Saturday, 16 January 2021


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.


Tuesday, 5 January 2021

The unsuccessful search for Robert James Shannon along Styhead Pass in October 1953.


Although there is a vast increase in mountain rescues from the early pioneering days of rescue teams, modern equipment and electronic devices assist greatly in the speedy recovery of those in danger of either injury, or exposure to the harsh mountain conditions. The location of those in distress are now invariably quickly located, and help provided by the MRT volunteers who give their time up selflessly, to assist their fellow man. The times where a person is believed to be in danger when realised by others only through their loss of any contact, are thankfully now more rare, relatively speaking. Because contact is, and can more easily be made (although not an exact science), rescues are shorter although sadly far more frequent. It is perhaps worth considering what incidents used to be like in those earlier days of rescue parties. Here is an account of a 1953 incident that commenced with the Keswick and Borrowdale Mountain Rescue Team, which had been formed in 1946 to expertly assist in helping those who came to distress on the mountains of the lake district.

On Saturday 10th October 1953, 53-year-old Mr. Robert James Shannon, an insurance clerk, of Liverpool, arrived with his 23-year-old son Guy Borthwick Shannon who was a Merchant Navy Engineer, at The Glaramara Guest House, near Seatoller, Borrowdale, for the purpose of a walking holiday. On Tuesday 13th Guy left the guest house with a party of other residents for a long walk over the mountains. Robert was a stranger to the area but later that same day he set out on his own to head through Seathwaite, and over Styhead Pass, heading for Wasdale, intending on returning later that same day. He was wearing a beret, light blue corduroy trousers, a brown jacket, raincoat, and boots.  He had spoken to the landlady, Miss E. M. Reed, and said that he had not been well recently following a breakdown in his health, thus necessitating a holiday. He still set off on his journey, describing the walk as a short one of around three hours. 

The Seathwaite route to Stockley Bridge and beyond to Styhead.

Looking back towards Seathwaite from Stockley Bridge.

Ascending to Styhead, Seathwaite in view.

Styhead Tarn, looing to Lingmell, Wasdale beyond.

Styhead Tarn, looking back to Seathwaite, with Base Brown to the left.

Guy and his party later returned and it was not until they were to sit down for their evening meal that concern began to be expressed for his father's whereabouts and safety. A search party of guests was quickly organised by Guy and they set off in search for his missing father. The night was described as one of the worst that year, with light snow falling on the high fells, with a strong wind, and a low mist had suddenly descended, covering the pass of Styhead. They travelled as far as the Wasdale Head Hotel where it was established he had reached there, had a meal and had then intended on journeying back to Borrowdale. The search party were otherwise unsuccessful in discovering Robert's whereabouts, or path taken, and returned back to their guest house at 4am. The search continued the next day in better conditions, assisted by the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team, under the leadership of Colonel Horace Westmorland, himself an expert on mountain survival and the son of Thomas Westmorland, one of the famed Westmorland brother's and builders of Westmorland cairn on Great Gable. The Cockermouth team also set out to search the Buttermere area, with members, staff and visitors, of the outward bound centre in Eskdale, lead by Eric Shipton, the Everest climber and centre warden, also searching the Ennerdale area. The police set up a walkie-talkie station at Seathwaite and Pc Thompson of Braithwaite acted as liaison officer between the various search teams. All efforts proved to be fruitless, but the search continued despite the growing concern. Due to the weather, little hope could be held out for finding Robert alive. The Keswick Team had spent 16 hours on the Wednesday search, Cockermouth and the outdoor centre staff had been out for eight hours. The task resumed on Thursday; the Keswick team now replaced by the R.A.F. rescue team of West Freugh, near Stranraer. These were also supplemented by another 17 men from the R.A.F. team from Topcliffe, Yorkshire, again with no success. The bloodhounds of Dr. F. T. Madge, who covered the districts of Westmorland, were utilised to try and discover his whereabouts, again without success. The Outward Bound Centre staff spent 4 nights camping in the Styhead area, engaged in the search. Guy had been ceaseless in his efforts to locate his father but when all checks had been done, with discussions even on the tarns of Styhead and Sprinkling being dragged, the search had to be called off following a sixth unsuccessful search on Monday 19th by around 80 searchers; only time would now likely reveal Robert's fate.

