RETRO - Colin Drury brings history back to life...

Benny Rothman (on rock in trousers), leader of the Mass Trespass, addresses trespassers on the way to Kinder Scout
Benny Rothman (on rock in trousers), leader of the Mass Trespass, addresses trespassers on the way to Kinder Scout
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IT is something which hundreds of Sheffielders do every weekend with barely a thought – go for a walk in the Peak District.

But, some 80 years ago this month, when a group of ramblers met for a wander to Kinder Scout, they did so knowing their liberty was on the line and the rights of every man and woman in Britain were at stake.

This was the Mass Trespass, an act of civil disobedience where some 400 people from Sheffield and Manchester strolled on to privately-owned Peak District land.

That day – Sunday, April 24, 1932 – they were highlighting their disgust that walkers were denied access to vast swathes of open country.

Five would be imprisoned and more injured during scuffles with police but the episode would go down as a key moment in the battle for the rights to roam in Britain.

Now, to celebrate the landmark 80th anniversary, a series of walks, talks and exhibitions are to be held in Sheffield, Manchester and the Peak itself. A book, The Battle For Kinder Scout written by the main organiser, Benny Rothman, in 1982, will also be re-released.

“As a symbolic event, the importance of the Mass Trespass cannot be over-stated,” says Terry Howard, president of the South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire Area Ramblers Association.

“The right to roam has now been recognised in law but back then the fight was still very much on.

“Generations of ramblers had campaigned before the trespassers but there’s no doubt this brought attention to how unfair it was denying your average man access to this beautiful landscape.”

The trespass was organised by the Lancashire branch of the British Workers Sport Federation. The vast majority of the 400 came from Manchester but they were joined by some 60 from this side of the Pennines. Who these Sheffielders were remains unclear – although it seems likely they would have included members of the city’s famous Clarion Ramblers and the Sheffield Woodcraft Folk group.

“Because they were breaking the law it was not the sort of thing one boasted about,” says Terry, who is helping to co-ordinate the celebrations.

“What we do know is that one group joined the Manchester contingent at Hayfield and walked to Kinder Scout, while another walked from the station at Edale.”

The day ended in violence.

A line of the Duke of Devonshire’s gamekeepers and police met the ramblers on the Kinder plateau and fighting broke out.

Six of the walkers – all from Manchester – were arrested. Five were found guilty of riotous assembly and locked up for between two and six months.

But, unbeknown to gamekeepers, others managed to scale the route to Ashop Head. There, they did nothing more harmful than exchange congratulations before returning home.

“In itself, the trespass didn’t achieve much,” says Terry, aged 66, of Crosspool. “Some people actually said it put the cause of ramblers back. But it certainly unleashed public sympathy for the rights to roam. There was a lot of disgust at the prison sentences handed down. It put the issue on the agenda.”

n For a full programme of the more than 20 events taking place from Saturday visit www.kindertrespass.com