Tributes to Pete Watkinson
19th May 1930 - 25th June 2020
We were saddened to hear of the death of Pete at the ripe old age of 90. In writing this we also have fondly reminisced about the interesting times we had together.
My first experience with the Pegasus Club began in 1961 when I was invited to the old hut at Peak Forest having first met Pete at “The Royal Children” where the club met on a Thursday evening in Nottingham. I joined the club and this proved an event which pretty much shaped the rest of my life and for which I personally feel very indebted to Pete.
Pete was looked up to by the younger members as he came across as an experienced outdoors man with oodles of initiative and drive. His organisational skills were good and he gained the respect of everyone by leading from the front. Probably his greatest strength was as a motivator.
At this time the club members participated in many outdoor activities not just caving. I was initially interested in pot holing and went on many underground trips but also I quickly started climbing with Pete and his friends.
Very soon afterwards a group of younger lads joined and a rock climbing section sprung up. Pete was very much involved with all of these activities. In these early days of climbing Bill Cheverst came on the scene and upped the climbing standards by quite a bit. Pete arranged meets in North Wales, The Lake District and Derbyshire for quite a number of years. He always organised transport and places to stay.
I first spoke to Pete at the Dudwood Lane cottage near Elton in October 1964. I’d met Terry through Bill Cheverst on two previous weekends. Terry and I had been climbing on the Saturday and had met up with the Pegasus crowd, who’d been caving, for an evening at “The Druids” in Birchover. I think I was the only sober one there when we got back to Dudwood Lane! Quite a raucous time was had by most. The lads had not long been back from the expedition to the Gouffre Berger in France and everyone was buoyant and very motivated.
When Terry and I got married in 1968 Pete very generously suggested we use his Citroen car, which was “posh”, as the wedding car. He acted as chauffeur. Most of us hadn’t any transport at the time. After the wedding Pete drove us back to Nottingham so we could go off on honeymoon to the Pyrenees.
We moved to Cumbria in 1971 but kept in touch with Pete at the Pegasus hut in Derbyshire, club dinners and our annual reunions in Nottingham. He always had a smile and in later years tales to tell of diving exploits.
A nice man in the finest sense of word. I’m glad we knew him.
His life was an adventure.
Barbara and Terry Wright, Dalton in Furness, Cumbria.
The more I reflect on Wako's passing, the more I realise how much I owe him. I first met him in the early 60's either in the Devonshire Arms or down some dank Derbyshire pothole. Exactly where eludes me. I was very much in awe of the man: He'd "Bin down the Berger". Then the deepest known cave in the world.
In those distant days, this was the Everest of aspiring potholers, and, even though my own limited experience was lacking in skill and ability, I was somehow adopted by the Pegasus Club and made many a fine trip in their august company. Collectively, they taught me how to be a 'proper' potholer.
Unbelievably, and probably undeserved I was invited by Wako to join the Pegasus 1964 Berger Expedition. Without doubt, this was the highlight of my urban life. And paradoxically, the end of it.
Even though being trapped at Camp 1 for some days due to flood hardly counts as a success, I learnt two things which have directed my life from that first "Big Trip" to my last in 2016 when I returned from an abortive, but snow leopard enhanced trip to climb a 20,000 footer in Ladakh.
And for those two things, I am forever indebted to Wako.
Firstly, he made me realise that you can do anything you want providing you want it enough. ANYTHING.
Secondly, this experience, and particularly the 1967 successful Berger Expedition convinced me that doing "Big Trips" as a full time occupation was for me. From then on I travelled the world, only working to finance yet another "Big Trip".
As a result of meeting Wako, and the now tattered remnants of the "class of 64", I have led a magnificent life of limited utility.
His recent passing has made me realise just how much I miss those with whom I "squandered" my youth.
Farewell Wako, there are many whom you have helped to make.
Ian Curfy 1st July, 2020
I met Pete over sixty years ago when I was about fourteen, at the Newcastle Arms on Aspley Lane at the Pegasus Caving Clubs Thursday night meet.
He invited myself and two others others, of similar age, to ‘DO’ a mine shaft the coming weekend in Matlock Bath. I did! enjoyed it! despite the return journey on public transport, Manchester to Nottingham bus.
