In The Beginning
All members and most associates would know that the Pegasus Club had a hut/hostel at Dogman Slack Farm, Peak Forest, Derbyshire (NGR SK 1215 7940) but how many of them know how this came about?
The story related to myself by Pete Watkinson tells that he, Colin Wildgoose and others in the late 1950’s were camped and prospecting for caves on the land North of Eldon Hill when they were reprimanded by the land owner Harry Young. After a heated discussion Harry realised that these people, whoever they were may have the answer to one of his problems. He said that he was missing a cow and suspected that it may have fallen into a mine shaft that had recently opened up.
Having ladder and rope with them, they offered to have a look at the shaft. Colin Wildgoose was volunteered to descend the shaft and on resurfacing reported that there was indeed a cow at the bottom. During Colin’s descent, Harry Young commented that he could not claim on his insurance without the tag which was crimped into the cow’s ear. Pete Watkinson quick to see the potential of recovering the tag took the penknife from Harry and told Colin to go back down the shaft and under no circumstances to reappear without the tag.
What Harry had not revealed was that the cow had been missing for several months and Colin had also not mentioned that the cow had fallen down the shaft head first. After what must have been a very unpleasant experience (unless you like that sort of thing) Colin re-appeared at the surface with the tag. A very happy farmer then declared that the club had open access to his four hundred and eighty acres of land and could camp at Dogman Slack Farm any time they liked.
The club took up the invitation and camped at the farm soon after and within a matter of a few months had permission to erect a structure to use as a Pegasus Club base in the Peak District. The first structure was a second/third/fourth hand wooden site hut measuring approximately fourteen foot by twenty feet which was bought locally to Peak Forest. A small extension of six feet square was added at a later date to serve as a tackle store.
Dogman Slack Farm, Peak Forest, Derbyshire
The furnishing consisted of four, three tiered bunks which had originally been six two tiered ones, but were re-designed to save space. Pete Watkinson told me that the new holes required to re-position the bunks on the angle iron frames were all drilled by hand (pre Black & Decker days). This amounted to a total of one hundred and ninety two holes.
There was a bench for cooking on, which consisted of a wooden frame covered with hardboard and painted blue. Lack of support to the underside resulted in two low areas, one at each end which turned into small cesspools after a weekend of cooking up. Cooking was done on personal “Primus” stoves of either paraffin or petrol and occasionally by some on a very suicidal device called a bivvy-bomb. Watch the short video "Fine Dining & Cuisine at the Pegasus"
One of the main by-products from cooking at the hut (mainly breakfast) was FAT! There were always a selection of old food tins lined up on the window sill behind the cooking bench that contained the residue of countless frying pans over a prolonged period of time. Should you arrive at the hut “Fatless” you could spend many a thoughtful moment trying to decide which one appeared to be the last one filled. Certain members were not that fussy but your choice would usually be decided by a close inspection of the number of small dark cylindrical objects and the size of the footprints and teeth marks in the fat.
It was a good idea to keep anything that was not in a tin out of the reach of our uninvited guests by usually placing them inside your ex-army mess tins fitting one inside the other. Batch the Clatch awoke one morning to find something had eaten its way through a plastic container and bored a hole through his loaf of bread. A similar thing happened to a lady visitor who thought her food would be safe if she put it into her rucksack only to find a rodent had got into her bag and tunnelled a hole through the middle of her bread. If we had had a fridge it would have been useful in winter to prevent food like eggs freezing solid during the night. It could get so cold that opening a fridge door would turn on the light in the hut (had we have had electricity).
Terry remembers one Christmas up at the hut when some clown had nailed up the door for some strange reason only known to them. Harry appeared with a Christmas present of two chickens which had no doubt stopped laying and he handed them into the hut through a window by their ankles. When Melvyn put them down all hell broke loose as they were alive and did several circuits of the hut flapping and squawking. Melvyn tried to neck them but wasn’t any good so Big Al who had been working at a butcher’s did the job. Then they were plucked, disembowelled and cooked.
Again on an animal theme. It was not unusual for a visitor to come upon a scene of blood and guts. Fred at the Three Stags often gave us hares and rabbits that he’d shot or some people brought back road kill if the poor animals had been tipped over by cars in their headlights. It was usual to hang the said hare on a nail by the hut door where they could be cleaned and skinned and prepared to stew. Terry did this regularly and Melvyn was a dab hand too.
