Victorian Britons knew all about walking. It was part of daily life. However, organized rambling was a totally different matter. G.H.B. Ward (1876-1957) began life as an engineer at a local steel works in Sheffield. In the autumn of 1900, he placed an advert in a newspaper inviting people to join him on a moorland walk. As a result, 13 people turned up for what is thought to be the first ever organized public walk - around the Kinder Scout plateau on 2 September 1900. This led to the formation of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers which is recognized as the first working class ramblers club and which became the forerunner of the great ramblers’ movements we know today. As one Clarion man wrote of the group's first ramble in 1900: If our feet were on the heather, our hearts and hopes were with the stars.
This mystical communion with the open air, with sore feet on the pathway to Heaven, is reflected on every splendid page of The Best of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers' Handbooks. The book's editor, David Sissons, has devoted 12 years to researching Ward, who, as a good socialist, refused an OBE for his services to the great outdoors but accepted an honorary M.A. from Sheffield University which was awarded on his deathbed!
Sissons describes the old man's outlook as applied Wordsworth, putting into practice the poet's ideals, trying to raise the working class to a higher level. Ward was obsessed with heights, distances and directions. For every hour he spent on the moors, he would spend another burrowing in the archives through Enclosure Acts and Charity Commissioners' reports.
In 1907, Ward participated in the illegal mass trespass on Bleaklow, a fore runner of the 1932 mass trespass. In 1910, he became the founding editor of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers Club Handbook and chaired the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers until his death in 1957. In 1926, he founded the Sheffield and District Federation of the Ramblers Association. In 1945, the Ramblers Association bought him the summit of Lose Hill in the Peak District which was named Ward's Piece and which he subsequently presented to the National Trust. Ward also worked on the purchase of the Longshaw Estate in Derbyshire and was a founder member of the local Youth Hostel Association. He was also an activist for walkers’ rights and a Labour Party politician.
Ward was undoubtedly the dominant figure in the early campaign for walkers’ rights in Britain. For those interested, the Best of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers' Handbooks which he edited for more than 50 years can be ordered from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop. The Handbooks are just four-and-a-half inches by three and small enough to slip into a jacket top pocket and are bibles in the rambling world. They include information on place names, local folk lore and the history of the moors and valleys of the Peak District. Nominally, they were just a prospectus of scheduled walks, with the occasional warning that only the hardiest ramblers must attend, but they were widely read. The editor of the books, David Sissons, devoted 12 years to researching Ward. Sissons describes the old man's outlook as applied Wordsworth, putting into practice the poet's ideals, trying to raise the working class to a higher level.
Interestingly, in his book, Across the Derbyshire Moors published in 1945, Ward ranked the best full day’s walk available from Sheffield to be round Kinder Scout from Edale Station by Jacob’s Ladder, William Clough, the Snake and Alport Bridge to Hope. He estimated the distance to be 20 miles which he considered to be equivalent to 25 ‘Derbyshire miles’ taking into account the energy used for the ups and downs. To enjoy this walk, he recommended that one left Edale not later than 9.30 a.m. and returned from Hope by train or bus but not before 8 p.m. Clearly, the ramblers of Ward’s generation were a cut above the modern generation! The Old Nags Head at Edale is the official start of the Pennine Way. Nowadays, the best way to get onto Kinder Scout is to take the train to Edale and then walk up Grindsbrook. It’s a stiff walk but worth it!
However, Ward was famously truculent. He worked for the Civil Service as a conciliation officer, but, away from work, he favoured confrontation, in word if not in action. In his younger days, he sported a fearsome-looking moustache and wore his muffler with attitude. Only the most intrepid gamekeeper would take him on. GHB looked quite capable of inflicting GBH! But he also absorbed the inner peace of landscape as expressed by Wordsworth, Thoreau, Ruskin, Emerson, William Morris and any number of other writers. Ward can be considered to be one of the principal founders of rambling in the Peak District. Tom Stephenson was another who made an excellent case for the right to roam (Stephenson 1989).
Of course, the Peak District of Derbyshire has been well known to mankind for millennia. Many of the existing trails may have been used by Neolithic man and later adopted as Roman roads, packhorse routes, bridleways and footpaths. The Roman forts at Brough, Glossop and Buxton, for example, were initially linked by Roman roads. One of the main reasons for the Roman Emperor Claudius to invade Britain in 43 AD was for its minerals. Britain was thought to be a very rich source of the minerals that the Romans needed, such as lead, tin and iron. During the 3rd century A.D., the Romans were very active in the Peak District in exploiting various mineral deposits such as galena (lead sulphide; *******www.buxton.online). They were able to use advanced technology to find and extract valuable mineral resources on a scale unequalled until the Middle Ages.
