Kinder Scout Mass Trespass

Fact or fiction?

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18/02/2012 at 10:44

This brief statement appears on the Ramblers website:

Marking 80 years since Kinder Scout
It’s been described as the most significant event in the century-old battle for the right to roam on Britain’s mountains and moors, a right secured in 2000 after decades of campaigning by the Ramblers. On 24 April 1932, a group of several hundred ramblers, risking mantraps and imprisonment, led a mass trespass to Kinder Scout to demonstrate their right to enjoy the countryside. To mark the 80th anniversary Ramblers will hold a week of celebrations including 30 walks in and around the Peak District. Stay tuned for more!

This article looks like another myth in the making!

Whether intentionally or not, the use of upper case 'R' leaves the casual reader with the impression that the mass trespass was organized by the Ramblers. It was not! The Ramblers' Association did not come into formal existence until 1935, three years after the trespass although a forerunner, the National Council of Ramblers' Federations was formed in September 1931.

This is what the late Tom Stephenson, the first salaried secretary of the RA, wrote on pp153-4 of 'Forbidden Land; the Struggle for Access to Mountain and Moorland' which was published by the Ramblers' Association in 1989.

'[The Kinder Scout trespass] contributed little, if anything to [the access to the mountains campaign]. Once the indignation roused by the severe prison sentences had subsided, the public interest soon faded. The truth is that there never was a mass trespass. No-one reached the summit of Kinder Scout and the so-called victory meeting was held on a public path at Ashop Head....

The demonstration was organized by an ephemeral body, the British Workers' Sports Federation (BWSF}, an appendage of the Communist Party; by men not known to have evinced any interest in the access problem, and who did not, in fact, play any part in the subsequent campaign. Doubts as to the value of the exercise...may have led...the National Council of Ramblers' Federations to stand aloof...the Manchester and District Ramblers' Federation made the following declaration:

"Mass trespass; - the Manchester and District Ramblers' Federation wishes to state as definitely as possible, that it had no part in the events which took place at Hayfield and on Kinder Scout on April 24, and that it had no connection whatsoever with the organization responsible for the happenings on that day..."'


18/02/2012 at 11:05
'Britains mountains and moors'?

18/02/2012 at 11:46

Between 1884 and 1939 there were some seventeen parliamentary bills aimed at gaining access to the mountains and moors of Great Britain. The Access to the Mountains Act 1939 alone became law but it was a poor thing that did not sit well with the outdoor movement. In any case, later that year the country entered the war and Pariament had more important concerns to worry about.

The National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act 1949 opened up the countryside of England and Wales. Scotland had to wait much longer for access to be put on a proper legal footing, and even now, there are far fewer public paths in cultivated countryside than exist south of the border.

18/02/2012 at 11:52

There was always a de facto 'right to roam' in Scotland before it became 'legal'.

Why would we need footpaths, if we can walk anywhere we like?

18/02/2012 at 12:01
Mike wrote

<Why would we need footpaths, if we can walk anywhere we like?>

That's fine for local people who know their area, but useless for strangers trying to plan a route. Do you know of any map that shows the location of gates and stiles which, in the absence of paths, is an essential prerequisite for planning a walk?

18/02/2012 at 12:19
If i'm (very rarely) crossing farmland, i simply climb over the fence, gate or whatever, and stick to the field boundary, if it's a cultivated field. This usually only happens if i decend a hill in an unfamiliar area. No need to know the area. Why would anyone want to plan a route over farmland?

18/02/2012 at 12:42

So the Kinder trespass was just a commie action and the dignified Ramblers of the late 80's wanted nothing to do with it...yeah...

18/02/2012 at 13:26

Maybe the Kinder Trespass was not the major breakthrough for the right to roam but it provided a catylist for others to carry on with the fight for access. In the Sheffield area people were trespassing as a group named SCAM ( Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland) right through the 80's and 90's with trespasses on the Kinder, Bamford, Bleaklow and Broomhead moors around Sheffield. A lovely book exists as "Right To Roam" ISBN 0-901100-60-9  which makes very interesting reading.

The work of folks like GHB Ward of Clarion Ramblers fame did sterling work in campaigning and documenting rights of way (existing, lost and ancient) around the Peak District.

Landowners were far from innocent in all of this; blocking ancient footpaths and bridleways whilst removing ancient guidestones.

Sometimes politics would like us all to forget what people have won the rights to in the past

18/02/2012 at 15:50
Moonlight Shadow wrote:

<So the Kinder trespass was just a commie action and the dignified Ramblers of the late 80's wanted nothing to do with it...yeah... >

I'm not quite sure what to make of this comment.

