How the Peak District changed outdoor life for the working class and provides solace in times of need

Borne out of a need to open up moorland and outdoor spaces for the everyday working man and woman and to prevent post war urban sprawl into lands that have been farmed for 6,000 years - the Peak District National Park was formed.

Back in 1951, the organisation started with an armband, a Land Rover and the backroom of a popular walkers’ pub. Now, as the PDNP comes to the end of its 70th anniversary year this weekend, it has developed into a spiritual sanctuary for the 13m people who visit each year as well as threatened and rare species of animals and birds.

It was the first of Britain’s 15 national parks and was designated on April 17, 1951. There was no rule book, no terms and conditions, no points of reference and the people in the organisation at the time pretty much “wrote it from scratch”.

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However, it paved the way for the likes of The North York Moors National Park and The Yorkshire Dales National Park which followed in 1952 and 1954 respectively.

The Peak District National Park comes to the end of its 70th anniversary year this weekend and was the first of Britain's 15 national parks. Picture taken at Edale.

Andrew McCloy, chair of The Peak District National Park, said: “They had to invent it all from scratch - the first warden service, the first visitor centre.

“The first warden had an armband and a Land Rover, he didn’t have a uniform. The first visitor centre was in a training room in The Nags Head pub at Edale. We didn’t have a purpose built centre and borrowed a room from a pub that was popular with walkers and we handed out maps and guide books.”

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It is the most accessible of the nation’s national parks and around 20m people live within an hour’s travel time of the Peak District.

Tom Tomlinson who was the first warden (now called rangers) at the Peak District National Park and was appointed in 1954.

However, for many years it was off-limits until the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, passed in 1949, which proved to be ground-breaking.

It followed demands and protests from people wanting to access the great outdoors for cheap and healthy exercise as an antidote to the depression of the 1930s, but had previously been kept away as land was used by the upper classes for grouse shooting.

After the Second World War there was an acceleration of development of housing, quarries, roads and a fear that the Peak District would be “swallowed up”.

Mr McCloy explains: “There was a fear that the scenery between Sheffield and Manchester would be swallowed up by development. There was a growing campaign to protect what we had. Things were starting to build up and if the landscape was not protected it would be vulnerable and there would have been shot-gun developments that would have disfigured it.

Andrew McCloy, chair of The Peak District National Park.

“That act was every bit as important as the legislation that created the NHS or the welfare system. The first batch that were designated included the Lake District, Snowdonia and Dartmoor but there was a feeling that the Peak District, because of its location, needed safe-guarding first of all.”

Now the level of activities on offer in the Peak District extend to much more than rambling. There is hang-gliding, pot-holing and scrambling - but the essence of what the Peak District offers and means to people has not changed much.

While it offered solace and healing to people after the depression and the war - the same can be said for the last two years.

Mr McCloy, moved to the Peak District 20 years ago from London and writes guide books on the area as well as being a member of a local parish council.

An early photo of a group of Peak District National Park staff and Board members.

He said: “It is really important to me that my daughters look up from their screens and understand and appreciate nature. National parks are a place where you can do that and are encouraged to, it is special to me for this reason.

“It gives me pleasure to see all these people enjoying it, being outdoors and in this natural world. The mental and physical good health the national park can bring is immeasurable.”