David Sharp—designer, illustrator, writer, campaigner, organiser, walker, vice-president of the Ramblers and much else—has died aged 89. He was a great man in many respects—and all the greater for his self-effacing modesty.
His work was the public face of the Ramblers through the 1960s to 1980s. Chris Hall, who was secretary of the Ramblers from 1969-74, wrote in Making Tracks, published for the Ramblers fiftieth jubilee in 1985: ‘A professional designer and artist David has done more than any single person to give the RA a crisp public visual image over the years.’
David produced countless logos and leaflets—the Ramblers’ trademark rucksack logo, the series of policy documents Briefs for the Countryside, the logo for national footpaths week, the leaflet for national parks day 1972. He designed and wrote much of South Eastern Rambler and its successor South East Walker, packed with regional news and very popular among those receiving it. He produced exhibition screens and spoke at publicity day-schools and weekends—without complaint he would come up with brilliant, professional material at short notice and never charged a penny. His vigorous designs reflected an organisation which meant business.
But when the time came to alter the Ramblers’ look and dispense with the rucksack logo (a controversial issue which required a majority vote in favour at a special general meeting), David generously backed the change and urged delegates to vote for it. I benefited from this as I then snapped him up to revamp the Open Spaces Society’s magazine, and used his excellent, clear designs and mastheads for 20 years.
Examples of David’s ‘crisp visual images’ from Open Space.
David was the father of the Thames Path. He took the ideal, which was outlined in the Hobhouse committee report of 1947 along with the Pennine Way and a few other long-distance paths, and he made it happen. When he started work on it there were 22 missing ferries, but he found paths and joined them up, working with the planning authorities to win riverside access.
On 24 July 1996, the 175-mile Thames Path national trail was opened at the Thames Barrier. David was on TV and radio all day; he didn’t seek the publicity but handled it all with calm aplomb. The official guide was published, with David as the author. Because he wrote it himself he didn’t give himself any credit, but it was a great achievement. However, my favourite guide is his earlier one, simply produced in black and white with its fine, firm drawings and clear maps.
I walked the short stretch of path from Kew Bridge to the Mortlake Crematorium for David’s funeral on 11 May, amid cow parsley and may blossom, and thought of David and his great legacy. The path was being enjoyed on a Monday morning by numerous runners, dog walkers and ramblers. It is immensely popular.
David also played a leading role in creating the 150-mile London LOOP (London Outer Orbital Path); he recognised the importance of countryside within towns and he devised routes which were accessible to all.
He also cared deeply about the Ramblers’ organisation. With his wife Margaret he established the Richmond Group of the Ramblers. He was chairman of the vast Southern Area, which in 1984 split into a number of smaller Areas, each made up of the county adjoining London with a slice of outer London. Anyone who knows the Ramblers will appreciate how Areas jealously guard their boundaries and that alteration is extremely controversial, yet David achieved this major change without any bloodshed.
David also supported the Friends of Barnes Common, close to his home, and produced his last newsletter for them only days before he died. That’s his robust and elegant logo on their website.
David joined the Ramblers in 1948 when he heard the redoubtable Tom Stephenson speak at a public meeting with a rallying call for the right to roam. David met Margaret at a meeting of the newly-formed West London group, of which he became secretary; Tom Stephenson got to hear of David’s skills as an advertising designer and called him in to help. David and Margaret were great walkers and later their children, Jeremy, Anthony and Cathy, joined them on outings in the countryside.
The monuments to David are all around us—the paths and trails, the booklets and leaflets, and he added immeasurably to the Ramblers’ campaigning clout. He gave his life and his skills to our cause. We admire him, we respect him and we love him as a true friend of all ramblers.
You can listen to the feature about David on BBC Radio 4’s The Last Word, Friday 22 May (6 minutes in to programme).
David Sharp, 1 March 1926 – 20 April 2015