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Bellhouse, H. H. (1899) The Formation Of The Yorkshire Ramblers' Club. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 1 Number 1: pp3-12. Leeds: YRC

The Formation Of The Yorkshire Ramblers' Club.

 By H. H. Bellhouse.

 However willing one may be to give honour where honour is due, it is practically impossible to name the person who first proposed the formation of the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club, or even to point to any particular event or circumstance as its genesis. For many years there has been in Yorkshire a certain proportion of the more active members of the community-at least no smaller than is to be found in other counties-endowed with the happy faculty of combining their love of outdoor exercise with the love of Nature and its very general accompaniment-the desire to travel. There are many ways of travelling, of course, and every man will choose the mode of locomotion best suited to his tastes, his strength, and his means; but one of the class here referred to, though he may sometimes take pleasure in cycling, riding, rowing, like anybody else, will generally be found afoot. He will betake himself to the fields and woods and solitary places, to the "cloud-piercing peak, the trackless heath," where there is no way of getting over the ground but by walking and climbing. Fond though he be of the solitudes, however, he is usually sociable, and in course of time will become one of a group whose highest ideal of recreation is to get away from the busy hum of cities and commune with Nature.

The tendency among Englishmen to organise and form themselves into societies is so strong that there is nothing extraordinary in suggesting that such a group could not attain to large dimensions without proposals being made to form a Club, and there is no doubt that parallel discussions of this proposition took place in two or three quarters for some time before the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club was definitely projected. lt sometimes chanced that parties moving in different circles met in their wanderings through the country,  and during the new acquaintances formed through these pleasant encounters an exchange of views on the subject of the proposed Club eventually took place, and gradually it came to be known that there was a very general desire for the proposal to take shape. Thus the idea may be truly said to be a product of the hills on whose sides it grew--a healthy plant, naturally and freely to bear its fruit in due season.

In the summer of 1892, then, it was abundantly clear that an attempt to realise the idea of forming a Club would be successful, and on July 13th, as a preliminary step, Messrs. Geo. T. Lowe, J A. Green, H. H. Bellhouse, and Herbert Slater met at the house of the last-named, to consult on the best way of going to work. After an exchange of views, these four gentlemen decided to call a meeting of pedestrians at the end of the season, selecting Mr. Green to invite those known to be interested in the matter, and asking him to fix a date most suitable to the majority.

The meeting was held in Headingley on October 6th. In recognition of the fact that to him, if to one person more than another, was due the credit of bringing matters to this point, Mr. Lowe was elected to the chair, and after he had briefly explained the object of the meeting it was unanimously resolved to form a Club, and the terms of the resolutions which followed stated its objects. These are primarily to give facilities for the organisation of walking and mountaineering expeditions, and to encourage in connection therewith the study of Nature.

The title of the Club was then chosen, also unanimously, though other names besides that adopted were discussed prior to any resolution being put. As a side-light on the history of previous years, showing in what direction the tastes of the original members mostly led them-namely, to the hills-it is interesting to notice the fact that the only one of the discarded suggestions to receive any substantial support was "The Three Peak Club." About that time there was a craze among a section of those who first joined the Club for making the ascents of Ingleborough, Whernside, and Pen-y-ghent in one day, due possibly to the fact that these hills are so easily accessible to the majority of hill-walkers in the West Riding, and that the expedition fills up an odd day pleasantly. The promenade was farniiiarly called "The Three Peaks," and the whimsical notion of perpetuating tl'1e name found some favour among a few of its frequenters, until it was pointed out that its adoption would restrict the scope of the Club to a very limited area, and its membership to a corresponding insignificance. The good understanding existing among those present at the meeting enabled them to frame a provisional constitution and appoint officers and a committee before separating. The officers for the first year were Mr. Geo. T. Lowe, President; Messrs. Herbert Slater and George Arnold, Vice-Presidents; Mr. H. H. Bellhouse, Honorary Treasurer; Mr. A. Green, Honorary Secretary; and Messrs. Fred Waggett, Charles Scriven, R. N. Lister, Lawrence Dean, and   W. Swithinbank, Members of Committee. About twenty members were enrolled before the second meeting, which was held on October 18th. On this occasion it was decided to hold two meetings in each month, up to and including April, at which papers should be read; and one in each summer month for arranging expeditions and discussing any special scheme of work that might be suggested.

