At the end of the Second World War, John Gordon Dower – the secretary of the Standing Committee on National Parks – was asked to write a report on how the National Park model might work in England and Wales.
Born in Ilkley in 1900, the architect and planner lived in Malhamdale here in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. He was a keen fly fisherman and rambler, and was once President of the Ramblers Association.
He studied at Cambridge and passed the Royal Institute of British Architects’ exams by self-tuition.
He set up in private practice in 1931, specialising in housing and town planning. John was an active member of the Town Planning Institute and pressure group Political and Economic Planning. He became increasingly involved in discussions about the extent and nature of national planning.
In 1929, John married Pauline Trevelyan whose father, Sir Charles, involved in one of the early access to mountains bills as a young Liberal MP. Her uncle, George Macaulay Trevelyan, was president of the Youth Hostels Association and a major benefactor to the National Trust.
‘The Case for National Parks in Britain’
John’s involvement in rural planning developed through his partnership with the architect and planner William Harding Thompson. He also worked on extensive surveys of south-west England for the then Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and Somerset county council. Over 40,000 copies of his pamphlet ‘The Case for National Parks in Great Britain’ were distributed in 1938, accompanied by a vigorous press campaign and a series of public meetings.
The war years
In 1939 he drafted a ‘Summary of proposed provisions for a national parks bill’, envisaging a national parks commission that would designate both national parks and nature sanctuaries and act as the planning authority within those areas.
He was appointed to a small section charged with planning post-war reconstruction and given oversight of rural policy in 1942. In 1943 John delivered a paper to the Royal Institute of British Architects arguing that the holiday use of the countryside and coast was second to none in giving physical, mental, and spiritual health and happiness to ‘the whole mass of the people’.
John Dower’s pivotal White Paper
His White Paper published in 1945 was pivotal in establishing the principles by which National Parks were to be designated. He saw them as extensive areas of beautiful and relatively wild country for the nation’s benefit. He believed that National Parks should meet the objectives that:
- the characteristic landscape had to be strictly preserved
- access and facilities for public open-air enjoyment were amply provided
- wildlife and buildings and places of architectural and historic interest were suitably protected
- ‘established farming use’ was effectively maintained
Sadly John never saw his plans come to fruition as he died of tuberculosis in 1947.
However his report combined with the recommendations of a committee chaired by Sir Arthur Hobhouse that 12 national parks be established had a huge impact. On 16 December 1949 the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed. Introducing the Second Reading of the Bill in Parliament on 31 March 1949, minister of town and country planning Lewis Silkin described it as: “a people’s charter for the open air”.
Youth Hostel Association
Malham Youth Hostel (pictured above), which opened in 1938, was designed by John Dower and was the first purpose-built Youth Hostel in Yorkshire.
John believed passionately that the countryside should be there for all to enjoy, whatever their background. The Youth Hostel movement was one of the ways that young working class people at that time could access these beautiful places. The hostel was dedicated to John’s memory in 1948.
Dower’s remit in 1945 did not extend to Scotland where Sir Douglas Ramsay and mountaineer Bill Murray were preparing a parallel report. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms eventually became Scotland’s first National Parks after the creation of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999.