On 5 October about 60 Ramblers’ volunteers met at the Birmingham and Midland Institute to talk about their work to research and record historic routes. We have to beat the 2026 guillotine, when many ancient, unrecorded routes will be extinguished. The path workers have a huge knowledge and ability and we all learnt a lot from each other.
It was especially good to meet at the Institute, a historic venue for Ramblers. A plaque in the reception marks the centenary of the Institute Ramblers in 1994. The Institute’s students and teachers formed a ramblers’ group in 1894, which was the forerunner of the Ramblers’ Midlands Federation.
Michael Bird, in The Midland Area of the Ramblers’ Association, 1930-1987 (download here) tells us:
The formation of the Midland Federation is described in a memoir written 45 years later, by George Skett of the Institute Ramblers, and is the only account we have: One Saturday afternoon in the early weeks of 1930, a party of Institute Ramblers could have been seen walking along the lower slopes of the Clent Hills, prior to returning to town for their Annual Meeting. I, then a young man of twenty-eight and very young for my age, caught up with an older member, a Mr. Burton, and chatted about several footpath obstructions recently encountered. We both regretted that no local footpath society existed to whom such matters could be referred. During the evening Mr. Burton moved and I seconded a motion that steps should be taken to bring about the formation of such an organisation. Resulting from this motion, the Secretary of the Institute Ramblers, Alan Anderson, convened a meeting to which all local rambling clubs were invited to send representatives.
That meeting was held on 9 September 1930 and was soon followed by a second meeting at the Institute on 13 November 1930; this was the inaugural meeting of the Midland Federation of Ramblers (which became part of the Ramblers in 1935).
Once definitive maps were established in law, the Midland Ramblers worked prodigiously to claim paths over a wide area. I mention this in the foreword to the Midland Area history:
We forget just what an extensive territory the Area covered. That is particularly significant when we read of how its members claimed paths for the first definitive map of rights of way and then checked the draft maps for omissions. This was in the early fifties, when fewer people had cars—yet they had to cover an area from Montgomeryshire to Northamptonshire, from Staffordshire to Herefordshire, largely from the stronghold of Birmingham. It is hard to conceive now how they achieved this.
The work we must do today to ensure that unrecorded historic routes are saved is a similarly massive task. We did it then and we shall do it now.