Words & Pictures by Frank Palmer


This year is the 150th anniversary of the ‘Alpine Club’ the worlds first mountaineering club. Today there are such clubs in many countries of the world.

Interest in mountains first started for Scientific reasons with Mont
Blanc the highest point of the European Alps at 15.780 ft. which was first climbed in 1786, after a number of failed attempts. Such expeditions were few and far apart, by 1825 only 17 parties had reached the summit. This 17th ascent is of interest to Rye in that it was undertaken by Dr. Edmund Clark, who was born in Rye in 1798, he was joined by a Captain Markham Sherwill for the climb, which was some 32 years before the foundation of the Alpine Club.

View from the summit of Matterhorn, Mont Blanc in the distance
View from the summit of Matterhorn, Mont Blanc in the distance

John Dodson was a club member; sometime MP for East Sussex and elsewhere later. In 1884 he became the first Baron Lord Monk-Bretton (after whom the bridge is named) he was also the first chairman of E.S.C.C. (1882). He climbed Mont Blanc in 1859. The Dodson family had long connections with Rye back in the 18th Century.

E.F. Benson, whilst not a member of the Alpine Club, made a number of climbs, with guides whilst on holidays in Switzerland with his parents. His first climb was the Scilthorn, 9,754 ft. near Scilthorn. Today he would not recognise the summit of this small alpine mountain, it can be reached by cable car and on the top is a revolving restaurant. It was used in the James Bond Film “On His Majesties Secret Service” and renamed for the film Piz Gloria. In winter a descent from the summit on skis is very exhilarating. During one holiday Dodson climbed the Matterhorn 14,782 ft. and made a rather frightening descent in a thunder storm. On another occasion on the Piz Palu 12,835 ft. up with his brother Hugh, who suffered from too much brandy given to him to ward off exposure to a very cold wind. This made for another eventful descent.

From December 2007 issue of “Rye’s Own”