On Sunday 6th February 1955, Mr. Claude Holmes, of Helvellyn Street, Keswick, of the Royal Navy and stationed at Anthorn, was scrambling in a deep gorge/ravine above Taylor Ghyll Force, on Base Brown mountain, near Seathwaite, which was not frequented by walkers. He had returned home for a day and went out walking around Taylorgill Force. He turned left up the gorge and  came across a boot with a sock inside it; going further up he found an emaciated body. He quickly reported it and although not certain, it was supposed to be that of Mr. Shannon. Colonel Westmorland, of Keswick Mountain Rescue Team, recovered the human remains, assisted by Dr. J. C. Lyth the team medical officer, Inspector Walton, Pc Thompson, and three other members of Keswick Rescue, Mr. L. Sandham, Mr. S. Edmondson, and Mr. T. Holt. They took the body to the Keswick mortuary. Mrs. Shannon was informed of the sad discovery. On the night of Monday 7th February, an inquest was held at Keswick where Guy Shannon was in attendance and told the Coroner, Mr. Atkinson, that he had no doubt the remains were those of his father. The court established that he had died following a fall from a 50ft crag which had resulted in a fracture of his skull, and the verdict was one of 'Accidental Death'. On the basis of the facts known on times, that it had been approaching darkness when he reached Styhead on his return. He had clearly become lost and had failed to cross Styhead Gill, for Stockley Bridge, and the safe route off the pass. Somehow, he had gained height and fallen, leading to his death in the steep gorge.

It would not be capable of establishing whether a modern incident could have resulted in an emergency call being made by the injured party, before slipping into unconsciousness but there would be various modern influences that could greatly assist in a faster conclusion. There is a possibility that the incident could have been viewed by others, as far more tourists access the routes than in the 1950's, but the time of day and light conditions may have even prevented this. Many people now use social media and immediately self locate by the uploading of photographs of their location, giving modern rescuers a route to extrapolate upon for search purposes. Even where death has likely occurred and no contact made, the use of  trained MRT search dogs, helicopters, and drones, could assist in concluding an incident far quicker. Although the latter may not assist in saving life, these techniques bring conclusion to a family, allowing them to at least grieve. The Shannon family had to wait 16 months for that conclusion, likely one of the longest 'rescue' incidents for all the Lake District teams.

Friday, 1 January 2021

The Kitterland and Brig Lily Disaster and deaths of Constables John Craige and John Wright on 28th December 1852

On Wednesday 22nd December 1852 the 169-ton brig Lily, owned by Messrs Hatton and Cookson of Mersey Street, Liverpool, set sail from that port, bound for Ambriz, Lower Guinea, on the west coast of Africa. Its cargo was 61 tons of dynamite in total, 20 puncheons of rum, some small arms, machetes,  and various goods for bartering with. It was caught in storms, beaten about the channel, when at around 11am on Monday 27th it was driven onto the uninhabited Island of Kitterland, in the sound between of The Calf, and the Isle of Man. The captain was John Owens, and the crew numbered a further 12 men. Despite the waves beating upon the vessel, the crew managed to take to a boat and attempted to get to safety, gaining footage on the rocks. The captain and three of the crew, one an orphan boy, in trying to gain higher and safer ground, were swept away and drowned, the carpenter was killed by the foremast falling on him. Only eight gained the safety of the higher ground of the uninhabited island. The local people of Port St. Mary became aware of the stricken vessel and launched their best boat to save the survivors, and managed to get them back to their village. William Fanning was the second mate of The Lily and had a compound fracture of the leg which was expected to take months to heal.

The vessel was insured by Lloyds and the sub-agent on the island was Mr. Enos Lace, the Port St. Mary grocer and shipbroker; he had also supervised the earlier crew rescue. He got a message despatched to Mr. Boardman, the agent in Douglas and a salvage of cargo was agreed; the vessel was lost, but the cargo could in large be salvaged. At about 4am on Tuesday morning, he and 29 other men set off to recover the cargo; a large portion of the gunpowder was stowed high up and was expected to be still dry; the tide was out which meant that the stricken vessel was high up on the rocks, this would aid the salvage operation. Two of the men were the Chief Constable (the equivalent to a modern sergeant) of Castletown, 32-year-old John Craige, and 26-year-old Constable John Wright; both would be there to ensure the full recovery of the cargo along with Mr. Lace. Suddenly, at 8am, a terrific explosion occurred which was mistaken by many local people to be an earthquake. The miners at the level mines of Ballacorkish, which were three miles away were 35 fathoms underground and were thrown onto their backs and the lights extinguished. Bales in flames were seen hundreds of feet above, flying through the air like meteors; a spar was driven several feet into the ground in a field at The Howe, and debris was strewn all over the parish of Rushen. Even in Douglas, which was 16 miles away, houses were severely shaken by the blast. A second boat had just been launched to assist the salvagers and eight to ten men had been standing a few hundred yards away on the mainland when the explosion happened, which blew the hats off their heads. One was a ‘Tide Waiter’ or customs officer, called J. Watterson, who described the devastating scene. When the view cleared, where a vessel and men formerly stood on Kitterland, nothing at all now remained. The cry went out from the mainland, “Every soul is gone into Eternity.” The second boat managed to then get to Kitterland and only four bodies were found. Although badly mutilated, three of them were identified as, William Cowin, William Watterson, and John Hudgeon.

