WITH the death in April of Alan Butterfield, at the age of 79, the Yorkshire Dales has lost a remarkable ambassador, writes Colin Speakman.

Born in Glusburn, Alan didn’t have the advantage of formal higher education, being a printer by trade, but from his teenage years onwards had an enduring passion for the Yorkshire Dales,.

He became a lifelong member of Cross Hills Naturalists and soon Craven Pothole Club - in 2004 its president.

But it was with Cross Hills Naturalists that Alan first starting going on rail and coach excursions to the Dales and beyond, learning about the natural environment, Dales history, geology, botany and soon his abiding passion, industrial archaeology.

Whilst he was largely self-taught, though remarkably well read in Dales history and geology, Alan was an example of a rapidly vanishing breed of people once known as “working class intellectuals”, thirsty for knowledge and discovering more about history and their local environment through their own efforts and continuing research.

In his twenties he was fortunate enough to meet and become a close associate of the founder of Industrial Archaeology in Britain – Dr Arthur Raistrick, of Linton, near Grassington.

Raistrick, a president of the Ramblers, early member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Committee, and founder member of the Upper Wharfedale Field Society and the Yorkshire Dales Society, was one of the great historians of the Dales.

He encouraged Alan and his colleagues, ordinary working men mainly from the East Lancashire area, to form what became known as the Earby Mines Research Group.

They spent their time researching and carefully recording the rapidly vanishing remains of the Dales lead mine industry, which had once been the huge, dominant industrial activity in Upper Wharfedale, Upper Nidderdale, Swaledale, and even parts of Wensleydale.

They also worked physically to restore some of the remains as great monuments to this vanished industrial age – flues, crushing floors, peat stores, engine houses, buddles and bouse teams and restored several smelt mill chimneys such as the one that served the calamine mill on moorland near Low Trenhouse, above Malham.

Under the direction of “Doc” as Raistrick was affectionately known, on countless weekends, in all season and all weathers, research group members, or “The Earby Gang” as they were known, would be seen out in wilder parts of Swaledale or on Grassington Moor, with Dr Raistrick, in his familiar grey wool suit and black boots, and with “a few bags of cement”.

If you asked them why they were doing this tough work, weekend after weekend, they would reply that if they didn’t save this heritage no-one else would.

A notable example is the magnificent smelt mill chimney on Grassington Moor restored by the Earby Gang.

Dr Raistrick once recalled how the Gang tested the old flue system by burning a couple of tyres in the flues – with such success black smoke coming from the great chimney could be seen for miles around and the fire brigade was called.

Doc and the Earby Gang were nowhere to be seen when the fire engine arrived.

Many of the great artefacts too precious to leave on site for the weather and vandals to destroy were carefully collected and catalogued and brought to what became the fascinating Earby Mines Museum housed in the old Grammar School in Earby.

The first life member of the Yorkshire Dales Society, Alan frequently led walks around local lead mines remains and gave well informed and illustrated talks.

Alan had a distinctive lecturing style enriched with his lovely Yorkshire dialect, and invariably wearing his battered hat even when giving a lecture to a learned audience.

Sadly, falling visitor numbers, rising costs and the infirmities of old age caused the Earby Mines Museum to close in 2015.

Thankfully Alan and his colleagues persuaded the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes to accept and care for a total of 860 objects from this nationally important collection, which is now in the process of being housed in expanded premises.

This is thanks to a £90,000 Heritage Lottery grant and generous donations from the National Park Authority itself and from several individuals and groups.

The prize exhibit must surely be the great Providence Mill waterwheel and double-roller ore crusher from Kettlewell, the finest surviving example of its kind in the country.

Thankfully, only a few months before he died, Alan spent a day with museum director Fiona Rosher discussing the collection and his many memories.

This collection in the Dales Countryside Museum will be a lasting tribute to Dr Arthur Raistrick and his talented group of followers.

But maybe the most enduring memorial to Alan and the Earby Gang is to be found high on Grassington Moor. The great smelt mill chimney, a huge, visible-from-afar landmark and symbol of a long vanished industry and human story that is no more – but whose memory is preserved and was made tangible through the work and dedication, over many decades, by people like Alan Butterfield.