Honorary Membership and Club Traditions

This is the final extract from Peter Biggar’s tales of the early years of the IMC. We start with Honorary Membership; neither of the two mentioned below is still with us, understandably given the lapse of time. There are now five honorary members, the most recently created being former President Michael Garrett for services to the club over the last forty-plus years. The picture is of the Ben Nevis observatory in the late 19th Century.

From 1950-’64 the Club created only two honorary members.  Indeed these may be the only such members it has ever created. In 1952 a Mr. C.G. Crawford became the first hon. member, but almost nothing seems to be known about him.  However, post Everest, in 1954 the committee invited the expedition member Tom Longstaff to become an Hon. Member.  However as is wont to happen, the committee had exceeded its powers under the then prevailing constitution.  Only an A.G.M. had the power to confer this honour and Mr. Longstaff had to  wait until April of ’55 to be “homologated”.

Plainly, in the early days, honorary membership was thought of as an honour conferred on outstanding mountaineers who happened, perhaps, to live in this area (Longstaff apparently lived in Achiltibuie for a while).  Nowadays it is more likely that honorary membership would be bestowed on someone as a mark of gratitude and affection for long years of service to, and interest in the Club.

Club Traditions from the Early Years

There seem to be three chief traditions which date from the fifties and early sixties: the meets, the weekly meetings and the annual dinner. (One can hardly count A.G.M.’s and committee meetings: these phenomena being pre-conditions of any enduring organised society).

In this period the meets gradually evolved from day meets to weekend ones.  Details of what was done are scarce: precious logbooks have been lost.  The Club went out in all weathers and at all times of year.  We know that the Club from its earliest days contained both walkers and climbers.  The balance between these two facets of mountaineering has seldom been even.  Gil Ward has said that when he joined the Club (Dec.’56) it was dominated by walkers and that climbers were slightly looked down upon.  By ’58 Ward was actively working to change this trend.  He wrote to the committee in the Spring of that year suggesting that the Club did not have enough meets to climbing areas.  This letter provoked a lively discussion at the A.G.M. and the committee took note of Ward’s request arranging meets to Kishorn, B.Nevis, Glen Finnan, Stac Pollaidh and Torridon; from at least three of these venues climbing would have been possible.  Gil Ward’s influence on the early club is very interesting. In the Summer of ’58 when John Aird was president (another very influential figure) Ward suggested that the committee should meet more often in order that “the running of the club might be better shared amongst committee members”, and this suggestion was unanimously adopted.( There is a delightful irony, and one I am sure Gil would find amusing: in the second year of his own distinguished presidency the committee, if records are complete, met only twice.)

While early “indoor meets” took place in hotel rooms, members’ homes and, later on in the Ness Cafe, it is also to Gil Ward that the Club owes its long running tradition of meeting each Thursday evening in a local bar-room for he suggested this at the A.G.M. of 1961. Plainly the membership liked the idea because they made him President on the spot.  By September of that year pub meetings were held each Thursday in the Carleton Cocktail Bar, and these for a while continued in tandem with monthly meetings in members’ houses.  It is  a less than sobering thought that almost every Thursday from that year to the present, members of I.M.C. have gathered in some hostelry or other in Inverness.

 Paradoxically, the annual dinner did not necessarily occur on an annual basis in the first few years of the Club’s existence.  There was none in the first year, and it seems probable that the first was held in May of ’51 after J. Frew had succeeded Cattanach as President.