YDS History

Founding member of the Yorkshire Dales Society, Colin Speakman, reflects on the humble beginnings of the charity.

“What seems like an awfully long time ago now, in the autumn of 1980 a handful of Dales people met in Grassington to discuss what could be done about what they perceived to be a real problem within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Local people with a love of the special qualities of the National Park, and who believed in the protection of this special landscape, did not have a voice. Constantly, in the local press, in political comments, in readers’ letters, the perception appeared to be that somehow the National Park, was a “bad thing” preventing economic growth by draconian planning laws.

We knew this was not an accurate picture, and that the Yorkshire Dales National Park was in fact subject to the identical planning laws as in other parts of Britain. Much of the debate and negative comment was led by property developers and sympathisers, people with commercial interests who invariably had the ear of a minority of self-seeking local politicians, quick to create and capitalise on bogus anti-National Park feeling.

We knew their views were misguided, but they claimed a monopoly of local opinion. This was as far from the truth in the 1980s as it is now, though similar views are still prevalent in certain quarters today.

At the same time we also felt that there needed to be a bridge between people who loved and cared for the Dales who lived outside the National Park boundary, and those who lived within. We wanted to support the ideals of conservation of the area as a nationally important asset, whilst recognising that the only way such a special landscape of the Yorkshire Dales can be protected is through a vibrant local economy. Essentially the Yorkshire Dales is a cultural, not a purely natural landscape. A phrase we coined at that time is as true today as it was in 1980 – “A Landscape is a People”.

As a result of these early meetings it was decided to establish a Dales-based organisation to promote exactly that kind of understanding and to support Dales communities and efforts for conservation whilst at the same time creating dialogue between urban and rural communities. So in April 1981, the Yorkshire Dales Society was born.

A small committee was established, with its first Chairman, Grassington based dentist, Councillor and former Chairman of the National Park Committee, Keith Lockyer. Colin and Fleur Speakman were its first Secretaries and with help from solicitor Jerry Pearlman (who is still a member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority) the Society was successfully established as an Educational Charity and non profit distributing company.

Among our Founding members were Dr Arthur Raistrick, the great Dales historian. A limestone bench has been placed by the Society in the meadowland picnic area at Grassington National Park Centre, carved with geological and lead-mining motifs to celebrate his life and work, and commemorating him as the Yorkshire Dales Society’s Dalesman of the Millennium.

Other notable founding members were scholar, Arthur Dower, brother of John Dower who wrote the influential Dower Report which helped set up National Parks in Britain, Mrs Pauline Dower, John’s widow, the Dales author and photographer, Geoffrey Wright, and Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby, the celebrated Dales historians and writers. The Society’s select band of Vice Presidents also includes Ann Cryer, former Keighley and Ilkley MP and a lifelong campaigner for transport and the countryside, William Hague Foreign Secretary and MP for Richmondshire, and among its Honorary members are Sir Chris Bonington, the celebrated mountaineer and author.

Since those early days the Society has grown to over 1,400 members, many living within the Yorkshire Dales or Nidderdale AONB, others in nearby towns and cities, many from other parts of the UK, and some worldwide. The Society now plays a leading role within the Dales in campaigning for a prosperous, sustainable and accessible Yorkshire Dales.

The Society also works to support other Dales-based organisations. Some 12 years ago, a special cup was first presented by the Society to the Muker Show and is awarded annually to the best young hay-bailer in a competition held at the Show. We had a key role in establishing the Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance, the Yorkshire Dales Public Transport Users Group and more recently the highly successful Dales & Bowland Community Interest Company. We have also provided continuous, active support through our membership to our sister charity, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust – several YDS members are actual Trustees. We also work with local publishers to help to promote and sponsor scholarly books and texts by Dales authors.”

Page Author : Colin Speakman  -  Page last updated : 24 Novemnber  2011