www.merseysidemc.org Merseyside Mountaineering Club

Our Club History

Club Origins: 1954 - 1964

The beginnings of our Club go back to the formation of the Winter Evening Mountaineering Class at Mount Street, Liverpool in 1954. This was a course organised by the Mountaineering Association and had as its first tutor a Mr A (Tony) Bolger. It appears that this first class was quite succsessful, although it gave only a general background to mountaineering. The following year only seven people enrolled and were very dissapointed to find that the MA considered the numbers were insufficient to justify the class.

Mr LAB Howard, Principle of the Mount Street Institute then prevailed upon the writer (Brian Grahl the original author of this piece) to gather together enough people to form a class administered by the Liverpool Education Committee but working to the MA syllabus. After some correspondence with the MA and its members on Merseyside, eighteen pupils were enrolled. They were then pleased to find the original fee had been halved although it appeared that they were still to get value for their money; and they did! Perhaps Mr Bolger did not take too kindly to our faces for after only three lessons he emigrated to Tasmania leaving us without a tutor.

Fortuitously (or otherwise) AJ Taylor of The Wayfarers Club, who were aware of our position, mentioned to one FA (Fred) Smith that he might like to take over and to this he agreed.

"To most of us, our introduction to mountaineering was a revalation, not a painless one perhaps..."

To most of us, our introduction to mountaineering was a revalation, not a painless one perhaps, but enthused by Fred we found a new way of life.

This is where our story really begins.

The following year Fred again ran a class. On its termination at Easter he wrote to each of us suggesting that from the classes there was a sufficient nucleus to form a mountaineering club.

It is only fitting that in our first Journal we should consider the beginnings of our club. To do so one must look back beyond our first Minute book and records on which is based the substance of this story. One must in fact go back ten years, to the formation of the Winter Evening Mountaineering Class at Mount Street, Liverpool in 1954. This was a course organised by the Mountaineering Association and had as it's first tutor a Mr. A. (Tony) Bolger. It appears that this first class was quite successful, although it gave only a general background to mountaineering. The following year only seven persons enrolled and were very disappointed to find that the M.A. considered the numbers were insufficient to justify the class.

"Perhaps Mr. Bolger did not take too kindly to our faces..."

Mr. L.A.B. Howard, Principal of the Mount St. Institute then prevailed upon the writer to gather together enough people to form a class administrated by the Liverpool Education Committee but working to the M.A. syllabus. After some correspondence with the M.A. and its members on Merseyside, eighteen pupils were enrolled. They were pleased to find the original fee had been halved, although it appeared they were still to get value for their money; and they did !. Perhaps Mr. Bolger did not take too kindly to our faces for after only three lessons he emigrated to Tasmania leaving us without a tutor.

Fortuitously (or otherwise) A.J. Taylor of the Wayfarers Club, who was aware of our position, mentioned to one F.A. Smith that he might like to take over and to this he agreed.

Most of us in the Club are aware of Fred's boundless enthusiasm for mountaineering and indeed for any matter in which he has set his heart. Although handicapped by a knee injury from which he suffered considerable pain, his enthusiasm in those days was no less than it is today. For most of us, our introduction to mountaineering was a revelation, not a painless one perhaps, but enthused by Fred we found a new way of life. This is where our story really begins.

The following year Fred again ran a class. On its termination at Easter Fred wrote to each of us suggesting that from the classes there was a sufficient nucleus to form a mountaineering club. Most of us had made friends, and already small parties were visiting Snowdonia and the Lake District at weekends. The same Easter, the morning of Good Friday saw Jack Drummond, Brian and Kay Grahl walking up the Watendlath path in wet snow in search of tea. We had been thinking of Fred's letter and we discussed the idea as we went along. At that time there were only two local clubs, the Wayfarers Club and the Vagabonds M.C.. The Wayfarers we knew was "men only" and having been to some of their indoor meets we knew a friendly and cordial atmosphere prevailed. Was not Fred Smith himself a member? Little was known of the Vagabonds except that they admitted both sexes and had a hut in Nant Peris.

On this basis there certainly seemed room for another club on Merseyside catering for a mixed membership, and that would preserve the friendly atmosphere of the classes, operating on a slightly less formal basis than other clubs of a more senior nature.

On the 22nd of May 1958, a meeting was arranged and chaired by Fred Smith at Mount Street. Those present numbered 34 and it was unanimously decided to form a club "The aim of which would be mountaineering including not only rock-climbing but skiing and potholing". The Club would have regular evening meetings each month. A pilot committee was elected consisting of M. (Mike) Oldaker, J.R.M (Jim) Heppell, B.H. (Brian) Grahl, J. (John) Durnford and Miss M.(Margaret) Wilson. Its function was to decide on the constitution of the Club. A set of rules was to be drawn up for consideration and the hope was expressed that by the following year the club would be able to acquire a hut, preferably in Snowdonia. Everyone present undertook to propose a possible name for the club. It was also suggested a News Sheet be sent to members.

