Sunday, 1 November 2009

Kinder Conservation and a Historic Mass Trespass

Located in the Peak District area of Derbyshire, UK, Kinder Scout is a high upland/moorland gritstone plateau, mostly 600 metres above sea level. It`s highest point, Crowden Head, is the highest point in the Peaks.

Recently, it has been declared England`s 23rd National Nature Reserve, on the advice of conservation body Natural England. The land, once privately owned, is now the property of the National Trust. 

On 23rd April 1932, it was the scene of the celebrated Mass Trespass, a protest against English law of the time which denied the public access to areas which had been (and are now), `rights of way` (a right of way in English law is a footpath or similar which the public has a legal right to walk on, even if it crosses private land, as many do. While enforcement is patchy and varies from area to area, landowners who fail to allow access can be prosecuted. Buildings such as barns that are `accidentally` built across a right of way can be simply demolished to re-establish access).

The spark for the protest was an incident where a group of factory workers were set upon by gamekeepers (men employed by landowners to keep out trespassers and to maintain supplies of wild  `game` , such a grouse and deer, for shooting parties). The Peaks at the time were a popular area for young men and women, often factory workers, miners and mill girls, seeking to escape the noise and cramped cramped living conditions of  the cities.  There were many confrontations between the youngsters and gamekeepers, leading to a deep mutual distrust and resentment.

The protest itself attracted considerable attention, with a large police presence and more protesters apparently than the organisers had ever expected. Benny Rothman, a young Manchester Communist, emerged as a leading figure on the day, although it is unclear what role he played prior to that. Apparently, the young Benny was not even scheduled to address the crowd, but simply `filled in` when one of the speakers was overcome by nerves. 

On the day, a group of young men ascending Kinder Scout via William Clough (a `clough` was a local name for a river valley) clashed once again with gamekeepers and a number were arrested, Benny Rothman among them.  The subsequent trial was felt by many to be unfair and the sentences unduly harsh. The resultant public backlash paved the way for new legislation and the emergence of walkers (`ramblers` as they were known) as a formidable lobbying force. It`s no co-incidence that most walking groups including, the largest, the Rambler`s Association, trace their origins back to the `30s (though some, such as Peak and Northern, have a history going back much further).

Over 70 years later, walking groups continue to be an important lobbying and conservation group in UK society, though perhaps a little less conscious of their `rebel roots` than they used to be, thanks in part to efforts of Benny Rothman and others.

ON THE WEB  , , , , .

There are many entries on the web for Benny Rothman, which you can easily find for yourself. His own account of the day was contained in his 1982 book, 1932 Kinder Trespass ; A Personal View of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass. I belive he also contributed to the Kinder Scout  Mass Trespass 50th Anniversary Programme.

I expect this is very sentimental and a bit over-done, but I`d like to dedicate this article to the memory of some of my companions whose walking days are over, these being Trevor Smalley, Arthur Weldun and my oldest friend Chris Watkinson. I would also like to dedicate it to the memory of my late father, who did as much as anyone to encourage my love of the great outdoors.

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