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The Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout - 1932

On April 24th, 1932, over 400 walkers participated in a mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District.

The event was organised by the Manchester Branch of the British Workers’ Sports Federation, with the aim to draw attention to the working class struggle for the right to roam, and to challenge the rights of the 'wealthy' to have exclusive use of moorland.  The proposed trespass was controversial at the time, with doubt being expressed in certain quarters about the real purpose  of the gathering.  But whatever its original intention the trespass had a profound effect on the right to roam.

The trespass on April 24th was partly a response to an earlier incident, where a group of walkers was turned away from a nearby area of moorland on Bleaklow by the landowner's  gamekeepers.

On the day of the intended trespass, one group set off from Bowden Bridge in Hayfield (see photo above) and made their way up William Clough towards the Kinder plateau, where they came face to face with the Duke of Devonshire's gamekeepers.  A scuffle took place where one of the gamekeepers was injured, but the ramblers continued onto the plateau where they met up with a group of walkers from Sheffield who had started from Edale.  Having achieved their objective the two groups then dispersed and retraced their steps.  However, as the Hayfield group arrived back in the village, five of them were arrested by the police and taken into custody.

They were tried at Derby Assizes in July and four of them were found guilty, together with a local man, and jailed for between two and six months.  The arrest and subsequent imprisonment created a huge wave of public sympathy and boosted the 'right to roam' cause.

A few weeks later a much larger gathering, estimated to be around 10,000 strong, assembled in Winatts Pass near Castleton, as the pressure for greater access to the countryside continued to grow. (Photograph shows a group of Doncaster Ramblers joining other groups in Winatts Pass).

Much of the Peak District consisted of moorland which was used mainly for grazing sheep or for grouse shooting by the landowner.  'Shoots' tended to take place only on around 10 to 12 days a year and for the remaining time the land was deserted. The trespassers seemed to have a simple request that the landowner opened a public path across Kinder Scout, allowing walkers access on the days that grouse shooting was not taking place.  Unfortunately, behind this simple request deeper political questions lurked. By the 1920's and 30's high levels of unemployment among the working class resulted in a huge surge in the popularity of rambling.  Tens of thousands of workers used their Sundays to go walking and by 1932 some 15,000 of them were leaving Manchester each weekend to ramble in nearby areas such as the Peak District. Unfortunately, less than 1% of the 150,000 acres of moorland was accessible to the public with only 12 'legal' paths to choose from.

It needs to be said, however, that the ‘official rambling associations’ were far from happy with the approach adopted by the 'trespass group', saying they would play no part in the planned event.  Even the Stockport Group of the Holiday Fellowship (HF) expressed their disgust at what it called 'organised hooliganism'.  These official groups were quite happy to request permission from the landowner, arguing that provided they did so they would be granted access to walk freely other than on certain days in the year.

Like many things, change does not take place overnight and it was not until 1949, some 17 years after the Kinder Trespass that the Government  passed the 'National Parks and Countryside Act' creating a mechanism for negotiating access agreements to the open countryside.

 The Peak District was the first area to become a National Park in 1957 and agreements were made with landlords, such as the Duke of Devonshire, to open up the moorland.  Today there are 13 National Parks in England and Wales.

Despite the introduction of this significant legislation it took another 50 years until the passing of the CROW Act (Countryside and Rights of Way Act) in 2002 and its final implementation in 2005, to really make a noticeable change to the right to roam. 

Today, the National Trust oversees some 36,000 acres of the Peak District, including Kinder Scout, Winatts Pass and Bleaklow - where all the early 20th Century protests began.

Open access is still not widespread throughout the UK, with much if the countryside in Ireland still in private hands, and relatively few 'rights of way'.

* This account is based on an article in the National Trust magazine (Spring 2020) .

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