Our History

Some highlights...

  • We began in 1924 as Sheffield Association for the Protection of Local Scenery.
  • In 1927 we became a branch of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England representing Sheffield and the Peak District. There was no statutory planning control, no Green Belt, and the Peak District was not a national park.
  • Our first big success came in 1931, when we raised funds to buy the Longshaw Estate and save it from development. We handed it over to the National Trust for future preservation.
  • In 1932 the first Town and Country Planning Act was passed, and six years later Sheffield introduced the very first plans to protect countryside from urban sprawl.
  • In 1951 thanks in part to our lobbying and influence, the Peak District became the UK's first national park.  
  • In 1955 we stopped a 200 mph racing circuit being built just north of Dovedale.
  • We helped save Longdendale from a motorway in 1977.
  • We celebrated the 1983 launch of Sheffield's green belt to protect the countrsyide from urban sprawl.
  • In 2002 we launched ourselves as Friends of the Peak District.
  • 1970s: Longdendale/Woodhead Pass saved from motorway.
    2005: created multi-£million scheme to remove ugly electricity poles and wires in PDNP.
    2008: saved Stanton Moor from devastating quarrying.
    2010: prevented illegal quarrying from further damaging Longstone Edge.
    2012: secured £500million to get rid of pylons in NPs.
    2013: secured Traffic Regulation Orders for Long Causeway, Chapel Gate and the Roych.

Ethel's story...

Ethel Haythornthwaite was an amazing woman from Sheffield; an unsung hero who played a critical role in the formation of the UK’s first national park and first green belt. She founded the forerunner to the Friends of the Peak District back in 1924.
The Manchester based Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout is often quoted as the main event which galvanised the fight for rights of way access and national parks. But lesser known events on the other side of the hill also had a massive impact on the success of the movement.
Below are a few details about her privileged and intriguing life, penned by a woman who knew Ethel and worked for the charity in the 1960s-1990s. We also have a huge archive of material which could be drawn upon to illustrate her story, including personal letters and family photographs. We are still in contact with remaining members of her family and a few people who worked with her.
Here is a brief summary of Ethel’s life:
  • She was the daughter of (a) Mary Sophia Ward, nee Bassett - of the liquorice sweets fame, and (b) Sheffield businessman Thomas W. Ward, a self-made millionaire in today’s terms who sold scrap metal, including buying old ships and then selling them or leasing them to the government during the Boer War and WW1. He was the Master Cutler in 1913
  • Ethel and her sister Gertrude were educated at West Heath in London (where Princess Diana attended) and Ethel went on to read English Literature at London University.
  • She married Henry Gallimore in 1916 who went to war shortly after their wedding and was killed in France. Ethel was widowed and devastated at the age of 22. She suffered a nervous breakdown and, in today’s terms, severe depression.
  • Desperate to engage her in life, her family took her for walks to the nearby Peak District where she became concerned about ugly developments there, such as petrol stations and large billboards
  • She began her life’s work to preserve local scenery, became the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) local branch and campaigned tirelessly to prevent urban sprawl… 23 years before there was any planning legislation
    • If you owned land and could afford to build, you could build whatever you wished and the local authority had limited powers to stop you. And if they did stop you, they had to pay you compensation!
  • Ethel used her family contacts to buy land and/or compensate landowners in order to prevent unsuitable developments, creeping from the town to the countryside - she wanted England to be a home fit for the heroes of the WW1 to return to
  • At one stage she owned four Peak District farms and two fluorspar mines, all of which were threatened with destructive development.
  • She is even said to be responsible for used ticket receptacles on buses… to prevent litter in the countryside. She found that people would get off the bus at Fox House and drop tickets which would blow over the Longshaw Estate. So she wrote to the Sheffield bus company and they agreed. After this, all Sheffield buses and trams were fitted with ticket receptacles.
  • She knew that the only way forward was to influence, lobby and educate public opinion and in this way secure adequate planning controls within the law
  • In 1929 she held a ‘Save our Countryside’ exhibition which was attended by over 4,000 people
  • Gerald Haythornthwaite, from Bolton and 21 years her junior, came to work for Ethel in 1936. Soon afterwards, romance blossomed and they married in secret, not least because of the difference in status as well as age. Her brother later bought them a Rolls Royce as a wedding present!
    • Gerald’s father was Alderman and Mayor of Bolton and owned a successful printing works but he didn’t work there, just drew the income from it. Apparently when he died, despite leaving a pile of debts, he also left a crate of the finest champagne and several boxes of ‘Henry Clay cigars.
  • In May 1944, Ethel produced the book ‘The Peak District a National Park’ and worked towards the first Town and Country Planning Act. She plotted the proposed boundary by traversing it on her horse. 
  • The Sheffield Green Belt plan very largely based on their plan, was eventually approved by the City Council in 1938
  • Their household was of another age: they had a maid who lived in, a daily cook and a spare cook for the weekends and holidays. They had three gardeners, known only by their surnames, two cleaning ladies and an occasional handy man. Afternoon tea was served on a trolley every day – complete with silver tea set and cakes. Dinner was at 7.30pm and Ethel always changed into formal dress.
  • There were two Steinway grand pianos, and Gerald bought all his suits at Saville Row, had his shirts made to measure and would only travel 1st class on the train. Ethel somewhat disapproved of his extravagance.
  • Ethel was given an honorary degree by Sheffield University and was appointed an MBE in 1951. Gerald was similarly honoured by the university in 1963 and appointed a CBE in 1980.
  • Ethel died in April 1986 at the advanced age of 92
As Sir Chris Bonington said in the foreward to a book about the charity’s history: 
“Whatever else is forgotten, the Branch will go down in history as a major force in environmental conservation because of the achievement of its two ‘grand purposes’: the designation of a national park in the Peak District and the creation of a permanent Sheffield Green Belt. But there were so many more equally successful campaigns in the wider countryside and the urban fringe that the reader gasps with admiration. And at the head of this crusading society for so long, the tireless, single-minded and selfless Ethel and Gerald Haythornthwaite were without parallel”