Railways and other industrial expansion schemes were not the only threat to the countryside in the early 1880s. Across the country it was noticed that public rights of way were being closed at an alarming rate. Individuals in many different areas were sufficiently alarmed that they felt something must be done. Local footpath preservation groups sprang up independently in areas as diverse as Sheffield (1881), Middlesbrough (1881), Blackburn (1882) Reading (1884) and Kendal (1884). These local groups usually had a small number of active individuals who generally sought to resolve a dispute by discussion and compromise. If legal redress was sought it was, more often than not, the landowner who was successful.
It was not long before a National Footpath Preservation Society (NFPS) came into being. Founded in July 1884 by Henry Allnutt, a magazine editor, the objectives of the society were:
The preservation of ancient foot and bridle paths; and all other rights of way by land and water, fishing, vacant spaces, as village greens, roadside slips of land &c. The society also advocates the purchase of land near towns and villages for public recreation grounds.1
The Duke of Westminster became a patron, the Earl of Bective became president and a number of MPs, including James Bryce, joined. John Ruskin and Tennyson also became members. The first meeting of the NFPS was held in September 1884. The society was at pains to point out that they were not trying to interfere with the lawful rights of landowners. But as a result of the numerous illegal closures of rights of way over the previous few decades there was a clear necessity to challenge similar actions in the future. The NFPS and Commons Preservation Society (CPS) merged in 1899 to form the Commons Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society, shortening its name to the Open Spaces Society in the 1980s.
Keswick Footpaths Preservation Association
The Lake District was not immune to footpath closures. According to Hardwicke, for example, at least twenty-two paths were closed in the vicinity of Ambleside during 1870-1885. Hardwicke had been thinking for some time that the Lake District Defence Society (LDDS) should be much more actively involved in the closure of rights of way. He was also strongly of the opinion that a Royal Commission was needed to investigate the legal framework around this issue. The Articles of Association, however, of the LDDS did not contain provision for such involvement. Hardwicke and W. H. Hills canvassed the LDDS membership, asking them if they would support joining forces with a Footpath Preservation Committee for the Lake District to fight the increasing number of closures. Members were split.
Hardwicke pursued the idea of a Royal Commission, organising a meeting in early 1886 in London attended by members of the Commons Preservation Society (CPS), NFPS, the Scottish Rights of Way Association, and the Kyrle Society. It soon became obvious that there was little appetite in Government for such a Commission. Hardwicke and his colleagues switched their focus to lobbying the Local Government Board for changes in legislation, again with little impact.
With the LDDS membership not fully supportive of the society getting involved in rights of way issues, Hardwicke set about organising a new group to tackle local closures. A meeting was called on 30 March to form a Keswick and District Footpaths Preservation Association (KFPA). Such a society had initially been formed in the 1850s but was no longer functioning. The intention was that the new association would include both landowners and local people, the motto being ‘arbitration, not war’. The offer of the presidency was made to Mr J. J. Spedding, a local landowner and magistrate, but he refused. Other local landowners declined to join. Hardwicke became President. The secretary was Mr Henry Irwin Jenkinson, a writer of guide-books who had lived in Keswick for twenty years. The Rules of the new Association were very similar to that of the NFPS.
From the beginning, the KFPA promoted itself as an organisation that would oppose illegal closure of footpaths. Recognising that landowners had rights and the public had a duty to respect these rights they also campaigned as an anti-trespass and anti-litter organisation.
As he had done in his earlier railway campaigns, Hardwicke brought the issue of closure of rights of way to national prominence. In an article published in the Contemporary Review he argued that footpath preservation was of national importance. It was essential for everyone to be able to be able to seek the solace and rest that the countryside provided. It was equally essential for England as a nation that its workers were able to find the ‘recreative enjoyment’ that access to rights of way provided. England’s continued supremacy as the world’s leading nation was under threat and needed its workers to be able to enjoy the countryside even more than in the past. He used the examples of Scotland and Switzerland to argue that love of the countryside and patriotism were inextricably linked. Once access to the countryside is denied there is the danger that an individual’s love of his country and his patriotic pride will be lessened. Hardwicke also highlighted the increasing loss of access to ‘roadside wastes’, arguing that these belonged as much to the public as ancient footpaths.
