History – an extract from the book ‘Mountain Rescue’

Extract from ‘Mountain Rescue: history & development in the Peak District’

by Roger Bennett and Ian Hurst. Tempus Publishing, 2007.
ISBN 9780 7524 4091 0

White Hall Open Country Pursuits Centre stands at 1,300 feet above sea level on Long Hill at Buxton, overlooking the head of the Goyt Valley. Originally a manor house it was taken over by Derbyshire Education Committee in the late 1940s and, with the vision of Jack Longland, Director of Education, became one of the earliest outdoor pursuit establishments in the Peak District. Peter Mosedale was its first Warden and, borrowing ideas from the scouts and the outward-bound centres, he started an education programme using volunteer instructors.

In 1955 Geoff Sutton took over as Warden and by now the White Hall Centre had a reputation for having a good staff of mountaineers especially skilled in climbing and caving. It was Sutton who first offered the services of the White Hall staff to help in mountain rescue when the Voluntary Warden team was being established in the Peak District in 1956. Wilson Hey, whose name is synonymous with the supply of morphine to rescue posts, lived at Fernilee very near to White Hall, and was a regular visitor to the Centre. It was through his efforts that White Hall became designated as an MRC Rescue Post and was supplied with a stretcher. White Hall staff were regularly involved with rescues and searches and the centre was one of the first units to be called to the 1959 Neil Moss caving tragedy in Peak Cavern at Castleton.

Eric Langmuir became Principal of the White Hall Centre in 1959 and it was while he worked there that he, Jack Longland and John Jackson of Plas y Brenin, developed specialist training courses which would eventually result in the formation of the Mountain Leadership Training Board in 1964. Kim Meldrum followed Langmuir as Principal of White Hall in 1963 and he thus became a central figure in the negotiations that eventually resulted in the formation of the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation. Meldrum chaired many of the early formative meetings held at the White Hall Centre and was eventually nominated as a member of the first Mountain Rescue Search Controllers Panel. The world famous climber Joe Brown was employed at the White Hall Centre during this era and his name is recorded on the minutes of several early meetings. The White Hall Centre also hosted the first ever conference organised by the Mountain Rescue Committee in October 1962 to which Rescue Post Supervisors from all over the country were invited.

It was during Eric Langmuir’s time as Principal that Howard Hodgkinson joined the staff of instructors. It was in conversation with Howard that Eric Langmuir suggested that a more formal rescue team be formed in Buxton using the expertise of some of the staff. Hodgkinson contacted members of Buxton Caving Club, notably Dave Allsop, and members of the Buxton Walking Club. Unfortunately we have not been able to uncover any paperwork relating directly to the formation of Buxton Mountain Rescue Team but are fortunate to be able to rely on the testament of Howard Hodgkinson, its first Team Leader.

The team was up and running by mid 1963 and in the early days would use the equipment from the White Hall Rescue Post. The first team meetings were held in the Eagle public house on Buxton Market Place and later at the Roseleigh Hotel on Broad Walk. The team began to acquire additional equipment and in 1972, for £130, it purchased an ex-military Austin ambulance built in 1953. Fondly known as “The Pig” because of its lack of power steering and crash gearbox, the vehicle was kept at Buxton Police Station. John Mayer, who joined the team in 1965 and still serves today as Call-out Officer, remembers, “We would get the call to assemble outside the Eagle pub but the man who kept the key to the equipment store lived in Matlock and we would have to wait for him to arrive before we could set off. Often by the time we got to the incident it was all over.” However, despite such snags, the Buxton team was one of the first to obtain Initial Operation Team status in 1971 and was allocated the call sign, “Zulu”.

In February 1974 team leadership passed to Ted Burton who was to guide the team into a new era and pushed for improved training and resources. In 1976 the team became the only rescue team in the country to be accepted as a Division of St John Ambulance. Early relationships with St John were a little difficult as the team refused to wear the uniform or conform to some of the other regular duties expected of a Division. However, under the guidance of team member Gordon Booth, a keen St John First Aid Trainer, the standard of casualty care in the team quickly improved. The relationship with St John went from strength to strength over the years and is now particularly relevant in this age of certificated training courses.

