Last Sunday week was the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass – one of the most iconic acts of direct action in our history, certainly in the history of land access in Britain. It’s true there were protests in Victorian times where more people turned up, such as Winter Hill in Lancashire and Latrigg in the Lake District. But those were essentially protests about disputed rights of way.
The Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout was about more than regaining a right of way. It was a protest about regaining those huge bits of country stolen from the many by the few, the vast moorlands claimed for grouse-shooters to the exclusion of all others. The places taken in under the Enclosure Acts, those immoral thefts by the powerful to the disbenefit of the powerless.
The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass was a protest that helped massively in the fight to gain better access, leading to the creation of our National Parks, the recording of rights of way, the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW).
Typical then, during the anniversary week marking the Mass Trespass, that the few – in the shape of the British government – struck back, shelving any plans for increased access to our countryside. Despite the fact that we all subsidise the great landowners through our taxes. A kick in the teeth for the British public who have found, during covid, how important the countryside is.
We have access to just 8% of the English countryside through CRoW. Stick all our footpaths and bridleways together, and that might add around 0.3% more. Nothing compared to the free access existing in many European countries, let alone neighbouring Scotland, which has some of the best countryside access in the world.
So there’s still a lot of battling ahead, as vested interests seek to exclude the majority from the countryside. So this 90th anniversary year is a good time to take stock of where we are and what needs to be done in the future.
Keith Warrender’s new book on the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass is essential reading – a work (written with Roly Smith and Tom Waghorn) that gives us the most detailed and definitive account of what really happened on the April day in the Peak ninety years ago.
Some myths that have got about in those ninety years are shed. We hear about the origins of the trespass, what actually happened as the trespassers marched up to Hayfield, and the consequences of the Mass Trespass; the trial at the Assizes, which resulted in five young men being sent to jail for daring to demand access to land stolen by enclosers and shooters.
Some of you will be familiar with Benny Rothman’s own account of the Mass Trespass. But in this book we also hear the voices of the other four hundred trespassers. What I found fascinating in the book are the biographies of a number of the trespassers, not only a look at their backgrounds but what happened to them afterwards. So many of them contributed massively to building a fairer society that went beyond trespassing on the moors of the north. In our present “me first. no such thing as society” modern Britain these voices are quite inspiring.
A few years ago I wrote a novel called Balmoral Kill. I created a hero who had been a Kinder trespasser and who then went out to fight against fascism in Spain. When I wrote my book, I had no idea that a number of the real trespassers did just that – nine of the Kinder Scout Trespassers were killed in the Spanish Civil War, that prelude to World War Two, fighting the odious forces of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini.
Forbidden Kinder is magnificently illustrated, with photographs not only of the trespass, but pictures of the locations where this impressive bit of direct action took place. And, pictures in the biographies put faces to the names. Years ago I met Benny Rothman and I recall one or two more veterans of that day, still fighting for access and human rights.
There are also brief biographies of the Kinder landowners, other access campaigners who were not there on the day but who contributed to gaining better access to our countryside. There is a combative foreword by Kate Ashbrook, and thoughts on land and access rights by some of today’s leading campaigners.
If you care about access to our countryside – and you really should if you ever enjoy even the briefest excursion on to the moors, fields and forests, then you should read this book. As I said above, the definitive account of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass.
I hope it might inspire a new generation to join us in the Fight for the Right to Roam!
Forbidden Kinder – The 1932 Mass Trespass Re-visited by Keith Warrender. Willow Publishing, ISBN 9780946361489. £17.95