Historical Rock Climbing Images


Page 8.2

The Reverend James Jackson
The Patriarch of the Pillarites

As I move towards age 70 and beyond, the eccentricities of old-timers become more intriguing, if not more appealing. Younger climbers, of course, are primarily interested in tales of an 80 year-old climbing 5.10, but as one moves into old age it becomes apparent that satisfaction may not depend solely on keeping up in the numbers game. What is important is determining what one can do and still maintain, if not create, a sense of adventure - without playing the servant to a masochistic id.

James Jackson was born in 1796 in West Cumberland. As a young man he served in the military campaign against Napolean, but after that took up the cloth and became Vicar of Rivington (1823-1856). There, he became widely known for repairing a church steeple when no one else would attempt the feat. Not averse to illuminating his own accomplishments in both poetry and prose, Jackson wrote of the "terror which made the workmen recoil from the task, and gazing rustics turn sick with horror at the sight". He topped that off with a poem:

"Who has not heard of Steeple Jack,
That lion-hearted Saxon,
Though I am not he, he was my sire,
For I am Steeple Jackson"

Tall and lean, a relentless fell-walker and scrambler, Reverend Jackson was described by J. H. Cliffe as determined  "to follow the skyline . . . no rocks, however rough, no precipices, unless perfectly inaccessible, ever daunted him."  After retirement, Jackson returned to ramble about the Lake District, his only companion, a fell-pole. One series of accomplishments: at age 69 he walked 46 miles in 14.5 hours; two days later he went 56 miles in 18 hours. After a day's rest he hiked 60 miles in under 20 hours.

Alan Hankinson speaks of Jackson in The First Tigers (1972) :  "Several of the Alpine pioneers had been clergymen of the new school of muscular Christianity, seeking communion among the noblest of God's works. . . . The triumph of his mountaineering life came in the early summer of 1875, when Jackson was 79 years old. He had often, by his own account, cast 'wistful glances at the Pillar Rock'. In April of this year he determined to conquer the rock and sought information about the best route . . . Jackson assembled an armoury of equipment - ropes, spike nails and a hammer; he had none of the inhibitions about using artificial aids which afflicted so many subsequent climbers."  

With a single companion Jackson went up to the Rock, but failed to make the summit. "On May 31st they were back again. Jackson later sent a full account to the Whitehaven News. He told how this time a third man came along, a relative of John Hodgen's (his previous companion), but he refused the ascent." This time he and Hodgen reached the top and he says,"At that moment we were 'quite uplifted' and the Queen had no two prouder or more joyous subjects in her Realm".

Rev. Jackson

Photo G. P. Abraham Ltd

In honor of his accomplishment, Jackson gave himself the title The Patriarch of the Pillarites and wrote the poem:  

"If this in your mind you will fix,
When I make the Pillar my toy,
I was born in 1, 7, 9, 6,
And you'll think me a nimble old boy".

Again, from Hankinson, "A year later Jackson made his second ascent of the Pillar Rock. This time, aged 80, he went alone. . . . He set off up Mosedale at 4:20 in the morning. He was on the summit at 7:30 and back at Ritson's (Hotel) just after 12 noon for a celebration lunch."
the Pillar

Pillar Rock from the NE,  Photo G. P. Abraham, Ltd
However, his luck was running out. "On 30th of April 1878 he set off from Ritson's Inn to tackle Pillar Rock for a third time. . . . He went off that morning with another four-line doggeral tribute to his own prowess ready in his pocket:

"Two elephantine properties were mine
For I can bend to pick up pin or plack ;
And when this year the Pillar Rock I climb
Four score and two's the howdah on my back".

He failed to return that evening, and three days later his body was found - he had apparently fallen on the approach to the Rock.

From Hankinson :  "There was nothing anonymous . . . about James Jackson - he saw to that. It is difficult to conceive of any other age producing such a man. He took the classic Victorian qualities - physical vigor, moral earnestness, ineffable self confidence - and raised them to the brink of absurdity. He was saved from becoming ludicrous by his immense appetite for life, an abounding gusto which seemed to increase as he grew old."

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