A brief history of the Peak District National Park

3rd May 2018

Ben Cycling Sunrise

As we do on every course, on last weekend’s Peak Mountaineering Mountain Leader Assessment we discussed access rights and issues with candidates.  Where are we allowed to go and what restrictions are there to our freedoms?  It was a knowledgable group and so we enjoyed a broad ranging chat and it was clear this group of assessees, as we would expect, were very clear on their rights and responsibilities.  

It was actually a pertinent time to chat about this as the Peak District National Park had just the week before celebrated its 67th birthday and the park was created following pressure from hillwalkers via a famous event called the Kinder Mass Trespass which again took place near this date on 24th April 1932.  Given the great freedom of access we now enjoy and the peace and tranquility of this special place,  it is sometimes hard to visualise the long struggle that got us here and, of course, even after the parks creation there have been further challenges and changes that have influenced where we are now.  So, to say a big happy birthday to our favourite national park we’ve put together a non exhaustive timeline highlighting some of the major milestones (or maybe that should be millstones?!) along the parks journey.  We hope you enjoy it…… 

Attempts to influence policy holders had started a long time before the Kinder Mass Trespass.  It was actually as early as the 1880’s when MP James Bryce started a campaign for public access to the countryside and in 1884 he introduced the first freedom to roam bill to parliament.  Ultimately his bill failed but people’s keenness for access started to rear it’s head and the ball was rolling.  

Burbage North Gritstone

By the time the new century arrived there was a growing appreciation of the outdoors and more and more people were seeking to spend their leisure time in the countryside.  This led to growing conflicts with landowners and tensions continued to rise.  A government inquiry in 1931 pushed for the designation of areas open to all but no action was taken and public discontent grew further.

In 1932 the pivotal Kinder Mass Trespass took place.  Several hundred people walked onto Kinder Scout but minor fighting between landowners and trespassers led to several of the hillwalk organisers being imprisoned.  The public outcry that followed gained significant media attention and the tide of public opinion started to shift.

A voluntary standing committee on national parks was formed in 1936 to lobby the government and argue the case for national parks and the 1945 White Paper on National Parks was produced as part of the Labour Party's planned post-war reconstruction.  1949 became a landmark year as the government passed an act of parliament and in the same year the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed.

Hope Valley Winter Scene

Finally, in 1951 the Peak District National Park was born and others soon followed.  We now have 15 members of the national park family and their importance to the health, wealth and wellbeing of the population is more significant than ever.  However,  just like any 67 year old,  the park has also seen many additional landmarks and hurdles during its lifetime.

In 1954 the park's Ranger Service was set up and wardens were trained to help people appreciate the countryside and manage the park. In February of the same year the first access agreement for Kinder was signed.  By 1960 the Edale Fieldhead centre was opened and visitor numbers continued to climb.

Talking of climbing, in 1961 Windgather Rocks near Whaley Bridge was purchased to resolve a climbing problem and an access agreement was concluded for Stanage Edge in 1962.

Ladybower View

In 1964, after the tragic death of 3 scouts on Bleaklow, the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation and Edale Mountain Rescue Team came into being - initially staffed by wardens.  The famous Pennine Way long distance footpath opened in 1965 to become the UK’s first national trail and future access to Stanage was safeguarded when the North Lees Estate was purchased in 1971.

The long dry summer of 1976 caused many devastating moorland fires and the Roaches Estate was purchased in 1980.  1981 was extremely significant as passing of The Wildlife and Countryside Act offered the first comprehensive protection of listed species and habitats and in 1982 the National Trust bought the Kinder estate. 

In 1984 the huge Eastern Moors Estate was purchased from Severn Trent Water and the 1986 acquisition of the Warslow Moors Estate was the last of the major land purchase.  The Rights of Way Act was established by a Private Member's Bill in 1990 and in 1991 the park’s 40th anniversary coincided with the significant increase in access land on the park’s eastern side.

Peak District Mountain Biking

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act was passed in 2000 introducing the right of access on mountains, moors, heaths and downs and then in 2001 the park celebrated its 50th anniversary.  Tragically, this also marked the year that many rural businesses were devastated by the foot and mouth outbreak.

The 50th anniversary of the Peak District National Park's Ranger Service took place in 2004 and Millstone Edge was dedicated as open access by Sheffield Council in 2010.  The tunnels on the Monsal Trail were opened in 2012.

Stanage View

Around 38,000 people now live in the park and visitor numbers are estimated to be more than 10 million per year.  This is hardly surprising when it is estimated that an estimated 20 million people live within one hour’s journey of the park and over 50 million live within four hours journey time.  There are now 1,600 miles of public rights of way and 65 miles of dedicated cycling and walking trails.  Around 520 sq kms of the park is open access land and nearly 90% is farmland.  Walking and climbing are the most popular leisure activities and there are 2900 listed buildings and over 450 scheduled historic monuments.  

It has been a roller coaster journey and we this special place a healthy and productive future.  We really hope you have enjoyed our brief history of the Peak District National Park and look forward to welcoming you here soon.

Posted by Cal