The History of Rossendale & Pendle Mountain Rescue Team

Rossendale and Pendle Mountain Rescue Team has a history dating back to the 1960’s and a search for 3 children benighted in the Chipping area of Bowland. Sadly, two of the children were found deceased through hypothermia after being caught out in in a late March change of weather.

See link to NRO Report

At this time there was no formal rescue teams but local volunteers with outdoor climbing and walking experience were involved in the search. Jim McVeigh and Ross Drysdale looked to form a rescue group to cover the South Ribble area and formed the South Ribble Fell Search Team. Jim and Ross then split, concentrating on separate paths, Ross forming Northern Rescue Organisation (NRO) in 1962 based in Preston and included other organisations such as Raynet (for communications) and NW Fell and Mountaineering 1st Aid Unit (for 1st aid). Jim in addition to continuing with South Ribble Fell Search Team opened Longsleddale training Centre in the South Lakes training in Stretcher lowering and search techniques.

NRO was initially a group of outdoor enthusiasts who enjoyed caving and climbing and members of the NW Rambling Club. Bill Dewhurst, who was part of NRO moved to live in Haslingden and joined the St John’s Ambulance service where he met Jim Greenwood and Bryan Wilson. It was decided to form a rescue unit in Haslingden which would be known as Rossendale Fell Rescue Unit, part of NRO. In 1964 the team were called to search for a missing Crawshawbooth gentleman- the team were called out by the local Police who were aware of their existence and they located the body quite quickly. It was unfortunate that there was significant delay between the Missing from home report and the team actually being called to help. A relative of the missing man, John Whittaker, later joined the team.

Members of the team met regularly for training and in Sept 1964 during a joint exercise with NRO on Grane Road searchers failed to locate the ‘casualty’ named Brian Dai James although they had passed close by him. A Police loudspeaker was used to bring the ‘casualty’ back to the road at which time he informed them that he had stayed quiet as he expected searchers to locate him without any assistance from himself. (which would be true if unconscious or deceased).

At this time there were few calls for help by the team but in 1965 they were called to search for a Water Bailiff who had gone missing near Gorple in bad weather. The body of the man was found much later in 66 once heavy snow had melted, sheltering behind a wall within sight of a Public House. Remember at this time opening hours for Public houses were very restricted.

By late 1965 The Team were regularly meeting at the Roebuck in Haslingden with more than 20 members. Rolls had been designated such as Chairman, Treasurer, Admin Officer, Secretary and by this time the team also had its own transport. Fundraising was an issue and subscriptions in March 1966 were 1 shilling and 6 pence per week (pre decimalisation currency) At the same meeting in March the treasurer reported the cash situation being £4-17 Shillings and 6 pence with outstanding debts of £50 (£40 owed for tyres on vehicle) In his words ‘the situation was desperate’. Fundraising was via Jumble sales (popular in the 60’s), coffee mornings and newspaper collection (for selling to paper recycling centres) and sponsored walks.

In March 1966 The team were granted use of the old police house behind Pickering St Police Station in Haslingden for use as a base for both training and storage of an increasing amount of equipment. This was following a request to Inspector Langley at Rawtenstall Police Station. This seems have been an informal agreement from the Rawtenstall constabulary as in 1977 the team arrived to find the building being demolished with their equipment still inside although in April 66 a letter had been sent to the County Council naming two of the members as tenants. Fortunately not much damage was done to the equipment but the Team were again homeless.

May 1966 Each of the local councils of Bacup, Rawtenstall and Haslingden all granted the team £50 (the treasurer must have breathed a sigh of relief). By 1966 there had been a split from NRO and the team were now officially known as Rossendale Fell Rescue Team (RFRT) but they were still affiliated with South Ribble Search Team.

In May 1968, just as members of NRO had left to form RFR where they lived, 3 members left to form Bolton Mountain Rescue Team.

1969 brought much change with the team. During the previous few years new members had joined, who say the need for better structure and a greater professional attitude. One of those people was Peter Durst and his influence on Mountain rescue not just in Rossendale but nationwide over the next 30 years would be immense. After several years of club activities of caving and climbing being the main reason for existence with search and rescue being a by-product a proposal was made to reconstitute the Team by Dick Pearson. The Team ceased all team activities other than call-outs to allow the committee to devise and practice specific training courses. This would take the Team from ‘Poverty of Finance, Vision and Expertise’ to the basis of the Team we know today.

The committee consisted of:
Peter Durst Chairman
Tony Silvers Team Leader
Jim Greenwood First Aid
Dave Waller
Brian Silvers
Stephen Whittaker

The Courses would be Navigation, Search Techniques, Stretcher Work and 1st Aid. There would be a condition of membership, a training syllabus and standards to be met.

In 1970 at a reconstitution meeting a summary of the findings and a forecast of what the team would be involved in and what was expected of its members was given. Of the original members, not involved in the committee, only 2 members decided to remain, Steve Haworth and Bryan Wilson. Others were soon to join. A training program was devised with lectures being given 4 nights per week, with 2 lectures per night. There was no compulsion to attend all nights as the lectures were repeated but all lectures had to be attended over a period before Full Team membership was recognised.

With Peter Durst as Chairman and Tony Silvers as Team leader new working relationships were forged with other regional teams, the Police and RAF Mountain Rescue Service.

By 1972 RFRT was now recognised and included in the Mountain Rescue & Cave rescue publication. This was a publication of all suitably trained groups able to be called upon for assistance.

In 1973 RFRT was a sub unit of RAF Stafford undertaking training and assessment over a weekend exercise.

It was during this time that the regional body which was to become the Mid-Pennine Search and Rescue Organisation had also come into being. Encouraging closer co-operation between teams it organised training and joint exercises that allowed teams to exchange ideas and adopt best practises. They could now feed off each other and so raise standards.

In 1973 during a joint training exercise the Team were criticised on their 1st aid ability when a casualty who was supposed to be deceased was treated as being alive. (still a problem when training with ‘casualties’ today) This led directly to the first informative book ‘Diagnosis before 1st aid’ a precursor to the current Cas Care Course undertaken by Mountain Rescue volunteers nationwide.

Peter Durst recognised that the St John’s Ambulance training was not sufficient for MR situations. Through an introduction to Neville Marsden, a local doctor Peter was able to get Neville to provide a training course covering diagnosis. The initial meeting was at Haslingden Conservatory Club where Neville was a member and the Team had been allowed a training room. At around the same time Iian Jones at Bangor University Hospital was formatting a ‘head to toe’ check for diagnosing issues with casualties for use in North Wales. After providing the training to the Team Neville was encouraged to write down the course so it could be used again with new members and shared with other teams. After considering the request Neville went away, took a holiday in a remote location and came back with the manuscript for the book ‘Diagnosis before 1st aid’.

As previously mentioned in Sept 1977 the Team arrived at the Pickering St base to find it was being demolished. This led to an urgent search of a different kind, one for a new base. After numerous false leads in 1978 the decision was taken to buy a new base in Clegg Street for £3500. A vast amount for the team to commit to but one made easier by the seller being amiable to deferred payments. It was only the start with much work needing to be done to the property, new garage doors, levelling of the floor, painting and adding a loft for storage. All this took time and money and a lot of additional work and stress on the Team and it was not until 1981 that the building was officially opened.

To be continued…

If you are a former member and have photos or additional information please get in touch so we can add to the team history.