The Post War Oread

The Oread (originally the Burton-on-Trent Mountaineering Club) was founded in that brewing town, on the border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire, in March 1949, but quickly gravitated north so that, within a few years, its active membership was mostly resident in Derbyshire and the Nottingham area. The Peak District with its lavish supply of gritstone outcrops became its natural home.
In his Preface to Climb If You Will (1974) the late Sir Jack Longland wrote:"...Born of a mixture of ex-servicemen and their girls; with tents, anoraks, and probably ropes, all ex W.D the Oread came into existence pat on cue. The men (and the women) matched the need, and they were inspired by a fanaticism about mountains..... but always mitigated by a humour which would not let them take themselves too seriously, by a Rabalaisian anarchism which inspired their doings in huts and pubs, by the civilising influence of girl friends and wives who sometimes climbed as well as they did."

J.L.L. got it about right and perhaps the most significant reason for the club's survival into Millennium, its development from a small group of climbing fanatics into a senior mountaineering club with its own property in North Wales, and a secure base in the heart of the Peak District, is the continued re-generation of that early spirit and recognition that serious administrative requirements must never diminish the aspirations of the first constitution "mountaineering regardless".

The period 1949/99 occupies a particular niche in the development of British mountaineering. As others have recounted the enormous influx of would be climbers in the aftermath of the second world war presented the older establishment with a problem. How were they to accommodate this mass of half rebellious youth who, radialysed by recent experience, viewed the pre-war insularity of the senior clubs with something of a jaundiced eye? But the young men (and women) solved it themselves. They founded their provincial and regional clubs throughout the U.K. They taught themselves to climb and provided the climbing scene with some of the earliest examples of post-war street cred. They did not wait upon selection for expeditions by the great and the good. They simply went and did it themselves.



The Oread Expeditions

It was in this latter context that the Oread gained an early reputation, perhaps disproportionate to its physical size. By 1951, inspired by George Sutton, a Founder Member, its members were making the first serious climbing exploration of Arctic Norway since the exploits of those celebrated 19th century alpinists: Hastings, Haskett-Smith, Collie and Slingsby. In 1952 Sutton was in Spitzbergen and in 1954 a small party , mainly Oread was setting sail for the Antarctic as the British South Georgia Expedition 1954/55. More ambitious than previous ventures B.S.G.E. 54/55, in addition to basic mountain exploration, carried out serious survey combined with glaciological observations that subsequently became a long term research project of British Antarctic Survey.
By 1961 Bob Pettigrew, then a young Derby schoolmaster had commenced his long association with the Far East and was leading the first Oread expedition to the Himalayas - The Derbyshire Himalayan Expedition 1961. The organisation was greatly assisted by the Duke of Devonshire agreeing to become Patron, the start of a continuing association that later led to the Oread establishing a physical presence in the Chatsworth area, and the Duke's encouragement in providing a Foreward to the current 50th Anniversary Journal.

At a domestic level the Oread was very involved in the writing and publication of the early Gritstone Climbing Guides (1950/52) and the late Erie Byne, the Series Editor, was at one time President of the Club. SO inevitably the Peak District has always been central to Club activities; climbing and long distance walking. Thus it was totally apt that, in the 1960's a Derbyshire base was established on part of the Chatsworth Estate. The Club has had its own place in North Wales since the 1950's and, for over 40 years, has owned a substantial property ("Club Hut") in Rhydd ddu on the West side of Snowdon. In addition to its use by club members Tan y Wyddfa is in almost constant use by other mountaineering clubs. Such activities provide reciprocal rights to Oread members in mountaineering club owned properties throughout the UK.

The tradition of extended travel to remoter areas has remained with the Oread and in the intervening years there are few mountain areas where Oread boots have not trodden: Greenland, Ruwenzori, Tien Shan, Ladakh, Tibet, Andes north and south, Yosemite to Alaska to Aconcagua, Mt. Kenya to Kulu ~ someone's always just going or coming back and there is no shortage of subjects for the usual round of Winter Indoor Meets.

But the European Alps have always been regarded as the basic training ground for bigger things and an Alpine Summer Meet has always featured on the Annual Outdoor Meets List. The 1970's were particularly noteworthy. In one or two seasons three separate Oread Parties climbed (without mishap) the celebrated Eiger north face. Others were successful on the north face of the Matterhorn, made first British ascents of other face climbs, winter climbs on the Croz and Walker Spurs of Les Grandes Jorasses, and a multitude of other Chamonix/Courmayeur major routes.



Oread Facts

As a matter of routine the club holds approximately 30 - 35 outdoor Weekend meets throughout the year and 6 Indoor Meets during the winter months. Members meet informally every Tuesday evening (generally after 9pm) at the Smithfield Arms, near the River Derwent, Derby City Centre.

During the summer months (post Easter), regular Wednesday evening rock climbing meets are held at various limestone and gritstone crags throughout the Peak District,followed by a post- mortem at a nearby pub.

As previously referred to the club owns a substantial property at Rhydd ddu in North Wales (Tan yr Wydffa) and leases a cottage near Baslow, at the heart of the Gritstone Edges. These properties are in constant use by members, their guests, and other mountaineering clubs with reciprocal rights.

1999 is the year of the Oread's 50th anniversary and in November an Anniversary Journal will be published. The Journal, a sustantial hard backed book of 300 plus pages and over 100 illustrations, has been put together by its editor, Harry Pretty and includes the best of the Oread's writing between 1949 and 1999, together with contemporary essays and comment. The Duke of Devonshire, Peter Harding and Tom Weir provide a forward and introductory words.

The book will retail at approx. £17 and enquiries should be addressed to Cordee Books or to the Editor, Harry Pretty.


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