Being restricted to this mode of transport limited our area of operation, however Pete, bless him, bought a twelve seat Bedford mini bus, which he used to take us to Yorkshire & the Lakes, once we had unloaded the “Green Shield Stamps”!
He was their area Rep.
These trips broadened young members horizons enormously.
I know that Pete was very proud, as founder member, to see the club grow with members from across the UK & Europe. Additionally, while under his stewardship, the club practiced open-water & cave diving, eventually mounting a massive expedition to a French cave which at the time was the deepest in the world.
He & his efforts will be sorely missed.
I last visited Pete ten days before lock down.
Tony (Boney) Marshall
Although my time with the Pegasus was relatively short, about 2 years, we all needed his presence; a really stabilising boss who would always wade in if needed. I knew his wife June who would often be with him to help out and make sure any mess was cleared up before the scramble to get out of the door!
He was always there to keep us on the straight and narrow - which considering that nearly all of us were between 16 and 20 must have been quite a big job.
It is always very sad to loose someone you really love, but he was also respected and loved by many people.
June Clarke Cooper or Junikins
I first met Pete in 1963 following a meeting with some of the club team in Monyash who shared our very good picnic and thought we would be a good additions to the club.
We thought that this would be a good idea as we knew that our 100 feet of nylon rope and 60 foot of second-hand rope ladder rather limited our progression to the delights of deep cave exploration. We were advised that the club met every Thursday evening at the Royal Children pub in Nottingham and with some trepidation we turned up, and to be quite honest we had very limited caving experience having only done some of the Derbyshire caves and mines.
We arrived at the pub and when we asked for Pete we were directed to this big guy with a broken nose and thought we had better not exaggerate our experience. We told him honestly what we had done in the past and had read several books on caving and potholing namely “1000 Metres Down” and “Men of Pierre St Martin“ we were anxious to join a real club and do some real caving.
We were impressed that he had visited the deepest cave in the world the Gouffre Berger in the Vercour region of the Dauphine Alps with a mixed club team in 1962, but to us this was a dream away as we were so inexperienced. He advised us to go to the club hut in Peak Forest in Derbyshire and they would give us a trial. He discussed that the following week they were going to Yorkshire and if we were good enough, we could go with them.
The club hut in Peak Forest was an old disused chicken shed that the farmer had given him several years previously and served the club well for over 10 years and we were made very welcome. When we told him we were without transport he said he had a Dormobile and would take us. That was the start of our caving in a proper club that was very different from our previous experience. During our travels he told us of his plans to take the club back to France and have a shot at record-breaking potholing in the Gouffre Berger.
You have to remember that in the 1960,s most of us had very little money and mounting an expedition of this kind would cost several thousand pounds, another problem was that we were only allowed to take £50 out of the country. So, when asked how he could do this, he said with sponsorship from companies for clothing, equipment and food and this would necessitate writing hundreds of letters in the hope of favourable replies. The club members would make the electron ladders and other equipment that would be required.
If we needed further funds, we could approach a friendly bank manager for a loan that would be repaid on our return when we hoped to get a paid lecture tour. Being Pete he was full of confidence that this could be achieved.
The Berger trip in 1964 was a great success and although trapped by flood water for several days we carried out the planned work of exploration and photography. We found a new undiscovered section of the cave and named it Pegasus Bridge that was considered a major achievement by the French caving clubs.
The Berger trip was repeated in 1967 and although we found no new passageways, we managed to get more that half our team to the bottom and equaled the world record.
Few people understood the work that Pete put in organising the trip with the French Authorities and writing to hundreds of potential suppliers. Added to this on our return he had reports to write, supported by photographs to our suppliers and he and several others gave lectures around the country to gain cash to pay off the bank overdraft. His most prestigious lecture was to the Royal Geographic Society in London who were very impressed with what the club, under his leadership had achieved.
In the late 60,s several club members took up diving and we carried out work in Derby doing underwater scaffolding work on St Marys Bridge and laying the new marine cable to supply Derby city Centre with power during the ring road development. This was the start of Pete’s new career when he formed Dive Task a company carrying out underwater contracting and surveying.
