Days of Sunshine and Rain – Ann Beedham – 8th June 2015

As a new­comer to Probus and an even newer member of the panel of blog­gers, it is coin­cid­ental — and for­tu­it­ous from my point of view — that the sub­ject matter for my maiden con­tri­bu­tion is some­thing with which I was already famil­iar.

The title of Ann Beedham’s very inter­est­ing talk is also the title of her fas­cin­at­ing book Days of Sunshine and Rain, pub­lished in 2011 as a col­lec­tion of words and pho­to­graphs from the life of George Willis Marshall. He was one of Sheffield’s pion­eer ram­blers who took part in the famous mass tres­pass on Kinder Scout on 24th April 1932, when walk­ers risked arrest and impris­on­ment for the right to roam in what is now the Peak District National Park.

This act of civil dis­obedi­ence was one of the most suc­cess­ful in British his­tory, and argu­ably led to the pas­sage of the National Parks legis­la­tion of 1949 and the estab­lish­ment of long-distance foot­paths such as the Pennine Way. Highly con­tro­ver­sial at the time, it has been described as the embod­i­ment of the work­ing class struggle for the right to roam versus the rights of the wealthy to have exclus­ive use of moor­lands to shoot grouse.

But Willis (as he was known to family and friends) Marshall was more than just one of the four or five hun­dred walk­ers from Sheffield and Manchester who took part in the tres­pass. As he grew up he developed a love not only of walk­ing but also of draw­ing and pho­to­graphy. He painstak­ingly wrote up journ­als of his walks with the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers, and these were illus­trated with sketches, maps and details of the route they took, as well as quotes from his favour­ite poems. He and his pals also took numer­ous pho­to­graphs which he care­fully placed in albums, and all the photos and sketches in Ann Beedham’s book are by Willis, or from his col­lec­tion.

He could easily, in fact, have become another Alfred Wainwright, the guide­book author and illus­trator, but appar­ently Willis had no ambi­tion for his journ­als to be seen beyond his own circle of friends.

Born in Sheffield in 1904, Willis lived from the age of eight with his family in Ranby Road, just off Endcliffe Park, and most of the walks he described star­ted from Hunters Bar or Banner Cross before head­ing out past places equally famil­iar to our mem­bers such as Forge Dam, Whiteley Woods, the Round House and Redmires.

I am myself a reg­u­lar walker and, because of my interest in the his­tory of the access struggle and the early days of ram­bling in gen­eral, I already had a copy of Ann’s book in my col­lec­tion. Her slideshow present­a­tion brought to life a world which has largely dis­ap­peared, when pipe-smoking ram­blers walked in tweed suits, col­lars and ties, with watches on chains. Her talk, like her book, was a won­der­fully evoc­at­ive piece of social his­tory.