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Laurie Galpin

by PCW ~, 23 August 2015

Laurie died on wednesday 5th August of complications after a fall.

By Gary Jones and Jem Rowland below.

I often told Laurie that I would be happy to write his obituary, so here it is! (Gary Jones writes)

I first met Laurie back in 1967. I‘d been invited to the club to help with the exploration of Dan yr Ogof – a guest of Gareth Davies. Almost as soon as I arrived at the HQ a fussy man in overalls, with a green jumper held together with old army webbing came in. I was told to get off my arse and bring in coal for the boiler. I was 17 at the time, so did as I was told. After about the third bucketful I came in to find Roger Smith and Laurie in heated argument. It seemed Laurie had no right to boss people about and getting me, a newcomer, to fetch coal was not on. Other committee members came to Roger’s support and I was soon the centre of a row which was (quite literally) over my head. Thereafter Laurie and I had a sort of uneasy truce which lasted nearly 48 years!

Laurie in characteristic green jumper, with trousers held up by karabiner, during preparations for the 1966 Balinka Pit Expedition,
and in the cage at the bottom of the shaft c-200m.
Photos by Glyn Genin/SWCC Archives

Laurie (or sometimes just “Galpin” or more often “bloody Galpin”) had, in those far off days, just been elected cottage warden or hutfurer – a job that he relished. Like a corporal with new stripes he had an official position with some (ill defined) authority. He became the bane of other club members – particularly the younger ones who had no interest at all in the club building (this was the height of new exploration in DYO, OFD, Little Neath and a dozen other caves). For a while Laurie was warden and his wife Mary was Hon. Secretary. The club HQ was dubbed “Galpingham Palace” and Laurie ruled! I never ever remember him going caving and he seemed to spend all his time working on the hut.

Strangely, Laurie and Mary did not stay at the club itself or benefit from the improvements. They usually slept in a derelict house in Patti Row, near the cattle grid. This went on for some years until early one morning the quarry became over-enthusiastic with blasting - a boulder (the size of a suitcase) went through the cottage roof where they slept. There was a great roar of approval from watching SWCC but Laurie was not injured and did not sleep in the place again.

There is one great example of Laurie’s unique impact on the club. The committee decided that the outside pointing (the mortar in between the stone masonry) should be replaced and that every member of SWCC should be allocated an area to work on. There was grumbling but all of us had a try. Laurie did not approve of this scheme but was out-voted. From then on he would stand next to whoever was “pointing” and criticise their work. He kept this up for ages and it did not go down very well. Moreover, to add to this, later in the day he would sneak out unobserved, chip out the offending pointing and replace it with his own which he felt was “done properly”. There were a few minor riots. I was moved to write the “Laurie Galpin song” (Laurie Galpin’s done the pointing, Laurie Galpin’s done it all…. Etc..), which he often had sung to him and which he sort-of relished.

I do honestly think he enjoyed his notoriety and reputation for rubbing people up the wrong way (to use a local phrase).

Despite all this friction he worked hard as warden and often without help (he did rather put people off helping). The work was often bizarre – copper pipe feeding to alloy, metric into Imperial and so on. But the work was done within the limits the club budget could stand. It just about prevented the place falling down.

He and Mary eventually bought their dream house in the valley and his era as cottage warden faded, to become part of Club history. Surprisingly, in later years, I often dropped by to see him and Mary and later took my children along (Laurie generally did not like children but unlike Peter Harvey, did not openly say so!). He was in a different environment down the valley and as long as you did not mind “sterilized milk” he was welcoming. He sits for me as one of the main features of SWCC life which most of us use to navigate our own years at the club. The place would not have been the same without him. Scruffy, dressed in army surplus with the famous green jumper he was (in a way) famous. I notice that I have started wearing army surplus too!

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Laurie Galpin – some thoughts and recollections at his Wake. By Jem Rowland.

Underneath it all, I think Laurie had a heart of gold – all he wanted was to be helpful by doing the right thing. It’s just that his idea of what was right didn’t always correspond with everyone else’s.

A perpetual Woodbine and a distinctive green jumper which, when worn out was always replaced by an identical one knitted by Mary, identified Laurie to South Wales Caving Club members and visitors. His reputation, as the SWCC “policeman”, spread far and wide. He was a stickler for the rules and a rigid interpretation that he was not afraid to enforce in a very officious way. That led to many difficulties and conflicts and a widely held view that SWCC did not welcome visitors.

Particularly serious offences, in Laurie’s eyes, were visitors turning up without booking, even when there was space for them, married quarters being used by unmarried couples and caving in wellies. Another offence was drying the outsides of saucepans with a tea towel!

He joined SWCC in 1959 and appears to have been a regular caver in the early years. He was a member of the highly mechanised Balinka Pit Expedition in 1966 and, as a motor mechanic in his day job, he helped save the expedition when the bus carrying all the equipment broke its clutch plate on Penwyllt Hill, having only just set off. After Balinka, as I recall, he caved only very occasionally - with special visitors whom he either knew, or were important, or were attractive young ladies!

For many years his time at Penwyllt was spent working on the cottages. He did some good work and some controversial work and he had little patience with work done by others. Some aspects of his work have needed to be redone, necessitating removal of his extra-tough concrete mix made with limestone dust which has even defied the use of explosives and it is now generally referred to as ‘Galpinite’.

He was always prepared to help someone in (genuine) difficulty. On one occasion I had driven my Landrover across the hill at the back of the club to retrieve some heavy equipment from a dig. It was a very rough ride, well away from any tracks, and I was pleased to succeed in getting there. Having loaded up, I reversed to turn and dropped the back wheels deep into a bog. Unable to get out, I walked back to Penwyllt and bumped straight into Laurie. My predicament was met with a broad grin, which I took as Laurie revelling in my misfortune. However, without hesitation he pointed to his Range Rover, drove us over there and pulled my Landrover out of the bog.

He was always willing to offer advice, tools, and practical help to anyone with car problems at Penwyllt – not least when Frank Baguley’s Landrover snapped a big end bolt on Penwyllt Hill, pushing a con rod out through the side of the crankcase. Over the course of the weekend Laurie and Frank managed to repair it, filing off the damage to the crankshaft and putting the crankcase back together with Araldite. The repair lasted for many years.

We saw less of Laurie at Penwyllt after he and Mary moved to the Valley but local members kept in close touch with them. The last time I saw him was at Penwyllt a month or so ago. He was picking up some old friends who had walked over from the Neath side. It was clearly an enormous effort for Laurie who by then could hardly breathe.

As always, he was keen to be helpful, right up to the end.

Jem Rowland, 28 August 2015

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There will be no funeral as Laurie had donated himself to medical science.