Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Langstrath Valley Hallworth Memorial bridge.

The Langstrath Valley is a beautiful and tranquil valley with its namesake beck  joining Greenup Gill below Eagle Crag, both then becoming Stonethwaite Beck which goes on to join the fledgling River Derwent near Rossthwaite, before this in turn enters Derwentwater.  The gills, becks and rivers flow through the high cragged valleys where the water runs off the fells creating torrents in minutes, where babbling brooks once ebbed and flowed. A lot of the footpaths go through these gills and in the main can be crossed in safety and dryness; but not all the time. There is therefor a need for safe crossing by bridges across these minor waters, once mere planks of wood or a few boards cobbled together. As the tourism trade began to burgeon the need for more robust bridges became ever more evident, yet even this was usually through a grim realisation following events that should never have occurred.
One such bridge is the one that spans Greenup Gill below Eagle Crag at the end of the Langstrath Valley. Half way over the bridge there is a plaque on the east facing rail which reads:
The Hallworth Bridge Plaque at Greenup Gill.

Although the bridge is well documented, little or nothing exists on the internet to explain the circumstances of its presence and significance in the valley. This is that account, largely obtained from evidence given at the inquest of Gordon Frank Hallworth, which took place at Rossthwaite on Monday 9 January 1939.

The bridge viewed from the Greenup Gill track

A similar but higher view showing where all three would have stood on the opposite bank when they realised no bridge existed to cross Greenup Gill.

On Saturday 7 January 1939 a group of 19 Manchester University Mountaineering Club students were on a weekend break, staying at Rossthwaite, Borrowdale. The weather had recently been snow, followed by heavy rain, making the fell conditions arduous and the becks and gills were in spate.  Three of the group set off that afternoon to walk the Glaramara ridge, taking in that fell and Allen Crags, culminating at the farthest planned location, Esk Hause, before a journey back down the Langstrath Valley. The three members were: bothers Douglas and Michael Boyle, of Disley, Cheshire, both of whom were medical students, and Gordon Frank Hallworth 21 years of age, of Hale Cheshire. They planned their trip to last until 5:30 pm and everything went well and on time. It was said by Douglas that Gordon Hallworth had seemed fitter than the brothers, stopping frequently while they caught up and him asking if they were ok? It is not clear what their exact route down into the Langstrath Valley was, but it put them on the Eagle Crag side of Langstrath Beck, heading for its junction with Greenup Gill, both then becoming Stonethwaite Beck; here they intended to cross the bridge over Greenup Gill, this being marked on the Ordnance Survey map, albeit it was out of date. Unknown to the party of three the bridge had been washed away some years previously; one account states 5 years, another 40 years. To anyone who knows the area, this should not have caused a problem to the party as just quarter of a mile further back along their path, there was a further bridge marked that crosses Langstrath Beck and gives just as good a safe route to Stonethwaite. The problem of the outdated map was now compounded by the failure of the torch they carried and they did not spot this second bridge. It would be dark at this time in the sheltered valley and they saw no other course of action than to climb along the side of Eagle Crag, heading up Greenup Gill, looking for a safe crossing.

