Elsie Gaskell obituary

Other lives: Campaigner for open access to the countryside whose passion for rambling began when she was a child

My mother, Elsie Gaskell, who has died aged 98, was a staunch campaigner for access to the countryside. She started rambling as a child and devoted much of her life to the cause.

Despite being profoundly deaf for the last 40 years of her life, Elsie was able to communicate her beliefs about making the open countryside accessible to everybody, speaking at Ramblers’ rallies and meetings, and rejoicing when the Ramblers finally won greater access rights in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Elsie was born in Pendlebury, Salford. Her father, William Davies, was a coal-face miner who had become a lover of the countryside after serving on the front line in the first world war. Her mother, Mary (nee Kennedy), worked in a cotton mill before her marriage. They were both active members of the Independent Labour party.

As a child, Elsie’s main interests were reading, walking and politics, influenced by the many local members of the ILP who took her for walks. With her elder sister, Eileen, Elsie had hoped to join the Kinder Scout mass trespass in 1932 but their parents would not allow it for fear of trouble.

Elsie joined the Manchester Federation of Rambling Clubs, a precursor of what became the Ramblers’ Association and is now the Ramblers; during the 1930s and 40s she and Eileen attended the annual rallies organised by the association to call for greater public access to private land.

Elsie left Cromwell Road school, Pendlebury, at 14 and trained as a comptometer operator, at which she worked through the second world war. In 1945 she met Alan Gaskell, an RAF navigator, and they were married in 1947; Alan soon discovered that being married to Elsie meant being involved in the Ramblers: together they championed access to open countryside, cleared public rights of way, and led rambles for walking groups in Yorkshire.

Elsie worked as a comptometer operator for various companies and was then a teaching assistant in a primary school. She became a magistrate in 1960, first in Cheshire, and then in Halifax, West Yorkshire; she was also a Labour member of Sowerby Bridge urban district council from the mid-1960s until 1974, when it was dissolved in reorganisation.

In 1995 Elsie was awarded a certificate of merit for outstanding service in the Labour party and with Alan, in 2000, honorary life membership of the Ramblers.

Alan died in 2016. Elsie is survived by their children, John and me, and two grandchildren, Caroline and Rachel.

Jennifer Smalley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
David Rubinstein obituary
Other lives: Social historian who wrote on education, housing, the labour movement and women’s history

Paul Lawrence

19, Aug, 2019 @3:59 PM

Article image
Enid Wistrich obituary
Other lives: Academic and dedicated Labour councillor in London

Harriet Wistrich

16, Mar, 2020 @5:01 PM

Article image
Patrick Kodikara obituary
Other Lives: Social services director, race equality activist and Labour councillor

Dinah Morley

08, Feb, 2021 @7:51 PM

Article image
Joe Hegarty obituary
Other lives: Westminster city councillor who masterminded Labour’s best-ever election results in the borough

Paul Dimoldenberg

04, Jul, 2021 @9:26 AM

Article image
Ann Groves obituary
Other lives: Labour ouncillor in Harrow who was passionate about education

David Brough

29, Oct, 2019 @6:07 PM

Article image
Colin Wedd obituary
Other lives: Former leader of Doncaster borough council who set up a racing school to train jockeys

John Cornwell

22, Jan, 2020 @5:10 PM

Article image
Catherine Finegan obituary
Other lives: Birmingham city councillor made honorary alderman for her 20 years of service

Nuala Finegan

31, Jan, 2022 @11:42 AM

Article image
David Walsh obituary
Other lives: Labour councillor, writer, campaigner, correspondent and historian

Barry Coppinger

12, Aug, 2022 @5:19 PM

Article image
Mike Jackson obituary
Other lives: Trade unionist immersed in Labour party politics in Watford and lifelong supporter of Watford FC

Sue Sleeman

06, Feb, 2022 @6:06 PM

Article image
John Needham obituary
Other lives: Open University student in the 1970s who went on to become permanent secretary of the OU student association

Gill Needham

25, Mar, 2022 @5:18 PM