Barbara Wright remembers laying on the bottom bunk nearest the door one night when a “Pretty Field Rat” (her words not mine, well she is from Spennymoor) ran over her from her feet up to her head.
Barbara Wright & Sue Betts at the old hut circa 1967. Note Berger 67 string long johns and cooking bench cesspools
The roof was always kept in good order so even though it was cold and draughty at least it was dry. Light came from a “tilley” lamp when the mantle was not broken and paraffin was available or if not candles. Caving lights were rarely used as in those days it was nearly all carbide.
They were given access to water from the dairy and used a large wooded area “The Spinney” for ablutions.
This was 1959 and was the start of a great relationship between the Pegasus Club and Harry & Nora Young which was to last for over fifty years. One of the big advantages of being well in with the Young’s was it made it easier to get permissions from other landowners in the area.
No rent was ever asked for but the Club was always called upon during haymaking. Harry would telephone Pete Watkinson and tell him when he was about to start cutting. He would try and arrange for it to be baled at a weekend but if not midweek evening trips were arranged. Back then the weather was predictable. It was hard work but good fun and food and refreshments were always provided for the workers.
The heat during the winter months came from a “Romesse” pot-bellied stove manufactured by Smith & Wellstood, Bonnybridge, Scotland. This would burn almost anything and could get so hot it would glow a dull red, especially round the bottom of the chimney. We mainly burnt wood which came from a number of sources, including the “Spinney” and on two occasions old chicken coops. Coal was also burnt but we had to wait for a “delivery from god”.
In the mid 1960’s vast quantities of coal was being moved by road from the Nottingham coal-fields to Manchester using the A623 through Peak Forest. One company I remember having a fleet of lorries was “Mullans”.
As you approach Peak Forest coming from Chesterfield there are two very severe bends and occasionally a lorry would come to grief here. If the lorry misjudged the first bend and went through the wall, it ended up in Harry’s field and he got what coal was left after the cleanup with a bit left over for us. If it was the second bend where it left the road, then Harry’s brother got the free gift.
It may be worth mentioning here that in the 1960's most people hitchhiked to the hut with only a few people owning their own transport. If you got dropped off on the main A623 in Peak Forest then you had a long walk through the village and up Slack Lane to the farm. The alternative and shorter route was to get dropped off at the top of "The Mount" just before the bad bends mentioned above and use the footpath across the fields. Early one night, having just got dark I was walking the footpath along the side of the stone wall through the tall mowing grass when a pheasant flew up in front of me screeching. People in the hut said I burst in ashen faced and gibbering about the "Boggarts".
One particularly cold night huddled round the stove with supplies of fuel low, Paul Thompson informed us there was plenty of wood to burn. When asked where it had come from he replied he had chopped up the coal bunker.
Staying with the stove theme, even though the stove was cast iron and almost indestructible the stove pipe or flue tended to rot away. During one such period the club were out walking and came across a discarded length of pipe that was a perfect replacement. Back at the hut it was quickly fitted and a fire lit to test it. The only problem being it was made from asbestos and soaking wet causing it to explode. Pouring water down the pipe to extinguish the fire was Melvin’s answer to the problem.
To see the evidence of this disaster watch the short video "The Exploding Asbestos Stove Pipe"
Paul Thompson, Mick Cast, Barrie Parker & Cheg Chester posing to show off the
internal décor and sleeping arrangement
Preference for which bunk to sleep on (top, middle or bottom) was dependant on many factors. If the hut was full most people would try for a top bunk. You may have preferred a top bunk, but after a hard session in the Devonshire Arms or the Stags were you capable of attaining that altitude. If there were very few people the middle bunks were best.
Melvin preferred the top bunk because the frame of the hut formed a narrow shelf for him to place his cigarettes and lighter at night. On cold mornings you would see a hand appear through a small gap in the drawstring of his sleeping bag and feel along the shelf for his “fags”. These would then disappear inside and a small time later, accompanied by bouts of coughing, smoke would issue through the drawstring.
One person got his name after producing a Technicolor yawn off the top bunk into his own boots. No mean feat when you consider that the boots got the lot, not a drop spilt. Well done Pukey!
