Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Ethel Haythornthwaite and the protection of Sheffield's 'Golden Frame'

If lockdown has shown us one thing it’s how important our green spaces are to us.  Use of public parks has increased massively and the Peak District has become a visitor hotspot again after months of limited access.  Green space has always been important to people’s physical and mental wellbeing and the establishment of Sheffield’s green belt and the Peak District National Park are both linked to a Sheffield group, formed almost 100 years ago, whose tireless efforts ensured the preservation and protection of some of the favourite green spaces we know and love today...

Proposed boundaries of the Peak District National
Park drawn up in 1939.
This map (pictured) shows the proposed boundaries of the Peak District National Park, drawn up in 1939.  The clue to its provenance is written on the front in spidery handwriting: Property of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, Endcliffe Vale House, Sheffield 10.  Endcliffe Vale House was a once-splendid mansion (long since demolished), home to the Ward family - Thomas W. Ward was a famous Sheffield industrialist who made his money as a scrap metal merchant; the firm Thos. W. Ward is perhaps best known for its First World War ‘employee’, Lizzie the elephant, who was put to work carting machinery, scrap metal and munitions around the city.  However, the map did not belong to Thomas Ward, but to his daughter Ethel.

Notice in a local paper announcing the marriage
of Ethel Ward and Lt. Gallimore, 1916.
Ethel Basset Ward was born in Sheffield in 1894, one of five children.  She was first married at the age of 22 in 1916 to Henry Burrows Gallimore. Captain Gallimore was killed in France in May 1917. She was heartbroken and became very ill. Her family tried to help her by taking her for restorative walks in the countryside, which they knew she loved.  She soon became enamoured of the rural beauty surrounding the city of Sheffield, and decided to focus her attentions on protecting that green space from development and urban sprawl.

The first minute book of the Sheffield Association
for the Protection of Rural Scenery, 1924. 
She vowed to try to protect the Sheffield and Peak District countryside and in order to do this she formed a society called the Sheffield Association for the Protection of Rural Scenery, which, in 1927, became the Peak District and South Yorkshire branch of the CPRE (Council for the Preservation of Rural England, later renamed Campaign to Protect Rural England). The original minute book at Sheffield Archives details the first meeting at Endcliffe Vale House.  Among those present were Ethel Gallimore, G.H.B. Ward representing the ramblers' interests, Gertrude ward, (Ethel's sister), and Alan Ward (her brother).  Sir Henry Hadow, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University was elected President, and Ethel, who had both instigated the meeting and provided the meeting place, was elected Honorary Secretary, a position she occupied for the next 56 years.

A publication issued by CPRE in 1934.
At this time, the 'Green Belt' did not exist and the Peak District was not a designated National Park. There was a lack of guidance and control over the design of buildings in the countryside and no statutory planning control - up until the first Town and Country Planning Act was passed in 1932, Local Authorities incurred hefty penalties of compensation if planning permission was refused to protect amenities. The work of the local CPRE was three-fold:

1. To draw public attention to the beauty of the Peak District and the threat uncontrolled development posed;
2. To lobby Local Authorities and developers to use materials for buildings appropriate to their setting;
3. Organising the purchase of areas in the Peak District for safe keeping by the National Trust to prevent unsuitable building development.
Ethel pictured with her second husband, Gerald
The group's first major purchase (by public subscription) was that of the Longshaw Estate (750 acres) in 1927. Thereafter Ethel was behind a long line of acquisitions, battles and victories. She became a force in the conservation world, joined from 1937 by her second husband, Gerald Haythornthwaite. Together they formed a formidable partnership.  They were meticulous researchers, dogged campaigners and single-mindedly dedicated to their work. Their archive documents their method and approach, their specialisms and expertise, their influence, passions and concerns. Their papers also offer a fascinating peek into the issues and threats to the countryside which they faced in the 1920s and 1930s, many of which are still relevant today.

'A blight on the landscape' - cars in the Peak District
Their case files in the archive reveal a long list of battles fought over the land:

·        They conducted a survey of areas suitable to be included in Sheffield’s Green Belt (4,600 acres), approved by Sheffield Council in 1938;

·        They stopped a 200 mph racing circuit being built just north of Dovedale.

·        Organised successful national opposition to a steelworks being built in the Edale Valley;

·        Set up a Peak District Advisory Committee giving free advice on proposed buildings and providing suitable designs for a nominal fee;

·        Waged a 12 year campaign to prevent a motorway being built across the park to Longdendale;

·        The establishment of the Peak District National Park in 1951.

Gerald and Ethel Haythornthwaite riding part of
the boundary route.
The history of the Peak District National Park is closely tied to the history of all Britain's national parks.  From the Victorian era there was an increasing demand from the public to access the countryside.  This led to a growing conflict with landowners.  There was a major flashpoint in 1932 when there was a mass trespass of Kinder Scout.

In 1936, a voluntary Standing Committee on National Parks (SCNP) was formed to lobby Government on the matter: the CPRE was part of this and Ethel Haythornthwaite later sat on the Hobhouse Committee.  It was resolved at its meeting in May 1937 that the association should pro-actively map the areas which were suitable to be included in the park; a group of local experts set to work. They examined maps, explored the proposed boundary on the ground and engaged in many discussions and disputes before the boundary was finally agreed. It is thought that Ethel circumnavigated the whole route on horseback before committing it to the map!  In 1951, the Peak District was the first area to be designated as a national park.

The 190-mile boundary walk. 
Ethel died in 1986 aged 92; her husband Gerald died some 9 years later in 1995. The Haythornthwaite’s work to protect and preserve the outstanding natural beauty of the Peak District continues to this day. New developments - housing, road building, quarrying, off-roading, overhead pylons and cables, and more recently, fracking, threaten to damage or destroy huge areas of green space.

The history of the CPRE (now called Friends of the Peak District) is meticulously documented in its archive at Sheffield Archives.  The minute books are rich in detail about decision making, the 160 case files are packed full of interesting debate and strongly-worded correspondence about proposed developments, many of which did not go ahead (and some that did).  There are also some fascinating early maps which represent the start of what we now know as the Peak District National Park and the mapping of Sheffield’s Green Belt - the ‘golden frame’.

Although much is housed at Sheffield Archives, there are more archives still stored with the Friends of the Peak District awaiting transfer to Sheffield Archives.  Following a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, an archivist has been employed to sort and catalogue a whole room of material - is estimated there are around 10,000 photographic slides included in the collection and the archivist and a group of local volunteers are meticulously recording the details of each photograph with a view to getting them digitised in time for 2024 which marks the 100th anniversary of that first meeting instigated by Ethel Haythornthwaite at Endcliffe Vale House.

The list of items in the CPRE archive can be viewed here: (more to be added by the HLF project)

All images © CPRE archive at Sheffield City Archives.  

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