History of Coniston Mountain Rescue Team
Before the team was officially formed in 1947, the good people of Coniston were rescuing people on an ad-hoc basis since walkers and climbers came to the area. One old team member, Jack Hellen, who owned the local garage, recollected a rescue in 1932. The casualty, a young woman with a fractured femur from a climbing accident on Dow Crag, was transported to the nursing home in Ulverston in the back of a seven seat Crossley saloon car. In 1936, Billy Fury, a local carrier and coal merchant bought a lorry in which volunteers were collected from the bridge by the church in the centre of the village, or from the pubs, or anywhere available. The stretcher would be collected from the lean-to shed at the back of the Institute where the village fire engine was garaged. First aid or protective clothing for the casualty was nil and transport to hospital for the patients would depend on what could be found. The real impetus to for an organised rescue team did not come until after the Second World War.
Early in the morning of 20th December, 1946, Eric Sivyer and his wife Mary arrived at Coniston. The couple had travelled all night and had caught the first train into the village on what was a cold and very frosty morning. Eric was 41 and had recently been de-mobbed from the army. The couple had planned to spend Christmas at the Holiday Fellowship Centre at Monk Coniston Hall and Eric had volunteered to act as a guide to those staying at the centre for the holiday period.
Later in the morning, having had breakfast and settled into his accommodation, Eric decided to familiarise himself with the area. He packed some food and set off to explore the fells. By evening he had not returned and the police were called. At first light the next day the police started a search helped by a large number of local people. Robert Birkett, the farmer from Low Yewdale, eventually found his body three days later at the foot of a crag. To assist in the search Mary Sivyer had asked many of their friends to come to Coniston and assist. This included the Father of the now owner of Coniston Coppermines, Phil Johnson who in more recent times after spending some 10 years on the team is now our main sponsor.
Notwithstanding the tragic loss, the search had been extremely costly in man hours. Most of the local farmers in the area as well as a great many police and other folk had taken part. In all over 100 square miles of countryside had been combed in appalling weather (this was the winter of 1946/7). A young police inspector called Tom Andrews came from Preston with a detachment of 30 constables, on the previous day one of his colleagues came from Blackburn with 20 constables; Tom who moved to Cumbria in his retirement settling in Grange over Sands remembered that the policemen came in their normal uniforms with no special clothing. Tom sadly passed away in 2009 at the fine age of 96.
One of the local leaders of the search was Jim Cameron, a professional mountain guide, who lived in Torver. Jim had taken charge of the various groups of rescuers and had himself spent two days combing Dow Crags, checking every gully and ledge where a body might have been concealed.
Because of the time and effort that had been put into the search, a local county councillor, Stanley Baker, decided that an organised specialist team should be formed to tackle searches and rescues in the area. He wrote to the Parish Council with his proposals. His letter was considered at their meeting on 24th January, 1947. The council was unanimous in its support, but pointed out that the cost could not be funded out of the council budget. Mr Baker then called a public meeting which was attended by a large number of villagers.
The outcome of the meeting was that a core of people who were familiar with the fells was selected. Jim Cameron was elected leader and his task was to organise the training of the group in rescue techniques. The rescue team was to become known as the Coniston Fell Rescue Party, the first civilian mountain rescue team in England.
The name of the team was eventually changed to Coniston Mountain Rescue Team. Rescue practices were held frequently, usually in the evening after work. In the winter this would involve first aid training at the Coniston Institute. In the summer, the team would practice for several hours on Dow Crag.
The equipment that the team possessed in these early years was basic. The records show that at its inception the team had the following items: Stretcher (1), Hurricane Lamp (1), Ex Army blankets (3), Climbing Ropes (2), several hot water bottles.
As donations were received, more equipment was purchased and it became necessary to set up a base where it could be safely stored. Initially, this was at the Waterhead Hotel but later it was moved to a annexe at the back of the Sun Hotel. Many years later, in 1982, a purpose built rescue base was opened on the site of the old railway station. This was subsequently enlarged and the team now possesses a well equipped headquarters.