In July 1932, six men from Manchester stood trail in Derby Assizes court for unlawful assembly and breach of the peace, but strangely not for the reason they would become most famous for. They had been part of gathering of several hundred young people from Manchester and Sheffield who had united to take on the forces of the establishment to fight for greater access to the moorlands between the two cites. The occasion became known as the Kinder Trespass.
Rambling as a pastime had been growing in popularity, particularly in the northern cities, for over 50 years. At a time of increasing industrialisation, when living conditions where often cramped and dirty, there was a real desire to escape to the open spaces of the countryside. The moorlands stretching between Manchester and Sheffield, particularly the Kinder Scout plateau, had a hold on many people’s imaginations. The problem was that most of this land was closed to walkers. While there were paths around Kinder Scout, there was not a single path across it, and the land was closely guarded by gamekeepers to ensure no-one strayed from the often crowded footpaths.
The rambling clubs that had developed in the northern cities in the late 19th century had longed campaigned for greater access to the vast stretches of moorland. While there had been some successes in negotiating greater access with individual landowners, their success can be symbolised in the progress of the Access to Mountains (Scotland Bill). Between 1884 and 1932, this bill was presented to Parliament 18 times, and failed every time. The landowners during this period used any means possible to prevent access to their land, knowing they had the full weight of the law behind them.
By 1932, this failure of legal means caused great frustration among many young ramblers. At a time of rising unemployment, a group of Manchester ramblers decided it was time to take matters into their own hands. Organised by The British Workers Sports Federation and The Rambler’s Right Movement, ramblers were invited through notices in the local press to be part of a mass trespass on Kinder Scout. It was felt that with enough numbers there was no way the gamekeepers could stop the ramblers getting to their goal.
On Sunday 24th April 1932, about 400 ramblers gathered in the village of Hayfield to begin their trespass. With so much advance notice in the press, the local authorities had time to try and do what they could to prevent the trespass. The Manchester Police spent a week trying to serve an injunction on one of organisers, Benny Rothman, an unemployed motor mechanic, at his home in order to prevent him attending the trespass. But every time they visited he was not there. The police then tried to serve the injunction at the railway stations in Manchester and at Hayfield on the day of the trespass, but they did not realise that Rothman could not afford the train fare, so cycled to Hayfield instead, once again avoiding the police. The ramblers marched through the lanes of Hayfield singing songs and met at a quarry. After listening to a speech by Rothman about the history of the fight for access, the ramblers began their march up Kinder.
As the ramblers came up William Clough, on the slopes of Sandy Heys, a group of gamekeepers were spotted, and a small number of ramblers scrabbled up the slopes to meet the gamekeepers. A scuffle broke out between the two sides, blows were exchanged, and gamekeeper Edward Beaver was found lying on the ground with a twisted ankle. The ramblers would later claim he simply slipped on the slope, while the police claimed that one of the ramblers, John Thomas Anderson, had attacked Beaver, and later charged him with causing grievous bodily harm.
The ramblers continued along the path and met with a group of Sheffield ramblers who had come over via Edale. A victory meeting was held at Ashop Head, and then the group headed back to Hayfield. Back in the village, the police arrested six men, including Rothman and Anderson, who spent the night at New Mills Police Station. At their trail at Derby Assize court in July 1932, the group were charged with unlawful assembly and breach of the peace, but not trespass because the victory meeting was held on a public path. Five were found guilty, and sentenced to between two and six months imprisonment.
There were differences of opinion as to what the trespass achieved amongst the rambling movement. Rothman felt it had created good publicity nationally, as many people felt the sentences were unnecessarily harsh. Rothman pointed to the fact that a record 10,000 people attended the annual Ramblers rally at the Winnats Pass in Castleton that year. The people were very angry at the treatment of the trespassers, and songs such as ‘The Red Flag’ and ‘The Internationale’ were sung instead of the usual rambler’s songs.
The National Council of the Ramblers’ Federation disagreed, fearing it would in fact harm their work towards greater access. Nothing really changed in the years after the trespass, until the Mountain Access Bill was finally passed in 1939. However, there were so many limits placed on the bill that many felt it achieved little. The Second World War also prevented the bill from ever being properly implemented. It was not until the 1949 National Park Act, which led to the creation of the Peak Park, the country’s first national park, that the ramblers were finally able to get access to the moor land.
But most moor land around the country was still not accessible to the public, and for many years 60% of all access land in the county was in the Peak District. It wasn’t until the passing of The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 that many of the goals of the ramblers were finally achieved, 116 years after the first attempt to get the Access to Mountains Act passed. Whatever the views on the trespass, it was one part of a very long struggle to gain access to the beautiful countryside of this country, a struggle that still goes on.Benjamin Longden.