In February 1952 a garage owner from Ingleton came up with a grand idea to commemorate the imminent coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Reg Hainsworth wanted to light a beacon on the summit of Yorkshire’s second highest fell, Ingleborough, and erect there a permanent stone shelter.
The Ingleton Fell Rescue Team which he led took on the project. The result was a crosswall shelter topped with a bronze toposcope, or orientation table, completed just in time for the coronation on 3 June 1953.
After providing cover from high winds for nearly 70 years, the shelter had become worn and the toposcope unreadable. Now, however, it looks back to its best after undergoing major repairs carried out by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority as part of Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust’s Stories in Stone programme funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
A 15-minute film on the project has been produced and can be seen on YouTube.
During the summer the four walls of the shelter were dismantled and rebuilt. Drystone Walling Association Master Craftsman Laurie Lambeth, of specialist stonework contractors Lambeth Stonework, led the work, which included replacing the large flag stone seats. A new, replica bronze toposcope was installed last month to finish the job.
Materials such as sand, flags and cement were lifted to the site by helicopter, but the original builders had a much tougher time of it, as Bill Hinde, 84, a volunteer on the original project, has recalled:
“Reg having the local dealership for Ferguson tractors had access to the appropriate vehicles and he knew all the local farmers, which was invaluable in getting building materials up Cod Bank onto Little Ingleborough. Most was moved by hand up the final steep slope but on occasions a Fergie with a link box made a suicidal trip up the rake, the final part of the current footpath from Gaping Gill to the summit.
“There were many logistical problems, various vehicles getting stuck, some for many days including Reg’s breakdown truck. The most assured way of moving small quantities was in your rucksack but building tools and materials become heavier the further you carry them. Building stone had to be found and carried from the upper millstone slopes as nothing could be used from the summit plateau and water came from the Swine Tail spring and was stored in milk kits.”
Mr Hinde has checked the minute books of the Ingleton Fell Rescue Team to confirm that the brass toposcope was bought for £45-10-0 from Robert Pringle & Sons, a London silversmith. The toposcope indicated the direction and the distance to the fells that could be seen from the Inglebrough summit, marking, for instance, the 39 miles to Scafell in the Lake District and the 22 miles to Pendle Hill in Lancashire.
From the beginning the summit shelter attracted attention from around the world. Reporters ventured to the top of the mountain for interviews with Ingleton Fell Rescue; the BBC recorded an item for the North Countryman programme.
Mr Hinde said that although the weather turned ‘miserable’ for the unveiling of the shelter on the evening before the coronation, a great deal of work went into the beacon:
“The beacon or bonfire was and is a traditional Ingleton celebration of national events. The logistics of getting the combustible materials on to the summit of Ingleborough was a serious undertaking but Reg Hainsworth and other locals had past experience. Tractors and trailers had to be organised with manpower to load and unload and local knowledge of the terrain was vital.
“The materials were manhandled by a long continuous line of helpers up the final steep slope onto the summit plateau where the expert bonfire builders did their stuff. Basically, this was a mountain of old tyres stacked around a core of scrap timber with the odd drum or two of old engine oil. The beacon was ignited by a flaming torch carried in relay by pupils from Ingleton school.”
Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Member Champion for Cultural Heritage, Julie Martin, said: “There is a fantastic story behind Ingleborough’s summit shelter. As well as being a practical structure used for respite by many people walking Yorkshire’s ‘Three Peaks’, it stands as a magnificent tribute by local people to the Queen. It’s good that once again people can study the toposcope and learn the distances and directions to all the surrounding peaks.
“The summit of Ingleborough is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, in part because it had been long thought to be the site of an iron age hillfort, although recent research disputes that. I would like to thank our rangers and all the partners involved for carrying out the repair work in such a sensitive way.”
Don Gamble, Stories in Stone Scheme Manager, said: “I’m delighted that Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust could fund the reconstruction of the shelter and replacement toposcope. The scheme has delivered around 170 projects but most of them have been in the valleys and settlements around the summit, so this project is literally a high point of the scheme! I’m sure the shelter will be appreciated by walkers for decades to come.”