90th Anniversary of the Kinder Trespass

“I may be a wage slave on Monday / But I am a free man on Sunday.”
The Manchester Rambler – Ewan MacColl

As anyone who has read the wonderful Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit will have realised that the story of wanderers, hikers, trekkers and strollers is filled with tales of trespass, of access denied and of those who fought for the rights of every man and woman to roam where their feet may take them. In many places that we walk for The Winding Trail, we do so in acknowledgement of the many struggles – some of which are ongoing – that have given us the access to the open spaces and wild places that we love.

Today (24 April) is the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Trespass, when hundreds of men and women walked out and up into the hills and moors of what is today the Peak District National Park in defiance of the law. The leader of the protest was Benny Rothman, only 20 years old but the secretary of the British Workers’ Sports Federation – part of the Young Communist League. 

Three weeks earlier, BWSF members had been turned back by gamekeepers when trying to climb Bleaklow. “It was not at all unusual for ramblers to get very, very badly beaten by them,” Rothman would later write, “and of course, if you were working-class there was no redress. Back at the camp we decided that if, instead of six or seven, there’d been 40 or 50 of us, they wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

The result was the call for a Mass Trespass of 24 April 1932, with people gathering in Manchester and Sheffield before setting out to meet up on Kinder plateau.

At least 400 people took part (Rothman would later say it was between 600 and 800) in the Mass Trespass and were confronted by gamekeepers, and although trespass was not a criminal offence at the time, six of the trespassers were arrested and five imprisoned, including Rothman. But the trespassers reached the plateau and the publicity of the Kinder Trespass and subsequent trial was crucially important for the right to roam movement and remains a symbolic and inspirational moment in the history of access for all – whether in the UK or elsewhere – almost a century later.

The writer Jim Perrin, in his obituary of Benny Rothman for The Guardian, described the Kinder Trespass as “[T]he most important event in the movement for access to open country in Britain.” Rothman would continue to battle for access to the moors and other wild places throughout the rest of his life, and was a leading figure in the protests against Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists and a volunteer ambulance driver for the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War.

The poster that illustrates this piece has been created by Ian Battersby at the National Park Print Shop, based in the Lake District in the north of England, and we are extremely grateful to Ian for the opportunity to share it with you as we remember the Kinder Trespass.

“Those who marched on Kinder Scout in 1932,” Ian told us, “have long been a source of inspiration for me as I explore the hills and fells around my home. With greater access to the countryside and green space still very much needed for England, I created this print with my admiration for those protesters firmly in mind, imagining the posters inviting the public to join the march.

The print has been made using Risograph printing, a speciality of my print shop. It is an eco-friendly stencil and ink process, similar to screenprinting, that adds a unique texture and vibrance to each print.”

You can find out more about the National Park Print Shop and order one of their wonderful prints on the website (and if you sign up to their newsletter, you get free UK shipping).

As we head out for a walk of our own on this anniversary day, we leave you with a song – The Manchester Rambler by Ewan MacColl: