NPC Newsletter (2nd New Series) No. 39 - May 1995

Some Stories of Early Days at the "Nest"

by Bert Bradshaw

Editor's note: Bert's article starts with a reprint of the "Genesis" and "Exodus" chapters now reproduced on this website, then goes on:

So there we have it, that's how it all began, most of us must have heard this story before. Memories do fade as one gets older, but the decision to form the club, the removal all the way from Settle over Buckhaw Brow to Crow Nest, followed by the settling in period and the early exciting days will live with me always. I was a callow youth of nineteen years in 1946, working undergruond in the Barnsley coalfield training / studying to be a mining engineer, but very much the youngster in the N.P.C.

I certainly knew my place at Crow Nest. I avoided my call-up papers, coal mining being a reserved occupation, due to the acute coal shortages of the 1940's. Nonetheless the returning veterans of World War II gradually joined the N.P.C. and regimental men settled on Crow Nest and you must realise I was subjected to a strict regime of army discipline, at the beck and call of these mighty warriors, I had to do their bidding without question and at the double too! Captain Butterfield said I had an angelic face, nicknamed me 'Young Bert' and called me so to his dying day.

Seriously though I had a tremendous respect for these men. They had fought in very recent battles in a nightmare war only just ended. From the Far East, Africa and Europe they came back. Not all though, Harry Gray, Ken's brother was killed in Burma (a real NPC stalwart he would have been). Bob Leakey's brother won a posthumous VC in East Africa, Dick Hylton lost a leg in Italy.

As always with fighting men returned from war they didn't want to talk about it, just forget about it, make a bright new world and go potholing.

I do know though that the quiet white haired man that is now, was a Tom Duckworth, fearsome commando who went on clandestine operations to Northern France, primarily to slit the enemy's throat. Doctors Aspin and Shaw mended soldiers bodies for many years. Arthur Gemmell's military career was so secret I reckon the SAS was his patch. The Brown brother's exploits were so audacious no wonder Hitler committed suicide, and Buzzer, you can understand Rommel fleeing from El Alamein with him on the horizon. Jim and Budge were in reserved occupations i.e. war work, Jim was also in the local Home Guard at Great Harwood, one of a crack team of dispatch riders. There were many weekends when he could not get up to the BSA in Settle, army manouvres kept him so busy. His job was working as a skilled engineer at the Bristol Aeroplane Co.'s factory at Clayton-le-Moors where they manufactured and assembled radial engines for Blenheim bombers and Beaufighters (the latter plane was one of the most difficult of World War II to land, the fatality rate being extremely high - not Jim's fault I might add).

These engines ran on 110 octane fuel which Jim somehow used to acquire in small quantities for use in his 1930's New Hudson side valve motorbike (OJ 7044 it's number, how's that for long term memory!) This functioned on 80+ octane fuel. What a carry on. We used to get to Settle in ten minute bursts. The engine would get hotter and hotter until the bike literally stopped in its tracks. Our legs were getting singed and all was aglow. One fag later (for Jim) he wuold spit on the engine, if it went "sizzzzle" instead of "zst..." we were OK and would remount, me on to a tiny pillion seat, a 50lb rucksack on my back. It was a long way from Great Harwood to Settle in those days.

Now Budge was different, a Yorkshire man to start with. Brought up in Leeds and spending his youthful years employed by an engineering firm called Crabtrees, Budges flirtation with war took place in the 30's and consisted of violent and bloody skirmishes in the centre of Leeds on a Sunday afternoon. The protagonists were the Communists v the Fascists, the battles fought in deadly earnest. It all took place at the time of the Spanish Civil War and Oswald Mosley's devotion to Nazi Germany, I never really did know which group Budge favoured, they used to change sides pretty frequently to keep the team numbers even.

Crow Nest cottage was ever so small, two tiny bedrooms with skylights, six bodies to a bedroom. Also upstairs was the original "aviary" full of swallows nests and their occupants when we took possession. These soon cleared off, but the rat population was made of sterner stuff, it took quite some time before Jim's personal vendetta destroyed their morale and they got the message, enormous rat traps were constructed, deadly poison was spread everywhere, I cannot imagine how we survived never mind the rats. The secret weapon in this war of attrition was very simple really, flat pieces of wood covered in a gooey substance which set like Araldite the instant it was touched. The theory was sound, in practice the only victims were NPC members, normally around 4am on Sunday mornings when en route for a pee at the front door (same facility as Greenclose). You try going down steep narrow stairs, drunk, bursting for the toilet and with a snowshoe on one foot.

The official toilet was a two holer, nicknamed the tandem and situated in a small croft by the cottage, it was a very windy place in every sense. Lifting the lid with a gale blowing, one was instantly surrounded by sheets of used toilet paper flying around like paper darts in a classroom, there was a venerable piece of equipment, namely a large pole for prodding down the accumulated pyramid of debris, eventually despite this novel gadget the tandem inexorably filled right to its brim and then had to be emptied.This was an occasion of some standing in the yearly calendar and was dreaded as much as a de-laddering trip in Pen-y-Ghent Pot. First a hole had to be dug in the croft, followed by pure bucket and shovel work, when emptied the tandem looked like Gaping Ghyll. The ceremony was always scheduled for a hot, sultry afternoon, the flies used to go berserk, hundreds of them darkening the sky on their annual jamboree day. Needless to say I was detailed for the working party, Butterfield and Hylton again, character building they told me!

Downstairs the cottage consisted of a small living room and an equally tiny kitchen. Food was strictly rationed for many years after the war so we pooled resources and cooked communally although bread, potatoes and milk were paid for out of cottage fees! Coke for the stove and parrafin for the Tilley lamps and Primus stoves were also rationed, we had an allowance granted by the Minister of Fuel and Power no less.

As I have told you, we ate communally, (the rule was if you didn't cook you did the washing up) there was one exception to this ..... Myers! This aloof aristocrat, arch intellectual, supreme anarchist, had everything worked out to a T. Our cooking skills and meal times were just not good enough, he never seemed to go hungry or look undernourished, looking back I can only marvel at his organisation and self discipline. His potholing light never went out, camera flash never failed, push bike sound mechanically, never a puncture, his bootlace never broke at the cave entrance, no spewing up outside Crow Nest, sufficient pocket money, the list is endless!

Ken Harris was never in this mould, a wild medical student and equally wild motorcyclist, he flatly refused to either cook or wash up, just ate what we dropped in front of him, saying the food was awful and the washing up water softened his hands for climbing. He was once cornered in the Royal Oak car park by the police, whilst creating a drunken uproar and uttered the immortal words "OK I'll come quietly"

Now we come to the subject of women, by that I mean women at the NPC. No question of them joining the club. Without being misconstrued I am sure black balls would have been out in force if one put up for election. Dick Hylton had every situation under control and lived up to his motto of "I hate women" uttered with such venom. Women weren't refused entry to the cottage by a male members right but if a fair damsel dared cross the threshhold she was to be greeted by a stony silence, never mind what me and Ashworth thought about it, randy as we always were, they never stayed long.

I can remember one Sunday evening, we were in a crisis due to a transport problem, Clive Brindle's motorbike wouldn't go and he had to take his very pretty girlfriend Peggy back to Rochdale, by the time it was fettled it was much too late to travel back home. Quite a few of us used to stay at Crow Nest on Sunday nights, get up very early on Monday morning and travel straight to work on motorbikes. Dick ushered us into one bedroom, Clive included, whilst Peggy was to sleep in a solitary splendour in the other, no one was to speak to her, never mind to look on her fair countenance. It simply was not fair and an ugly sexual resentment built up until Dick cleared us off to the Cross Streets. On our way back, full of false courage, we decided to make a change in Peggy's room, but a grim faced Dick and equally determined Clive headed us off. We weren't ready for revoltuion yet, Dick Hylton won this one hands down.

So end some of the stories about the early days, in the 1950's we moved to Green Close, with the continuing club exploits and sagas being well chronicled in the Newsletters. For many years since then I have been on the fringe of things, missing much serious caving for long periods, but I am now more at the heart of matters and realise how desperately I want the "Pennine" to keep swinging along. There is a fine blend of ages, experience, expertise, bull headedness, anarchism and sheer stupidity to keep the show rolling on, what strikes me most is how little change has taken place, take away the technical side such as transport, equipment, personal and otherwise it's all the same. Away from the tourist routes the fells are still quiet, the curlews still call and the sheep go baa, no gated holes, free access, much rain and long suffering farmers who still put up with our antics, displaying great stoicism, sods that we are.

I served my apprenticeship with the NPC, one of the few genuine "dales" clubs, after a few years you don't just come potholing but become an "honorary Dalesman". Fifty years is a long time to keep well in with the locals, let us always keep it that way.


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