Joe Brown (climber)

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Joseph Brown (usually called Joe Brown) CBE (born 26 September 1930) is an English climber, born the seventh and last child of a family in Ardwick, Manchester, Lancashire.[1] Brown was the first in his family to climb: aged 12, he and his friends began exploring from camp sites. Unlike other climbers, he and his friends used discarded clothes lines that were unreliable to use even for clothes. Brown was employed by a company called Archies, where he was apprenticed to a plumber and general builder.[2] He became famous for climbing during the 1950s, and was a member of the Valkyrie Climbing Club and founding member of the Rock and Ice climbing club.[3] An early climbing partner was Don Whillans, a fellow Mancunian and a plumber. They were among the first of a new breed of post-war climbers from working class backgrounds, in contrast to the upper and middle class professionals who had dominated the sport up to the Second World War.

Brown, still with his passion for climbing, was enlisted in 1949-50 for 18 months in the Ordnance Corps, where he spent his free time climbing with his friends. Brown suffered one of many accidents when not climbing when he broke his leg in three places in a scrum for the tea urn. However, this did not hold him down as he was back up and climbing three months later.[2]

Brown is widely regarded as the outstanding pioneering English rock climber of the 1950s and early 1960s. He established an unprecedented number of classic new routes (especially in Snowdonia and the Peak District) that were at the leading edge of the hardest grades. Examples on Dinas Cromlech in the Llanberis Pass include "Cenotaph Corner" (1952, graded E1, with Doug Belshaw) and "Cemetery Gates" (1951, E1, with Don Whillans).[3] As well as creating pioneering routes, he often helped create new types of "protection" to improve safety on climbs, and is acknowledged to have created some of the first "nuts" by drilling the thread out of nuts and threading the centre with a sling. So famous was he that the Post Office would often deliver letters simply addressed to "The Human Fly, UK".[citation needed]

In this context, Brown's mountaineering achievements in the Alps and Himalayas have often been overlooked: he made many significant ascents in the Alps in the 1950s with Don Whillans and other members of the Rock and Ice climbing club and, in 1955, the first ascent of the third highest mountain in the world, Kangchenjunga in the Nepalese Himalaya, with George Band. In 1956 he made the first ascent of the west summit of the Muztagh Tower in the Karakoram with Ian McNaught-Davis. The other members of the team, John Hartog and Tom Patey, reached the main summit the next day.

Apart from his numerous classic rock climbs in Britain, and his considerable mountaineering achievements abroad, Brown is remembered for televised rock climbs in the 1960s, three in Snowdonia, and then, in 1967, a spectacular new route on the Old Man of Hoy, a Scottish sea stack, with luminaries of the climbing world Ian McNaught-Davis and Sir Chris Bonington. Fifteen years later Brown repeated the climb on the Old Man on a popular TV documentary with his second daughter Zoe. Her bubbly personality led her to being chosen as a presenter on the children's TV show Razzamatazz.

Already a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), Brown was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to rock climbing and mountaineering.[4]

The Joe Brown shop in Capel Curig

On 17 February 1957 Brown married Valerie Melville Gray, who without her involvement with the climbing fraternity, would never have been able to understand Joe and his passion for climbing. Throughout his climbing career Brown was involved in many films such as Hazard[disambiguation needed], Upstairs Down Wales, Five Days One Summer, in which he and other British climbers assisted with the mountaineering scenes. In 1960 came his first daughter Helen and six years later his second daughter, Zoe. She later repeated a climb for a TV show. Brown started to create and improve climbing gear and in 1966 opened his own shop,[2] since expanded to three shops in Snowdonia and an online presence, branded in English as "Joe Brown shops" and in Welsh as "Siopau Joe Brown" ( This is not to be confused with the later and unconnected "Joe Browns" ( online clothing store.


  • Brown, Joe (1967). The Hard Years. London, UK: Victor Gollancz. ASIN B001PQCRYK.  (Original Hardcover)
  • Brown, Joe (2001). The Hard Years. Seattle, WA, USA: Mountaineers Books. ISBN 978-0-89886-845-6.  (Reprint Edition)


  1. ^ "Joe Brown Biography.",2012.
  2. ^ a b c "Joe Brown Biography.",2012.
  3. ^ a b Thompson, Simon (2010). Unjustifiable Risk?. Cicerone. pp. 207–209. 
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59647. p. 7. 31 December 2010.

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