Alan Gaskell, a tireless campaigner for access and founder of the Ramblers’ Calderdale Group, has died aged 93.
I have written about Alan and Elsie before on this blog, most recently in celebration of their 68th wedding anniversary last year. They told me how they met at the bus-stop late on 13 July 1945. When Alan saw Elsie he thought he knew her vaguely because he’d been organising dances for the youth club and she came to them occasionally. Alan said to me: ‘But when I saw her on that beautiful summer’s evening (double summer time), oh my word! She was a bit of all right!’
I am grateful to Alan’s son John for filling in some other details.
Alan was born at Clifton, five miles from Manchester. His father was a miner who taught him not to become a miner but to study. He went to Sunday school and sang a soprano solo in church.
On the outbreak of war he worked in the head office of Lancashire United Collieries. He volunteered as a navigator for the RAF in 1941 but was not called up until October 1942. After initial training he was sent to Rivers in Manitoba, Canada, where he qualified as Air Navigator. He served in 51 Squadron Bomber Command and eventually got promoted to warrant officer (the highest non-commissioned rank in the RAF).
Alan and Elsie Davies (sister-in-law of Phil Daley who campaigned for the right to roam in the Peak District) were married in June 1947 in Clifton. After being demobbed, Alan and his brother Jack chose to go into teaching. Alan trained as a teacher at Wymondham College in Norfolk and then taught at a primary school in Macclesfield. He moved to Triangle Primary School, near Sowerby Bridge, in 1961 as headmaster and enjoyed being able to teach as well. He stayed there until his retirement in 1980.
I knew Alan and Elsie through the Ramblers. Besides being founders of the Calderdale Group, they were vice-presidents of West Riding Area, and were made honorary members of the Ramblers in 2000 in honour of their huge contribution towards the Countryside and Rights of Way Act and freedom to roam on mapped open country.
Alan told me: ‘Elsie got me into the Ramblers. I liked walking rather than rambling, the footpaths that I knew locally. When Elsie realised what my job was (I worked with Mercator maps) she said “you’ll know something about maps”.’ She persuaded Alan to walk with the Ramblers—and once he was involved there was no stopping him.
Alan and Elsie came to every rally to call for a right of access, on windy hillsides and bleak moorlands: Boulsworth Hill, Widdop Reservoir, and other forbidden moors in the South Pennines, West Riding and Peak District. They lobbied tirelessly and led countless walks to show people the significance of the campaign.
Gwen Goddard of West Riding Ramblers writes: ‘Alan was a staunch supporter of all things walking and an indefatigable campaigner. Additionally he was a kind and generous man who was loved by all who came into close contact with him. He had a dry sense of humour and I remember him sometimes delivering wonderful one-liners thereby relieving the tension of awkward meetings.’
I send my deepest sympathy to Elsie and their daughter Jennifer and son John and grandchildren Rachel and Caroline. Alan will be greatly missed, in rambling circles and far beyond.
William Alan Gaskell, born 24 March 1922, died 25 February 2016