With the exception of Hardwicke, the LDDS and KFPA operated as separate organisations. This is not surprising. The LDDS had gone out of its way to recruit middle and upper-class intellectuals across the country and had come in for criticism that very few Lake District people had joined. Footpath closures, on the other hand, affected many in the local population and one would expect such people to join an organisation pledged to fight any considered to be illegal. The leading members of the KFPA such as Henry Jenkinson, Routh Fitzpatrick, and the Rev. W. Colville, the pastor of a Congregational Church, were all local men. None of these people figure in the activities of the LDDS.
Before the summer of 1886 was over, and only a few months after the formation of the KFPA, reports appeared in local and national newspapers that at least three footpaths had been closed in the Keswick area. These were a footpath along the western shore of Derwentwater going through Fawe Park, a path leading to the top of Latrigg, and another one near Castlehead Wood on the Derwentwater estate of R. D. Marshall. One newspaper said of these closures:
A Keswick and District Footpath Preservation Association was founded some weeks ago. Logically, it will be the duty of this body to justify its existence by vindicating the public claims to rights of way including the Fawe Park and Latrigg roads, for instance. A determined stand must be made, if the most beautiful parts of the district are not, so to speak, to be preserved in a glass case, for the benefit of a few country families.2
The house at Fawe Park was built by James Spencer-Bell, in the late 1850s, on the western shore of Derwentwater near Nichol End. Carriages and pedestrians had used an ancient track going through the estate for many years. After the death of James in 1872, the house was occupied by his widow and her eldest son, James Frederick. In late 1885 access to the path was blocked on the grounds that its use invaded their privacy and damage had been done to their property. All discussions with Mrs Spencer-Bell, however, were halted when on 9 September 1886 her son, and his friend, Edward Rathbone, were drowned while sailing on Derwentwater. Hardwicke was foreman of the jury at the inquest which recorded a verdict of ‘accidentally drowned’.
At a meeting of the KFPA on 3 March 1887, it was agreed to compile a report on the evidence supporting the public’s right to use the footpath across Fawe Park and submit this to Counsel for legal opinion. Discussions continued with Mrs Spencer-Bell up until the end of August but with no progress. Counsel’s opinion was that the Association had a good case to defend. On 30 August Jenkinson and Routh Fitzpatrick led a group of people to Fawe Park where they were confronted by Mrs Spencer-Bell who refused to remove the barriers. She made an impassioned speech in which she said that her only son had recently been drowned, the family brought much financial advantage to the area and that she was saddened by the actions being taken against her. After listening to Mrs Spencer-Bell, and apologising for the distress caused, Routh Fitzpatrick then ordered that the barriers be removed and the protestors walked along the path.
Over the next few weeks Mrs Spencer-Bell re-erected the barriers but did not take legal action for trespass. At a meeting on 21 September, the KFPA voted to restate their rights to use the Fawe Park path and announced that they would remove the barriers on 28 September. This time Mrs Spencer-Bell was not present but represented by her legal advisers. A crowd of 500 people marched on to the estate, many, it was said, for the first time. Once again the barriers were removed. For whatever reasons, Mrs Spencer-Bell decided not to proceed with any legal action and by the end of the year the path remained open to the public. At none of the meetings of the KFPA during August and September or the marches on Fawe Park was Hardwicke present.
Access to Latrigg
Most commentaries on the Keswick footpaths disputes conflate the Fawe Park and Latrigg closures. However, the two were very different both in terms of their end result and importance in determining the public’s right of access to ancient footpaths. Overlooking Keswick, Latrigg is the lowest of the Skiddaw range of hills. Hardwicke described it as ‘lying like a cub at its mother’s [Skiddaw’s] side’. There were at least two routes used to get to the top of Latrigg. There was a track along the foot of Latrigg, known as the Terrace Road, and an alternative, via Spooney Green, which, after the arrival of the railway, became the route used by most people. The land through which the footpaths ran had been owned by the Spedding family since 1829. The family had allowed free access to the paths. In 1850 the estate was inherited by Jane Spedding who, not living in the locality, entrusted the running of the house and lands to her brother, John James. In the summer of 1886 local newspapers drew attention to the fact that people were being prevented from walking along the paths. Mr Spedding, local magistrate and Chairman of the Bench, also placed noticeboards on the footpaths stating that trespassers would be prosecuted. Over the ensuing months the KFPA met with Mr Spedding to discuss the disputed paths. He claimed that his predecessors had only allowed the public to use the paths on sufferance and that there was no right of public use. He was not totally against the public using the paths provided that his right of maintaining them as private was acknowledged.
