Here, Robin Longbottom looks back at the life of a celebrated mountaineer and photographer

UNTIL the mid 1970s, there was a small collection of framed photographs on display in the old Keighley Reference Library.

They were of mountain scenes taken in the French and Swiss Alps by Alfred Holmes, of Keighley, who during the late 19th and

early 20th centuries was one of the district’s most celebrated mountaineers and rock climbers.

He was born in Keighley in 1846 and was in business as a machine woolcomber in Great Horton, Bradford.

He never married and his bachelor status left him free to indulge himself in mountaineering and photography.

His interest in mountaineering developed during visits to the Lake District, which since the advent of the railways was easily accessible from his home in Keighley.

He made frequent visits to Keswick and to Wasdale Head, from where he made ascents on Great Gable, Scafell Pike and other neighbouring peaks.

In about 1884 he made his first trip into the Dauphine Alps, in the western French Alps, where he hired a guide and porter for his treks into the mountains.

By this time the popularity of mountaineering had given rise to a small number of specialist retailers which supplied everything from hemp climbing rope to Alpine ice axes and climbing boots.

Careful preparation was required, particularly with regard to boots that were often bought without nails and nailed-up by the climbers themselves – or their local boot maker.

Alfred Holmes nailed his own, with studs for the soles (known as muggers), screw nails in the heels and Alpine clinkers – for grip on ledges and rock crevices – around the edge of the boot.

The nails were all wetted before being driven in and the boots were left to stand for several months to allow the nails to become fast by ‘rusting in’.

On his early Alpine trips Alfred teamed-up with fellow enthusiast Eric Greenwood, of Haworth. And in 1891 he introduced the Briggs brothers, William Anderton and John Jeremy Brigg, to mountaineering at Wasdale Head. All four local men joined the Alpine Club in London in 1894, the world’s first mountaineering club.

The group also travelled to Chamonix in 1893 where they climbed Mont Blanc – the highest mountain in Western Europe at 15,774 feet (4,808 metres) – and made some of the first ascents of neighbouring peaks.

In 1894 and 1895, and subsequent years, all four climbed in the Alps.

They regularly stayed at Zermatt from where they climbed the Durfourspitze, Switzerland’s highest mountain at 15,203 feet (4,634 metres) and the Matterhorn at 14,692 feet (4,478 metres).

Alfred made his last ascent of the Matterhorn when he was just turned 60 years of age.

His obituary in the Alpine Journal described him as “a remarkably neat and agile mover both on rock and snow, and very careful. In his forty years of climbing he never had an accident”.

He was perhaps best remembered for his photography.

On his expeditions he always took with him a half-plate camera and glass slides. He gave regular exhibitions of his enlarged photographs and many of them were used to illustrate articles on mountaineering in journals and the regular press.

He gave-up climbing in 1914 at the age of 67 but continued taking walking trips in the Lake District throughout the rest of his life.

Alfred died at the age of 85 at his home in Skipton Road, Keighley.

He left his entire collection of photographic plates to the Alpine Club in London and his framed photographs to the Keighley Library.