26 April 2019 by Kate Ashbrook
Ahead of the Spirit of Kinder Rally in Castleton on Saturday 27 April, Ramblers Chair Kate Ashbrook discusses the legacy of the famous Peak District trespass that took place 87 years ago.
The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass in 1932 is part of Ramblers’ lore - yet the Ramblers were not there.
At the time of the trespass, the Ramblers consisted of a National Council of Ramblers’ Federations, formed the previous year. Both the Manchester and Sheffield Federations, despite having carried out low-key trespasses, dissociated themselves from the Kinder event. This was organised by Benny Rothman, a stocky, determined Mancunian. Aged 20, he was a leading official of the British Workers’ Sports Federation, a subsidiary of the Young Communist League, and had led a group of its London members over Bleaklow at Easter 1932 and been turned away by gamekeepers. This inspired him to lead a larger group a month later to foil the keepers. He told the press about the ‘Mass Trespass’, and promised walkers it would be ‘the best day out you have ever had’.
There are varied reports of what actually happened on the day, but it is doubtful that the Manchester contingent, led by Benny, got on to the Kinder plateau, although they certainly trespassed up Sandy Heys and scuffled with the keepers. Six trespassers were arrested and subjected to a grossly unfair trial, five including Benny were jailed; this maltreatment stirred even the stuffy Manchester Ramblers’ Federation into action. It wrote to the Home Secretary appealing for the sentences to be remitted; other federations followed suit. Of course, the Home Secretary refused, but at last the Ramblers began to campaign aggressively for rights of access.
Half a century later Benny, who in the 1980s began to appear at Ramblers’ events celebrating Kinder and lobbying for access, conceded that the trespassers ‘should never have antagonised the leadership of the Ramblers’ Federation and those rambling leaders who had worked hard over a long period of time’. He added, ‘we should perhaps have used our youthful zeal and energy inside the rambling movement, but of course, the faults were not all on one side’.
Seventeen years after the trespass we won the limited and unsatisfactory provisions for access agreements and orders in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and half a century later the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave us greater, though still inadequate, access rights in England and Wales - but it was Kinder that set us on the trail.
The 87th anniversary of the trespass was made all the more poignant this week by the passing of George Haigh, probably the last of the Kinder trespassers, at 103. He will be remembered with admiration and affection at the Spirit of Kinder event at Winnats Pass on Saturday.
George and his fellow courageous Kinder trespassers led the way to freedom of access to the moorland and we must never forget them. Those who were jailed were not jailed in vain. We salute them.
Ramblers continue to fight for everybody’s right to access the countryside. As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, the government is developing a new set of rules for how the countryside will be managed long into the future. We are currently campaigning to ensure a future Agriculture Bill protects our right - and the right of future generations - to access and enjoy the countryside. Find out how you can get involved here.
The Spirit of Kinder event is on 27 April at Winnats Pass, Castleton, Hope in the Peak District, from 2-4 pm, with speeches and music.