How the Kinder Scout trespass 90 years ago contributed to the fight for greater access to the countryside
Ninety years ago, Sheffield walkers were among hundreds of men and women made their way over hills and moorland to trespass onto Kinder Scout, the Derbyshire plateau that would later become the highest point of the Peak District National Park.
Their hope that day, on April 24, 1932, was that landowners would open a public route through the moorland, allowing walkers to access the countryside.
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Nine decades on, at an anniversary event this weekend just gone, author Keith Warrender launched a new book that claims to be the most comprehensive publication ever written about the trespass, a key protest in the campaign for ramblers’ right to roam in the nation’s open country land.
Heading up the group was Benny Rothman, of the Lancashire branch of the British Workers’ Sports Federation (BWSF), which organised walks and cycling trips for young workers from Manchester and surrounding mill towns.
Warrender, who writes about Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Peak District, came to know him following the publication of his first book High Peak Faces and Places in the late 1970s.
“The book included a section on the Kinder trespass”, Warrender says, “and at that stage I didn’t know too much about it but I found that the leader of it, Benny Rothman actually lived just around the corner from me in Timperley. I got to know him very well.”
A few years later, with the 50th anniversary of the trespass, Warrender encouraged Rothman to give his account of the event in a book and in 2012, he republished that account, alongside information from his own research on the trespass in a volume entitled The Battle for Kinder Scout.
Now, in his latest work Forbidden Kinder, Warrender sets out to “reveal the truth” behind many claims about the trespass, setting the scene on how Kinder Scout became “forbidden” for walkers and then outlining the fight to make it open to all.
Before the 1860s, though the land was privately owned, Warrender says walkers had little problem accessing areas like Kinder Scout. “But as grouse shooting became more commercially viable, landowners took measures to keep walkers off,” he explains.
“For many years walkers had been frustrated by the lack of progress in getting access to the high moorland areas in [what was to be] the Peak District. These were grouse shooting moors and the landowners, as they saw it, wanted to preserve these grouse moors and didn’t want walkers going on to them.”
If people walked onto private land, they would be confronted by gamekeepers and moved along. “It’s true that some walkers deliberately trespassed because they quite liked the excitement of trying to avoid and evade the keepers,” Warrender claims. “But generally your heart was in your mouth I think if you went onto areas like Kinder because you could well be apprehended.”
Frustrated by the lack of progress made by ramblers’ federations towards the right to roam, members of the Lancashire branch of the BWSF decided they would stage a public mass trespass onto Kinder Scout. Around 400 people are believed to have taken part.
Warrender, who previously worked as a graphic designer in local government, spent time trying to track down their families and collate their stories for his latest book, which features around 70 of the trespassers.
The BWSF had called for a rally in the village of Hayfield, which reportedly drew in a third of the Derbyshire police force. Trespassers instead ended up assembling at Bowden Bridge quarry, from where they set off.
At one point, William Clough, they were confronted by gamekeepers and scuffles broke out, leaving one keeper injured. But the trespassers broke through, making their way over prohibited land to reach the Kinder Scout plateau, where they met with ramblers from Sheffield, who had walked from Edale, also supporting the cause.
“Some of them I believe actually went on to the top of Kinder Scout.,” Warrender says. “This is something that has been much discussed over the years, did any of the trespassers actually get onto Kinder Scout? I think from my latest research that some of them did.”
When the trespassers returned to Hayfield, they were met by police. A total of six arrests were made on the day and five of the men, including Rothman were sentenced to between two and six months in prison for charges including riot (the other man was acquitted).
Critics of the trespass say it made little impact in the campaign to free up Derbyshire moors for everyone. But Warrender says rambling organisations were spurred on by the incident and landowners felt pressure to negotiate again. “There was a great outcry about the sentences that the ramblers received,” he says. “People thought it was harsh.
“I think the landowners could see public opinion turning against them and they did request a meeting with ramblers’ organisations. It didn’t result in anything positive unfortunately but public opinion had pressurised landowners into negotiation again.”
“I think the trespass had a galvanising effect on the campaign for greater access to the countryside,” Warrender adds.
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Four years later a voluntary sector committee was formed to argue the case for national parks and urge the government to protect and allow access to the countryside for the benefit of the nation.
Pressure from its members, including the Ramblers Association led to a white paper on national parks being drawn up in 1945 and four years later the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed. That paved the way for the creation of national parks and in April 1951, the Peak District became the UK’s first.
Another milestone came five decades later with The Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act in 2000, which gives people right of access to land mapped as ‘open country’.
Open access land currently covers around eight per cent of land in England and Wales, according to the Ramblers Association and focuses mainly on mountains, moors, heaths and downs. “I wouldn’t pretend to say that the trespass caused any change overnight or that it directly led to the formation of national parks,” Warrender says.
“But the trespass did play its part in the overall campaign towards greater access to the countryside. Today the trespass has become something of an icon in that campaign.
"Only about eight per cent even today is open to the walker. But the trespass alongside other things including the patient negotiation by ramblers leaders resulted in the CROW Act which gave walkers a much greater right to roam.”
Forbidden Kinder: The 1932 Mass Trespass Revisited is out now.