We all know the histories of Hugh Munro, who nearly completed the 538 Tops of his Tables, missing by just three2, and of Ronald Burn, who believed himself to be ‘the first and only one to have done everything3'. However, there is little recognition of Edred Corner’s effort, made in the years between Munro and Burn. When Corner joined the Scottish Mountaineering Club in 18974, he had already recorded 57 Tops (all in the Central or Southern Highlands) in his application form, and he went on to record a further 229 (or thereby) in a long series of articles and notes in the S.M.C. Journal, the last such record appearing in 1916. I have appended a list of his writings for the S.M.C. Journal below, and will refer to them as ‘Corner <n>’.
Unlike Archie Robertson – who also came between Munro and Burn – Corner’s interest was in visiting all the Tops, rather than just the separate Mountains. This is evident from Corner’s recorded expeditions, in which no Top, however insignificant, is spared the print of his boots. But he also made an explicit statement in Corner 2, ‘This day [Lochnagar to Craig Gowal] was not an extraordinarily toilsome one though the tops bagged are many, viz., five mountains and eight tops, making thirteen “Munro’s” in all’. This makes it clear that for Corner every Top was a ‘Munro’, not just the short list of separate Mountains collected by Robertson. Further, Corner’s remark reinforces the argument, frequently made by Dave Hewitt, that it is only in comparatively recent times – despite Robertson’s early claim – that completing the separate mountains has been regarded as completing the Munros.
Corner was a successful surgeon, with a Harley Street practice5, and his visits to the Highlands were necessarily limited to whatever holidays he could procure. In the years around his admission to the S.M.C., he attended a few Club Meets, striking up a friendship with Munro – they refer to each other in the friendliest of terms in several Journal notes. But from 1899 onwards he chose instead to devote his free time to bagging expeditions with London friends, eventually settling on two medical colleagues Dr. Johns and Dr. Pinches6, with the later addition of his wife Henrietta7. On these expeditions four aneroids were carried, and carefully set at every O.S.-measured point. The heights of all other Tops and intervening cols reached were recorded as the average value of the four instruments. Corner’s heights were very accurate, usually erring on the conservative side – if at all, and were relied upon extensively by Munro and James Gall Inglis in the 1921 Tables, as the numerous Corner footnotes testify.
In 1898, Corner stayed on after the Club’s New Year Meet to visit the Loch Treig hills, and returned with A.C. Waters8 in June to collect 44 Cairngorm and Grampian Tops (see the mistitled Corner 2). In 1899, he visited the North Laggan hills in February (15 Tops – Corner 3 & 4), the Tyndrum area in July (7 Tops – Corner 9), and in September made a lengthy tour involving Skye, an ascent of Tower Ridge, the Lawers and Carn Mairg ranges, and the Cairngorm group (29 new Tops – Corner 10). His notes from these two years reveal an interest in climbing, with likely crags encountered on his rounds carefully noted. He was undoubtedly competent on rock, as his casual references to the exigencies of the Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean, the Tooth and Am Basteir, and the Thuilm ridge of Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh make clear, but he showed no further interest in rock climbing after this period.
Apart from a short visit to the Glenfinnan hills in 1900 (Corner 13), the next 6 years seem to have been consumed by marriage and professional writing. In 1906, Corner visited Skye with Dr. Pinches in July (Corner 14 & 15), and then went to the Grampians where he enjoyed an atrocious long day on the hills of Ey alone, before meeting up with Waters for a further two days in Glenshee (10 Tops – Corner 16). In March 1907, along with Drs. Johns and Pinches, he explored the Kintail, Achnashellach and Torridon area before moving to Ben Wyvis for a careful survey and then to the Cairngorms (25 Tops – Corner 17-20). The same party visited Strathcarron and the Fannichs in March 1908 (17 Tops – Corner 21-24), the Tomdoun hills, Aonachs, Grey Corries and Ben Alder group in April1909 (26 Tops – Corner 25), and Glen Lyon, the Affric and Mullardoch hills in March 1910 (17 Tops – Corner 26-29). During these intense Easter visits the party was occasionally strengthened by other S.M.C. members, and by Mrs. Corner.
If Dr. Corner came to the Highlands in 1911 to 1914, he left no record, and of course his time in the Great War was entirely taken up with medical work. He served as an Army surgeon, working around London, and eventually attained the rank of Major.9 His last recorded bagging expeditions were in 1916, when he was ‘granted a few days’ leave by the War Office, and utilised [them] in visiting two poorly explored districts of Scotland – Wester Ross [the Tigh Mor group and Sgurr nan Ceathramhnan] and the southern end of the Western Cairngorms’ (23 Tops – Corner 30). His notes of this visit, like those of the Easter tours of 1907-9, were illustrated with exemplary topo-diagrams of the ranges surveyed, with marked heights for each top and connecting col.
