Submission to the Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Scheme

Col. Wytton Perowne d'Arcy Dalton (1893 – 1981)

Two very important contributions were made by d'Arcy Dalton toward the preservation and enhancement of Oxfordshire's Public Rights of Way network. Firstly, in 1933 he was responsible for the production of a map (reprinted in 1935), showing in clear detail those footpaths and bridle paths which the then Oxford and District Footpaths, Bridlepaths and Commons Preservation Society deemed to be public rights of way. Secondly, he worked tirelessly throughout the period 1949 – 1958 to ensure that as many P[ublic] R[ights] o[f] W[ay] as possible received legal protection through being included on the Definitive Map and listed on the Definitive Statement.

The inter-war years saw a rapid decline in the public use of footpaths and bridle paths and there was grave concern that if this process continued large sections of the network would be lost for ever. The Oxford and District Footpaths, Bridlepaths and Commons Preservation Society thus came into being in 1926. Its primary aim was the organisation of a programme of regular walks, coupled with the determination to challenge any attempt by farmers and landowners to obstruct or close off any of the footpaths.

The Society numbered some of the great and the good of Oxford and its environs among its officers, but the real work was done by the Secretary F. C. Roby, and especially by d'Arcy Dalton as Assistant Secretary. They were assiduous in following up any reports that came to their notice of paths that were in danger. It was d'Arcy Dalton who had the idea of producing a map, at a suitable scale of 2 miles to the inch and covering some 144 square mile in area, centred on the City of Oxford, which would show all those footpaths which the Society deemed to be PRoWs. It took two years to compile because d'Arcy Dalton, assisted by 2 fellow committee members, needed to check the route of every path that was to be shown on the map before it was printed by the Ordnance Survey. The first edition, published in 1933, ran to 1,000 copies. It quickly sold out and a reprint of a further 1,000 followed in 1935.

The Oxford Society was the fourth local society of the National Association of Footpaths, Bridlepaths and Commons Preservation Societies to publish such a map, the others being North Wirral, Middlesex and Buckinghamshire (Barnet area), and Watford. Cambridge followed in 1935. This map was of great significance as, by highlighting in red those paths deemed to be PRoWs, it emphasised the PRoW network.

The rapid sale of the first print run demonstrated the interest of the general public and gave a tremendous boost in publicity to the work of the Society. Upon the death of Roby in May 1940 d'Arcy Dalton was elected Secretary. Later, d'Arcy Dalton being on war service, the affairs of the Society were handled by a Mr G.A Bennett. Immediately after the war ended d'Arcy Dalton returned as Secretary and in 1945 oversaw the production and publication of a further edition of the PRoW map. This edition too was very well received.

However, d'Arcy Dalton's greatest contribution to Oxfordshire's PRoW network came about in the post-war period following the 1949 legislation of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. This Act imposed on County Councils the obligation to prepare in three stages, Draft, Provisional and Definitive, Maps showing all those footpaths which needed to be registered as PRoWs. The two County Councils of Oxfordshire and Berkshire devolved to each parish council the responsibility for identifying, and listing in detail, all the PRoWs in its area.

This process started in 1950 and took up all of d'Arcy Dalton's time. As Secretary of the Society he took a lead in assisting any parish councils who requested help in compiling the lists of PRoWs. The Society's pre-war map proved to be of inestimable value in identifying every path in those parishes shown on it which was considered to be a PRoW. In June 1953 Oxfordshire published its Draft Map. The County Council received objections - mainly from farmers and landowners - in respect of 497 paths. The Society itself claimed 135 paths which had been excluded by the County Council from its Draft Map.

During the years 1954, 1955 and 1956 d'Arcy Dalton attended full-day hearings dealing with over 130 paths at various parish centres, including some of those claimed by the Society. This involved a great deal of research, for in every disputed case d'Arcy Dalton needed to prove the validity of the Society's claim. This was often found in the records of enclosure awards. Further evidence came from interviewing possible witnesses who could claim many years usage of the disputed paths. Apart from those settled at the hearings, the Society was successful in 57 contested cases of paths, failing in 12.

Some notable successes were in respect of the entire Thames towpath from Henley to Oxford, the Pinkhill Farm and Lock path, the Wick Farm bridleway and the bridleway from Great Milton to Haseley. The survey started later in North Berkshire where hearings on the Draft Map were not held until 1957-8. D'Arcy Dalton again attended 8 of these, not only claiming 25 paths in Abingdon Rural District on behalf of the Society, but also contesting owners' objections. As a result many paths were saved, especially within the parishes of Cumnor and Wootton (including Boars Hill) and in Wallingford town.

D'Arcy Dalton, having joined the Footpaths Society as one of its founding members in 1926, continued as member for 55 years until his death in 1981. He became Chairman in 1959 and in 1977 President of the Society. In 1986 a long-distance (60+ miles) way across the Oxfordshire Cotswolds from Wormleighton (Warks.) to The Ridgeway at Wayland's Smithy was named in his honour. He was also a member of the executive committee of both the CPRE (which stood for Council for the Preservation of Rural England at that time) and the Oxford Preservation Trust, and it was with his help that the Oxford Area Youth Hostels Association was established.

Thus d'Arcy Dalton was instrumental in saving many miles of PRoWs which otherwise would have been lost to the successive generations of Oxfordshire walkers and horse riders who use and enjoy them today, and will continue to do so in the years to come. For all his squirearchical name and military background, he was a real man of the people. His great legacy is as the indefatigable, fearless champion and defender of Oxfordshire's rights of way, and it for this that the Oxford Fieldpaths Society would like to nominate him for a Blue Plaque. For many years he lived at ‘Wyverns’ (now called ‘The Limes’) in Great Milton, OX44 7NJ.

Jim Parke