Hardwicke and others in the KFPA clearly recognised that access to Latrigg was not just a local issue. If they were prevented from going to the top of this mountain then access to other hills and mountains throughout the country would be under threat. As one newspaper put it:
The owner maintains that there is no right of way to the top, but the public claim the right by reason of ancient user. The dispute is of special interest to all lovers of mountains, and the Keswick and District Footpath Preservation Society have decided, in the interests of the public, to make it a test case, and try conclusions with the owner. For this purpose they have established a Footpath Guarantee Defence Fund, which they hope will be supported by sympathisers in every part of the country, for they consider the question is of national importance.3
Both sides accepted that the only way to resolve this dispute would be to obtain a legal judgement. At a crucial meeting of the KFPA on 29 August the chair was taken by the Rev W. Colville, as Hardwicke was absent. He reported that discussions had been held with Mr Spedding only a few days previously and that the latter had refused to budge from his view that the paths were private. Colville said that they offered to abandon their claim to the Terrace Road route but this was not accepted. The meeting resolved to inform Mr Spedding that on the 30 August they planned to walk the disputed path and remove any barriers placed in their way. This they did in the afternoon of the same day that they removed the barriers at Fawe Park. As before, the march was led by Henry Jenkinson and Routh Fitzpatrick.
Rather than initiating legal action, Mr Spedding re-instated a new set of barriers. This left the KFPA with little alternative but to organise another march which took place on 1 October 1887, three days after a similar march on Fawe Park. This second march, and removal of the new barriers on the path to Latrigg, attracted over 2,000 people.
Hardwicke was absent from all meetings and demonstrations during the crucial weeks between the end of August and the beginning of October. His whereabouts for much of this time is a mystery. His silence was broken by a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette, published on 1 October, in which he stated that he had been abroad. It is not known where he was, why he went abroad, or for how long.
The second removal of barriers spurred the Spedding family to action. In November it was announced that Miss Jane Spedding, the absentee landowner, was taking legal action against eight members of the KFPA to prevent them from removing any obstructions that were placed on the paths. Both sides agreed that the case should be transferred to the Queen’s Bench Division in Carlisle and a date was set for July 1888. With the court case looming the KFPA were aware of the financial costs that each of its eight defendants might incur. Hardwicke travelled throughout the country drumming up support for their action to ensure right of way to Latrigg and garnering pledges to their Defence Fund. Amongst places visited he spoke in Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, London, and Oxford.
The case at Carlisle began on 5 July before Mr Justice Grantham and a jury. Local residents, guides and walkers were called to give evidence. After two days of hearing evidence the judge called both sides together and suggested they reach an amicable settlement. In essence, the KFPA agreed to give up access to Latrigg via the Terrace Road whilst Miss Spedding agreed to give up her claim on the Spooney Green Lane path. This was essentially the proposal that the KFPA had made to Mr Spedding a year earlier. Each side agreed to pay their own costs. Although a compromise, the agreement was of the kind that the KFPA had sought all along. The court agreement, however, did not stop Mr Spedding, in what might be seen as ‘sour grapes’, from erecting barbed wire fencing on either side of the path and planting large numbers of young fir trees which, when fully grown, would block out the views from the top of the hill.
Reginald Dykes Marshall was lord of the manor of Castlerigg and owner of a very large estate on the eastern shore of Derwentwater. He had been instrumental in the defeat of the Braithwaite and Buttermere Railway Bill in 1883 and was a member of the LDDS. Discussions with Marshall on access to footpaths on the Derwentwater estate had started as soon as the KFPA was formed. These discussions never really gained any publicity until the court case to settle the Latrigg dispute was over.
There were a number of footpaths which criss-crossed the Derwentwater estate. Both Marshall and the KFPA agreed that some of these were public. Rights of access to others, however, were disputed and Mr Marshall had prevented access to some of these in the early 1880s. Throughout the years of negotiations it seemed that both Marshall and the KFPA wanted to avoid legal action, and both adopted a give-and-take attitude with the KFPA giving up access to some paths as long as they were allowed to use others. Because of the number of paths involved the discussions were complex and lengthy.
