"I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler
from Manchester way
I get all my pleasure the hard,
I may be a wage slave on Monday
But I am a free man on Sunday."
We live in a country that is not our
own. It is believed (figures are hard to come by) that two thirds of
all the land in Britain is owned by 200 families. Each of these owns
an area twice the size of Richmond Park.
Nearly a third of the land is owned by
the titled aristocracy – who Tom Paine called ‘the armed banditti
who came over with the bastard’ (William the Conqueror). The land
has been taken from us by violence.
A further wave of dispossessions took
place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through Acts of
Enclosure. These were private Acts passed through a Parliament of
landowners which declared that parcels of land now belonged to
whatever propertied person could afford to push the Bill through
Kinder Scout in the Derbyshire peak
District is one of the most beautiful areas in Britain. The high
moorland has no farming value, yet working people were denied all
access. The area was reserved for grouse shooting, a hobby of the
In the Great Depression after 1929,
walking and cycling were two of the only leisure activities young
workers could afford. There were two great conurbations, Manchester
to the west of the Peak District and Sheffield to the east.
The British Workers’ Sports
Federation decided to challenge the exclusive ownership of Kinder
Scout through direct action. On April 24th Benny Rothman
led the mass trespass that eventually gave chunks of ‘our’
country back to us. Setting off from the Manchester side, the
ramblers arrived at the little village of Hayfield. It was swarming
The word was passed round the tea rooms
as to what direction they would march. The workers all set off
together up to the Kinder plateau and towards the reservoir.
The way was barred by gamekeepers. A
downside of mass unemployment was that plenty of men were prepared to
hire themselves as gamekeepers, in effect rural bouncers with guns,
to the aristocracy at knockdown prices.
The mass trespassers disarmed between
twenty and thirty gamekeepers. They then ostentatiously mounted a
picket on a grouse nest. In this way nobody could accuse them of
trampling on wildlife.
The crowd successfully ‘stormed’
Kinder Scout. Then they headed back in triumph to Hayfield. The
police were waiting for them. Six were arrested, including Benny
Rothman, and charged with incitement and riotous assembly.
What happened next will be familiar to
many activists. It is certainly what happened in Southall after
locals were accused of ‘rioting’ to defend their mainly Asian
local community against fascist attack in 1979. The defendants were
called to courts miles away from their homes and the trials dragged
out to maximise inconvenience. Eventually three months later at Derby
the six received jail terms of from three to six months.
That is not the end of the story. In
1949 the Labour government created the first National Parks. The Peak
District, including Kinder Scout, was one. Access for all! In 2000 a
later Labour government enacted the Countryside and Rights of Way
Act. This gives us the right to roam across open country. We now have
unrestricted access to mountain, moor, heath, down and common – not
just along the permitted footpaths. The Ramblers’ Association,
which as the Ramblers’ Federation, had been hostile to the mass
trespass 75 years ago, is pressing for access to unrestricted coastal
access. We’ll probably get it one day. After all, it’s our
Landowners continue to obstruct
progress. Madonna is taking court action to deny walkers access to
any part of her £9 million Wiltshire estate. The thuggish
landlord van Hoogstraten, who is building a grotesque palace on the
South Downs, tried to close a footpath over ‘his’ land.
Above all they’re still there. They
still call it their land. For how long?