Review of ‘The Best of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers' Handbooks’, by George Herbert Bridges Ward

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 13th January 2003, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

THE BEST OF THE SHEFFIELD CLARION RAMBLERS' HANDBOOKS

Many a snippet of information contained in articles for the Peak Advertiser owes its origins to George Herbert Bridges Ward and the handbooks of the above title. G.H.B. Ward, as he is generally referred to, was both writer and editor of these annual pocket-sized publications. They came into being shortly after the formation of Sheffield Clarion Ramblers in 1902 and continued for some years after Ward's death in 1957.

In his own words the booklets 'contain much unrecorded information upon place names, associations and history of the moorland and valley recesses of the Peak and South Yorkshire, and many chapters of local lore, anecdote and wit.' Ward gathered his information from the Peaklanders themselves, recording what would otherwise have passed beyond memory.

The early days of rambling provide background scenery to this book, justifying Ward's claim that the 'Clarion' was the 'ice-breaker and the path finder' for lovers of the outdoors. He himself was a passionate supporter of organisations working for ramblers' interests, from footpath preservation and the protection of scenery to Access to Mountains and the creation of National Parks. The Kinder Mass Trespass of 1932 may have passed into rambling legend but G.H.B. Ward was part of an organised trespass on the forbidden heights of Bleaklow as early as 1907. He was also involved in founding the Hunter Archaeological Society and would have been fascinated by the recent major excavations on Gardom's Edge, near Baslow, since these were triggered by information from Clarion Handbooks of the 1940s.

Armed with his locally-acquired knowledge, Ward would take issue with names shown on Ordnance Survey maps. One example was Herculean Edge, subsequently corrected to its proper name of the Hurkling Stones. Ward probably picked up many anecdotes and legends in his favourite pubs, none better than the fable of the Gabriel Hounds whose unearthly cries had been heard first-hand by a shepherd of his acquaintance. The areas around Dore, Totley, Beauchief Abbey, Blackamoor and Ringinglow feature strongly in this selection of his writings, with topics as diverse as cranberry beds, coal mining, bare-knuckle prize fights and, especially, sheep farming. En route he tells us of poachers, a lady lodger 'alive' with lice, a family of basket makers and tales of hidden treasure. Handbooks of the 1940s.

The Best of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers' Handbooks is admirably edited by David Sissons and published by Halsgrove, price £14.95. Available in local bookshops or to order: ISBN 1-84114-222-0

Review by Julie Bunting


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