On 27th March 1948, 27-year-old Mr. Basil Beavan Peachey left his home at 10 The Grange, Shirley, Croydon, where he lived with his parents, and travelled to Ainstable, in Cumberland for an adventurous walking holiday; he was their only child. He stayed with a friend Mr. Ian Joseph Peacock at his home of The Dale, Ainstable, arriving on Sunday 28th March. Although in the previous 12 months he had done little walking, he was used to such adventures. He stayed there for 2 days and when he asked about good walks, Mr. Peacock, suggested a walk to Alston via Cross Fell, although he advised him to take a map and compass if he was to do it alone. He set off on the Tuesday morning with enough food for 2 days. The understanding was that he would be back either on the Wednesday evening, or Thursday morning at the latest. He spent Tuesday night at Alston Youth Hostel where the warden was a Mr. Alfred Herbert Last, arriving at 6:15pm and told Mr. Last that he had come over the fell; Mrs Last was of the belief that he said he had come over Cross Fell.
Basil stayed the night at the hostel then set off around 9:30am but did not say where he was heading to. A man fitting his description was seen by two other climbers at 1pm near Cashwell mines. The map reference for this mine is NY714360 and is 680m above sea level; Cross Fell summit is 893m. This individual was heading for Cross Fell, so had covered over two thirds of the distance to the summit; the climbers stated the weather on the mountain was very severe. Even in the valleys there was a mixture of snow, hail and sleet, with very high winds, and the rivers rising rapidly. The day was described as one of the worst that spring.
When he did not return to Ainstable by Thursday evening, Mr. Peacock alerted the police and a search was organised utilising the newly formed Keswick and Borrowdale Mountain Rescue team, this unit of expert volunteers having only been commenced two years previously by Colonel Horace Westmorland. He himself was of mountain family stock, the high fells and crags of Lakeland had coursed through his blood, a heritage of his famed father Thomas Westmorland and uncle Edward. His aunt Mary Westmorland was only the second woman to climb Pillar Rock in 1873, in company with her two brothers. Horace himself had trained troops in the Canadian mountains during the war and had since returned to his native Cumberland. Following a call for their assistance, Inspector Bell of Keswick put out a letter stamp dated 2nd April, requesting the team, on the agreement of Col. Westmorland, to assemble at 9am on 3rd and travel by bus to Penrith for the purpose of the search.
The family were informed and Mr. Leslie Beavan Peachey, (a former WWI pilot) and his wife Edith Florence, travelled to Penrith and began a vigil in a local hotel, although due to the severe weather, they were initially asked not to try and assist in the search.
The operation was also supplemented by an R.A.F. Mountain Rescue unit who were based at Topcliffe in Yorkshire, and lead by Flight Lieutenant J. L. Smith. They were able to utilise their walkie-talkies in the hunt and searched around Cross Fell and the Kirkland Valley, which is on the southern side of the mountain but despite three days they were unable to locate any trace of the missing man. Basil himself was a civilian employee of the R.A.F. who had served throughout the war with the service. An ambulance was kept on standby at Kirkland and the local farmers, shepherds, cyclists, and around 40 residents of the area had joined the protracted search over ten square miles, all without success.
They gave up the search at 6:30pm on Monday 5th; their leader reported that the snow was many feet deep in drifts and greatly hindered their efforts to locate the missing hiker. It was obvious that he had likely perished in the adverse conditions, but the snow was beginning to melt and they intended on returning at the next weekend, in the expectation that the snow would have all but gone, making any body location much easier. Two farmers still continued the search along with other local people and Pc Foggin of Kirkland. As the weather improved a little, the parents also ventured onto the mountain, eager to join the search and came to understand the arduous and futile nature of the search; they were also aware that Basil had been inadequately dressed for the conditions he was about to encounter on the fell. He had only been wearing flannels, a sports jacket, and an open necked shirt, and carrying a light picnic lunch and a haversack. They by now knew that there was virtually no hope of their only child being found alive but still held out some, no matter how futile it appeared. Mr. Peachey senior had asked the R.A.F. team to resume the search in the near future, and hoped that bond of kinship for a fellow R.A.F. brother would spur them on. They returned back to Croydon in the knowledge their son was unlikely to be found until the snow melted. The Peachey's seemed cursed with bad luck; Mr. Peachey senior had been involved in several collisions in his lifetime, both road, rail, and in the air. Basil had returned from West Africa during the war, to marry his fiancée, but she had died suddenly just prior to the wedding. Edith was distraught by the culmination of all these events, leading to this final one, the likely loss of her only child.
The Parents had never been to the north of the country before but had never before been met with such kindness and sympathy as they experienced at Penrith, for which they expressed the utmost gratitude to the townsfolk, through the Penrith Observer. They were particularly praising of Superintendent Marsh for his thorough organisation of the search and also went on to praise the R.A.F. team and the Beacon Wheelers cycling club, and everyone who assisted, for their efforts in trying to locate their son.
|Rotherhope ('Rudderup') when it was a working mine.|
On Wednesday 14th April, four North-East youths who were on holiday in the Alston area, were walking towards Rotherhope mine, along the Black Burn stream. About 250 yards from the mine they saw someone lying on the bank and believed the person to be asleep. When the man did not move, they approached him and realised he was dead. Two of the boys went to a nearby house, which was only 300 yards away, for help and after recovery of the body it was realised to be that of Basil Beavan Peachey. The inquest was held at Alston Police station by the deputy coroner for East Cumberland, Mr. F. W. Soal, without a jury present, on the afternoon of Friday 16th; Mr. Peachey snr. had returned and was in attendance. The above account was given by several witnesses with the addition of the evidence of Dr. J. R. Hassan, of Alston, who confirmed that there was no injury on the body. The deceased was muscular in build and well nourished, although there was no food in the stomach. His expert opinion was that the male had died of exhaustion and he confirmed the arduous conditions on the day he had gone missing, even those in the low valleys. He also stated that it was his belief that he had died that first night, his lack of clothing and conditions would have exhausted him, causing him to lie down and fall asleep; death would then have overtaken him. Mr. Peachey snr. said that his son was not foolish; only the day before his son had walked to Alston he had received a letter from him stating that he had already been on the heights the day he wrote the letter and the mist was so dense he could see little more than a yard in front of himself, yet had navigated himself back down to the valley by use of his compass. Mr. Peachey snr. knew he was very accomplished in the use of such apparatus.
|The mine is marked just left of centre, towards the bottom of the shot, on Black Burn.|
After the inquest was concluded he told the local news reporters that he believed his son would have fought for many, many hours before he gave in to the cold in a state of utter exhaustion. He wished people to know that Basil had not been the sort of chap that would face any hazard foolishly.
The funeral took place on the afternoon of Saturday 24th April, at Penrith cemetery, conducted by Rev. Norman Robinson, of St. Andrews church. Present were his mother and father, his friend Mr. Peacock and his wife, and Inspector Thompson and Sergeant Milne both of whom represented the Cumberland and Westmorland Constabulary.
This was perhaps the first official search for the Keswick/Borrowdale team (although I would be happy to be corrected on this point). Colonel Westmorland had led a party of men in a rescue on 25th April 1946, where they assisted in the search for an injured climber, Captain Wilfred Noyce, who had fallen 150ft when blown off Shark's Fin ridge, into Hellfire Gap, on Great Gable. Col. Westmorland had commenced the start of a team then, recognising a need for a skilled group of volunteers to aid the inexperienced police, but due to movement of some outside of the area he had further appealed for volunteers to be part of the rescue team in November 1947, just four months before this tragic incident.