From the Chairman

Two important events took place in the year 1926:

  • April 21st saw the birth of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, Princess of York, who as a result of the abdication of her uncle became our Queen.
  • And on January 26th 70 people gathered at Oriel College to discuss the spread of the City of Oxford into the countryside. They were deeply concerned that creeping urbanisation was destroying the footpaths and bridleways; what is more, farmers were blocking up these rights of way on the grounds that they were no longer being used.

The notice advertising the meeting read thus:
‘Unless something is done to protect these (rights of way), many of them will fall out of use and be forgotten. The ordinary road has more and more become either dangerous or disagreeable for the pedestrian, hence the preservation of the footpaths and bridlepaths is more necessary than ever. The latter are generally safer, quieter and pleasanter than modern roads and bring one into much closer touch with the real country’. (As true today as it was then.)

On that auspicious day it was agreed to form ‘The Society for the Preservation of Footpaths, Bridlepaths and Commons in the neighbourhood of Oxford.’ Although the Society changed its name to the Oxford Fieldpaths Society it has remained true to its founding vision, continuing to walk and to keep open all Public Rights of Way, not only in the vicinity of the city but throughout the whole of the county of Oxfordshire.

A founding member was a certain Wytton Perowne d'Arcy Dalton. As Honorary Assistant Secretary he came up with the idea of producing a map, centred on Oxford, to show all the paths (covering an area of 144 square miles), which the Society considered to be Public rights of Way. He masterminded the entire project, overseeing publication in 1933 of an initial print-run of 1000 copies. These quickly sold out and 1935 saw a reprint of a further 1000 copies. After the Second World War, d'Arcy, by then Secretary of the Society, was present at every one of the many hearings called by the County Council to hear objections by landowners to proposals made by the Society to list paths as legally-protected Public Rights of Way. At over 130 of these hearings d'Arcy was successful in ensuring the legal definition of these paths as Public rights of Way.

In 1959 d'Arcy became Chairman of the Society and then President in 1977. I am delighted to record that the Oxford Blue Plaque Board has agreed to a recommendation made by the Society that a Blue Plaque should be erected to the memory of d'Arcy Dalton, a true ‘Defender and Champion of Oxfordshire Public Rights of Way’. For many years the d'Arcy Dalton family lived at ‘Wyverns’ in Great Milton. A footpath passes in front of the house so it is fitting that any walker using it will see our Blue Plaque and be reminded of his name and the tremendous contribution he made to the preservation of so many footpaths throughout the county.

This year, as part of its continuing programme to make the path network more accessible to all, the Society has funded the replacing of stiles with gates, each one bearing the Society's commemorative plaque. You can find our gates at Lyneham and Churchill on the d'Arcy Dalton Way, at Garsington on the Green Belt Way, and at Chastleton on the Cotswold Way link.

Anne Partridge affixes the OFS plaque on a new kissing gate on the d'Arcy Dalton Way at Lyneham Anne Partridge affixes the OFS plaque on a new kissing gate on the d’Arcy Dalton Way at Lyneham Photo: Jim Parke

By the time you read this article I hope you will all have enjoyed the events organised for this celebratory year. Thanks to the initiative of Margaret Jones and Adam, the whole 66 mile length of the long-distance recreational walk, the d'Arcy Dalton Way, will have been traversed over the May and the August Bank Holidays. Our 90th Birthday Dinner will have taken place on June 17th at the Oxford Golf Club, and two 90th Birthday walks and a celebratory afternoon tea at Checkendon in September. Our grateful thanks go to Sue Crisp and Alison Broadbridge for organising these two events.