During the winter months it was not uncommon to wake up and find snow drifts where the snow had blown in through the gaps in the floor. Sleeping on the floor could be quite hazardous in very cold weather. On one occasion someone had puked in the night and his sleeping bag had frozen to the wooden floorboards. He had to wait to be released while a primus stove was lit and water boiled to thaw the offending glue.
The three tiered bunks were arranged in a “U” shaped configuration that is two along the back wall and one down each side. I was sleeping on the middle right bunk when awoken by a disturbance at the back, left, bottom bunk. A male figure wearing only a pair of Y fronts was sitting crossed legged on the bare wooden floor. Then, holding the imaginary oars in his hands and pushing with his legs, he proceeded to row himself in a circuitous route round the inside of the hut. On arriving back at his starting point he rolled back into his sleeping bag and continued to sleep in a more natural position. The person involved was not a member of the club, but one of a group from RAF Scampton who occasionally came for a weekend caving. They were all trainee Pilots! The removal of the splinters was possibly where the phrase “Bend for a friend” originated.
Harry & Nora Young. Nora was always addressed as Mrs Young, never by her Christian name
In the early days the Clubs rubbish from the hut, which consisted mainly of empty food cans (before the days of plastic containers) was just chucked over a wall at the side of the farm.
As you came out of the farmhouse there was a set of steps to your right, which gave access to the field behind. To the left of these steps was a small garden like area on a bank side and it was here that the rubbish ended up. Twenty feet away from the Young’s front door!
As the rubbish piled up, it was decided to use one of the close by mine shafts, “Dustbin Shaft” as it came to be known. One day a group of us decided to clean up our act and collect piles of rusty tins from the old site and tip them down the shaft. Although only around fifty foot deep and of small dimensions this shaft never filled up over the forty plus years it was in use. Not that it mattered as there were plenty more nearby.
Human waste helped to maintain what was probably the best fertilised piece of woodland in the High Peak; Snelslow Plantation or “The Spinney”. It was a common site early morning to see lone individuals trudging up through the two fields with cheeks firmly clenched against disaster.
One morning with no toilet paper readily available and feeling the pressure, a member from the south grabbed a newspaper and quickly headed for the “Spinney”. Halfway there he decided it would be disastrous to continue, so placed some of the paper on the grass with some for the cleanup operation to one side. With the waste securely wrapped up, he then proceeded to the “Spinney” and threw the parcel into the trees.
The New Hut
In 1967 Harry’s brother bought a prefabricated structure from a demolition company in Sheffield. These had been erected after the war as temporary housing and were now being demolished as being unfit for human habitation. (The Pegasus club did not fall into that category)
Harry had always said that should we want to build a new hut there was no problem, “Just build it anywhere in the same field”. After viewing the building erected by Harry’s brother it was decided to purchase one for the sum of ninety pounds delivered, including the wooden floor.
Work soon started on the foundations by digging a trench and filling it with rough limestone rocks taken from an old wall in the adjoining field. Before filling the trench, lengths of light railway line were placed in the bottom for extra rigidity. These were borrowed from the side of Stoney Middleton Dale using the lorry which had taken the Club to the Gouffre Berger in France.
The prefab had previously been erected on a slab of concrete, but the site for the new hut was on a slight slope that required the foundation to be built up by as much as four feet at the lowest point. Things were going well with a good turnout every weekend. With the foundations complete, we were all ready to start to re-erect the prefab when in October 1967 foot and mouth broke out and effectively closed all access to the farm until the following June.
During the construction of the foundations Harry had several visits from the Peak District National Park Gestapo inquiring as to what he was building and did he have planning permission? Never having been too happy with these people he told them it was a “deep litter pen” (not to be far wrong at certain times in the future) and it was his land and he would bloody well build what he wanted. How we got away with it without planning was a miracle.
One weekend the Beza Scum turned up to see how we were getting on with the new build. When they had left we discovered that one of them had left his cap behind and he came back the following weekend to inquire if we knew of its whereabouts? “Yes” we said, pointing to part of the new foundation where half of the cap could be seen sticking out of last weeks fresh concrete.
During foot and mouth access to the Three Stags Heads at Wardlow Mires was not restricted so even if we could not walk, cave or climb we could drink. The Stags was a pub, transport cafe, and farm combined, so on many weekends we would drink in the pub, eat in the cafe and after paddling through a bath of disinfectant would sleep in the barn.