In the immediate aftermath it was supposed that everyone involved in the salvage was killed but one man called James Kelly had survived, although he was very severely injured with part if his cheek and his his ear blown away. It had been supposed that one of the men had caused the explosion by smoking a pipe, but he was able to give an account that discounted that theory. He said that when Mr. Lace and the others went on board before daylight there was a strong dirty smell, but no smoke could be seen. When day dawned around 7am, smoke could be seen coming from the hold. The men had cleared the cabin of goods and stored them on the island but now became fearful of the smoke and wished to quit the vessel. Unfortunately, a decision was made to extinguish the fire, by cutting a hole in the deck and to pour water inside. He was returning to the vessel having stored some salvage on the island when a terrific explosion occurred which flung him back 30 feet. When he regained consciousness, his face was covered in his own blood, which was gushing from his wounded cheek; he had been found sitting dazed by the second crew, with other body parts lying around him. He was adamant that no smoking implements had been taken onto the ship by the men of Port St. Mary and was certain that the explosion had been caused by a fire not of their making.

The community of Port St. Mary was devasted and there was hardly a residence that had not been touched by the tragedy. The funerals took place at Kirk Christ, Rushen, with the whole community in attendance in solemn mourning. What bodies that could be found were placed in coffins, but most of these human remains were unidentifiable, and were collected and buried together as a mass within the grave. Twenty-five of the dead were from Port St. Mary, two from Castletown, and two from The Howe; the disaster in a split second turned 22 wives into widows and made 77 children fatherless.

The deceased were:

From Port St. Mary

John Fell, 27, (mariner), married, two children,

William Cowley, 42, (mariner), married, four children,

William Kermode, 55, (labourer), married, five children,

Edward Gale, (publican), 42, married, no children,

Henry Gale, 37, (mariner), married, seven children,

John Gale, 45, (labourer), married, five children,

Thomas Witted, 26, (mariner), married, no children,

John Cubbon, 57, (joiner), married, no children,

William Lawson, 52, (master mariner), married, one child,

Thomas Callister, 43, (mariner), married, six children,

William Taubman, 42, (blockmaker), married, three children,

John Callister, 29, (mariner), married, four children,

Samuel Callister, 29, (carpenter), married, one child,

John Callister, 22, (mariner), married, three children,

Thomas Turnbull, 32, married, seven children,

George Costain, 32, (roper), married, five children,

William Watterson, 31, (mariner), married, five children,

Thomas Nelson, 46, (carpenter), married, one child,

Charles, Clugton, 43, (labourer), widower, two children,

Enos Lace, 51, (shopkeeper/roper), widower, six children.

Robert Callister, 33, (baker/mariner), unmarried,

Edward Qualtrough, 22, (assistant tide-waiter), unmarried,

William Watterson, 29, (mariner), unmarried,

William Cone, 22, (mariner), unmarried,

John Hudgeon, 21, (mariner), unmarried.

From Howe

Edward Watterson, 25, (fisherman), married, no children,

John Watterson, 31, (carpenter) married, six children,

From Castletown

John Craige, 32, (chief constable), married, three children,

Constable John Wright, 26, (constable), married one child (and widow expected to be in confined every day).

The only survivor, James Kelly, was from Port St. Mary; he was married, with three children.

