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Looking Back: Fred Dibnah met his match up mill chimney

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

Looking Back: Fred Dibnah met his match up mill chimney ?type=responsive-gallery-fullscreen

Fred Dibnah, the legendary Bolton steeplejack, was rarely left stumped but in 1983 he met his match - in the form of a ginger tomcat called George.

Fred had been brought in to repair a 200-foot chimney at Wolfenden and Son’s spinning mill on Carter Street at Great Lever.

When he arrived he found a cat had climbed up the first of the ladders he was going to use to get to the top.

When Fred went to get the cat it climbed further up where it stopped around 30-feet off the ground. The RSPCA were called but their efforts only resulted in the cat climbing higher.

“The chap who came to get him got to about 50 feet up the ladder and bottled it,” Fred would recall. “By then the cat was about 90 feet up the ladders.”

A large net was spread around the base of the chimney in case the cat fell.

Fred went up a ladder on the other side of the chimney and decided to drop large chunks of soot down to try and force the cat back down.

“This didn’t have the desired effect,” he would later recall. “The cat thought that wherever this was coming from there must be human life so it carried on climbing towards me.”

Eventually the cat got to a ledge just six feet from the top. As night fell the cat was on a ledge just four-and-a-half inches wide.

“The idea was that it would get hungry and come down of its own accord,” said Fred.

He told reporters “It is holding my job up. I have got a few hundred pounds at stake and I can not be held up with a cat.”

The next morning George was still there although with all the soot it was now a black cat rather than a ginger one.

Eventually a volunteer who was an expert in rescuing cats went up the ladder and managed to grab George. But with a struggling cat in one hand and the other holding the ladder he couldn’t get down.

Fred went up the ladder armed with a cat box and eventually they managed to get George safely into it and bring him down to earth - some 30 hours after it first began with TV crews having arrived to record the drama.

“There were TV crews and photographers all over the place,” said Fred.

George was owned by an old lady who lived close the mill and Fred recalled going back to the chimney a couple of times to repair it and ultimately demolish it and seeing George watching him over the fence.

“I used to say to that cat, don’t you come near me, we’ve had enough trouble with you,” he said.


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