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.