In 1977 the team sought a building in which to store its equipment and was offered rent-free a disused garage with a storeroom at a quarry in Dove Holes. Some rennovation work was carried out and the team eagerly moved in. The Pig and a second elderly van were scrapped and the team updated itself with a second-hand Leyland Sherpa van.

The average annual financial support the team now requires exceeds £30,000 and your help is vital to its continuing survival.

In 1989 the quarry owners gave notice to the team that the base site was required for redevelopment and this led to an intensive period of fundraising and publicity to find another site for the headquarters. Negotiations with Dove Holes Community Association resulted in the granting of a free 100-year lease on a piece of land on which the team was encouraged to build a new base. The building was duly erected and to the team’s great pride was opened with great ceremony by HRH The Princess of Wales in June 1990.

Ted Burton was to lead the team for fifteen years until 1989 when he stood down and Roger Bennett was elected to be Team Leader for the following five years. Ted Burton was soon accepted onto the PDMRO’s Controllers Panel and also served as Team President for a short period. In the 1999 New Year’s Honours list Ted was awarded Member of the British Empire for services to mountain rescue in the Peak District.

In 1999 the team reviewed its operational status and decided to embark on a long and expensive modernisation programme for its equipment and facilities. Project 2000 was launched and the team set about raising the money to replace two vehicles, provide a mobile control trailer, renew the team members’ operational clothing and, most importantly, build a new and larger base. Nearly £165,000 was raised in an amazingly short time and building started in 2002. The whole project, which had been planned to take at least five years, was completed in March 2003 when the purpose designed building was opened by HRH The Duke of York.

The team’s base now occupies a position by the A6 in Dove Holes just north of Buxton, permitting easy access towards both the White Peak and the Dark Peak areas even in winter road conditions.

We started a new fundraising campaign in 2007 to buy a replacement front line operational Land Rover. £35,000 was raised and on January 1st 2008 the new vehicle, having only been declared ready for service three hours before, was on its way to its first call-out. The Land Rover is of the latest specification and meets all the legislative requirements for ambulance classification. It is the first mountain rescue vehicle in the country to carry a stretcher on a roof rack system so it can be unloaded without anyone having to climb on the roof, thus reducing the risk of injury to team members.

In 2007 the team also reviewed the safety of its members when working near water. Mountain rescue does not provide a water rescue service but there was a risk to life when we search near reservoirs and rivers. A selection of life jackets and rescue throw lines were purchased and everyone underwent basic training in water safety. This training is ongoing, forming part of our regular competency checks.

Keeping pace with technology is a problem in an age where communications and electronics develop so quickly. In 2008 the team first obtained a mobile phone working by satellite. It permitted communication in areas were normal mobile phones had no signal which includes much of the Peak District. Use of the phone was expensive but provided a critical link in emergencies.

After long negotiations and trials, Buxton MRT became the first rescue team in the Peak to use police “Tetra” radios, loaned to us by Derbyshire Police. These provided a direct link to any police force control room around the Peak District and communications with any police officer in the county including the police helicopter, or any ambulance control. So successful were the trials that radios were issued to all Peak District teams later in 2009.

Also in 2009 the team invested £5,000 in upgraded personal issue kit for operational members. Health and safety concerns prompted the issue of a new climbing helmets and the replacement of all search lamps with a new hi tech LED torches for everyone.

In September 2009 at a landmark Trustee meeting we decided to sever our links with St John Ambulance. The team had been a St John Division since 1976 with increasing administration and costs this membership seemed less and less beneficial. With great reluctance, the decision to break away was taken. The team now looks to the medical sub-committee of Mountain Rescue England & Wales for its direction in first aid training.

Buxton MRT can claim to be one of the best equipped and trained teams in the country and it will continue to strive maintain its readiness to react to any situation to which it is called. However, all this can only be achieved at a price which grows year on year. The average annual financial support the team now requires exceeds £30,000. Your help is absolutely vital to its continuing survival.

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