Review of ‘Protecting The Beautiful Frame’, by Melvyn Jones

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 1st October 2001, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Melvyn Jones
ISDN 1-874718-61-X (2001)

This most enlightening book reveals the enormous debt we owe to an early group of pioneering conservationists, in particular Ethel and Gerald Haythornthwaite. From 1924 the couple were at the forefront of tireless campaigning which gave birth to the Sheffield, Peak District and South Yorkshire branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England - the CPRE.

In the 1920s the founders of the Branch were up against any number of threats to the appearance of the countryside - and the authorities were not without blame. Existing and potential blights included new reservoirs, road widening, the replacement of ancient bridges, intrusive billboards, suburban sprawl, electricity pylons and telegraph poles, quarrying expansion and even uncontrolled tipping and litter problems. Riverside rubbish tips along the Derwent were a particular problem.

Public support was essential and the Branch spread its message by means of 'lantern talks', exhibitions and publications such as The Threat to the Peak, which in 1931 offered ' ... "a humble petition and advice" to the inhabitants, visitors, owners and public bodies in whose hands the fate of the Peak District lies ... outrages possible today will be impossible twenty years hence'.

But that was slightly optimistic and during those twenty years, and well beyond, the Branch fought many major successful campaigns. There was the matter of a proposed Bakewell by-pass involving the creation of a 160' wide road across the river pastures and through Scots Gardens, passing perilously close to the two ancient bridges over the Wye. Then came talk of a new road through the Winnats and the granting of a licence to search for oil in Edale and the Snake Valley. And always the eyesore of large advertisement posters coupled with the laxity of the county council in applying relevant bye-laws. Of vital importance was the Branch's work in saving beautiful areas of land from development. With the help of Ethel's wealthy family, the Wards, and through public appeals, lands were purchased and handed over to the National Trust.

In the mid-1950s, pressure from the Branch forced the county council to 'postpone' plans for a motor racing circuit in the Peak Park which, incredibly as it seems now, would have opened up the narrow lanes of Hand Dale and Long Dale near Hartington. At around the same time, the Peak Park Planning Board selected a site near the Eagle Stone on Baslow Edge for a tea pavilion and viewing platform, to be approachable by motor traffic. This never came to fruition either.

From the 1960s there was an endless list of proposals to be fought: a trans-Pennine motorway through the Peak Park, housing developments on Green Belt land, reservoirs, road widening, helicopter sites, quarrying and open-cast mining, overhead power lines and scrapyards.

An overview of the work of the Branch today recognises the achievement of its two 'grand purposes' - the designation of the Peak District as a national park and the creation of a permanent Sheffield Green Belt. The campaigning efforts of the CPRE Sheffield, Peak District and South Yorkshire Branch, which is a registered charity, continue.

Review by Julie Bunting

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