Mining became one of the most prosperous activities in Roman Britain. Britain was rich in resources such as copper, gold, iron, lead, salt, silver, and tin, materials which were in high demand in the Roman Empire. The Romans also introduced new technical knowledge and large-scale industrial production to revolutionize mining in Britain including hydraulic mining to prospect for ore by removing overburden as well as working alluvial deposits. The water needed for such large-scale operations was supplied by one or more aquaducts.
The first Romans to mine in Britain were from the army but before long they were forced to subcontract the mining, even in the important lead mines. Working in the mines was used as a punishment for criminals and 12% of the miners died each year. In essence, he miners were slaves, prisoners of war or criminals. It was worse for the gold miners who worked underground. They often died of lung diseases from the dust as well as having to avoid rockfalls and shaft collapses.
Mining began once again but on a much larger scale during in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for lead, fluorspar, barites and other minerals. The copper mine at Ecton in the Peak District was the deepest in the Peak District and may well have been the deepest in the world at that time (it was at least 1800 feet deep in 1788) as a result of the deposit consisting of-vertical ‘pipes’. It yielded as much as 60% copper (as chalcopyrite), an astonishing yield, and the profits from this were used to pay for the construction of the magnificent Crescent in Buxton by the 5th Duke of Devonshire. However, the deposit was only productive for 30 years. Much of the now-familiar and naturalized landscape in the Peak district has, in fact, been considerably modified by ancient miners, with hillocks, old lead veins, engine houses and mine buildings forming an integral part of the modern-day landscape. Across the area are many archaeological features relating to mining activities, some dating back several hundred years, some considerably younger. Information on this mining activity can be found in Willies and Parker (1999) and on the web page of the Peak District Mines Historical Society.
Kinder Scout is the highest point in the Peak District National Park. It covers an area of 13 km2 and rises to a maximum height of 636 m above sea level. It can be a very dangerous place. The plateau itself is monotonous making it difficult to orient yourself and the weather can change quite suddenly from bright sunshine to thick mist, making it impossible to find your way without a compass. It is also quite boggy. In winter, the Peaks are shrouded in fog. In 1965, three rover scouts died on Kinder Scout when they were caught out in difficult conditions. Dark Peak on Kinder Scout was also notorious for aircraft crashes. During the period 1936-1951, 57 aircraft were lost on Dark Peak as a result of poor weather conditions and difficult terrain. The weather can change there rapidly without warning and there were no modern navigational aids at that time (Collier 1990, 1992; Cunningham 2006 a,b).
There were also a number of incidents which led to the setting up of the Edale Mountain Rescue Post in 1956. The first was on 4 January 1925 when James Evans was reported missing on Kinder Scout and was eventually found dead from exposure on 10 January. However, organized mountain rescue in England can be said to have started in the Peak District following an accident in 1928 on Laddow Rocks near Black Hill which resulted in the amputation of the casualty's leg. It was not the accident which made the amputation necessary but the evacuation carried out using an improvised stretcher made from a farm gate. This incident resulted in the formation of a committee to design a stretcher and ultimately led to the formation of the Mountain Rescue Committee which is now called Mountain Rescue England & Wales. In 1955, a Rescue Post was established at the Nag's Head in Edale and the first Edale mountain rescue was carried out. Despite these advances, kinder Scout should always be treated with respect.
However, it should also be remembered that the moors of the Peak District are a fragile environment which requires extensive care if they are not to be degraded. This is an expensive but essential requirement for the stewardship of this spectacular environment.
In spite of all this, Kinder Scout has always been a natural focus for ramblers. In 1932, the Manchester area committee of the British Workers' Sports Federation decided on a mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District, 'because its rugged tops could be seen from many points on the public footpaths and roads around' to quote organizer Benny Rothman. On April 24 1932, a group of ramblers several hundred strong set off from Hayfield and came face-to-face with the Duke of Devonshire's gamekeepers as they headed towards the top of Kinder Scout. One keeper was slightly hurt in the ensuing scuffle. 17 years were to pass before the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed which gave the countryside back to the people.
Mass trespass on Kinder Scout
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