February 2013

Colin Piper ‘Rights of Way – past, present and future’
February 2013

Members and visitors who attended the February meeting of the Society on a cold, uninviting evening were entitled to hope for an interesting and stimulating talk – in the event they were hardly likely to have been disappointed The speaker was Colin Piper whose subject was ‘Rights of Way, Past, Present and Future’.

Using a Power Point presentation Colin reminded the meeting that from pre-medieval through to the early nineteenth century the main form of travel was either on foot or by horse, using generally well defined paths many of which are still in evidence today, for example, those leading to the 11th century St. Hubert’s Church at Idsworth now standing isolated in the middle of a field and approachable only on footpaths. Most footpaths linked settlements or led to medieval pubs or to places of work such as farmsteads or fulling mills. The speaker illustrated several surviving examples. Going back even further, he plausibly suggested that the causeway from the mainland to Hayling Island was once an ancient footpath, possibly Iron Age or Roman.

It was not until the 19th century that the Ordnance Survey indicated public rights of way on its large scale maps. These eventually covered the whole country and resulted in stimulating interest by the local population. Confirmation of these routes and their status was required and, not surprisingly, the major input came from landowners.

As time passed, the need to identify and clarify public rights of way became more necessary and the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1948 led to the production of the first Definitive Map for Hampshire. This map is constantly being revised as more evidence and information becomes available. Conflicting issues need to be resolved leading sometimes to the diversion of footpath or sometimes evidence in support of a new or rediscovered right of way is examined and if proven is then recorded on the definitive map. As well as the general public and landowners, organizations such as the Ramblers are actively interested in rights of way and the ‘right to roam’ is currently an important topic. Over the years greater cooperation has been established between local councils and landowners in determining responsibility for the upkeep of these routes and meeting their maintenance costs. In Hampshire there is over 3000 miles of public rights of way to be considered.

Necessary and prudent consideration is being given to future needs and to the improvement of access. In Hampshire, it is felt that stiles and gates can be a hindrance, particularly for disabled or elderly walkers, so now many are being replaced with ‘kissing gates’ Consideration must be given to all users from walkers to horse riders and from cyclists to orienteers. It is an on-going responsibility the challenges of which are many and varied.

During this in-depth talk, the speaker ranged widely over the subject with competence and humour and the lively question and answer session showed clearly that it was much appreciated by the audience. The next meeting of the Society will be held on Friday 22 March when the speaker is Dr David Ride and his subject will be ‘Some Memorials in the New Forest’.