It was the predecessors of the RA in the 1930s (not the 1980s) who advised against the mass trespass. They feared that a violent confrontation would play into the hands of the landowners who would be in a strong position to point to what could happen if a working class rabble were allowed onto the sacred moors. A view held by many walkers at the time was that the trespass had put back the cause of access by twenty years.

Tom Stephenson could never be described as 'dignified'. He was a rebel and a committed socialist throughout his long life. He was a Conscientious Objector during WW1, a stand which took considerable courage and resulted in a criminal conviction which debarred him from a university eduction. He worked for the Labour Party's newspaper, the Daily Herald, for many years and was an advisor to Lewis Silkin, the Minister of Town & Country Panning in the first post-war Labour government who steered the National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act, 1949 through Parliament. All walkers, whether they know it or not, owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Tom Stephenson, and it is grossly unfair to beliitle him and his work.

It's also worth pointing out, as Stewpot has mentioned, that men like G.B.H. Ward, another committed socialist, had laboured for years to get the ancient rights of way on Kinder Scout acknowledged. Ward was a regular trespasser on the Duke of Devonshire's grouse moor until prevented from doing so by a court injunction.

Much of the outdoor movement during the 20s and 30s was essentially working class and inspired by socialist principles such as the almost forgotten Clarion movement which was a powerful outdoor lobby comprised mostly of walkers and cyclists was a socialist organization.

18/02/2012 at 16:02

You are still mixing up England with Britain, Hugh.

Working class folk up in Scotland were happily escaping the poverty of the cities to camp in the Highlands, and push up new routes on many famous Scottish crags. No problem with access.

 Look into the history of the Creag Dhu club.

18/02/2012 at 16:32

Quite a story there Hugh, my mistake and I consider myself duly told!

18/02/2012 at 17:34
Mike fae Dundee wrote:

<You are still mixing up England with Britain, Hugh>

Not so, Mike! I was concentrating on England and Wales but I'll now deal with access in Scotland.

It's certainly true that there was much de facto access in Scotland before the passing of the Land Reform Act, but virtually none existed before WW2 which is why James Bryce, a Scot, introduced three bills in 1888, 1892 and 1898 entitled Access to the Mountains (Scotland). Another bill with exactly the same title was introduced in 1908. The situation changed so little that in 1939 the Access to the Mountains Act, which covered the whole of Britain, was passed.

The arguments that Bryce used to promote an access law in Scotland may be summarized as follows:

1 Wordsworth and Scott had been able to walk at will anywhere in Scotland, but by the end of the nineteenth century, vast areas of land had been fenced off for deer stalking, and landowners required their ghillies to evict walkers from their property.
2 Landowners used other measures to discourage walkers such as forbidding their tenants to provide accommodation, and also by closing inns.
3 Scotland was the only place in the world where people were prevented from walking freely over uncultivated land.

The attitudes of landowners began to change slowly after the war but it was probably not until the late 60s that it was reasonable to claim that there was de facto access throughout Scotland.

18/02/2012 at 17:36
Thank you Moonlight! The history of walking for pleasure is one of my more peculiar, though harmless interests. I trust that we are still friends!

18/02/2012 at 17:49

Oh absolutely, I was just worried it was some kind of revisionist take based on the politics of the trespassers. I was entirely mistaken, thank you to put me right!

Interesting bit about Scotland too, surprised to read it's not the land of milk and honey access wise Mike likes to describe

Something intrigues me Hugh, it's quite clear the working-classes were hugely influential in opening up the country for pleasure walking yet nowadays there seems to be the impression that the great outdoors is some kind of middle-class pursuit. I just wonder if there has been a gentrification of our hobby or if it's mainly a myth?

18/02/2012 at 18:14

Sorry Hugh, but you're wrong. De facto access in Scotland happened well before the 1960's!

The English parliament may have brought in laws, but those bits of paper were unread and ignored up here.

Like i said, look into the history of the Creag Dhu club.

You couldn't meet  more law adiding folk than my father and grandfather, yet they walked the Scottish hills without any problems. I would think that would be at least back to the 1920's.

18/02/2012 at 18:18
Hugh Westacott wrote (see)
3 Scotland was the only place in the world where people were prevented from walking freely over uncultivated land.

Sorry Hugh, but what a load of shite!

I can just picture african bushmen saying, "oh no, we're not allowed!"

Methinks you need to get out a bit more. Slip the nurse a fiver.

18/02/2012 at 18:39
There's de facto and there's legal. Not the same thing whatever anyone may think.
Scotland has de facto currency in the scottish pound.
18/02/2012 at 18:44
And England has de facto currency in the UK pound.

18/02/2012 at 18:47
You do know the Bank of England became an independant bank in 1998?

18/02/2012 at 21:26
The difference is the uk pound is legal tender. The scottish pound isn't.

Hugh is just pointing out the fact and not relying on a fuzzy idea.
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