There seems little doubt that Corner was attempting a completion of the Tops, and there is every reason to suspect that he may have done so, or have come very close, since well over half of them are recorded in the S.M.C. Journal, and many of those hills not recorded – such as the Glencoe/Glen Etive hills, the Drumochter and Monadhliath groups, the Far North Four, the Eastern Mamores, the Knoydart and Cluanie hills – would have been easily picked up and were geographically uncontroversial. However, a visit to the Letterewe/Fisherfield hills would surely have excited Corner’s geographical interest sufficiently to provoke publication, so that we must put a pretty firm question mark against completion. Equally, we may be sure that the dreadful errors and omissions of the Survey between Lochs Maree and Broom would have been put right in 1921 if Drs. Corner, Johns and Pinches had penetrated this region with their four carefully-adjusted aneroids!
What use did the S.M.C. make of Dr. Corner’s painstaking surveys, judicious observations, and polite suggestions regarding Mountains and Tops? Of course, his aneroid measurements – particularly his clarification of the Mullach na Dheiragain ridge – were extremely helpful to Munro and Inglis in their 1921 revision. Some of Corner’s suggestions for promotion or introduction were adopted, but others were not. And it is possible to see in the suggestions made that Dr. Corner’s criteria for counting Tops were not shared by Masters of the Tables. He made five suggestions for promotion to separate Mountain. One – Meall na Teanga – was adopted in 1921. The others were the northern ranges. Regarding Ben Wyvis, he wrote, ‘It is thus obvious that the range of Ben Wyvis can be with advantage divided into two mountains, Glas Leathad Mor and Glas Leathad Beag . . The composite ranges of Liathach, Beinn Eighe and An Teallach could be subdivided in a similar manner’. Of course, although the latter ranges were subdivided in 1981, 1997 and 1981 respectively, Ben Wyvis has lost three of its seven Tops, and remains undivided.
Corner’s suggestions regarding Tops were many, and most of them were suggestions for introduction. His solitary suggestion for deletion was Stob Coire an Fhir Dhuibh (Aonach Mor), which was removed in 1981: ‘From the top of An Cul Choire a descent is made on to the summit of Stob Coire an Fhir Dhuibh, the dip between them being about 50 feet, and the distance about the third of a mile. Hence these tops are really on one mass . . “Anatomically” they are not distinct.’ One of his suggestions for introduction was Stob Choire a’ Mhail (eventually added in 1981). Another was the NE Top of Stob Coire Claurigh: ‘A “top” is solely useful to denote a particular geographical point, recognisable from above or below, as distinct from neighbouring summits. The north-east shoulder of Stob Coire Claurigh fulfills such conditions. It is about a mile from Stob Coire Gaibhre, half a mile from Stob Coire nan Ceann and Stob Coire Claurigh, separated from each by dips ranging from 100 to 700 feet; it is the meeting point of three ridges, being in consequence important and easily recognised from above, whilst the parallel and vertical quartz buttresses make it obvious from Spean Bridge and Roy Bridge. We carefully estimated its height, and found it to be a little higher than Stob Coire nan Ceann. As it dominates a corrie with a little loch, why should it not be Stob Coire an Lochain?’ The top was introduced in 1921, its height was never given correctly, and it was deleted in 1981. This quotation exposes Corner’s criteria clearly: he is interested not so much in separation by drop and/or distance, but in geographical and visual importance. These same criteria led him to propose the introduction of two Tops in the North Cluanie hills and three Tops in the Western Cairngorms (see Corner 30). But these eminences, despite their geographical importance and visual salience (from below), have little separation, and his suggestions have accordingly not been followed.
Nowadays, separation by drop, distance or some combination of these is undoubtedly the dominant criterion – along with achievement of the necessary height! But we should not forget that other theories of prominence are possible. Munro determined separate Mountain status by requiring a name on the One-inch map, a decent cairn, and not being part of a named range. Corner determined Top status by considered topography and the place of the peak in the visual scene. We should certainly not close our minds to ways of describing mountain form which go beyond the dry arithmetic of separation.
About Corner the man not much is known beyond what can be gleaned from his writings. He enjoyed a comfortable income, living in large houses in Buckinghamshire: Woodlands Park, Great Missenden10, and (when retired) Stratton End, Beaconsfield. Henrietta had a son, Edred John Henry (b. 1906) and two daughters, Stephanie (1904) and Dorothy (1907). Dorothy had a successful career as a head housekeeper working in large hotels, notably the fabulous Manoir Richelieu in La Malbaie, Quebec. Stephanie was the mother of Douglas Hurd, the well-known former Home and Foreign Secretary. Douglas Hurd offers an explanation for the sudden termination of Corner’s mountaineering: “He gave up his practice after the Great War because of failing eyesight. The nursing home at Woodlands mobilised the talents of his wife (a stalwart organiser), his two Henderson sisters in law (one a born housekeeper, the other a skilled gardener), and my mother who had trained as a nurse at St Thomas's. By the time I knew him at Stratton End his big frame was bent and his sight rapidly vanishing, though he continued to collect stamps regardless. Each day in good weather he would move very slowly, a stick in one hand, the other clasping a rope alongside the gravel path, from the French windows in the drawing room to a logshed in the garden where he would chop and saw wood for several hours before returning for lunch.”11
Edred John Henry Corner was a botanist of international repute, and had to put up with two great misfortunes – a stammer, and vicious slanders about being a Japanese collaborator during the occupation of Singapore.12 He survived both, and became the mainstay of the Botany department at Cambridge. Corner himself was a medical hero, following a brilliant career at Cambridge with devoted service to surgery in various hospitals in and around London, and establishing the present-day treatment of appendicitis and the rehabilitation of amputees. Of the early baggers – Munro, Robertson, Corner and Burn – he was the only one with a claim to real distinction outside the world of hill-walking. My hope in writing this piece is to make clear that he also merits considerable recognition within that strange world.
