This month is the ninetieth anniversary of the journal of the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society (now known as the Open Spaces Society). The society had existed for 62 years before the first journal was produced; it is a great pity that it was started so late in the society’s history as it leaves a gap for historians.
In volume 1 no 1 of November 1927 the foreword was written by Lord Eversley, the society’s president.
He wrote: As President of the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society I have been asked to write something by way of foreword for the first issue of the Society’s Journal, which will henceforth be published at quarterly intervals [it was not].
I have long been convinced of the necessity for a Journal in order that members may be kept regularly apprised of the progress of the work, that the public may be more fully informed of the manifold activities of the Society, and that Local Authorities may have in convenient form expert technical information upon their many powers and duties in regard to the maintenance of public rights. …
The foreword continues for three pages. It covers the society’s victory in winning amendments to the Law of Property Act 1925 to protect commons from enclosure and give public rights to some commons; the work to protect public paths; the special fund which was launched during the society’s Diamond Jubilee in 1925; and the threats to commons from the military and afforestation; and to commons and village greens from arterial and by-pass roads. He concludes that ‘the Society was never more needed than at present’. Many of the points raised in the foreword are expanded upon in the 32-page journal.
Unfortunately, that is the only foreword he wrote for the next issue in August 1928 recorded his death.
The design was in keeping with the times, austere and businesslike. Thirty years later, in October 1957, the eve of the report of the Royal Commission on Common Land, the style had not changed. The society had moved, from 7 Buckingham Palace Road to 11 King’s Bench Walk and was the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society. And ten years after that we were in 166 Shaftesbury Avenue, at the top of a rather dingy building. The journal still looked much the same. It contained the text of the society’s evidence to the Gosling Committee on footpaths—which informed the Countryside Act 1968 the following year.
And then, in spring 1970, we had our first photograph on the cover, manorial waste in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park provisionally registered as common land. By now the short period of time allowed for commons registration had almost elapsed.
A further change came in autumn 1982 when the society became known as the Open Spaces Society and the journal, under deputy secretary Duncan Mackay’s editorship, was renamed Open Space. I became general secretary in April 1984 and began to write Opinion in Open Space in autumn 1985 (which means I have now written 97 Opinions). I took over as editor in autumn 1986.
In spring 1988 we moved the production of Open Space from Wincanton Press in Somerset, which was run by our treasurer Rodney Legg, to Higgs in Henley-on-Thames where the society is based. For most of the past 30 years the magazine has been produced by Pete Webb of Higgs; I am enormously grateful to him for his swift, efficient and accurate work, and the cheerful way he has put up with my irritating changes of mind and proof corrections.
In 1988 we asked David Sharp, the brilliant designer of many of the Ramblers’ publications, to review Open Space and produce new mastheads. The crisp, striking result was first displayed in autumn 1988, in which we noted the 75th anniversary of the death of our former honorary solicitor, Robert Hunter, and deplored the Countryside Commission’s proposals for public access to grouse-moor commons.
Move on another 20 years and we have the first full-colour cover (but still black and white inside).
And then five years later, we had a complete redesign and introduced colour throughout—which is the Open Space our members receive today.
The dimensions of the magazine have remained unchanged to within a few millimetres for 90 years and 270 issues. Those who have a complete set need a long shelf but at least the row of magazines is of uniform height.
Open Space and the journal before it have always been different from most membership organisations’ magazines. It focuses on what we do: fighting campaigns, explaining the law and giving our opinions and information: no froth, no frills. I hope it will always be so.