PLACE IN HISTORY: Peter Collyer, above, outside the former home of Everest mountaineer Bentley Beetham in Cotherstone where a blue plaque is to be unveiled
PLACE IN HISTORY: Peter Collyer, above, outside the former home of Everest mountaineer Bentley Beetham in Cotherstone where a blue plaque is to be unveiled

A blue plaque is being unveiled this week in Cotherstone to commemorate the life of Bentley Beetham, photographer, teacher, ornithologist and member of the ill-fated 1924 Everest expedition. Nicky Carter talks to the man who tracked down Beetham’s actual address...

AN AMATEUR historian has tracked down “conclusive” proof of exactly where Everest mountaineer Bentley Beetham resided in a Teesdale village on the centenary of the expedition.

Ornithologist, teacher, photographer and rock climber, Bentley was born in Darlington in 1886, but he lived most of his adult life in Cotherstone, working as a natural history teacher at the North Eastern County School, now Barnard Castle School.

Bentley was also a member of the ill-fated 1924 British Mount Everest expedition on which George Mallory and Sandy Irvine disappeared while attempting to become the first people to summit the mountain.

To commemorate Bentley’s connection to Cotherstone a blue plaque is being unveiled this week outside the cottage he once called home. It is the first in what is hoped to be a series of plaques in the village.

However, identifying exactly which building he lived in proved to be a bit of a “detective story” for Cotherstone resident and history buff Peter Collyer.

He said “I first heard about Bentley Beetham from someone who spent a lot of their childhood here in the forties.

“He told me when he was a child, he remembered seeing Bentley Beetham at his garden gate. I asked who that was and was amazed.”

Mr Collyer said the idea to start a blue plaque trail in Cotherstone was first proposed during discussions around the Old Chapel Project, which will include a heritage centre.

He added: “When I learned about Bentley’s connection to Cotherstone and with this being the 100th anniversary of the expedition it just seemed fitting that his should be the first plaque.”

After arranging for Graham Ratcliffe, chairman of the Bentley Beetham Trust collection, and the first British person to climb Everest from the north and south, to give a talk, Mr Collyer said he was inspired.

He said: “Bentley was born in Darlington and he got into rock climbing because he was an ornithologist and wanted to get to rock nesting birds. He took up photography because he wanted to study the birds.

“We found out he got a tailor from Barnard Castle, Herbert Welford, to sew two of his tweed suits together as his outfit for the expedition. Bentley also ordered a set of hob nail boots for the climb.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t get very far up Everest as he got dysentery, but he photographed the whole team and areas of Tibet. Graham thought he was a better-quality climber than the two that aimed for the summit.”

Bentley was resident in Cotherstone before and after the expedition, at Balder Cottages. But identifying which of the three was his home has meant hours of detective work going through decades of records.

Mr Collyer said: “I found Bentley in the 1921 census living in Cotherstone with his mother and a maid. The problem was he always gave a vague address. He just said Balder Cottages.

“There are three Balder cottages and I asked around the village, some of the older residents as although there was a lot of anecdotal stories, I needed definitive proof.

He added: “The owner of 2 Balder Cottages was convinced Bentley lived there.

“He’d been told the strange hooks on one of the walls was where Bentley had hung his mountaineering gear. But, by process of elimination, I found Bentley couldn’t have lived at number two.”

After painstakingly sifting through electoral registers for the fifties and sixties at the North Yorkshire records office in Northallerton, Mr Collyer said he had a “eureka moment”.

He said: “In the 1961 records Bentley actually said his address was number three. That was my conclusive proof that he lived there.

“It is quite exciting to know that he lived in the village when off to Everest and that’s our little claim to fame.

“The owner of the house is absolutely delighted at the connection.”

The plaque unveiling will take place on Friday, June 7, at 10.30am, which coincides with two other plaques honouring other members of the 1924 team being unveiled at Birkenhead.

Mr Collyer added: “I have been talking with Wirral Council and they are unveiling blue plaques for George Mallory and Sandy Irving, who were both from Birkenhead, so we decided to do it on the same day.”

The plaque, which will be the first in the Cotherstone trail, has been paid for with donations from the parish council, the Old Chapel Project and from home owner Helen Johnston.

“Helen is originally from Birkenhead,” Mr Collyer added.

“So she is thrilled and wants to be involved.

“We’re also hoping to have information on Bentley in the Old Chapel along with others who will be in the plaque trail once it is open.”

Following the unveiling of Bentley Beetham’s blue plaque Mr Ratcliffe will give an illustrated talk about The Human Side of the 1924 Everest Expedition, in the village hall. A pop up café will be hosted in the Old Chapel afterwards.