Unfortunately, there were no poor rates on The Isle of Man, so there was no legal provision for the now destitute families. A subscription was commenced for the unfortunate widows and their children, both in Liverpool and the Isle of Man where Mr. Gawne of Kentraugh immediately headed the list with a donation of £100. After the first publication of the initial donations, by The Liverpool Mercury on 18th January 1853, the fund had reached £769 11s 1d. They also reported further contributions made, which included £26 5s from Messrs. Curtis and Harvey Hounslow Gunpowder factory, a general contribution of £30 from Messrs Milners’ Phoenix Safe Works, and many smaller contributions. The unfortunate rumours stating that some of the salvagers had been smoking, thus being the authors of their own deaths, began to spread. The Liverpool Mercury had to discredit these false accounts stating that the recovery was supervised by the Lloyds sub-agent and the chief constable of Castletown. They went on to say how these rumours were unhelpful to the relief fund and encouraged people to donate further. A talk was given in Liverpool by the Reverend Hugh Stowell Brown on 14th February on the subject, ‘The State of Religious Freedom on the Continent’; the proceeds were to be given to the Lilly disaster fund. After 5 weeks the fund was announced as sufficient and had reached £4,000, buoyed by the support of The Queen and Prince Consort, who made a £50 donation.

In April 1875 Mr. Thomas Quillam, of The Marble Works, Castletown, erected a large monument to commemorate the disaster. This had been done on the insistence of the committee of the ‘Kitterland Explosion Fund’.

The Monument.**

On 12th February 1889 the Oddfellows ‘Harbour of Peace Lodge’ of Port St. Mary held a meeting. It boasted 500 members and had commenced in 1839. It was highlighted what the purpose of the lodge was, and the work they did in support of its community. It had meandered along until the brig Lily disaster of 1852 when their widow and orphan fund, something the speaker believed other lodges did not have, had been prompt in their duty to the bereaved families at that great time of distress.

In late March 1891, James Kelly died at his home at Willow Terrace, Port St. Mary; he was 68 years old. He had been regarded as one of the hardest working and bravest of fishermen in the area and made a living from catching crabs and lobsters; also, from attending to the Chicken’s Rock Relief Boat, with his son. He was interred at Rushen churchyard.


My interest in this began with the death of the two constables, for the purposes of The National Police Roll of Honour but due to it being a large part of history of The Solway Firth entrance/Irish sea area, I decided to compile a fuller account on the whole event.

Specifically, on the officers themselves:

In June of 1841 20-year-old John Craige resided at Malew Street, Castletown, with his 25-year-old wife Catherine, nee Hampton. They married on 17th February 1841 at Braddan parish, Isle of Man. It is unclear when he commenced in the police but it 1851, he is recorded as the Chief Constable of Castletown, living on Castle Street with Catherine. They had two boys living with them in 1851, John Hampton Craige (4), and Samuel Hampton Craige (1), both boys born in Scotland, although the reason for this is unclear. John Hampton Craige unfortunately died and was buried at Malew on 4th October 1852. Margaret Catherine Craige, was baptized on 21st April 1852 and was an infant when her father died. All three children were baptized on this same date of 21st April 1852, at Saint Mary’s, Castletown. In 1861 the daughter, Margaret Catherine, was then living with her maternal grandmother and step-grandfather on The Key, Castletown; James Mylchreest, the step-grandfather, was now retired from his former position of harbour master of Castletown. John and Catherine had two earlier children; William John Craig was baptized on 2nd November 1841, baptised at Castletown), so missed the June census earlier that year, and in 1851 he was recorded with his maternal grandmother and step-grandfather  the harbour master James Mylchreest. Mary had previously been widowed under the married name of Hampton; Catherine (constable Craige’s wife) was the child of that previous marriage. When Mr. Hampton died Mary married James Mylchreest on 21st September 1824. Thomas James Craige was baptised on 15th August 1844 but no records show him surviving, so likely died prior to the 1851 census, most likely at or soon after his birth. Catherine died in 1857 and the four children were left orphaned. William John Craig went on to become the Auctioneer and shore-broker, possibly this was an insurance broker for Lloyds. William died and was buried on 27th August 1903 at Braddan.

John Wright was born in Ireland and little is known of him until 1851 when he was a 24-year-old police constable in Castletown. At that time, he was married to 28-year-old Margaret (maiden name believed to be Sennett), who was local to the area. On 13st August of that year Sarah Elizabeth was baptized at St. Mary’s, Castletown. Their son John was baptised on 13th February 1853, and Margaret was known to be near confinement when her husband died in the Kitterland explosion. Margaret appears in the 1861 and 1871 censuses and does not remarry; John junior was still living with his mother and was a mariner; he cannot be followed in later censuses. A John Wright died in 1877 and is believed to be constable Wright’s son, John. This man was aged 24 years old and was buried at Castletown.

**The Monument image is reproduced with kind permission of 1414Jan, and is taken with permission from the 'Find a Grave' website, ID number 48003845.