So how did a Sunday ramble lead to prison?
The Enclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th centuries led to vast areas of open country and moorland, like Kinder Scout, being parcelled off to local landowners. Much of this land was previously common land, or land over which everyone had certain traditional rights such as to walk, graze their livestock, collect firewood or cut turf to fuel their fires. These rights were now lost, which was disastrous for those who needed the land to make a living, and disappointing for those who wanted to enjoy the countryside.
Around Kinder Scout private landowners used the moors for grouse shooting. The public were excluded by the erection of legally-unenforceable “Trespassers will be Prosecuted” signs, and by stick-wielding gamekeepers.
Despite the best efforts of the official Ramblers’ Federations, and many failed Acts of Parliament, the land was still off limits to the public by the Great Depression of 1932. Ramblers from the surrounding cities of Manchester and Sheffield were increasingly frustrated that the blue, inviting moors they could see from their homes and workplaces were strictly out of bounds to them.
Pressure for access built up, and what was known as “the gentle art of trespass” became a common weekend activity. One guidebook from 1932 actually advised walkers where to watch out for a gamekeeper with a dog and gun on South Head: “His presence is usually an adequate deterrent, and the gun has not yet been used.”
Things came to a head in Easter 1932 after a group of walkers from the Lancashire branch of the British Workers’ Sports Federation was unceremoniously turned off the neighbouring hill Bleaklow. A few of the walkers, frustrated at the lack of action from the official federations, got together and decided that if enough people had been there, it would not have been possible to turn them away.
So a “Mass Trespass” on Kinder Scout was advertised in local newspapers. On Sunday 24 April 1932, a group of about 400 ramblers gathered at Bowden Bridge quarry, above Hayfield on the western side of the hill. Watched by a large contingent of police, they were addressed by their leader, Benny Rothman, and set off, laughing and singing, up a right of way which led up William Clough.
At a pre-arranged signal, they left the path and ventured up the private slopes of Sandy Heys, where they were met by a group of gamekeepers. A few scuffles ensued, then the ramblers returned to the path to meet another group of Sheffield trespassers who had come over from Edale, and a victory meeting was held at Ashop Head.
The Manchester ramblers – immortalised in Ewan MacColl’s famous anthem – returned to Hayfield where six of them were arrested. They were charged with public order offences (but not trespass). Later at Derby Assize Court, five of the ramblers were tried, convicted, and sent to prison for periods of up to six months.
The severity of the sentences united the ramblers’ cause. More than 10,000 people attended the next rally held south of Mam Tor in the Winnats Pass, just outside Castleton.
The Mass Trespass on Kinder became a seminal event in the long fight to regain access to open country - a fight which was not won until the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000. Ramblers can now roam freely across Kinder without fear of assault or imprisonment.
Kinder Scout © James Burke, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Crowds gather for the mass trespass and headline of Daily Dispatch © Willow Publishing, Timperley via Friends of Kinder Trespass