At a further General Meeting on 26th June 1958, the Merseyside Mountaineering Club came into being, when the proposal that the Club be known by that name was made by P.(Peter) Moran and carried unanimously. F.A. (Fred) Smith became the President and T.(Terry) Nugent the Secretary. Brian Grahl was elected Meets Secretary and Jack Drummond to the Treasury. A photographic Secretary, Ken Liptrot was also elected. It is unfortunate that this latter office has lapsed with the course of time since the holder would have organised a photographic exhibition at the end of each year. The members of the committee were A.(Alan) Corns, D. (Doug) Peel, Margaret Wilson, Mrs. K.(Kay) Grahl, J.(Jim) Horn and R.(Roy) Edwards. A sub committee was formed to seek a club hut. It is worth noting that a precedent was so created, which is closely followed to this day whenever an involved problem arises. The subscription was fixed at 1.00 per annum.

"We had no hut in which to shelter from the rain, in fact no-one seemed to want to..."

The Club was now functioning, and throughout that summer meets were held at fortnightly intervals. They were, in the main, day meets in Snowdonia and although they seemed to suffer invariably from bad weather, a considerable amount of climbing was done. We had no hut in which to shelter from the rain, in fact no-one seemed to want to, so each alternate Sunday saw three or four cars returning to Merseyside, their steaming interiors containing three or four climbers soaked to the skin. However, the Meets Sec. noticed that the intervening weekends were fine so all meets were brought forward by one week. It was to no avail since the capricious Welsh climate also changed step by one week and we were back where we started.

Tryfan was of course a great favourite and one remembers vividly, days spent on the East Face, Pinnacle Rib, Gashed Crag, North Buttress, forcing our way upwards against the gales, helped by the rain which blew vertically upwards. We were introduced via Fred Smith to the lesser delights of the Three Cliffs of Llanberis but in those days the term "Pass-ard" had still to be coined. A day, wet of course, was spent on Cader Idris, initiated by Jack Drummond and this was to become an annual event.

Through the generosity of the M.A.M. and The Lancashire Caving and Climbing Club an occasional weekend meet was held. Attendance on most meets was almost 100% of membership. The first indoor meet was held at Mount Street Institute on the last Friday in September when member's slides were shown. Committee meetings were held regularly and the one of November 21st was noteworthy for a resolution that a Mr. A Sheppard be elected to membership.

The first Annual Dinner was held on the 27th December at the Crown Hotel, Llanfihangel. This was a most enjoyable and informal affair consisting of twenty-two members and guests sitting around a table in a private room. We had no official guests or official speakers, although the president was seen to stand and say a few words regarding the excellence of the beer.

The opening months of 1959 passed without incident until we came to the Committee meeting of May 29th. At this meeting five new members were elected including Ray Harold, Val Norris and Hilda Fenner, all of whom were to give valuable service to the club. It was also resolved that an empty property known as Nant-y-Merddyn be purchased as a hut, although situated as it was on the Denbigh moors, near Llantsannan, it was at least 25 miles from the nearest climbing area.

At the A.G.M. held at the Mitre Hotel on June 26th. Twenty-one members were present. The Sec. Terry Nugent announced that because of his intended departure for Scotland, he would not be seeking re-election. For the same reason Doug Peel retired from the committee. Tom Cardwell became Secretary and Joan Fenner replaced Doug. The rest of the officers and committee were re-elected. After a long discussion regarding the situation of N.Y.M., as the hut subsequently became known, it was resolved that agreement be reached with the owners to rent the property, subject to a satisfactory surveyor's report.

Perhaps I might be forgiven if I dwell on the deep significance of this apparently simple sentence. Since the formation of the club twelve months earlier our very active meets programme owed a lot to the generosity of other clubs. Whilst to a certain extent this is still so, we then had no facilities to offer in return. A club hut is always the focal point of any mountaineering club and meets are its lifeblood. Here we at last had the opportunity of renting a very large, rather decrepit farmhouse. The real drawback was that the mountains of Snowdonia appeared as a blue haze on the western horizon. Furthermore, the hut was situated on the crest of a high tundra and approached by a road, which, difficult enough in summer, could be well nigh impassable in a bad winter. Access by public transport was out of the question and it was suggested that in view of this fact it was likely to be used only for club meets. On the other hand, the hut sub-committee, despite exhaustive investigation, had been unable to find any alternative.

For some at least N.Y.M. had quiet charm of its own. It was certainly the most capacious hut in Snowdonia, perhaps in Britain, forty people could have been accommodated with ease. Subsequent events have shown our decision to go ahead was correct. There is little doubt that had we not done so the club would not have developed and may well have foundered. In August a lease was agreed at the princely sum of 3 per annum with the owners, The Longmynd Estates.

Nant-y-Merddyn Circa 1960
Nant-y-Merddyn Circa 1960 (Photo: Fred Smith)

Working parties began, and continued, seemingly on every weekend, throughout the long golden autumn of that year. The average attendance was twenty-two which spoke volumes of the enthusiasm of the members. The interior walls were re-cemented, plastered and painted. Water was piped from the adjacent barn to the kitchen, which we converted from the dairy. Sheep were driven from two outhouses which with prodigious feats of carpentry were converted to toilets. Fred Smith became unofficial Hut Warden and with his customary enthusiasm equipped the hut with tables, chairs, crockery, cutlery, lamps, calor gas stoves (later), bunks mattresses and the thousand and one items all at a fraction of their normal cost.

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