Some newspapers reported that agreement had been reached in January 1889 only for Henry Irwin Jenkinson to issue a rejoinder on behalf of the KFPA that this was not the case. Negotiations dragged on with both sides using the newspapers to publicise the view that they were desperately trying to reach a settlement only for the other side to bring forth new obstacles. Such protracted negotiations continued for another 12 months. At a meeting of the KFPA on 7 July 1890 Hardwicke reported that, with the exception of a slight alteration of the boundary line at the point of access to the fells at Rake Foot, both they and Mr Marshall were in a position to sign an agreement covering all the disputed footpaths across the estate. Hardwicke, and most of the members, wanted to sign and a motion was put before the meeting empowering this to take place. Routh Fitzpatrick, however, objected to this decision. Hardwicke got his way and Fitzpatrick’s amendment was defeated. The day after the meeting, Routh Fitzpatrick wrote a letter to a local newspaper giving his reasons why he felt compelled to resign his executive position in the KFPA.
As with the LDDS in their fight for the road on the west side of Thirlmere, Hardwicke’s leadership had caused a split in the ranks of an organisation which he had founded. It was also the last significant footpath dispute involving the KFPA. On 14 July 1890, Hardwicke, on behalf of the KFPA, signed the agreement with R. D. Marshall, more than four years after discussions were first started.
The Demise of the Keswick Footpaths Preservation Association
Fitzpatrick’s resignation was certainly a blow for the KFPA. Along with Henry Irwin Jenkinson he had been the leader of the campaigns to stop illegal closure of footpaths in Keswick. It was these two individuals who had led from the front. The organisation was dealt another blow in August 1891 when Jenkinson died, and with Hardwicke now focusing his time and energy on his role as a Councillor, the KFPA lost much of its momentum. The big battles had been won. The late 1880s, however, also witnessed a divergence of views between LDDS and KFPA executive members which hastened the demise of the latter organisation. These differences surfaced following an earlier proposal by Hardwicke.
At a CPS meeting on 13 June 1888, Hardwicke told the audience:
He felt strongly that a great impersonal limited liability company, after the manner of the Scottish Rights of Way Society, should undertake the work [of protecting rights of way] for England. Such a society by its very existence would deter much of the illegal closing of rights if way.4
This was the first time that Hardwicke had mentioned in public the idea that the KFPA should be reconstituted on a more formal basis as a limited liability company. Such a company would issue shares and build up sufficient capital to enable them to sue landowners who illegally closed rights of way. In a newspaper article, Routh Fitzpatrick reported that he had been actioned by the executive of the KFPA to look at how such a limited liability company could replace the informal organisation that had been in existence since 1886. As part of this preparation for a reconstituted KFPA, Routh Fitzpatrick engaged in an exchange of letters with W. H. Hills as representative of the LDDS. Fitzpatrick told Hills that they had been given advice that there were no legal obstacles in the setting up of such a company. It soon became apparent, however, that the two men did not see eye-to-eye on this issue, nor on many others.
Hills, Gordon Somervell, and others in the LDDS, thought that the idea of a limited liability company was nonsense, and were concerned that Hardwicke supported the idea. The letters reveal other differences of opinion between the executives of the two organisations. In one letter Fitzpatrick accuses the LDDS of being too close to landowners. As such they could not be trusted to look after the true interests of the Lake District. Neither did the LDDS provide any support in the fight to keep the Keswick footpaths open. Fitzpatrick additionally charged the LDDS with being biased, only wanting to protect the Windermere, Ambleside and Grasmere parts of the Lake District:
The Lake District Defence Society might much more properly be denominated the Ambleside Bowness and Grasmere Society for I do not see that it has gone much beyond that sphere. In this District we have not recd ever the slightest advantage from it. If your Society had said Keep to your own side of Dunmail Raise I could have seen some fair show of reason in it. But as it stands, your argument amounts to this. We cannot help you for we want all our strength for our own neighbourhood.5
Not for the first time, Hardwicke was caught in the cross-fire of competing views. It is possible that part of the negative reaction of the LDDS to the idea of the KFPA becoming a limited liability company, a ‘vigilance society’ as one newspaper called it, was partly due to their concern that it could become a serious rival if it were successful.
