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Ernest Smeeton, Eccentric Adventurer
and a Founding Father of the Pegasus Club Nottingham

A Series Of Incredible Happenings and Coincidences 

 

The Pegasus website is rich with the exploits and incredible adventures of its members but nobody alive now, knew about this one. 


It is a tale of great interest to the club and only came to light by chance.


It is an exploit played out by a founder member, Ernest Smeeton beginning in 1953 when he was one of the club’s founder members and club secretary.


His exciting, historic adventure began in 1955 and ended in 1956.

Andy Walchester is an active member of the Pegasus Club who by chance stumbled upon a reference to a person called Ernest Smeeton and a link with the Pegasus Club, Nottingham while researching old newspapers for his own family tree. Curiosity led him to look further and he found several newspaper articles about one of the founder members. The name seemed familiar and Andy found Ernest Smeeton on a photograph already on the website of the Founder Members Inaugural Meeting of 1953 held in the Generous Briton public house, Nottingham. ( See Article )

Inaugral Meeting of the Pegasus Club Nottingham in the Generous Briton Pub 1953

Pegasus Founder Members - Inaugural Meeting at the Generous Briton 1953

Back Row Left to Right - 1?, 2 Ken Allen, 3?,  4?, 5 Gordon ?, 6?, 7?, 8 Ernie Smeeton
Middle Row  - 1 Rita Allen, 2 ? Carlisle, 3 ?, 4?, 5?, 6 Bernard Craven, 7 Edna Smeeton.
Front Row  - 1 Sylvia Craven, 2 ?, 3?, 4?, 5?, 6 Sybil ?

Is Ted Winks one of the above unnamed ?

The photograph like most in those times showed a rather formal line up of its members but that is until you look more closely, Ernie Smeeton is the tall man on the right hand of the top row. All the women are similarly and neatly dressed all with the black patent leather shoes which were fashionable at the time. All the men are suited and with shirts and ties. But look closely. Ernie is the odd one out and so very casual in his open necked shirt and definitely no tie. Marching to a different drum? The woman standing in front of him is his wife Edna. All the group spent most weekends and holidays in walking and climbing pursuits. Ernie rarely missed an opportunity to get out into the hills. According to the newspaper articles he was super fit and described as “a slim young man who spends all his spare time rambling and climbing in the countryside, and is thoroughly at home in a pair of boots with soles nearly two inches thick” (9th Feb 1955 Nottingham Evening Post.)

All the newspaper articles were about Ernie and a friend Ted Winks who decided to walk to the Himalayas from Nottingham each carrying camping equipment and cooking utensils, a small amount of clothing and £70 each. Sleeping bags were essential but bear in mind the equipment in those early days was cumbersome and heavy. A typical rucksack like the one pictured in the formal photo, was uncomfortable to carry and difficult to pack efficiently. The article says “they had the ability to rough it”.

William Ernest Smeeton walk from Nottingham to the Himalayas

Nottingham Evening Post 9th February 1955

In 1955 Ernest and Ted embarked on a remarkable journey overland with the Himalayas as their goal and an estimated 2 year journey. Edna his wife must have been a remarkable woman too. Not many wives would have agreed to such a separation, His mother similarly as featured in a departure photo in the centre of Nottingham.

William Ernest Smeeton walk from Nottingham to the Himalayas

The Guardian Journal 30th May 1955

Whilst Ernie’s specific walk to the Himalayas isn’t widely documented his expedition is an inspiring piece of exploration and history. Perhaps his journey was overshadowed at the time by the well- publicised adventures of a Brigadier Miles Smeeton (no relation) and his wife Beryl. Miles was well known and had gained recognition for daring expeditions to Tirich Mir, a towering peak in the Himalayas among many other travels.


There were many overland expeditions in the 1950’s when small groups of sponsored students and wealthy individuals would travel from England by Land Rover and Bedford Dormobile to distant places to climb mountains and who on return published accounts of their travels and wrote books. In 1953 there was a Scottish Himalayan Expedition and of course the first ascent of Everest at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation.


Nearer to home there had been a Merseyside expedition to a mountain called Guari Sankar in the Himalayas but this expedition hit the snag of not having the funds. The Liverpool Echo provided some of the finance and a little came from the Everest Foundation but the shortfall was found from the member’s own pockets.

So the well-heeled travellers were not the only ones on the road. The idea that an overland trip to places like India and Nepal was viable spread through word of mouth to ordinary people. Many people like Ernie and Ted must have heard and read about such pioneering journeys. They must have been fascinated by descriptions of exotic places and cultures encountered along the way.


Air travel was in its infancy and prohibitively expensive. Some adventurers went by motor bike. Ernie and Ted decided what better than to walk, as slow travel gives more time to absorb the ambience of places visited.

The lads travelled through many countries eventually finding themselves in Damascus, Syria.


Damascus in the early 1950’s is said to have been a conservative society and not backward by any means. Its business class was always open to dealing with foreigners and trading with far away countries taking in new ideas and inventions and implementing them. Young Syrians in the early 20th century left to go to universities in Germany, Paris and London. They were exposed to new ways of living and new political ideas. Ernie must have associated with the business class while in Damascus because it seems he was persuaded to stop his walk to Nepal temporarily.

 

With the assurance that they would pay for him to return to Damascus to continue his walk, Ernie accompanied the manager of an Arabian company to London to help him set up cheap travel from London by bus taking in European countries to Greece and Turkey with Syria at the terminus. The company saw the opportunity to establish an overland bus tour for tourists the ticket costing £75. Ernest was given a job to help organise this venture.

William Ernest Smeeton walk from Nottingham to the Himalayas
Smeeton D 2.jpg

Nottingham Evening Post 1st December 1955

Later he was to return to Damascus on the company bus and finish his trek to the Himalayas on foot.


On their return, they found it impossible to obtain visas to pass through Syria. It was only a short while later in 1958 after much tension in the Middle East that The United Arab Republic was established. Ernie and Ted found that the atmosphere had changed. Things were tense between the local people and foreigners. They found it expedient to return to England by air.


The trip out to the Himalayas and back as far as Bagdad cost them £55 each. Their air fare from there to England the sum of £70.

Smeeton E 2.jpg
Smeeton E 1.jpg

Nottingham Evening News 11th December 1956

The Daily Herald sums Ernie up.


“What a husband! 


But, to an even more amazing degree – what a wife!”


And for the Pegasus Club website an intriguing and incredible account about an early member and his wife to add to its archive.


Maybe he could lay claim to be an early traveller on the Hippie Trail to India.

Smeaton A.JPG

Daily Herald 12th February 1956

Barbara Wright, Dalton in Furness, May 2024.

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