He had several near misses during this work, one was when he put too much explosive to cut out some piles in Huntingdon adjacent to the Bridge Inn when the shock wave caused the evacuation of the Bridge Inn restaurant. Another was the contract at Darley Abbey in Derby when the lack of water height would not allow him to cut the Victorian cast iron piles with Thermic lances so he once again applied too much Gelignite and an iron girder weighing several tons shot into the air narrowly missing 2 parked cars on its return to earth.
During his caving career he gave us leadership and he invented the phrase “Hogging the agony” this meant always going for the heaviest load or the badly tied up ladders or ropes or even laying in a waterfall course so that others could get a reasonably dry ladder ascent, this allowed us to moan that all were better off than us and it became our Mantra.
He was very keen on keeping the environment in good order and I remember walking in the Lake District when a parked car opened the door and out came a hand with the car ashtray that emptied it all over the road. The occupants were so busy talking and they did not see Pete bend down and pick up all the fag ends, he then tapped on the car door and the driver wound down the window and Pete threw it all back in the car. He said take your rubbish home and the driver seeing this big man with a broken nose decided this was a good idea.
In his later active years, he took up cycling once again as originally it was a cycling club that he was in that developed into the Pegasus Caving Club.
The start of his health problems began after he retired from diving and was doing some gardening for a doctor friend. He saw an ambulance arriving at the gate and when he asked the doctors wife if someone was ill she replied, "Yes its you, you have just had a stroke now get in the ambulance". How typical of Pete.
Pete put the Pegasus Caving Club on the map with his enthusiasm and many people applied to join. He gave us experiences that few of us could have achieved without his leadership and the fun and excitement I had in the club will be something I will always treasure.
Goodbye dear friend rest easy.
I met Peter sometime in the mid to late fifties after I joined The Aspley Boys Club. At the time I was interested in caving and potholing and was told that some of the members of the club were into both. My first memory of Peter was actually mountaineering in north Wales, in the LLanberiss area staying in a place called Williams Barn in the pass. We had all bedded down in the barn one night and Grenville Blatherwick, Jack Dempster and Derek Tipping along with myself and Peter and Terry and Margaret Widdowson. Terry had a little female long coated terrier and it needed to pee, so it was let out in the wet and on return took a shortcut over Peter's face whilst he was tucked in his sleeping bag. Needless to say, this little terrier was soaking wet underneath, and so now was Peter's face. There was a lot of cursing and swearing. With threats to ring the dogs neck!
We did lots of trips to go mountaineering and one trip to Wasdale we had the intention to climb Scaffel. One of the people on the trip with myself and Peter, was Jack Dempster, I was walking beside Peter and little Jack Dempster, hands in pockets, woolly hat on and big jacket stormed past us uphill, Peter turned to me and said," look at that little bugger, hands in pockets, all the gear on and does not even break into a sweat".
We did lots of caving trips and one in particular was a trip to Eldon Hole, Ray Russell took us and Ray had an unfortunate accident when he fell down off the ledge about 20/30 feet from the top, he fell about 120 feet, amazingly he survived. Peter was already at the bottom and must have heard Ray yell, coming down - Below. Evidently the two were army mates after WW11. I believe Peter was involved in the rescue of Ray from Eldon.
One particular caving trip I did with Peter, we had to go through a pretty tight squeeze, and Peter asked me if he could go first, then if he got stuck I could pull him out, but my assistance was not needed, he got through fine.
These are just a few of many stories I could tell of trips with Peter, and now and again I would be invited to a "mushy pea supper" in the caravan with June at Radcliff on Trent, those were happy days. R I P Peter, sadly missed.
Peter Nicholson now living in New Zealand.
I was saddened to hear of the recent death of Pete Watkinson in Nottingham, at the age of ninety. Pete was a good, generous and reliable friend of mine, and to many, but was a “man of many different parts”, with different people having different memories. I was not on the 1967 Pegasus trip to the Gouffre Berger, which Pete led, so will leave others to recount their memories of this, and other aspects of his life which I did not share. These are my happy memories of Pete Watkinson.
