Friends First – GHB Ward and the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers

Jack Jordan and GHB Ward (right) in the 1950s

Later this year we’ll be creating a new display at Weston Park Museum focusing on George Herbert Bridges, countryside campaigner and the founder of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers Club. Here’s Curator of Social history, Clara Morgan, with a special preview of what’ll you’ll see:

Back in 2018, as part of the Protest and Activism project, Museums Sheffield was lucky enough to acquire an important collection belonging to George Herbert Bridges Ward (1876-1957), the founder of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers Club. We are currently working on a new display for the Sheffield Life and Times gallery at Weston Park Museum which will celebrate Ward, the Club, and the campaign for access to the countryside. In this Friends First, we wanted to share with you the story of GHB Ward’s life, his work and some of the fascinating objects selected for display.

GHB Ward’s walking boots

GHB Ward was born in Sheffield and lived on Cricket Inn Road with his parents and sister, and then with his wife and three children. The census shows that he worked in Sheffield’s metalworking industries. He was an active trade union member in the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, first secretary of the Sheffield branch of the Labour Representation Committee and interested in the socialist movement.

‘Clarion’ is a name associated with various socialist groups in the early 20th century – some were very political; others were more like social groups for like-minded people. Sheffield, for example, had a Clarion Club house at Dore, a Clarion Cycling Club and Sheffield Clarion Glee Club. After advertising in the Clarion newspaper, Ward led the first walk for what was to become the Sheffield Clarion Rambling Club on 2nd September 1900.

GHB Ward’s compass

The following year, the Club was officially formed to connect people to nature and provide companionable and interesting walks and fresh air away from the industrial city. Membership was one shilling to make it affordable for the working men and women it was aimed at. At its peak, there were 200 members, with walks every weekend and regular social activities. Ward believed that walking together and connecting with nature and the landscape was one of the best experiences in life and that it allowed a kind of personal freedom.

The first official pocket-sized handbook for the club was produced in 1902 and during his lifetime, GHB Ward continued to edit and write most of the content. This included not just a description of the planned walk routes, but also interesting historical facts and essays about places and people, poems, literary quotes and walking songs. Handbook examples in the city’s collections range from the 1909 edition (which belonged to Jack Jordan, one of the first members of the club) to the last 2014 edition.

1909 handbook

Ward was determined to keep ancient rights of way open over the moorland and open up public access, often in opposition to landowners and gamekeepers. He researched the landscape and was part of various organisations championing access to the countryside. This included the Sheffield and District Ramblers Association, which was one of the precursors of todays Rambling Association.

In 1945, friends and supporters raised money for the Sheffield & District Federation of the Ramblers Association to buy the summit of Lose Hill, and it was presented to Ward for his services to rambling, along with a beautiful handmade presentation book listing the contributors. As you might expect, he immediately gave the land to the National Trust for the public to enjoy.

Presentation book given to GHB Ward in 1945 for Lose Hill

The club continued for many more years until it was disbanded in 2015. GHB Ward’s collection, which is also supplemented by further items from Terry Howard (a former member of the club and current campaigner for access to the countryside), includes Ward’s walking boots, compass, pocket barometer, binoculars, pipe, backpack, photographs, club handbooks, paper archive, as well as his jacket, waistcoat and flat cap. George Herbert Bridges Ward passed away in 1957, and the Club included personal memories and a tribute to him in the next handbook, which ended with:

“One thing is completely certain - if it is given to the spirit of man to return at all to what he most loved in life, then the founder of this club and this book will still be roaming the Pennines he knew so well.”

GHB Ward and the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers will be on display in the Sheffield Life and Times gallery at Weston Park Museum later this year.


Images (top to bottom): 

  • Jack Jordan and GHB Ward (right) in the 1950s
  • GHB Ward’s walking boots
  • GHB Ward’s compass
  • 1909 handbook
  • Presentation book given to GHB Ward in 1945 for Lose Hill

Reference: “The best of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers’ Handbooks, ‘Ward’s Piece’”, Edited by David Sissons


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