The Kinder Trespass wrestled, 84 years ago, the absolute control of the countryside from the landowning elites. PETER FROST, stout footwear on, readies to head for those hills again.
No working-class walker really needs an anniversary or any other excuse to take themselves off to the high peaks of Kinder Scout — some of the most awesome countryside in Britain. This is high walking country at its very best.
However, every April it does us and the country good to remind ourselves that it wasn’t always possible to enjoy the fresh air and incredible views that places like Kinder offer. That right, like many others, had to be fought for and the battle that won the war was the Kinder Scout trespass 84 years ago on April 24 1932.
On that day it was Benny Rothman who led the battle with his battalion of Young Communist League members and hundreds of other working-class hikers on to the high mountain grouse moors forbidden to all but the very rich shooters and protected by armed gamekeepers.
The day’s actions would lead first to the arrest, trial and jailing of Rothman and some of his comrades but in the long term, and far more important, to the establishment of our wonderful network of National Parks and later to legislation granting access to the countryside.
Rothman (below) was a huge supporter of the Morning Star and its predecessor the Daily Worker — indeed in late 1929 just before the paper was first launched he was arrested for chalking the slogan “Look out for the Daily Worker — out January 1st 1930” in Manchester’s Piccadilly.
He was fined seven shillings and sixpence for this “heinous crime” but that didn’t stop him building up a round of over 70 readers for the new paper in his factory.
Present day Morning Star readers and supporters will be paying tribute to Rothman and raising money for the paper with their now traditional annual Kinder Scout walk on Sunday April 24 from Edale in the Peak District.
The walk leaves The Ramblers Inn (S33 7ZA) at 10.30 on Sunday morning. You will need water, food, waterproofs and stout footwear.
If you want to learn more about Rothman a new book Benny Rothman: a Fighter for the Right to Roam, Workers’ Rights and Socialism, by Mark Metcalf, has been sponsored by Unite the Union. The launch of the new book will be part of the celebrations at the fourth Spirit of Kinder Day being held at Hayfield on Saturday, April 23, with art exhibitions, displays and stalls in the Royal Hotel and Hayfield Village Hall from 11am.
Metcalf will be among speakers at the free event along with other countryside rights campaigners and trade unionists. Admission is free and everybody is welcome but space in the hotel is limited so arrive early if you are interested. A Saturday evening musical event is also part of the anniversary celebrations.
Other events during the weekend will include unveiling the first of several interpretive plaques which together will form a trespass trail. These panels have been paid for by a £10,000 grant from the Peak District National Park’s Sustainability Fund.
This will fund interpretation boards and other information about the trespass at four significant locations in the history of the Trespass.
As well as the panels a walks booklet will describe a choice of walking routes that take in some or all of these landmarks.
A substantial board will welcome visitors to Hayfield village at the former railway station site — now the bus station and main car park. It will explain how in the first half of the 20th century thousands of working-class hikers, mostly from Manchester, would descend on the village by train every weekend.
These walkers came to access the footpaths of the surrounding High Peak Moorlands — but they were not allowed on the iconic Kinder Scout plateau, the highest part of the Peak District. Those were reserved for rich grouse shooters and defended by armed gamekeepers.
Another plaque and a smaller interpretation board will be sited in the village on the spot where the trespass leaders, including Rothman, were arrested before being imprisoned.
Two other sites on the trail already have some information about the events. These are Bowden Bridge car park, about a mile out of the village, which is used by hikers accessing the Kinder Scout area and William Clough bridge in the moorland valley to the west of the Kinder plateau, about three miles from the village. Both will have more comprehensive information added as part of the new project.
It is hoped that the new panels will explain the central significance of the Trespass is the struggle for access to the countryside for working people. It is no coincidence that the first National Park established in England was the Peak Park.
It was the Kinder Trespass and the outrage about the harsh prison sentences handed down to the trespassers that would lead to the legislation for National Parks some 20 years later.
Today we still owe a huge debt of gratitude to Rothman, his fellow young communists and more than 400 other ramblers who joined him on the trespass on that fateful day in April 1932.
What better place could there be to pay tribute to them than on the summit of Kinder Scout?
- For more information visit www.kindertrespass.com/
- http://www.unitetheunion.org/uploaded/documents/Benny Rothman book web version11-26149.pdf
- This article first appeared in the Morning Star 15 April 2016