The Three Stags Heads, Wardlow Mires Derbyshire. The centre of our universe
Fred, Gwen, Tom, Mary & Joe Furness Behind the bar in the Three Stags Heads
Photos from the Furness Family Album by kind permission of Mary
One would imagine that erecting a building that consisted of concrete sections, wooden window frames and doors would be a simple job. Just stand the first section upright, place the wooden spacer on the side, add the next section and bolt them together. So starting at one corner and working both ways the walls gradually grew in length. The two big problems were having to work on a narrow foundation up to four feet high and stopping the long length of wall flapping around in the breeze.
The walls were finally completed with one snag, there was a gap of several inches where the last sections should meet. To overcome this a railway sleeper was used as a battering ram and the walls were slowly nudged together. We now had a very wobbly structure, but were assured that once the roof trusses were attached everything would go rigid. Still wobbly, add the cross braces, still wobbly with people commenting that “not to worry the paint will stiffen it up”. With the roof sheets in place and the doors closed everything appeared fine.
Many of the window panes had been broken during demolition and transportation, so these were all replaced making the structure weatherproof. Watch the video "Building The New Hut"
The Tar Star
After the concrete foundation were completed a single row of double breeze blocks had been placed on top to achieve a perfectly level surface for the walls to rest on. Because these were porous it was decided to cover them and the bottom few inches of the outside walls in tar. A good drinking friend from the Three Stags Heads was Fred Whittle, who worked for Eyam Quarries and he supplied the tar which the quarry used to make Tarmacadam.
The tar was boiled up and painted with improvised brushes onto the breeze blocks, a very messy and hazardous job. Terry and Barbara Wright had a dog called "Star" (Named after the label on a bottle of Newcastle Brown ale) and somehow she ended up covered in "The Black Stuff".
After much cursing and swearing Terry decided that the only way to remove the offending substance was petrol. Anyone who has had petrol on tender parts of their skin will understand that Star was not a happy Hound and achieved a new dog's record for miles per gallon. Good job she stayed away from naked flames as she could have gone whoof!
So we now had four walls and a roof and a big problem, that being the floor was grass and in places four feet below the doorstep. The wooden floor that came with the prefab was in sections, approx eight foot by six foot and made from tongue and groove pine with one inch square batons underneath holding it all together. These had laid on a solid concrete floor so did not have any strength built into them.
To overcome this problem three equally spaced rows of railway sleepers, supported on brick pillars were placed the length of the building, the centre row including the stone plinth for the fire place. These in turn had scaffolding boards bridging the gaps between, spaced a foot apart for the lightly constructed floor panels to rest on. To achieve a better finish it was decided to break apart the panels and re-lay them in rows the full length of the floor area.
As the panels were disassembled in Harry’s shed and brought in for fixing it was soon noticed that the boards were all different widths. So these had to be sorted to make up one continuous run of the same size with the minimum amount of waste, which was a real pain in the arse.
When the last board was in place we had a full length gap of three feet down one side. In the prefab the panels were fitted between the internal walls (which we did not have) and a certain amount of wastage due to the different widths accounted for the shortfall. Taking Pauls Landrover and trailer to the demolition company in Sheffield we acquired extra panels to close the gap.
The asbestos roof had a special section to allow a chimney to pass through. After much discussion a decision was arrived at where exactly this should be positioned. It was intended to have an open fire grate so a concrete base would be needed in the centre of the wooden floor. A six foot by four foot stone plinth with an ash pit built into it was constructed to come level with the floor, with a height of some four feet. To build the fireplace on top of this we looked around for some dressed stone. Bob Furness at Laneside Farm (Harry’s son in law) informed us that an unused chimney stack at the rear of the farmhouse would be ideal and if we took it down we could have the stone.
A fireplace was built and provided with a sheet steel hood connected to a steel flue pipe. This proved to be more trouble than it was worth and it was eventually replaced with a brand new “Romesse” cast iron Pot Belly stove bought from “Twiggs” In Matlock.
