George Mallory's Everest Clothes - Learning From The Past

27 September 2005

What impressed me is the strength and quality of the materials they used and how well they were tailored to withstand conditions on Everest.

Vanessa Anderson, Textiles Researcher

A two-year project to create replicas of George Mallory's climbing gear - worn on his ill-fated 1924 Everest expedition - has seen expert teams from four UK universities and other knitwear specialists collaborate to discover what we can learn from early clothing produced for extreme conditions. The Universities of Lancaster, Southampton, Leeds and Derby combined their expertise to investigate. Their key discoveries were that:

  • contrary to popular belief, Mallory and Irvine were well equipped for their ascent of Everest.
  • Mallory's clothes were windproof, waterproof and warm
  • layering of clothes was very effective for warmth. Silk and wool mixes, replicated by John Angus at the University of Derby, were intelligently knitted and effective
  • this was the lightest kit ever used on Everest: 20 per cent lighter than equivalent high-altitude mountaineering clothes today
  • Mallory's boots were 50 per cent lighter than modern equivalents, made using wool felt and leather, with nails for gripping
  • Vanessa Anderson, the Performance Sportswear Masters student from Derby who replicated his woven outerwear, discovered that the way the jacket was tailored made it more manoeuvrable than today's equivalent.

The Mallory Replicas project began in 2001 when artefacts found with Mallory's body on Everest in 1999 were transferred to the National Mountaineering Exhibition at Rheged in Cumbria. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Pasold Research Fund Ltd and undertaken on behalf of Mountain Heritage Trust, the £30,000 project aimed to produce testable replica clothing to assess its effectiveness and performance.

The project team, led by Professor Mary Rose and Mike Parsons of Institute for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development (IEED), Lancaster University Management School, revealed replicas of Mallory's expedition clothing produced by Vanessa Anderson, and John Angus from Derby at the Clothing for Extremes Conference, Rheged, Penrith, Cumbria, on Wednesday September 28 starting.

Alan Hinkes, the first British climber to scale the world's 14 highest peaks, and Jochen Hemmleb, 1999 Mallory expedition historian, met delegates, including representatives from top outdoor clothing manufacturers. Al Hinkes started climbing 30 years ago using 'Mallory-esque' clothes worn in layers: wool and cotton - often from jumble sales. Commenting on the replicas, he said: "It all certainly looks useable and would be wearable. I think the clothes were up to the job, but it does make me more aware of modern advances like zips and Velcro, and how convenient they are compared to buttons and belts."

These replicas address the popular misconception that George Mallory was climbing Everest dressed poorly for the elements. Dave Brook from the University of Leeds, an expert in analysing textile performance, tested the materials thoroughly and will reveal results showing that we could learn from the past.

"This project, as well as bringing us into very exciting working relationships with colleagues at other universities, is a wonderful way of applying the research and teaching Mike and I do on innovation." says Professor Rose. "Throughout the Mallory Replicas project, innovation has been seen as a bridge between past and future."

Vanessa Anderson said: "This project involved a lot of detective work to piece together the past. I used historical sources to determine how these garments were constructed and tracked down suppliers who could recreate the fabrics for me - in many cases, the original suppliers such as Burberry, who wove the cotton gabardine for the jacket, and John Smedley of Matlock, who produced a replica wool-silk vest. What impressed me is the strength and quality of the materials they used and how well they were tailored to withstand conditions on Everest."

Who did what?

Lancaster - Professor Mary Rose at Lancaster University Management School's Institute for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development (IEED) and Mike Parsons, former MD of Karrimor International, co-owner of OMM Ltd and honorary IEED fellow, had the idea for this project four years ago while conducting research for their book Invisible on Everest: Innovation and the Gear Makers (published in 2003). The book provides a comprehensive study of innovation in clothing and equipment for mountaineering and exploration, but Mary's and Mike's research produced questions about the viability of outdoor clothing made with natural fibres.

Southampton - Amber Rowe at the Textile Conservation Centre of the University of Southampton analysed the original textiles recovered from Everest to determine what the clothes were originally made from and used textile analysis to recreate the patterns used for Mallory's clothing, including early twentieth century pivot sleeves.

Leeds - Dave Brook and his colleagues in the Performance Clothing Research Centre at Leeds University's School of Textiles, who worked with Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr Mike Stroud on their expedition gear, also looked at the original fabric and the replica clothing to determine their thermal insulation value. The entire procedure needed to be completely non-destructive, which is why both the TCC and the PCRC specialists were approached rather than a regular testing house.

Derby - Vanessa Anderson, who reconstructed the garments as the research project for her MA in Performance Sportswear Design, sought suppliers who could match the specifications of the original silk, cotton and wool, and reconstructed most of his garments. John Angus, Programme Leader for Textiles in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Technology, knitted woollen garments including a thermal vest and puttees. Derby graduate Simon Young replicated Mallory's puttees.

In addition, the Mallory Project called upon specialist hand-knitter Joyce Meader to recreate a number of knitted items including three pairs of socks, a jumper and a cap comforter. Joyce uses historic patterns to hand-knit items for museums, re-enactors and for private commissions and has knitted for The National Army Museum Chelsea, Museum of Army Flying Middle Wallop and the Mountain Heritage Trust Mallory Collection. She also lectures on the History of the Commercially Printed Knitting Pattern and on Historical Military Hand Knitting. Her website is www.historicknit.co.uk.

-ends-

For more details about the Mallory replicas please the University of Derby Press Office - Simon Butt on 07748 920023; Simon Redfern on 07748 920038; or Peter Gallimore on 07771 757627 - to arrange interviews or opportunities for filming.

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