The second bridge over Langstrath Beck, looking over to the path where the three companions walked by.
It was now, when half way up their altered route, that Gordon Hallworth showed signs of fatigue and distress, the Boyle brothers put their arms around him, then physically carried him up the fell. They stopped frequently, needing to huddle together to fend off the increasing cold and inevitable hypothermia. When they were much higher up the gill they attempted to ford it with the aid of a long stick, the Boyle brothers assisting Gordon. Unfortunately he fell in the Gill and was helped out by Michael, but this added to Gordon's hypothermic condition. In an act of self sacrifice, Gordon repeatedly told his aids to leave him as he was holding them back, but they would hear nothing of it, cheering him with talks of the fine supper they would have back at Rossthwaite village. Inevitably  they were reduced to making little progress and it became obvious that in order to reach the valley bottom they needed to bring urgent assistance from Stonethwaite. Both brothers found shelter for Gordon behind a boulder and they continued on hurriedly for others to assist in the rescue. Even here, Michael Boyle had reached his limits of endurance and he also collapsed, leaving only Douglas to seek ever more urgent help. He made it to Stonethwaite but was unable to raise anyone, having to then continue to seek the aid of their other companions, who were in their beds there; by now it was 1:30am, a full seven hours after their intended end time and in the dead of a cold January night.
 Once the alarm was raised a party quickly hurried back to Greenup Gill, finding Michael Boyle still greatly fatigued; some assisted him down while others, which included Douglas Boyle, continued on for Gordon's much needed aid. Gordon had by this time succumbed to the cold; one of the party was a doctor and they tried resuscitation for three quarters of an hour, but to no avail, Gordon was dead.
The corner questioned the decision to walk in such weather, he himself was a walker, but stated he would not do so in such fell conditions that were present on the Saturday. He pointed out that this was the second tragedy under similar circumstances, the first occurring approximately four years previously. Douglas Boyle replied to the Coroner saying that all had gone to plan and they would easily have kept to their schedule, but for the missing bridge. A verdict of 'Death from exposure to exhaustion and cold' was recorded.

The view of Eagle Crag from Stonethwaite showing how close the three were to safety.

On 4 June 1939 there was an official opening ceremony for a new bridge commissioned by Frank Hallworth, Gordon's father. The ceremony was attended by 40 people consisting of fellow climbers and local people and the opening was performed by Mr G. A. Sutherland, the ex-president of the Manchester University Mountaineering Club, who noted the June tranquillity and commented that it was difficult to imagine how such a tragedy could occur.  He also commented that the bridge would serve a useful purpose and make it impossible for such a tragic event to re-occur. The plaque referred to earlier was fixed to the bridge and a similar plaque was fixed to the boulder up Greenup Gill, near the place where Gordon Frank Hallworth passed away on that freezing January night. So it is that a tragedy led to the re-erection of a bridge and it stands to this day, over 75 years later, giving the safe passage that was not afforded to Gordon and his two companions.

**ADDITION 17.04.2016**

A re-visit the day after I put this account on the internet located the second plaque, which is on the gill side of the footpath at map reference NY279125, for those not conversant with references, on the path below Long Band on the Ullscarf fell. (I now recall I have noticed this before but prior to any local history interest.)  On the pictures below note the wall line and the view of the higher moraines and Lining Crag.

The plated boulder where Gordon Hallworth was leant against by his companions

The plaque from his companions on that fateful walk

Note the plate, the wall line above, the moraines and Lining Crag in sight.

A check of mapping systems plots the distance from where the brothers rested Gordon Hallworth against the boulder, to Stonethwaite, is a distance of 2.3kms; to continue on to Rossthwaite makes it a 4km journey for Douglas Boyle. In complete darkness this will have been at least an hour's journey, to then rouse his companions and set off back uphill, again in darkness, Gordon Hallworth must have been on his own for two hours minimum, perhaps three. It is little wonder that already past his limit of endurance and frozen to the bone, having then fallen in the gill and remained motionless on the fell for those hours, that he died where he lay.

This is one of two memorial bridges in the valley, a further write-up is to follow on the second.


**I have previously published this account, and other new material, for public knowledge. I did so in the expectation that anyone wishing to further expand that public knowledge would do so by highlighting this original account, and then adding new information they discover themselves. Sadly I am aware of one site that has repeated a large section of an account of another all but forgotten lakeland memorial to two boys that drowned and making out it was new, despite his following my many new lakes history accounts. I was asked by a person writing a book for Wasdale MRT for the generation of funds to assist that worthy cause. I gladly agreed to its use and he stated he would reference my original account. Such a stance by the latter is an honourable one; I hope the former person reflects on his conduct and no longer copies my work and then makes out he has found a new lakes history; that is dishonourable and diminishes him.**

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