A Short History of the Vagabond Mountaineering Club - compiled by Arthur Green
The Vagabond Mountaineering Club has its origins in the West Derby YHA Club that was active in Queens Drive, Liverpool in the 1940’s.
Post-war YHA clubs were set up in 1943 to promote outdoor activity for young people but membership only ran to a maximum age of 21. In 1948 some members at the West Derby club were approaching cut off age and a small group decided to form their own club. Their inaugural meet was on Tuesday 11th January 1949 and they became the Vagabond MC, most likely taking the name from the local Vagabonds Tennis Club nearby, which still exists. There were nine original members that included two cyclists who resigned during the first year since the rest were walkers and climbers. The driving force of this fledgling Club came from Peter Howgate, Brian Mnew, Lawrie Gerrard and Gordon Butler.
Weekend trips were mainly to North Wales by hitch-hiking or by motor bike, staying at Idwal YH or the Tyn-y-Shanty, a corrugated tin hut at Ogwen. There were occasional trips further afield to the Lakes, Ben Nevis and Skye.
In 1952 the Vaynol Estate around Caernarfon had many unoccupied cottages and one near Nant Peris came to their notice. The Club agreed a 7 year lease at £13 per year.
£34 was raised to make it habitable with a few work meets. Water came from the nearby stream via a tap but there was no sewage or electricity. The Hut was opened for use on the 6th September 1952. By the mid ‘50s there were about 30 members of the VMC.
Around 1980 on a rolling lease the ownership of the Hut changed hands and the Hut was sold by the Vaynol Estate to a private owner, the lease continuing till 1989.
We were in limbo for a few years after that and looked at several alternative bases.
In the end we decided to try and buy the Hut which had been valued at £35,000.
In 1994 after raising £9,000 we received a £30k grant from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts (the Football Pools) and the Hut was ours. In 1995 we spent £2500 on repairs.
It soon became apparent, after years of uncertainty with the ownership and subsequent lack of renovation, that rising damp and a perishing flat roof at the back meant that we needed to spend considerably more than this.
In 1998, after discussions at a BMC Hut workshop, proposals were put to the AGM for a major re-build of the Hut expanding the tiny Crog-loft to a full second floor space. This proposal was accepted by the members. The plans were eventually accepted by the National Park and we hired a builder, Mike Bailey at a cost of £43k for the work.
We had around £18k in assets. Voluntary Membership funding pledges were introduced, bringing in about £5k per year, to provide a 3-5 year commitment to fund a short term loan or mortgage to cover the costs of re-build. We had to finish and fit out the Hut ourselves.
Sports England Lottery had revised its policy in Feb 2001 to focus on Olympic sport development and disadvantaged groups. Our application for funding was turned down. Mike Bailey started work at Easter 2004 and the job of removing and raising the roof to give us a second floor was completed in October 2007 after some delays. We now have a Hut with a capital H.
Over the years the Vagabond MC has always been a small Club with a ‘family’ atmosphere where you could go down to the Hut and find people you were familiar with. The Club has been blessed with some outstanding mountaineers since its formation and we are essentially a ‘climbing’ Club.
In the early 1960’s Jim O’Neill with his ascent of The Beatnik at Helsby put himself in the top ten rock climbers in the UK and had a very successful career in a partnership with Hugh Banner (not VMC) doing first ascents of the high level Girdle of Cyrn Las and Rowan Tree Slabs E2 at Idwal. George Lee, Roger Heywood, Bob Beesley, Alan Bell and Dave Clements were also strong climbers at that time, the latter two making many first ascents on the big cliffs in the Carneddau.
A little later Pete Minks came along and upped the grade. With Brian Molyneux in the early 1970’s, Pete made many free ascents of climbs that had been originally done with aid, the best being Dinosaur E5 on Gogarth where he reduced the aid to one point from the ten original aid points of Joe Brown and Pete Crew on the first ascent.
Leo Dickinson was also on the books, making his name as a photographer with his iconic shot of Dream of White Horses and also becoming a very good climber, explorer and adventurer. Mal Cameron and Arthur Green were on the ‘Subs Bench’ at that time.
In the late 60’s Jim had found a schoolboy by the name of Al Rouse who could stroll up stuff that many struggled on at the local sandstone quarries around Merseyside and Pete and Brian took him on as apprentice. The roles were soon reversed.
Al’s climbing ability was just extraordinary and he quickly got involved on the big cliffs of North Wales making first ascents of Positron E5 on Gogarth and Gemini E4 on Cloggy in the early 70’s.
Both Pete and Al had also got into solo climbing. Pete made an early solo of Vector at Tremadoc and Al soloed The Boldest E3 on Cloggy in 1970 with many top class climbers watching below and cheering him on. Al went on to make major ascents in the Alps and the Greater Ranges, working on lightweight expeditions with Chris Bonington and Doug Scott. Sadly Al died on K2 in 1986 in a great storm after making the first British ascent.
Although the Club went into decline through the 80’s as many of its stars moved on to bigger things and some emigrated to Canada and the USA, a revival came in the late 90’s when Alison Martindale and Tony Ball came along. The Club continues to be ‘home’ to many climbers, both of modest and outstanding repute. The present intake of members suggests that the bar is continuing to rise and perhaps the best is yet to come.
AG. March 2017.