Jim Puttrell 2

April 2010

Shortly before Christmas Sandra & Mel asked me to review John Craddock’s biography of Jim Puttrell. As Jim was both a climber and a caver (I can still aspire, right?) I accepted the commission with pleasure. Sadly breaking my shoulder skiing & dealing with the gargantuan workload of a merger in the office scuppered many of my plans, not least the task of writing this review having read the book. Craddock’s book is excellent reading for anyone interested in the genesis of either sport: it is fabulously well researched, contains many anecdotes of climbing & caving trips, particularly to anybody active in Derbyshire (Jim lived in Sheffield) and many excellent surveys and photos. The book also deals very effectively with the politics of climbing and caving clubs: as today there are some who prefer to write hurtful things in journals rather go caving/climbing. As a leading light of his generation Jim did not escape unfair criticism, but Jim’s response, to just go caving/cragging seems to this day the right response.

Any caver/climber reading the book will, I believe, come away with a respect for Jim’s tenacious problem solving & intrepid hunger to explore. The book is redolent with anecdotes of caving trips, some comical, others terrifying as Jim & his colleagues pushed the envelope as they explored. The anecdotes were as alive to me as the newsletter articles I read from other members of RRCPC. My only frustration with the book is not a bad one to complain about: in a sense I felt I could almost reach out & touch him, so close yet so far away. I frequently found myself wanting to hear him in his own words, maybe propping up the bar in a hostelry after an exhausting trip, reveling in the understated humor that was undoubtedly characteristic of the man, maybe even chat over a burning committee table at Bull Pot Farm! His indomitable spirit & sense of fun shines through the pages of this book. The table of contents alone indicates the diversity of Jim’s activities: among others he climbed in the Lakes & Snowdonia, the Peak, Scotland & the Alps. He caved in the Peak, Ireland, Austria & Slovenia, to mention but a few.

Jim lived in the nascent age of climbing & caving in the UK & made many first ascents and explored many of our great caves. He climbed with the Abraham brothers in the Lakes & was a founding member of the British Speleological Association in 1935. Climbing gritstone remains a central part of our climbing heritage in the UK, sometimes described as “the Marmite of UK climbing”. Craddock writes “he was later recognised as the ‘father of gritstone’.”

I find myself wanting to write more about Jim, but neither time nor copyright law will allow me to do him or this book justice. In short, if you are interested in the history of climbing & caving in this country, read this book. If you want a right riveting read, with tales of derring do, read this book. If your life prevents you getting to crag or cave as often as you like, read this book. Alternatively, read this book. Please note that the author has kindly donated a copy of this book to the RRCPC library. You could, of course, consider buying a copy of this excellent book. Apologies to the author, Sandra and Mel and the long suffering readers of the RRCPC newsletter for the delay in getting this review out.

2 A review of “Jim Puttrell: Pioneer Climber & Cave Explorer” by J. P. Craddock, pub Matador 2009

 Back to Contents page                                                                          Peter Devlin