Club History

Formed on 6th October 1892, the YRC was at the forefront of early cave and mountain exploration.

A Brief History of the YRC

On the 13th July 1892, four Yorkshire gentlemen met at the home of a Mr.Herbert Slater in Leeds to discuss the idea of forming a club for individuals interested in promoting the idea of walking and the study of the countryside. At an open meeting held at the Skyrack Inn, Headingley on 6th October 1892, it was unanimously decided to form a club to organise walking and mountaineering expeditions and encourage the study of nature. The name of the Club was picked from others including The Three Peaks Club, but Yorkshire understatement prevailed and the name Yorkshire Ramblers’ Club was chosen. Thus the second English mountaineering club was born, the first being the Alpine Club in 1865. You can see the account of the clubs formation as published in the first YRC Journal by clicking here.

Early YRC JournalIn an attempt to give some standing to the infant club they invited prominent members of the Alpine Club and other eminent personalities to become Honorary Members. These included Edward Whymper of Matterhorn fame, Cecil Slingsby, the Yorkshire man who was to become the Father of Norwegian Mountaineering, the Duke of Devonshire and the Earl of Wharncliffe. The latter two had estates where members might walk and climb. The good counsel and practical encouragement from these individuals added much to the success of the Club.

One is inclined to think that the world of the mountaineer is wider today than it was in the early days of the YRC; that is until one reads the exploits of members in our journals. Many have read of Whymper in the Andes. Fewer will know of Morris Slingsby’s crossing the Eastern Karakoram range to discover the 49 mile long Siachen Glacier in 1909 with another Yorkshire man Tom Longstaffe or his attempts on Kamet in May 1911 and June 1913. Kamet or Ibi Gamin fell to another member, Frank Smythe who made the first successful ascent in 1931. The Club donated 100 guineas. Smythe is perhaps better known for his Everest expeditions in 1933 and 1936.

Earlier still, Geoffrey Hastings climbed on Nanga Parbat with Mummery and Collie in 1895. More recently the YRC mounted the first Himalayan expedition by an English regional club. Six members attempted to climb Lönpo Gang, the great White Peak, in the Jugal Himal in 1957. Sadly the leader and two sherpas were lost in an avalanche. In 1995 the Club mounted a second expedition to Dorje Lakpa but were defeated by dangerous snow and weather conditions.

Members have climbed in the Alps and many more distant parts of the world, but since 1986 regular meets have been held in the Alps and 1988 saw the second intercontinental expedition to Bolivia. Subsequently there have been expeditions to the Himalaya, Bolivia, Morocco, Iceland and China. A broad spectrum of members’ abilities is exploited on these occasions. These include Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Caving & Potholing, Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoeing, Sailing and the various studies of nature.

The YRC had always had a fascination for these areas and since the Twenties has supported the Everest expeditions. In recent times the Club has held mountaineering and caving meets in many European mountain areas and in remote regions of the Himalaya, Andes, Morocco, Spitsbergen and China apart from numerous private members’ visits to these and other remote areas. It is Club policy to have a serious expedition every two years or so either in the mountains or caves of the remoter areas of the world. The Club actively provides financial support to the more serious expeditions.

As Yorkshire is an important limestone area with many caves and potholes, the exploration of potholes and caves soon became an important activity. Club members made many of the early cave discoveries and today members carry on that tradition in more distant parts of the world. An active group maintain the Club's interest in caving today.

Following a serious accident in 1934, the Cave Rescue Organisation was formed headed by a redoubtable pair of YRC members, Ernest Roberts, who became the first chairman and Cliff Downham the first secretary. Both were outstanding members and past Presidents of the YRC.

The Club is very much a collection of like-minded members from a wide range of occupations and walks of life. Having joined, they rapidly make life long friends. Money, status and age have no place in the life of the Club. Many members seem to remain active well into the latter stages of life passing on tales of their escapades to successive generations.

Contributed in part by the late, F. David Smith, Honorary Life Member.

Why Yorkshire Ramblers' Club?

We don't really know is the short answer. The subject of the club name is covered in the Journal (#put hyperlinks in) but why Rambler's for a mountaineering, climbing and caving club is beyond us.

In an effort to find out I looked at the the original context of 'Ramblers' to see if if gave any clues as to what led to the Yorkshire Ramblers’ being selected and whether it had changed meaning over the years. Well it has!!

In the 17th century Ramble meant “To go out in search of sex” and so a rambler was someone who went in search of sex (i.e. a whore) - A dictionary of slang and unconventional English By Eric Partridge, Paul Beale 1970. Not the promising start we might have hoped for.

In 1750 The Rambler had clearly taken on its literary guise as it was a “twopenny sheet” which Samual Johnson contributed to; but it only existed for 2 years.

By 1846 “The Rambler” was an esteemed publication of the Catholic Left so clearly the sexual connotations had gone by then ‘Phew’.

So what did it mean in 1892? The short answer is pretty well what it does now. I found a reference to the OED stating 'rambler : a person who rambles or goes rambling. ramble : a walk (formerly any journey) without definite route or other aim but pleasure'. And a definition of ramble “to explore idly”.

So my best guess is that it was selected to convey the sense of gentlemen whose aim was to explore the mountains and caves of the world not for glory or with a great purpose but purely for pleasure; or to paraphrase Mallory ‘because they are there’. I rather like that.

Andy Syme 25 Aug 2009

P.S. It seems I'm not alone, as Punch magazine published an article about the YRC in 1952. This was reprinted in 1954, YRC Journal Vol 8 No 27:

"The significance of the word ‘rambler’ appears to have changed considerably since the Yorkshire Ramblers’ Club was formed. It has had ample time to do so. That body is celebrating this year the Diamond Jubilee of its foundation. It has spent the sixty glorious years since 1892 in indefatigably clinging by its teeth to overhanging crags, swarming up wholly inaccessible pinnacles and plunging through torrents of cold water into vertical abysses. There is only one thing it has failed to do in those sixty years; it has never, in any normally accepted sense of the term, rambled."