Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)

Footpaths under Threat

Terry Norris (Courts & Inquiries Officer)

This article is from Signpost 53, February 2017

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave walkers the right to roam on open country, but was compromised by giving landowners section 53, which provides that footpaths and bridleways that existed on 1st January 1949, but are not recorded on the definitive map on 1st January 2026, will be extinguished. To safeguard the many unrecorded routes in the Society’s area, it is vital that applications are made to the appropriate Surveying Authority to add them to the definitive map. Paths not recorded on the definitive map which become obstructed or out of repair cannot have enforcement action taken by the Highway Authority or the Society to try and remedy matters.

Why are there so many unrecorded ways? Sometimes, powerful landowning interests influenced the process surrounding the creation of the original definitive map to ensure that routes on their land were omitted. Other paths were not properly recorded when they crossed parish boundaries or where there are gaps. The missing section on the route from the Cloud to Bridestones near Congleton was a classic example. In other cases, the process of investigation was not sufficiently rigorous, or paths were considered as obvious rights of way that were not necessary to record. Other Routes with Public Access (ORPA’s) are another concern. These are indicated by green blobs on OS maps and need to be checked against the list of streets maintainable at public expense kept by the Highway Authority under s36(6) of the Highways Act 1980.

Many applications to re-instate paths before the cut-off date will be based on historic evidence held in local and national record offices. To investigate these materials requires knowledge of the history of land use and legal changes affecting the English countryside during the 19th and 20th centuries.

An example of such material is Tithe Maps. Tithes were paid by parishioners and landowners to support the church and the parish priest, who were obliged to hand over 10% of goods from land subject to a tithe. This included crops, farm animals and wool. Tithes were often stored in tithe barns. This system existed from the Middle Ages, but became increasingly inconvenient and inefficient, being considered as a barrier to agricultural improvements. The Tithe Act 1836 allowed tithes to be commuted into a money payment. Tithe Commissioners were appointed to draw a large scale map, identifying each land parcel and measuring its acreage. This information was listed in a Tithe Apportionment. The relevance of the Tithe maps to our quest for historic evidence of highway status is that public roads were exempt from tithes and were shown on the map, generally in brown.

Original Tithe maps are held at Kew National Archives but copies are also held in local record offices. Cheshire Record Office has put all the maps online with an accompanying, current OS map so that the modern landscape can be compared with that at the time of the Tithe apportionment. If a route is shown as a highway and not on the definitive map or recorded as a public road, then its status may well be worthy of investigation.

If you know of any paths which you regard as public rights of way but which are not recorded on the definitive map please let the Society know, where they are and how long you have used the route.

Next: Peak and Northerns 120th Anniversary Celebration

Page title:Footpaths under Threat
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