History of how Longshaw came to be for everybody

The thousands of walkers, runners, climbers and bike riders who head to the moors near Sheffield every week can learn this September how one of their favourite Peak District landscapes was won for them almost a century ago, when local ramblers joined city industrialists, countryside campaigners (and the Sheffield Daily Telegraph) in a four year fundraising campaign.

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 16:22 pm
Cyclist and runner on the Houndkirk Road byway

“The purchase (of Longshaw) will be used to great advantage by Sheffield ramblers and the public,” wrote a ramblers’ magazine of the time, adding that the Green Drive through the Burbage Valley will “open out a new walk to those who dare not brave the ‘Na then! Doan’t yer kno’ yer trespassin’. of some irate keeper.”

Longshaw volunteer historian Thelma Griffiths has gathered photographs, articles and public appeal posters showing how 747 acres of the country estate owned for over a century by the Dukes of Rutland was bought for the public to enjoy forever, thanks to fundraising across Sheffield, Manchester and beyond.

Heritage Open Day events on Saturday September 14 include a morning talk by Thelma followed by a walk from the Moorland Discovery Centre exploring the estate’s history. The centre will also host a ‘People’s Landscapes’ exhibition of documents and artefacts relating to the transfer of Longshaw from an aristocratic shooting estate to an ‘open space for the nation’ looked after by the National Trust.

Clarion Ramblers working party at Longshaw in the 1940s

“I think the appeal was a classless thing,” said Thelma. “The great and the good gave what they could, which was £1,000 in some cases, but you can also see how many other people gave smaller amounts, maybe ten shillings, worth around £30 now.”

The predecessor of this newspaper donated £50 to the cause, and rambling groups both sides of the Pennines were out shaking their tins too, said Thelma.

Countryside campaigners Ethel Gallimore (later Ethel Haythornthwaite) and GHB Ward were closely involved in the public appeal, but the £14,000 required actually came from scores of local people concerned that Longshaw could be turned into a hotel or golf club, or “the outrage of being used as sites for modern villas,” as one correspondent wrote to the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.

“There was a general feeling that this was something worth doing,” said Thelma, “that life for the working people in the town was not good, that people really did need this land.”

National Trust volunteer historian Thelma Griffiths at Longshaw

She added that the National Trust’s Peak District Appeal gives modern countryside lovers the chance to help maintain the landscape won for the people 92 years ago by donating or organising events to support urgent tree planting.

Thelma’s researches show how familiar Sheffield countryside, like the moors and edges of Burbage now thronging with Outdoor City folk, were once a playground for the local aristocracy only.

Photographs from 1903 show the Earl of Bradford blasting over the heads of his young loader and female companion while trying to bag a grouse on the Houndkirk Road byway, now a favourite route for runners and mountain bikers.

A newspaper report of 1886 is even more graphic, detailing how two gamekeepers were accused of hurling a local woman over the wall on Sheephill Road near Totley, after they’d found her bilberry picking on shooting land.

Walkers at Burbage

And a diary shows how a few years after defeating Napoleon at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington arrived for a shoot at Longshaw, after his dogs had scouted the ground for him two days earlier with local keepers. By the 1890s, over 6,000 grouse a year were being shot on the estate.

Death duties and changes in game shooting fashion were possible reasons for the Duke of Rutland’s decision to sell in the 1920s, but Thelma stressed that many aristocrats of the time were doing the same.

“There was a different mood,” she said. “The world changed at the end of World War One.”

The 1927 campaigners would be delighted to see the estate now, she believes. “They’d be astounded by the number of people coming out here, and the diversity of people visiting from all over the world. Now I hope we’ll be able to make more of those people aware of that history, of how Longshaw came to be for everybody.”

Earl of Bradford shooting grouse with his loader and companion on the Houndkirk Road in 1903