I most recently visited Pete in a care home in Nottingham, with Al and Sue Harrison, last summer. The care home was bright and clean, and the staff pleasant and attentive, and seemed to be aware that they had someone “special” to look after. Though Pete recognized, and was clearly happy to see us, he could not talk or communicate, and I was distressed to see such a strong and proud man laid so low by old age. However, this is not the time to remember Pete when he was in a care home in his last days, now is the time to remember the strong, energetic, charismatic leader that I first met over fifty years ago.
After I had been thrown out of Exeter University in 1967, at the age of twenty, and decided that making shoes for Clarks’ was not for me, I joined the Mining Engineering Department at Nottingham University in September 1968, at the age of twenty-one a “mature student”, to study for a degree. I had never been to Nottingham before, had no friends there, and was rather lost. After a few months I introduced myself to the Pegasus, and after diving Ilam Rising and leading the singing in the Three Stags a few times, was accepted into the bosom of the Pegasus “family”. Though this includes many “memorable” individuals, and the Pegasus has always been an egalitarian organization with no club politics, it soon became obvious that Pete was the “ first among equals”, who had led the 1967 Berger expedition, and to whom due deference was paid. The Pegasus helped and supported many members who found themselves initially adrift, and was always there to help them make a success of their working and personal lives, whatever their “back-story”, Pete more than anyone.
Once I was confident that I was not about to be kicked out of university again, I spent many week-ends at the club hut at Peak Forest, which usually involved the pub on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, with caving on Saturdays and Sundays. Alternatively, many Sundays Pete and I walked from Peak Forest, over the tops to Castleton, for a few jars in the Bull’s Head, and then walked back again. On occasions when we were not in Derbyshire on a Sunday, Pete would pick me up in his Citroen from the University Park, and we would drive down for a dive in Stoney Cove, near Leicester, stopping for a couple of pints on the way back.
When, in Summer 1970, I stayed in Nottingham for a couple of months after the end of the university term, to enable me to do some “Statutory Underground Training” with the Coal Board, I stayed with Pete, June and a very young Angie, in their house in Grouville Drive. Then I went to Spain for five weeks, as leader of a Nottingham University caving expedition to the Picos de Europa, and, of course, Pete, who was then manager of a printing company, gave us a good deal on printing our expedition report. During this period, Pete and Barrie Parker had founded Dive Task, an inland commercial diving contractor, who did nearly all their diving work at week-ends, because the divers were all Pegasus members, who had “real jobs” to do during the working week. I will always remember getting washed through a hole in an incomplete temporary link-pile dam on the River Derwent in Derby, on a Saturday in the middle of my 1970 Part One exams. I should have been studying, but the diving was more fun, and Pete paid better!
I kept in touch with Nottingham, the Pegasus and Pete, via visits when on home leave from working on offshore rigs for Shell in Qatar, in 1972 – 74. From Qatar, I moved to work for Shell in Aberdeen, 1975 – 78, enabling me to occasionally join the Pegasus on caving trips to Yorkshire, and sometimes visit the hut in Peak Forest for the week-end. During this period I remember a number of raucous Pegasus club dinners in Derbyshire too – Pete was always there!
In Summer 1975, after the Pegasus expedition to the Cigalere Cave in southern France, I drove down to San Feliu on the Spanish Costa Brava to join Pete and his family for a few days diving, paella and vino multo collapso - Happy days!
