Jerry Pearlman, the ramblers’ advocate

If a Jaguar displaying the licence plate JJP 200 was parked outside the meeting place, you knew you would have an interesting time.  Jerry Pearlman did not attempt to disguise his presence and he would always have something relevant to say.



Jerry was honorary solicitor for the Ramblers for more than 30 years.  He practised as a lawyer in Leeds for 60 years, and while his firm was involved in routine matters, Jerry took on cases in defence of public paths, common land and access to open country.


Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, christmas 2017

Born in 1933 in Redcar in the then North Riding of Yorkshire, Jerry spent his childhood in Keighley and Bishop Auckland where he went walking in the countryside with his father, Sam.  At that time he decided he wanted to be a lawyer and he took a Bachelor of Laws degree from London University.

Jerry and Bernice met on a ramble to Ingleton which he had organised for the Jewish Society in 1957, and they were married in 1961.  They had two daughters, Kate and Debbie, and three grandchildren, Mark, Alex and Jacob.

I first met Jerry on 23 November 1975 at Cator on Dartmoor, the house of Guy and Sylvia Sayer where I encountered so many important figures in our movement.  Jerry had come to Dartmoor to represent the Ramblers at the Sharp inquiry into military training there.  My diary wrongly refers to him as Gerry, but I later learnt that this was not such a heinous error after all.  As his daughter Debbie said at his funeral: ‘There was a slight mix-up with his naming.  His father registered him as Joseph Joshua but he failed to tell his wife who called her new son Gerald.  And thus he was called.  Jerry only found out his real names when he joined the army in 1955 and saw his birth certificate.  Hence he was Jerry with a J, or known to some of us as JJ.’

To return to the Sharp inquiry, Jerry was a formidable opponent then and remained so for many decades—it was always best to be on the same side as Jerry.

I last saw Jerry in October when we fulfilled his long-held desire for a gathering to unveil the plaque on his cottage at Stalling Busk; this commemorates a Ramblers’ meeting there in 1996 to prepare for the freedom-to-roam legislation.

Paddy, Janet, Kate, Jerry with the draft Bill

Paddy Tipping, Janet Street-Porter and Jerry holding the Access Bill which Jerry drafted, outside Jerry’s cottage at Stalling Busk where Janet had just unveiled the plaque, 7 October 2017

Jerry was involved in hundreds of cases, in court and at public inquiries, representing the Ramblers or the Open Spaces Society, these confirmed our rights and clarified the law on paths.

Probably his greatest victory was in the House of Lords, the landmark Godmanchester and Drain case (2007), which set an important precedent for those claiming public paths.  And the case involving the most paths must have been the Ombersley ‘rationalisation’ scheme in the then Hereford and Worcester which threatened to divert more than one hundred paths, defeated by Jerry in 1994.

JJP at Alan's event 3 May 1998 cropped

Jerry speaking at the event at Ribblehead in the Yorkshire Dales to mark Alan Mattingly’s retirement as director of the Ramblers, 3 May 1998

Jerry worked tirelessly to help the Ramblers and me reopen the notoriously blocked ‘Hoogstraten’ footpath in East Sussex, supporting and encouraging me in my decision to go first to the magistrates’ court, and then to the high court and court of appeal where I eventually won.  It was a great day when I donned a hard hat and opened the locked gates with bolt cutters, and much of the success was due to Jerry’s brilliance and persistence.

web bolt cutters 2

Reopening the illegally-blocked Framfield footpath 9

Jerry was a leader in the campaign for the right to roam and drafted the bill which later formed the basis for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000; he attended the sessions in parliament as the bill ground its way through, briefing MPs and Peers with clever arguments.  He also exposed the iniquity of inheritance-tax exemption whereby landowners were let off paying tax if they opened their land to the public.  In his 1992 booklet ‘Give us some quo for our quid!’ he showed that the land thus ‘opened’ to the public was largely kept secret by the owners, was tiny in amount and only temporarily available.

On Pen-y-Ghent smaller

Jerry on Pen-y-Ghent with his wife Bernice, daughter Debbie and son-in-law Andrew Hougie, and grandchildren Alex and Jacob

Jerry was a powerful advocate for national parks and especially his beloved Yorkshire Dales.  In 1966 the Pearlmans bought a cottage at Stalling Busk in Raydale, and for 18 years (1983-92 and 1998-2007) Jerry served as a secretary of state appointee on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, a record for this park. His service culminated in a term as deputy chairman.

He was a vice-president of the Ramblers (2005) and president of its West Riding Area (2004), a trustee of the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, a founder member and trustee of the Yorkshire Dales Society, and former chairman of the Open Spaces Society and of the Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Access Forum—to name a few of his many positions.

Grand National
Those who attended Ramblers’ general council in the past will remember Jerry’s interventions, always witty and thought-provoking, often controversial and influential in the debate.

Rucksack summer 1980 JJP

From Rucksack, summer 1980.

He loved gadgets and, in the days before the mobile newsflash, would intervene ‘on a point of information’ to tell us who had just won the Grand National which he had been surreptitiously watching on his tiny television.

grand national

Grand National

In semi-retirement Jerry took up a new career as a cruise-ship lecturer.  He offered a choice of five talks.  Number one was advertised as ‘Some Environmental Legal Nutcases: This is my “lead” lecture telling the story of three unusual individuals who used the law and history to win environmental victories.  It is quite funny and always well received.’

He loved music.  When his youngest grandson, Jacob, was born in 2003 Bernice went to assist Debbie, leaving a spare ticket for Glyndebourne which Jerry offered to me.  The Marriage of Figaro on a summer’s evening with delightful company—who could ask for more?

Jacob (smaller)

Jerry with his grandson Jacob, setting off on his first solo walk from their cottage in Stalling Busk, May 2017

I shall remember Jerry with affection and admiration.  He was clever, witty, opinionated, fun and immensely kind and generous.  He was certainly unique.

Jerry Pearlman, 26 April 1933 – 9 March 2018.

See also the Ramblers’ blog, which has a shorter version of this obituary.  I have also written Other Lives for the Guardian which you can read here.

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, campaigns, commons, National parks, Obituary, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, Ramblers, walking and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Jerry Pearlman, the ramblers’ advocate

  1. Geoff Mullett says:

    Thank you for that obituary Kate. He will indeed be missed, and there will be an empty space at Bangor this weekend.
    See you there.

  2. Yes indeed, there will be tributes to him there.

  3. John Bainbridge says:

    Grand man. Great Campaigner.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s