A SPECIAL event is due to take place in Upper Wharfedale this month in celebration of the life and work of one of the most remarkable Yorkshire scientists and historians of recent times.

Leading geologists, archaeologists, historians, naturalists and writers will meet in Grassington over the weekend of July 20 and July 21 to celebrate the life and work of Dr Arthur Raistrick, who was born in Saltaire in 1896 and died in 1991 at the age of 95.

Older residents of Grassington and Linton will well remember the familiar white haired figure, inevitably 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 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 over 330 scholarly papers and books. Many of his books on the Yorkshire Dales and Pennines in particular have become classics of their kinds, many based on lectures or classes he first gave in the Dales and elsewhere.

He was a lifelong contributor to The Dalesman which also published many of his popular books, including on the ancient green lanes of the Dales, on stone walls, on Viking settlements, on lead and zinc mines. Many are still sought after classics.

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. But 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 Gaols, an experience that led him to become a lifelong Quaker.

After the war a scholarship to Leeds University 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. However the Second World War was another personal catastrophe for Arthur and his wife Elizabeth, when he was suspended without pay for refusing to do any work related to with 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 village to a modest cottage from where they sustained themselves by writing – including many Dalesman articles and books, by teaching and also growing much of their own food in a small allotment. But in these dark and difficult years of World War Two, Dr 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. Mr Dower was tasked by Government to write what became a hugely influential report on the future of Britain’s countryside. Dr 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.

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 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 intriguing on the moderns science of palynology – fossilised pollens - where he was a worldwide pioneer, are major scientific achievements in their own right. Equally his many books and lectures on landscape history, archaeology and industrial archaeology inspired and motivated later 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 Saturday, July 20, Grassington Town Hall will be filled for a series of talks organised by the Yorkshire Geological Society by local experts on these many different aspects of Arthur Raistrick’s extraordinary scientific and literary achievements. On the following day there will be a series of field trips to various sites of historic or archaeological interest visited by Dr Raistrick on his many 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.

Tickets for both indoor and outdoor events are likely to be oversubscribed and should be booked as soon as possible in advance at www.yorksgeolsoc.org.uk/events