Walking Class Heroes – Terry Howard

This is the first of a series of excerpts from the forthcoming book Walking Class Heroes, in which the lives of 20 pioneers of the Right to Roam are examined. First up is Sheffield access campaigner Terry Howard.

Image right: Terry Howard by K Warrender

A man speaking in to a microphoneFirst appearances can be deceptive. When I first met Terry Howard, the redoubtable Sheffield access campaigner, I was immediately reminded of Rasputin, the Russian tsarist mystic and holy man. He had shoulder-length greying hair and a fulsome beard which reached down to his chest.

But I soon learned that that fearsome presence belied a gentle, highly intelligent man, totally in love with the moors which mark the western boundary of the Steel City.

Early sense of injustice

Howard had been introduced to the hills of the city’s famous ‘Golden Frame’ when his steelworker father Henry took him and his younger brother John on regular expeditions. They visited places like to places like Greno Woods, Wharncliffe Crags and Ecclesfield, using their meth. stove and a battered old coffee pot for picnics, and pretending they were looking for ‘treasure.’ It is a fond memory which has always stayed with Howard.

‘It was on one of these expeditions to a local moor where I think I first developed my lasting feeling of injustice of not being able to walk freely on the moors,’ he recalls.  

‘There was a mound in the distance with something on the top of it which caught our interest. Knowing it was a “private” moor, we gingerly climbed over the wall and crept along, so as not to be seen and sent back, or worse, by the gamekeeper. As we got close to it, we looked up and saw a sign which said “Private Keep Out”. I’d never forget it, and that sense of injustice has always stayed with me.’

No entry sign on a gate, wrapped in barbed wire

Woodcraft Folk

Howard was born at Manor Top, Sheffield and brought up on the Parsons Cross council estate in the north of the city. At the age of 10, in what he still regards as a seminal moment in his life, Howard joined the Woodcraft Folk, a Socialist organisation which introduced thousands of young people to the outdoors. Thereafter he spent every summer weekend rambling, youth hostelling, bivouacking and camping in the countryside around Sheffield.

‘One of my Woodcraft leaders, Basil Rawson, or Brown Eagle as we knew him, would tell us keen Woodcrafters about the Kinder and Abbey Brook mass trespasses of 1932, and how and why people such as us were not allowed to go onto those then forbidden moorlands,’ he recalls. ‘Those events gave a sense of inspiration and challenge to us youngsters.

‘I think it particularly stuck with me because of the injustice for people such as my Dad, who had spent many years fighting a war for his country, yet on his return, had to creep furtively over the moors just to admire the view.’

Howard later became a Woodcraft leader himself, taking kids from the city on rambles and camping in the countryside, as indeed he still does. ‘But always in the back of my mind was the injustice of not being able to wander freely over all the moorlands to the west of Sheffield.’

Career crossroads

By this time, Howard had left Yew Lane Secondary School with two ‘O’ Levels to his name and started work first as a TV salesman and taking other similar ‘boring’ jobs. He then started work as a forestry worker and part-time dam keeper for the water authority. He married his wife June Whitehead at Ecclesfield Church in 1966, and the couple have three children, two girls and a boy.

Howard continues: ‘It was while I was working as a dam keeper that I realised how much I was learning about the world around me, and I thought I shouldn’t keep this to myself and needed to share it with others, particularly children.’

A view down a valley with hills, stone walls and a wooden gate

He studied hard at night school and eventually qualified as a teacher at Lady Mabel College, in the stately surroundings of the Palladian pile of Wentworth Woodhouse, near Barnsley. Howard taught environmental studies at a Melton Mowbray school in Leicestershire for a few years where once again he took children out into the countryside, particularly to the Peak District. 

But all the time he was missing his beloved moors and he eventually returned to Sheffield as a supply teacher. But he often found himself asking ‘What am I doing here?’ and eventually started working for himself as a landscape gardener.

‘Right to roam’ campaign

It was shortly after returning to Sheffield from Melton Mowbray that Howard became involved in the ‘right to roam’ campaign. ‘Just before the 50th Anniversary of the Kinder Mass Trespass in 1982,’ he recalls, ‘a letter in a local newspaper asked what was being done about access in the Peak District, as there was still over 50 per cent of the moorlands in the Peak District without public access. The challenge had been made.’

A trespass walk was organised and to the surprise of Howard and the organisers, over 200 people turned out. Another walk was organised to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations in Hayfield. ‘I remember going over Jacob’s Ladder and down to Bowden Bridge and joining the gathered mass of people,’ recalls Howard. ‘I, along with others from Sheffield, was inspired by the words of Benny Rothman who had said: “We must carry on where we left off in 1932”.’

Back in Sheffield, Howard and others founded the Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland (SCAM) in 1982. This was followed by a regular programme of trespass walks over all the then-forbidden moorlands. In 1988, the group also produced a booklet entitled Freedom of the Moors, a walking guide in which every route described was a deliberate trespass. 

SCAM continued to trespass and vigorously campaign to influence the Ramblers Association to be more proactive on access. Few groups in the country did more than SCAM to give us the right to roam we now enjoy on our mountains and moorlands, and I was proud to be a member. Regular lobbying activities and meetings were held by the group with the Peak District National Park Authority to negotiate more Access Agreements or Orders on the National Park’s moorlands.

Landmark legislation

A group of people, standing on a bridge with a sign.

Of course, the Holy Grail was finally achieved with the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act in 2000. Howard recalls the feeling of achievement he felt at this partial, if not final, victory.

‘It was in November 1999 when we stood on the edge of the forbidden Midhope moors with transistor radios in hand waiting for 11 o’clock to hear what was to be in the Queen’s Speech. It was there – the Blair Government was to introduce the ‘Right to Roam’ legislation. Bottles of champagne emerged from rucksacks, and a big cheer went up. It was a celebration never to be forgotten.’ 

Howard became a founding and the longest serving member of the first Local Access Forum in the country, set up under the CROW Act to review and advise footpath authorities on improvements to public access to the countryside, when he joined the Peak District LAF in 2000. He later became chairman of the Sheffield LAF and has also served as chairman and secretary of the South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire branch of the Ramblers.

Howard has led hundreds of walks for people of all ages and abilities in all terrains, including urban areas, to explore, to understand and to enjoy their surroundings. For him, a walk on the moors was, and still is, ‘a journey of adventure, excitement, learning, challenge and exhilaration, with a feeling of a sense of place, belonging, ownership and commitment.’

Read more

Walking Class Heroes, by Roly Smith (Signal Books, £9.99) is out in November 2020.

Cover of Walking Class Heroes


Magazine of the Ramblers