ON THE weekend of July 20 and 21 a very special event will be taking place in Grassington, Upper Wharfedale - a gathering of leading local geologists, archaeologists, historians, naturalists and writers to celebrate the life and work of one of the most remarkable Yorkshire scientists and historians of recent times, Dr Arthur Raistrick (1896-1991).

Older residents of Grassington and Linton will well remember the familiar white haired figure, invariably dressed in a grey serge woollen suit and black boots, walking through the villages or waiting at the bus stop - he never owned a car.

Many people will also remember his remarkable public lectures on a variety of topics, but most memorably local industrial archaeology; typically explaining the history and technology of local lead mines and smelt mills, in a science he is widely credited to have pioneered in the UK.

Arthur Raistrick’s achievements as a scholar and academic were formidable. In his long and active life he published more than 330 scholarly papers and books. Many of his books on the Yorkshire Dales and Pennines in particular have become classics of their kind, many based on lectures or classes he first gave in the Dales and elsewhere. He was a lifelong contributor to The Dalesman magazine, who also published many of his popular books, for example on the ancient green lanes of the Dales, on stone walls, on Viking settlements and on lead and zinc mines. Many are still sought-after classics.

Arthur RaistrickArthur Raistrick

Yet he had a difficult start in life. Born in Saltaire, near Bradford, in a small terrace houses to working class parents, he won a scholarship to Bradford Grammar School but left at 16 to become an apprentice at a local electricity works.

At the start of World War One, as an already committed socialist and pacifist, he refused to either serve in the armed forces or a reserved occupation and became a conscientious objector. Though still a teenager, he was court martialled and forced to spend the war years in Wormwood Scrubs and Durham prisons, an experience that led him to become a lifelong Quaker.

After the war a scholarship to the University of Leeds enabled him to take a first degree in civil engineering and a doctorate in geology, sustaining himself by research projects and adult education classes.

In 1929 he was finally appointed as a lecturer in Geology at Armstrong College, Durham, later part of Newcastle University.

The Second World War brought another personal catastrophe for Arthur and his wife Elizabeth, when he was suspended without pay for refusing to do any work related to the production of military weapons.

They came to the Yorkshire Dales in 1939 and remained there for the rest of their lives, converting a disused barn in Linton to a modest cottage from where they sustained themselves by writing, including many Dalesman articles and books, and by teaching Workers' Educational Association classes and also growing much of their own food in a small allotment.

In these dark and difficult war years Raistrick was already helping to build as better Britain. At this time his friend and fellow Quaker, the architect John Dower, invalided out of the war, was living in Kirkby Malham.

Dower was tasked by Government to write what became a hugely influential report on the future of Britain’s countryside. Raistrick worked closely with Dower on this report, regularly walking the nine miles between his home at Linton to Kirby Malham to discuss key issues which were to find their way into the Dower Report published in 1945 as the war ended.

The document was to form the basis of the great 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act which in turn led to the setting up of Britain’s network of national parks.

Arthur at the National Park Conference in Harrogate, 1975Arthur at the National Park Conference in Harrogate, 1975

In 1954 Arthur Raistrick became an appointed member of the West Riding Committee of the new Yorkshire Dales National Park, so can truly be regarded as one of the founding fathers of the UK National Park movement and of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in particular. Known for his outspoken views on rights of way and public access - he was for many years president of the Ramblers Association - he was one of the greatest campaigners for public access rights of his time.

Equally scientists now recognise that his pioneering work on Dales glaciation undertaken in the 1930s, and on the moderns science of palynology - fossilised pollens - where he was a worldwide pioneer, are major scientific achievements. Equally his many books and lectures on landscape history, archaeology and industrial archaeology inspired and motivated generations and continue to do so. Little wonder that in 2000 the Yorkshire Dales Society, now Friends of the Dales, honoured the memory of Arthur Raistrick by naming him Dalesman of the Millennium.

On July, Grassington Town Hall will host a series of talks organised by the Yorkshire Geological Society on Raistrick’s extraordinary scientific and literary achievements. The following day there will be a series of field trips to sites of historic or archaeological interest visited by Raistrick on his teaching excursions, including the Grassington Moor mines, the ancient field systems of Upper Wharfedale, and several sites of geological interest. These events form part of the 70th Anniversary celebrations of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the 75th of the 1949 Act, achievements to which Arthur Raistrick made such a major contribution.

For tickets visit yorksgeolsoc.org.uk/events