Back in March 1919, a local lady, Miss A Mitchum (Christian name unknown) thought it would be a grand idea to start up a walking club in Chester. In May that year, the first formal meeting of what was then (rather wordily!) known as Chester Co-operative Holidays Association and Holiday Fellowship Rambling Club was held. The Club’s name was soon shortened to Chester CHA and HF Rambling Club! The first ever Club walk happened later that month, along the River Dee to Iron Bridge.
Annual subscriptions in 1919 would have set you back 2s 6d, equating to 12½p in today’s money. Back then, walks were fairly local, with destinations including Beeston, Shotwick, Gresford, Thornton-le-Moors and Tarporley, and occasional weekends in Llangollen. Transport arrangements involved train and bus journeys, and sometimes even bikes! Monthly social events took place during the winter, offering talks, whist, music and dancing. By 1924, membership had reached well over 100.
The oldest Club programmes in our archives date back to 1931, and give us an insight into where our predecessors’ boots took them. Cheshire and Llangollen were often listed, and gradually, walks in Snowdonia were also introduced to the programme, with members travelling by bus from the Town Hall Square. A, B and C grading started in the 1930s, although these were often missing from route descriptions altogether, leaving members to take a guess at which walk was best suited to their capabilities!
The outbreak of WW2 meant that many members left to join the Forces. The Club’s walking programme continued, featuring only very local walks a short bus or train ride away. After the war, occasional coach trips resumed, allowing members to plod the hills of Snowdonia, Derbyshire and Shropshire. On the social scene, members enjoyed activities such as film nights, table tennis, concerts and theatre visits. One event in January 1965 is particularly worthy of mention: a ‘Stick Whittling and Gnurgling Evening: bring your own penknives’!
Walk details such as grading and mileage, previously a bit hit and miss, were, by the late 1960s, always included in the Club’s programme. Whilst members now had an idea of how long and strenuous rambles were going to be, there was rarely a choice of walks on any one day. Foot and mouth disease in 1967 had a devastating impact across the UK, and the Club’s winter programme that year was cancelled.
Car sharing to walk start points began in the 1970s, although buses were still the favoured mode of transport. Several coach trips ran every year, costing members an extortionate 75p – £1.10 per person in 1972!
Camping has been a popular Club activity since the first weekend trip away back in the mid-1960s. Members enjoyed these so much that by 1974 it was decided to introduce 7-day camping too! Wales and Northumberland often featured back then, and continue to be well-loved destinations for our campers today.
During the 1980s, high turnouts on Sundays confirmed the need for a choice of walks, although it was 1990 before more than one walk was regularly offered.
Foot and mouth reared its ugly head again in 2001, and wreaked havoc on the Club’s walking programme, as it had during the previous outbreak in the 1960s.
The new millennium also brought with it some new thoughts on the Club’s name and in 2004 we became Chester Rambling and Hill Walking Club. Another bold stride forwards was the creation of our first website in 2003.
Not ones to stand still, we continue to move with the times. In 2018 we took our first step into the world of social media, with the creation of a Facebook page. What would our founder, Miss Mitcham, make of all this, I wonder?
We like to think she’d be delighted that the walking club she started over 100 years ago continues heading onwards and upwards!