Though I kept in touch with the Pegasus and Pete whilst working for Shell in Oman, Egypt and Peru, and when back working from my home in Hampshire as from 1984, it was not until the late 1980’s that I became involved in DiveTask Salvage, a company Pete had formed, together with Harold Miller, to research, locate and salvage historic wrecks, typically from the Spanish trade with their colonies in the New World during the Spanish colonial period. DiveTask employed some full-time, paid, researchers based in Lisbon, to research the Spanish historic alarchives in Seville and elsewhere, to identify, and value, wrecks that we might be able to get a contract to salvage. Rob Palmer, Stewart Clough and others were also involved in this work, which also included development of Stewart’s Carmellan rebreather diving equipment, and testing this in the Fort Bovisand hyperbaric facility near Plymouth. My role was mainly to help identify suitable targets in Panama, for which purpose my wife’s uncle, Professor Alfredo Castillero, a noted academic historian and specialist on Spanish trade with the Americas during the colonial period, spent two paid months in the Archivos De Los Indios, in Seville, in Spain. He came up with the wreck of the San Jose, which went down off the Pacific coast of Panama in 1632, with over a hundred million dollars worth of silver and other treasure on board. In 1992, Rob Palmer visited Panama, so we could have a first dive at the place where the San Jose had sunk, but found nothing. I then spent two years, via lawyers in Panama City, attempting to negotiate a contract with the government to allow DiveTask to find, survey, record and salvage this wreck, but to no avail – and more recent attempts by others have done no better either! Though I spent a lot of time on DiveTask’s behalf during this period, and received some travel and other “expenses”, I and most others involved, were there for the Hell of it, not getting paid for our contributions. Nevertheless, I am sure that DiveTask Salvage must have cost Pete and Harold a ton of money, one way and another.
Though I had pint or three with Pete during more recent visits to Nottingham, sometimes after he had broken out from his care home, and sometimes in a wheelchair, others share these memories, and can likely relate them better than me. However, a final memory, maybe in 2012, was drinking with Pete during a Pegasus re-union, when he had been “sprung” from his care home for a few hours for the occasion, in a wheel-chair, and unable to communicate. He was matching Big Al Harrison and me, pint-for-pint, but when we had had enough, and had to leave, Pete was still going strong, so we left him to be infiltrated back into the care home by Kathy later.
James Cobbett – Panama City, Panama, 1st July 2020
In 1963 aged eighteen and living alone I was attending day release at Beeston College when I got talking to Big Al Harrison about caving. At this point in my caving career I had done very little with the usual Matlock trips via train and some trips to the Manifold Valley with my Brother. Probably the biggest trip was to bale the sump in Giants hole and get to the bottom of the Crab Walk.
Big Al informed me that his club, The Pegasus, was preparing an expedition to The Gouffre Berger and was looking for new members. We arranged to meet in The Royal Children (The Kids) in Nottingham the following Thursday night where he would introduce me to the Club. On entering the bar and approaching a muscular man with short cropped hair and a broken nose he announced “This is Cheg, he wants to go down the Berger” and then walked away. Looking at Pete Watco for the first time I thought I am going to be dismissed out of hand due to lack of experience. But no, after a few minutes chat he just said “come out this weekend to Derbyshire and do a trip”. When I replied “OK, but I have no transport” Pete replied “not a problem I can give you a lift”.
Several months later, back in the Kids, Pete came up to me and asked “what is your collar size?” “why” I asked. “For your expedition Viyella shirt, Your on the team”
This was the start of a new life for me, having been introduced to a great group of people who went out of their way to help and encourage me to achieve a great new way of life. These people are still my good friends after fifty seven years and all down to that first meeting with Pete Watco.
There are many tales I could tell about ‘Watco’ including ‘The Burning Log’, ‘Putting out the Candle’, ‘Applying for a Bang License’ and ‘The destroyed Roof Rack’ to name a few. These are best narrated over a few pints and in good company, so I am sure that some of them will be heard in conversations at the next Pegasus Club Reunion.
Goodbye my friend and thank you for my new life!
Stuart (Cheg) Chester.
I believe it most likely I met Pete the 20th April 1969. I say believe, as when taken into the Hut, for the very first time, I encountered a large group of tough looking, no nonsense men and women, who immediately extended a refreshing welcome, and overwhelming hospitality to a stranger, something not previously experienced, yet has continued so ever since.
I do not feel too qualified to speak of Pete; we only ever spoke briefly, and then on occasion. We never caved nor climbed; something I regret enormously. From the outset I was stuck by a transparent, genuine, constructive character. Though young, and tiny in stature, Pete made me feel of value. Quite simply, he was in fact a very nice bloke, a real Gentleman.
Love, Light and Peace
If you would care to add a tribute to Pete please forward to Cheg Chester (see contacts)
The images shown on this page are cropped from larger photographs, hence the poor quality. To view the original photographs from which they were taken, click on the link below.