Robin N Campbell
Corner’s Articles and Notes in the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal
1. The Loch Treig Hills, and Beinn na Lap, Volume 5, page 66
2. Some Walks in the Western Highlands, Volume 5, page 145
3. Beinn Chaoruinn, Volume 5, page 260
4. Coire Coille na Froise and Creag Meaghaidh, Volume 5, page 261
5. The Tracks in Glen Spean, Volume 5, page 261
6. The Corrour Hills, Volume 5, page 262
7. Ben a Chaistel, Volume 5, page 315
8. Ben Dubh Craige, Volume 5, page 315
9. Ben Creachan, Ben Achallader, Ben Vannoch and Ben Chuirn, Volume 5, page 316
10. Some Holiday Rambles, Volume 6, page 24
11. A Gallowegian Wander, Volume 6, page 91
12. The Scientific Study of Scenery, John E Marr (review), Volume 6, page 138
13. The Glen Finnan and Loch Aylort Hills, Volume 8, page 134
14. Blaven and Clach Glas, Volume 9, page 142
15. Coire Ghreadaidh, and Sgurr na Banachdich, Volume 9, page 142
16. An Experience on the Hills of Ey, Volume 9, page 167
17. Easter, 1907, Volume 10, page 50
18. The Saddle, Volume 10, page 51
19. Sgurr na Sgine, Volume 10, page 51
20. Ben Wyvis, Volume 10, page 52
21. Meall Gorm (Fannich), Volume 10, page 124
22. Meall nam Peithirean (Fannich), Volume 10, page 124
23. Ben Liath Mhor Fannich, Volume 10, page 125
24. The Tracks Round Strathcarron, Volume 10, page 125
25. Easter Notes (1909), Volume 10, page 348
26. Carn Eige, Beinn Fhionnlaidh, etc., Volume 11, page 120
27. Mheall Garbh, Glen Lyon, Volume 11, page 120
28. Sgurr na Lapaich, Ross-shire, Volume 11, page 121
29. Tuill Creagach, Tom a’ Choinnich, etc., Volume 11, page 122
30. Notes on Wester Ross and Western Cairngorms, Volume 14, page 148
1. Born 22nd October 1873, son of Francis Mead Corner; died 2nd May 1950. My sources for non-mountaineering details of Corner’s life are the entry in Who Was Who, 1941–1950 (A & C Black) and two publications by David J. Mabberley about Corner’s son Edred John Henry: Biographical. Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society of London 45: 77–93, 1999 and his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford U.P., 2004. I also acknowledge most useful assistance from Corner’s grandsons John Kavanagh Corner and Douglas Richard Hurd – now Lord Hurd of Westwell.
2. See my ‘Munro and the Salvationist Tendency’, S.M.C. Journal, 1989, xxiv, 219-227.
3. see Elizabeth Allan’s Burn on the Hill. Bidean Books, 1995. Notice that Burn completed the union of the Tops in the 1891 and 1921 Tables, 558 in total.
4. He joined the Cairngorm Club in the same year, and the Climbers’ Club then or soon after.
5. His specialism was disorders of the nether regions, and his best-known work perhaps Diseases of the Male Generative Organs, 1907. He survives in medical dictionaries as the inventor of Corner’s Tampon, a procedure in which a plug of omentum is stuffed into a wound of the stomach or intestine as a temporary tampon. He may have wished for a better remembrance.
6. Corner and H. Irving Pinches collaborated in writing a standard text – Operations of General Practice, 1907.
7. Henrietta was the daughter of James Lindsay Henderson of The Gows, Invergowrie. Henderson was an S.M.C. member from 1900 to 1909.
8. Alfred Charles Waters, a London Civil Servant, joined the S.M.C. in 1899 (d. 1912).
9. Circumstances forced a shift of specialism, and he became expert in orthopedic surgery, and helped develop the artificial limb hospital at Roehampton.
10. Now a care home, this was the former home of well-known Australian contralto Ada Crossley (d. 1929).
11. Personal communication.
12. He published his own account of the years of occupation – The Marquis: a Tale of Syonan-to, Heinemann Asia – in 1981. Since his death in 1996, his son John Kavanagh Corner and David J. Mabberley have worked successfully to clear his name. The Changi Museum website carries a full account of the story.