Walter Ingham History
Walter Ingham (1914-2000)
Pioneer & Ski Industry leader
Walter Ingham (1914-2000) pioneered skiing as a leisure pursuit and was a leading force in mass travel growth in the UK after the second world war.
An early entrepreneur, he spotted the emerging demand for organised escorted foreign holidays. Without doubt, he shaped winter sports from an activity largely the preserve of the privileged elite to one enjoyed by a much wider audience. Ingham, and those like him, whose affection and enthusiasm for mountains and the pleasure they give, helped bring skiing to Britain and to establish the enduring popularity of the annual ski holiday.
Ingham was born in the UK but in the 1920s he moved to Vienna where his parents settled after eloping. It was at school in Austria, with the mountains as his playground, that his passion for skiing, climbing and sailing was born. In 1932, Ingham returned to England to work as a junior salesman for Remington Typewriters (his father worked as their south-east European manager), but the appeal of the mountains lured him back. "Very soon," he wrote later, "I found that selling typewriters gave no job satisfaction and no skiing."
In 1934, with £25 in capital, Ingham advertised a ‘private ski party to Ski the Tyrol – 14 days for 12 guineas’, in a British National newspaper inviting participants to join him on a Christmas adventure to Schoenburg, Austrian Tyrol. He discovered that if he took a party of 15 people to the Alps, he could get a free rail ticket and hotel room for himself.
The trip was a success – five more to Kuhtai, Obergurgl, Gerlos and other resorts followed - and he banked a princely £80 by the end of the ski season. He single handedly organised transport, food, accommodation, ski hire and even worked with a local ski instructor teaching the group how to ski.
The business grew fast with skiing and ski mountaineering in the winter and walking in the summer where overseas reps were recruited from previous customers. “My father would meet the group at Victoria Station,” wrote his son John Ingham, “take them out to wherever they were going and after two weeks he would bring them back, have a quick wash and brush up at the station and collect the next group. In the summer he would take coach parties, primarily around France, and between seasons, he visited the hotels and generally made arrangements for the coming season”.
At the time, in terms of travel competition, Henry Lunn of ‘Lunn Poly’ fame, was already taking groups of public school and university educated skiers to Switzerland, but his biggest rivalry was with Erna Low.
She was born Erna Löwe in Vienna, threw the javelin for Austria, and came to London in 1930 to work on a doctoral thesis about the Victorian poet Lord De Tabley. It was mainly out of a need to pay for trips home that, in January 1932, she advertised similarly for clients to take skiing.
Upon retirement in 1936, Ingham’s father joined him and together they created F&W Ingham and operated business from a one room office in Arcade House at 27 Old Bond Street.
In 1938 Ingham extended his holiday offering from Austria to the French Alps and French seaside resorts. Strategically, this was a good move for when Germany annexed Austria he was able to fully concentrate his business in France.
“At the outbreak of the war I was in France wishfully trying to organise accommodation for our winter’s operations” reported Ingham. “Within a week I got myself and my car back to England giving at the same time a lift to the well known Mr Chandler (founder of The Travel Club of Upminster) who then did his business travel by bicycle (which he was able to retrieve after the war)”. Later that year, Ingham was back in France as a Lance Corporal, and married his wife Barbara in Le Mans. The wedding was on April 20. Thereafter, they never referred to their anniversary, calling it "Hitler's birthday" instead which was the same date. Ingham later served in North Africa and after the Nazi defeat - he spoke fluent German with a Viennese accent - was sent to Austria to work with the control commission.
When he emerged from the army with the rank of Major in 1948, he reset up his travel business, renting a one room office at 143 New Bond Street, with ex-War Department trestle tables covered with military blankets. Ann Murison who joined Inghams as a Resort Representative in 1951 recalls “Then, Walter bought 26 Old Bond Street in 1957. He had the whole house with a little wrought iron fence on the pavement outside behind which Uncle Henry Crowther (Ingham’s pre-war friend and business partner) would park his motor scooter”
During the following 14 years, Inghams grew steadily, eventually employing 80 full-time staff and 30 overseas representatives, and carrying some 14,000 people abroad each year.
Ingham operated snow trains to the Alps, sharing space with Erna Low, and introduced dancing cars so that skiers could start their revelling during the 24-hour journey to the slopes. The trains carried 400 skiers via Calais or Dieppe to the Austrian Arlberg, and on to Zell am See. By the early 1950s, Inghams was flying customers to the Alps in propeller-driven DC-3 aircraft.
Whilst Ingham has long been credited as the man who took Britain skiing, it is almost fitting that Eileen Knowles, daughter of Maurice Knowles (one of Ingham’s first guides) with her Austrian husband, Karl Fuchs, were the first to bring skiing to Scotland.
In 1962 Ingham decided to hang up his skis, having built up a reputable company over 28 years with an enormous volume of repeat clients. It had all started from his love of skiing and the mountains and his huge success meant that he no longer spent enough time in the mountains. He sold to Hotelplan, a Swiss company, and enjoyed the remainder of his days living on the stunning island of Elba (where in 1814 even Napoleon enjoyed his enforced ‘exile’) in pursuit of his other passion, sailing. His appreciation of classical music was also indulged by his friendship with conductor Charles Mackerras, who too had a house on the island.
He died on July 18 2000, aged 86, survived by two sons and a daughter.