Three Generations on Wall End Slab Photography

Back in 1955 Mike James was a young climber from Manchester who ventured onto Stanage in the early days of his climbing career. A keen photographer as well, he had a photo taken of himself climbing Wall End Slab (VS 5a) and developed it into a striking black and white print.

Mike James climbing Wall End Slab in 1955  © Mike James
Mike James climbing Wall End Slab in 1955
© Mike James, Jul 1953

30-odd years later I was well into my ultra-keen days as a climber and I stumbled across the classic print while sorting through albums after a house move. I set up a replica photo with some friends, which was taken on transparency. Sadly I lost the original, but a print of a scan remains.

Alan James climbing Wall End Slab in 1984  © Alan James
Alan James climbing Wall End Slab in 1984
© Alan James

The logical conclusion (to date) required another photo to be taken with Sam James-Louwerse, completing the three-generation triptych.

Sam James-Louwerse climbing Wall End Slab in 2021  © Alan James
Sam James-Louwerse climbing Wall End Slab in 2021
© Alan James

On the surface, this is just a piece of family history, but delve down a bit and the images show some interesting trends in climbing styles and gear.

The 1954 photo shows Mike James climbing in the style of the day - rope around waist, reasonably heavy boots, slightly woolly-looking clothing and not a runner in sight. This was the way it was done with 'the leader never falls' being the maxim of the time.

Roll on to 1984 and the boots have improved, double ropes are in use with a harness and there is gear being carried if not actually placed. The boots appear to be EBs (with socks!) and the fashion has gone from classic mountain wear to 1980s-style trackie bottoms and a sleeveless vest. A closer inspection reveals a dangling floppy chalk bag hanging low, a couple of cams and some old MOACs on cord.

The modern approach involves a helmet, a rack almost entirely of cams - some of which has been placed - a tidy chalk bag, slim rock shoes and trousers that were actually made by an outdoor company.

Beyond the actual climber there are some other interesting things to notice. The big shrubbery on the crack in the background shows that vegetation at Stanage has actually increased. The wear and tear on the rock by the footholds looks slightly less than the photo taken 68 years earlier! In the background the moor looks a lot more verdant and vegetated (although that could be a time of year effect since the bracken was up for the recent photo).

Whether there will be a fourth part remains to be seen!

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12 Jul, 2021

Very interesting Alan. As I started in the 60's my gear was not all that different to your father except for plimsolls instead of 'nails', and also of course wearing needlecord breeches. My first Gritstone route was Kelly's Slab at Stanage, and no cams for the breaks. Today with pro and sticky rubber it is up from S to VS. It's a funny old world. But we all seemed to get up OK!

12 Jul, 2021

I was working in a house a few years back and there were photos of 4 generations of the family sat on the toilet, hung on the door. One of them was smoking. Your pics are much more informative.

12 Jul, 2021

Stunning. What a grandfather!

13 Jul, 2021

Climbing during a house move... now that's what I call dedication! :)

Thanks for this, Alan - must be a pretty unique series of photos!

13 Jul, 2021

Brilliant. What a cracking family heirloom. :-)

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