65 (Almscliffe). The big winter freeze-up of 1963 brought achievements on ice in the YMC. On the Jan 13th Buckden meet, all the waterfalls up Buckden Beck were frozen and were climbed that morning. On the same day some ice pitches in Crook Gill were climbed by the Waltons and the Burnetts but the complete ascent on ice was not accomplished until 1985. On the Horton meet of Feb 2nd/3rd there was again much snow and ice climbing. There was also much YMC ice climbing in the Lake District during this period. It was the best snow and ice winter since 1947.
The 1963 AGM was held on Feb 23rd 1963 at the Co-op Institute. The only changes to the Officers being Jim Walton elected as a Vice-President (in addition to Syd Fry) and Geoff Grandson Journal Editor. It was decided that future YMC Journals should be free to members, the cost to be included in the subscription. Lawrence Smith donated a silver trophy for a YMC photographic competition (colour slides) to be held annually. Entries to be three slides each and the winner to be decided on total marks of the three slides. On March 3rd 1964 the competition was judged by Mr Richard Muller of Ilkley, the winner being Brian Evans.
The 1964 AGM was held on Feb 22nd at the Co-Op Institute. After 14 years as Secretary, Ernest Shephers finally stood down, his place being taken by Jim Walton, who was elected unopposed. After five years as President, Ashley Petts relinquished office, being replaced by Ernest Shepherd. Elected as Vice-Presidents were Allan Austin and Ashley Petts. A Proposal that the term of office for YMC Presidents should be for three years was carried. The only other change was John Kemp taking over as Newssheet Editor.