To install the stove the stonework was lowered to a height of two feet above floor level to allow the heat from the stove to radiate freely. What was needed were some nice flagstones to place on top of the lowered stonework to form a U shaped plinth around the stove. I will not say too much about where they came from but it is rumoured by some that there is lettering chiselled into the undersides. When these slabs were in place a lot of time and effort was put into cleaning them, but eventually they took pride and place in the centre of the hut. That is until one weekend when the people who had put in all the effort were not around some lame brain decided to varnish them and then piss off to the other side of the planet.
The stove showing the dressed stone base and the borrowed "varnished" flagstones
The Finishing Touches
To finish the interior walls, which were the bare concrete sections and wooden spaces they were lined with a quarter inch thick hardboard.
A studded wall was built across three quarters the width to provide a separate kitchen area. A work surface was constructed around the sides of this “L” shaped area and included a double drainer sink and a small cooker. There was a shelf fitted below the work tops and both were covered in sheet aluminium for easy cleaning. A far cry from the twin cesspools of the old hut.
A soak-away for the grey water was dug down to the limestone bedrock at the side of the old hut. This contained an old galvanised water tank drilled with holes and filled with limestone chippings to act as a filter. Never a problem.
Six gas rings were fitted spaced equally along the worktops and connected to a common supply point outside the hut. We now needed a gas bottle. Deposit on a new bottle was v expensive but Harry came to the rescue saying there was one in the barn that he had used in the distant past for gas lighting in emergencies. This was great news until we inspected it and found a heap of rust that would probably leak at one P.S.I. Not to be outdone, we checked on the current colour of gas bottles, bought some paint and cleaned it up to look like new. Taken to Buxton and swapped for a new full one; job done. Hope they didn’t try and refill it at the depot!
A coin operated electric meter was installed and connected to the overhead wires that supplied power to the barns and dairy in the top yard. The installation of the electrics was supervised by Dave Lucas, who before his accident had been an electrician for Nottingham County Council. An electric water heater was installed to provide hot water to the sink. This was later replaced with a gas operated one. Later on a sodium light was installed outside over the door and became affectionately called the sun.
The last major problem was the ceiling. The one supplied was in sections like the floor and similarly had fitted between the internal walls. The sections consisted of an open mesh wooden frame covered in a soft fibre board which was not in a reusable state due to water damage. The fibre board was all stripped off and burnt and the empty panels fixed to the roof trusses ready to receive a new covering.
The first covering consisted of square fibre panels which were part of a suspended ceiling, removed from a shutdown cinema when nobody was looking. I remember the Landrover and trailer being driven inside the building through an emergency exit and having to place the step ladder on the roof of the vehicle to reach the ceiling. These panels were never really fit for purpose and after a few years they were replaced with tongue and groove pine. (The same as they make lesbians coffins out of)
In the late sixties someone installed a large valve driven wireless set into the hut breaking the previous understanding that no radios were allowed. Maybe it was something to do with the Noise Abatement Society but they never stopped the dawn chorus after a night in The Stags. It was a sort of ritual early on a Sunday evening to listen to Top of the Pops whilst people packed up after the weekend. Members listened to the programme but never got to know what was at number one. The reason? As soon as the countdown from number twenty to number one was started the radio was turned off and we left the hut just in time to arrive at the Devonshire Arms for opening. In those days Sunday opening was seven o'clock.
Who needs a stove?
The New Hut a few years after completion
As mentioned before, the original tackle store was a small extension built on the side of the old hut. Before we vacated the old hut this was demolished and the timber used to make skirting boards for the new residence. When we finally moved, the old hut received some much needed maintenance and was fitted out for the tackle. This consisted of a draining rack for oiling the ladder and shelving to store two thousand feet of ladder and rope. By the late 1980,s the tackle store was showing its age and was in need of replacement. One of our members was the fleet manager at "Plessy Communications" in Beeston and advised us that they were scrapping a trailer unit which would make a great new store. Made of aluminium it had roller doors on both sides and rear with a transparent fibreglass roof. This was perfect for us and at the price of one hundred pounds of the realm delivered, was just what was needed.
The old store was demolished and the timber stored under the new hut for firewood. With the site cleared the new unit arrived, towed behind an articulated lorry. Whilst trying to reverse the unit into the prepared site the lorry became stuck and had to drop the trailer short of its intended position.
