Peter was born on 30 December, 1924, in Nottingham, the only son of John and Edith Harding. His early years were spent in Nottingham though the family moved to Derby fairly early in World War II, where his parents managed The Wheel public house on Friargate, later moving to The Navigation on London Road. He attended Bemrose School.
He was a keen cyclist, and would regularly cycle to Blackpool in the school holidays to stay with his aunt and uncle. His love for the great outdoors lead him to discover an interest in rock climbing which would become his life's passion.
Peter Harding at the crux of his own route, Valkyrie, Roaches in 1995 © Gordon Stainforth
He started his working life in 1941/2 as an Engineering Apprentice at Rolls-Royce, eventually becoming a Detail Draughtsman in the aero-engine division. While at Rolls-Royce he met Ivan Waller who was to become a great friend and have a big influence on his life.
After the war, he wanted to transfer to the car division of Rolls-Royce, as motor cars were becoming a bit of a hobby, but unfortunately an opening never arose. So in 1946 he decided that to further his career he would have to leave Rolls-Royce and went to study full-time at Loughborough College. However, he was extremely proud of his association with Rolls-Royce and the work he did there and in later life became a member of the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust.
During his time at Loughborough College he spent most weekends climbing in the Peak District and began work on “A Guide to Black Rocks and Cratcliffe Tor” with his friend Tony Moulam which was published by the Climbers' Club of Great Britain in 1949.
In 1947, he moved to Shrewsbury to become a lecturer at the technical college. Skilful manipulation of the timetable enabled him to indulge his passion for rock climbing and Friday lunchtimes would see him heading out to the crags, come rain or shine, returning by midday Monday. At this time he was climbing mostly in the Peak District or North Wales, where he made many first ascents and was considered to be one of the leading climbers of the day. In 1948, he was asked by the Climbers' Club to write a new guide to “Llanberis” which was published in 1950.
In 1951 he was persuaded by his old friend, Ivan Waller, to leave teaching and join him at Small & Parkes Ltd, Manchester, working on the development of brake linings for motor cars. During this period he was able to indulge in another of his passions 'motor sport', principally 'rallying'. He drove in many club rallies at that time, with friends and colleagues, Ned Brooke and Neil Rothery, as his navigators. They had some creditable finishes and Peter became quite an accomplished rally driver.
Peter Harding at the Roaches in 1995 © Gordon Stainforth
Whilst at Small & Parkes he started dating the Managing Director's secretary, Rita McNulty, and they married in November 1952 (almost 55 years ago). Just over a year later their first child, Kim, was born, followed in 1956 by Nicola, in 1958 by Michael and by Alison in 1960. By the mid 50s the family was living in the seaside town of Southport, Lancashire.
In the early 1960's Small & Parkes was sold as a company and it became clear to Peter that the new owners intended to close it down. So in 1962 he joined Mintex Ltd, in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, as head of the Test Fleet. This gave him the perfect opportunity to organise testing trips to the Alps, where he would carefully arrange the route to cover some of the most spectacular driving roads in the world and have days off in areas such as the Dolomites, where he could do a spot of climbing, thus indulging both his passions at the same time and get paid for doing it. He remained with Mintex until his retirement in 1984, aged 59, eventually becoming Research and Development Manager. During his career he produced many technical papers on the braking of road vehicles and was a well respected figure within the industry.
His retirement was spent doing the things he loved - climbing, walking and taking holidays in the Alps. During this period he wrote many articles for climbing journals and was often in demand as an after dinner speaker, giving talks on his climbing experiences. He was still very active during this time and at the age of seventy soloed the Matterhorn in Switzerland. He continued to go out climbing and walking well into his late seventies when his health began to fail.
He was proud of all his children, and their partners - Jeff, Paul and Dawn - and was especially proud of his grandchildren - Claire, Ian, Robert and Matthew, all of whom he loved to take on climbing or walking trips when they were younger. He was especially proud that Claire, Ian and Robert all gained honours degrees and that Matthew passed for Heckmondwike Grammar School, as he put great store in academic qualifications.
Peter was a very strong character with a steely determination and had great confidence in his own abilities. Being brought up during the 1930's and 40s he never forgot concepts like 'make do and mend' which became a way of life, and within the family he was famous for refusing to embrace consumerism. If it wasn't completely worn out or, broken beyond repair, there was no need to replace it, which must have been very frustrating for Rita, but she never let it show, well almost never!!!
Colin Wells has also written an extensive obituary "Peter Harding: Pioneer of extreme climbing who perfected the modern 'hand-jam' technique" at news.independent.co.uk
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Peter Harding climbing at Laddow with Gordon Stainforth in 1994. © John Beatty