During this first year the constitution of the Club took shape, and much care and time were spent over questions of government and procedure, particularly in regard to the admission of new members. The question of qualification was early taken in hand, but before any decision was arrived at members were of course admitted with little to show in the way of a walking or climbing record. In this respect, as time went on, it became necessary to insist on a certain standard of proficiency in candidates for admission. To this end, rules very stringent in their application were framed, and a fixed test was laid down as the gauge both of the physical capacities of applicants and of their interest in the objects of the Club. It was held that the test demanded involved a great deal more than the mere covering the necessary ground, and that it followed that intending members who could pass it had done a considerable amount of work. The experience of the Committee, however, showed that the fixed qualification had two grave faults: firstly, it excluded those who had probably performed the necessary amount of hill-walking, but had kept no record of such expeditions as would meet the requirements of the rule; and, secondly, it was seen that some aspirants for membership might seek to gain entrance by purposely making an expedition which would enable them to comply with the strict letter of the law without satisfying its intention. Either of these objections was fatal to the spirit of the Club, and these rules were altered to their present form at the end of the first year. They allow the Committee plenty of latitude, but the necessity for a good record has always been upheld, and the tendency has ever been to raise the standard. The comparative slow growth of the Club is thus explained. It is not suggested that the qualification insisted on is so severe as to exclude many of those who are really wishful to join, but imperfect knowledge of the aims of the Club and the reasons for the existence of this excellent provision make a large number of desirable men hold aloof. The members now enjoy a closer friendship one with another, but there is no question that their usefulness as a body would he vastly increased were the Club numerically stronger


A very important step was taken at one of the earliest meetings, when it was decided to ask certain members of the Alpine Club and others of eminence to join as honorary members. The valuable assistance given by these honorary members cannot he over-estimated, and to their good counsel and practical encouragement at all times is due much of the success of the Club. The first honorary member to be elected was Mr. Edward Whymper, who was soon followed by Mr. Wm. Cecil Slingsby and Mr. C. T. Dent.

All original members must have very pleasant recollections of the meetings held during the first year. Everything was in an experimental stage, and a good deal had to be done to get things into working order. Nevertheless, time was also found for the reading and discussion of papers-which used, by the way, to take place in a much more informal manner than nowadays. It is interesting to note that the districts treated of were then, as now, not all contained within the boundaries of Yorkshire, as no attempt was made to confine the scope of the Club within those limits. There is much to interest all lovers of Nature within our borders, but Yorkshiremen - like their Viking for-elders - are fond of extending their conquests in other lands.

The influence of the first session had a very appreciable effect in creating a greater desire for travel and knowledge, as was shown by the increased energy of the members in the succeeding summer. More of them went to Switzerland, for instance, and greater attention was paid to climbing in the Lake District, North Wales, and other mountainous parts of the British Isles. The shorter expeditions in Yorkshire multiplied exceedingly, and cave exploration was the object of more of them than had been the case hitherto. Club meets were also held, one at Hopper Lane, Blubberhouses - a moorland rendezvous between Harrogate and Ilkley, well known to most Yorkshire ramblers - at Christmas, 1892, the first time that members met as a body away from Leeds, and another at Ingleton in October, 1893. Summer meets have since been held with success at Settle, Skipton, Malham, Ribblehead, and Burnsall.

The formation of a library was commenced in October, 1893, and little by little it has increased, until it is now a presentable and certainly valuable collection of books on travel, mountaineering, science, and history. This is almost entirely due to the generosity of members, as the expenses of management have always been too high for the Committee to set aside much money for this purpose.

At the first annual general meeting the Committee were able to present a satisfactory report of the first twelve months' work, and the Club entered on its second year as a sturdy infant, giving promise of a long and useful life. The election of officers resulted in Mr. Wm. Cecil Slingsby being elected President, Mr. Geo. T. Lowe and Mr. Lewis Moore, Vice-Presidents; Mr. Herbert Slater, Treasurer; Mr. H. H. Bellhouse, Secretary; and, as Committee, Messrs. S. W. Cuttriss,   A. Green, Ralph Smith,   VJ. Swithinbank, C. Scriven, R. N. Lister, and E. Hill.

The meetings of the second winter were of a more interesting character than those of the preceding session, and from the general tenor of the papers given it was easy to see in what direction the taste of the members was leading. They nearly all treated of mountaineering expeditions, and those which were entirely devoted to climbing secured the largest audiences.

Our first introduction to the public was made at the end of November, 1893, by the President, who, in the Philosophical Hall, to a crowded meeting, gave a lecture on "Rock Climbing and Snowcraft."  Another public meeting was held in the following February in the same place, when Mr. Edward Whymper gave his lecture on the Andes. These two very successful meetings were the first of the series of public lectures, one of which has been given each winter, and it may not be out of place to mention the others by name here. In April, 1895, Mr. Hermann Woolley gave an account of his explorations in the Caucasus, and on February 4th, 1896, Mr. C. E. Mathews told "The Story of Mont Blanc." At the opening meeting of the following session, Mr. Chas. Pilkington read a paper on the Meije. On this occasion it was seen that the early part of the session was the best time to hold the big public meetings, and arrangements have since been made accordingly, both in the case of Mr. C. T. Dent's lecture on "Mountains," in 1897, and that of Dr. Norman Collie on the Canadian Rockies last November. The latter closes the list for the present.