Pulling the artic out with one of Harry's tractors we now had a problem of how to move the unit to the required position. This was solved by getting a large JCB type digger from "Peak Agric" to lift up the front end, push and swing it into position. Gordon Fletcher, who owned the digger said we owed him nothing for doing the job so to say thank you, we bought him a bottle of whiskey.
The oiling arrangements and shelving were installed and a workbench with a vice was constructed out of the mountain of material which was inside the trailer when delivered.
In 2010 or thereabouts, a decision was made to close the hut. Several reasons brought about this decision, the main one being the lack of use for which the hut was intended. Harry Young passed away on the 25th February 1997 and left an elderly Mrs. Young living on her own. The only use of the hut was for pissups by people not close to the Young’s and it was thought that arriving late at night unannounced and creating noise was unfair.
One must remember that the hut belonged to the Pegasus Club but the land did not. After a discussion with Bob and Mary Furness it was decided that we had two choices. Number one was to take our hut down and remove it, then reinstate the land or number two legally sign over the hut to the Youngs and walk away. Put like that the only sensible choice was number two.
Judith Thompson was approached and being a fellow of law produced a legally binding document stating that the hut and tackle store were now the property of Laneside Farm and that the Pegasus Club had no right of access under any circumstances. A sad but dignified end.
Mrs Young passed away on the 6th June 2012 and the Hut and Dogman Slack Farm were left to their daughter Mary. Dogman Slack farm finally came up for auction in 2016 (see the auctioneer's brochure here) and who knows, perhaps the new owner will live in the hut and turn the farmhouse into a hostel for ageing cavers and climbers.
The end of the old hut/tackle store and the arrival of the new. In the left hand photo you can see the discarded steel hood and fire grate from the fireplace and the cut down oil drum used for boiling the tar
A second chance to watch Bob Dakins 8mm Cine Films (now video) about "The Hut"
If you ever stayed at the Pegasus Hut I hope this has brought back memories of those times. If you would like to add your personal experiences to this article, which I am sure are many and varied that is not a problem. Just send them to me, Cheg Chester (see Contacts for details) with photos if you have any and they will be added for all to see and reminisce. If you have additional information or anything that is contrary to my recollections please let me know.
Cheg Chester with additions from Terry & Barbara Wright. 2016
The following article appeared in The magazine of the Haveawristworth Caving Club. December 1980.
Thrutch Guide to Caving Club Huts Part I
To aid in the decision of whether or not to go on a certain caving trip, Thrutch has decided that it may be useful to provide information concerning the accommodation we are to use, in addition to that provided on the caves themselves.
The grading system we are to apply to the huts is loosely based on that proposed for the caves:
E.H. Easy hut.
M.H. Moderate hut.
D.H. Difficult hut.
V.D.H. Very difficult hut.
S.H. Severe hut.
S.S.H. Super severe hut.
Factors involved in our assessment of the domiciles include the following:
1. Lavatory (Presence/Absence).
2. Showers (Presence/Absence).
3. Cooking Facilities (Number available).
4. Bedding Conditions.
5. Presence of any other facilities.
To start off the guide we have chosen The Pegasus Caving Club Hut ........................................
The Pegasus Caving Club Hut, Derbyshire.
Grade: V.D.H. to S.S.H.
A hut for the connoisseur caver only, full of atmosphere. There are no showers, but the cooking facilities are good. Plenty of bunks and a settee to kip on, though large parties may find some of their number on the floor with the resident rodentia.
Difficult points include the complete absence of a lavatory in any form whatsoever. Depending on lighting conditions, i.e. day or night, and what the caver has in mind, either (a) the outside of the hut; (b) nearby stone wall; (c) chicken house half a field away; or (d) "wood", more precisely defined as a row of trees, 2 or 3 fields away on a hill-top must be used.
These factors lead us to give the hut a V.D.H. grade. However in some conditions it may fall to a S.S.H. grading, for example when visiting party finds itself 'leaning' on the door which proceeds to 'come away in their hands': the resident cavers then arrive and are not amused. Furthermore, it rapidly becomes apparent that they have not even the slightest intention of caving, but are only here for the beer and pigs trotters and butter-beans. If very unlucky the visitor may find him/herself sleeping next to a loud snoring local or one who grunts from under a maze of hair, actually kicking out the poor visitor to discover whether it is male or female.
This is The Pegasus.
Some people are never happy.