Fitzpatrick claimed that Hardwicke was shown all letters exchanged between himself and Hills. Unfortunately there are no records showing what Hardwicke thought about this spat between two key members of organisations which he had founded. With Fitzpatrick’s and Jenkinson’s departures, no major footpath closures to contest, and Hardwicke’s reluctance to push forward the idea of a limited liability company in opposition to the LDDS, very little was heard of the KFPA in the years that followed the signing of the footpaths agreement with R. D. Marshall.
Rights of Way and Legislation
The campaign by Hardwicke in 1886 for a Royal Commission to investigate the legal framework concerning rights of way was necessary because, he thought, existing laws were inadequate and unfair. As well as Hardwicke’s call for a Royal Commission, there was during this period a flurry of parliamentary activity surrounding access to footpaths, hills and mountains, much of it spearheaded by the CPS. Buoyed by a reconstituted Scottish Rights of Way Society, James Bryce introduced the first of his ‘Access to Mountains (Scotland) Bill’ in 1884. The Bill did not become law and Bryce re-introduced an amended Bill in 1888, again with little success. A similar Bill to cover Wales was also introduced. A ‘Footpaths and Roadside Wastes Bill’ was introduced into Parliament, on behalf of the CPS, by MPs George Shaw-Lefevre and James Bryce. This Bill sought to ensure that it was the highway authorities of local Councils who had the responsibility for the maintenance and protection of footpaths and roadside wastes. Additionally the Bill sought to ensure that if there was proof that a footpath had been used for 20 years then this was ‘conclusive proof that such footpath was legally dedicated to the public as a public right of way’. The Bill was not successful.
Later in the same year, the LDDS drafted a Bill to ‘Secure to the Public the Right of Access to Mountains and Lakes in the Counties of Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire’. This draft Bill was never laid before Parliament. However, along with the actions of the CPS, it goes to show how much effort was expended in the 1880s on changing the legal environment over access to footpaths and other rights of way.
The Local Government Act of 1888 established County Councils in England and Wales. Hardwicke had been elected a Councillor for Keswick and he used his position to champion the cause for better protection of footpaths and other rights of way. He worked tirelessly, at both a local and national level, to raise awareness of the issues and to get Parliament to give powers to County Councils to take over responsibility for these lands.
Hardwicke spent time and effort in trying to get other County Councils to adopt similar resolutions and put pressure on the government to act. As late as 1892 he was writing to the Home Secretary to ask if he would receive a deputation of County Councillors to address the need for footpath preservation to become a responsibility of County Councils.
As part of his role as a Councillor, Hardwicke was appointed chairman of the Highways and Bridges Committee of Cumberland County Council. An amusing episode occurred in 1891 when he was accused by Dr Hornby, Provost of Eton, of vandalising the scenery around Keswick. The Committee had authorised the erection of guide-posts to help visitors find their way around the district. Dr Hornby was aghast at these signs which had been coated in red oxide to give them a longer life. Hornby not only remonstrated with the County Council but wrote letters to national newspapers calling for these vulgar signs to be removed. Just as Hardwicke had done many times before, Hornby started a petition to support the removal of the signs. Many influential people signed the petition including Lord Tennyson, the Bishop of Liverpool, members of the House of Lords and members of the Royal Academy. Indeed, some of these individuals would very likely have been members of the LDDS during its heyday in the 1880s. Hardwicke, however, won the day when he told his fellow County Councillors that it was always intended to re-paint the posts in green and that the benefit of helping visitors to the area far outweighed any unsightliness that they might cause.
Much had been achieved in a relatively short space of time. Footpath preservation in the Lake District had moved from being centre stage to an almost forgotten conservation issue. The KFPA had come and gone and the LDDS was no longer making headlines. The stage was set for a national approach to conservation rather than the multitude of piecemeal, and predominantly local, efforts that had prevailed for much of the 1880s.
- ‘The National Footpath Preservation Society’. Herts Advertiser, 1885, 21 February, p. 7.
- ‘“Rights of View” in Lakeland’. Pall Mall Gazette, 1886, 11 September, p. 4.
- ‘Footpath Stopping in the Lake District’. Lancashire Evening Post, 1887, 1 July, p. 4.
- WDX/422/2/4 (KRO). CPS Meeting Held 13 June 1888 to Discuss Supporting Footpath Protection Societies.
- DSO 24/7/2 (Carlisle) – Letter from W. Routh Fitzpatrick to Hills, 25 April 1890.