Papers on other subjects than mountaineering have also been much appreciated, such as those on cave hunting, camping, yachting, rowing, cycling, and other sports; also those on historical and antiquarian topics, and the sciences which can be studied in connection with the above pastimes - more particularly geology and botany. In this connection, too, it may be said that meetings have been held for other purposes than the reading of papers, and one of these deserves especial mention both for its novelty and usefulness, namely, the Exhibition of Alpine Equipment in January, 1895. Nearly every conceivable article which could be used in mountain travel was shown. The Club-room presented somewhat the appearance of a marine store, but that only gave point to the practical value of the exhibits.

Before leaving the question of the transactions of the Club, as touching its meetings, it is well to mention that originally one of the objects of the Club was to actively support the Commons Preservation Society. There has, nevertheless, always been a reluctance on the part of the members to take part in controversies of any kind, and any proceedings which might have led to litigation would have been extremely distasteful to them and quite foreign to the nature of the Club. While placing on record their appreciation of the objects of the Commons Preservation Society, and the hope that its good work may prosper, a resolution was passed at a special meeting in 1895 that the Club should no longer, as a body, bind itself to assist the society, and the rules were altered accordingly. This step may be said to have completed the formation of the Club as at present constituted.

The development and progress of the Club were exemplified in a concrete form in the beginning of 1897, when the present commodious and comfortable rooms at 10, Park Street, were taken. Here, in a central position, all but the largest meetings can conveniently be held, and the books and other property kept, where they are accessible at all times. Previously the meetings were held at the Victoria Hotel, where, in spite of all that the management did to make us comfortable, practically few of our present advantages could be enjoyed.

There is abundant evidence that already the objects of the Club have been and continue to be fulfilled in a very large measure. Every year increasing numbers of the members have gone abroad, to Switzerland and Norway especially, and acquitted themselves well. Not in spite of this tendency, but rather as the result of it, our members have scoured the British hills as they never did before, particularly those most easily reached - in Scotland, the Lake Country, and North Wales. Every Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide, and in fact the year through, members are busy with all their talents. Parties, excepting for the Annual Meet, are never made up "officially," but the many informal, not unlooked-for but not pre-arranged, gatherings at Wasdale, Pen-y-gwryd, and elsewhere add not a little to the pleasures and advantages of membership. Perhaps the most pleasing feature of all is the fact that our own Yorkshire fells are found to possess even greater charms than before, and that although other regions have in some respects superior attractions, here at our very doors is plenty of scope for the most energetic. True, it cannot be said that there is much rock-climbing on the grassy slopes of the Pennine Chain, and snow-work, except of a very elementary character, is, of course, out of the question. Of the latter, by the way, what little there is to be experienced south of the Border does not satisfy our members, some of whom occasionally take the liberty of invading the territory of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and the Cairngorm Club. No sort of permission has been asked or given for such an intrusion - the "open door" is taken for granted. The only time the Yorkshire hills have been deeply covered with snow since the Club was formed was early in 1896, when on some of the steeper slopes steps needed cutting here and there, and the novelty of a long glissade on Ingleborough could be experienced.

The short rock-climbs - and it must be confessed they are short - to be found on the slippery limestone and the uncompromising millstone grit afford a certain amount of practice and enjoyment; such climbing as our hills afford, however, would remain unknown if it were not for the singular and inviting beauty of the country.

But the Yorkshire hills possess another great attraction for our members, namely, the vast system of caves in the carboniferous limestone, a large number of which remain yet unexplored. Here, in this almost, inexhaustible field for the practice of "underground mountaineering" and scientific research, the Club is busily engaged. The manner in which the work of exploration has been carried on and the results achieved have already conferred distinction on the Club, no less than on the members who are its pioneers. The vigorous pursuit of this most fascinating sport, and the best use of our unique advantages, must always be one of the special features of the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club.

It is highly satisfactory to note that in all branches of work there has been a striking immunity from accidents. The Club started with thirteen members, it now numbers 61, nearly all of whom have practised what are by many more or less well informed people considered to be the most dangerous of sports, Yet the personal injuries during that period have been fewer and more slight than those which a cricket or golf club might with reason have been expected to record. So much for the care evidently taken by everybody in all their doings. These remarks are made in no boastful spirit, but with the double object of giving such good fortune due recognition and warning afresh all members that previous freedom from mishaps should never lead them to forget or neglect the slightest precaution.

It has been impossible within the limit of this paper to do more than give a slight sketch of the events which have led up to the present position of the Club. To fill in the details would require many pages. The members have ever been active in carrying on the work of building up the Club, and much could be written to the credit of every name on the roll. In this connection we acknowledge with much pleasure the assistance given by many members of the Alpine Club, who in a practical manner have shown their interest in our proceedings.

Thus, its objects having been effectively carried out, the Club has gained a status which at once justifies its formation and augurs well for its future.

On the hills, and in the fields, and underground, in sport and adventure, in the vast unexplored domains of science, and in historical research there is plenty of scope for its members, and they will doubtless see to it that the Club will continue to grow and prosper. Were any evidence required in support of this proposition it would be forthcoming in the publication of our journal, which is now begun under favourable auspices. Long may its pages be a record of useful work and a standing witness to the progress of the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club.