Beware the Infrastructure Bill

Beautiful views across our National Parks and your rights to access them will soon be under threat.

Beautiful views across our National Parks and your rights to access them will soon be under threat.

As I write, the ‘Infrastructure Bill 2014’ current sits in its committee stage before the House of Lords (next due before the Lords on 14 October 2014). You may or may not have heard of it. Its best known component is to introduce the right for companies to ‘frack’ under your home, without first seeking your permission.

There is however an even more insidious aspect to this bill that could undo decades of progress in terms of the formation of our national parks, access to our landscape and the protection of our wildlife.

The intention of this bill is clear. Its primary purpose is to ease the way for corporations and developers to gain unhindered access to any part of our land that they wish to use for development or to frack for shale gas. As a landscape photographer, lover of nature, supporter of public ownership of our nation’s assets and access rights to our cherished landscapes, this bill causes me deep concern.

It is beyond dispute that we need more homes (although an awful lot could be done to assist local authorities bring empty houses back into use) and infrastructure to service those homes. It is however the nature of this bill that shows flagrant disregard for public ownership, public access and local consultation.

Local councils will be ordered to give over 90% of their brownfield land to the Housing and Communities Agency (HCA). Brownfield sites are previously developed sites that have become vacant, but could be reused and include parks, playing fields, allotments, woodlands, public facilities and village greens.

The bill states that, “The Secretary of State may at any time make one or more schemes for the transfer to the HCA of designated property, rights or liabilities of a specified public body.”

It continues,”These transfers are to take effect irrespective of any requirement to obtain a person’s consent or concurrence, any liability in respect of a contravention of another requirement, or any other interference with an interest or right, which would otherwise apply.”

This bill will take away any local power of decision over land use and pave the way for publically held land to be transferred to the HCA, who can extinguish existing protection and rights of way, such as access under the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000, possibly even protection for Scheduled Ancient Monuments and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, grant permission for new roads and buildings and sell off land as it sees fit.

Any private company that buys the land will no longer be subject to local planning regulations and consultation. The Secretary of State will be able to grant to any development without the involvement of locally elected members or council departments such as planning , simply by consulting a panel of as little as two people.

In short, we could well see our national parks, playgrounds, village greens, woodland, allotments or any other publically owned facility, sold off to private companies to build on, frack, quarry, lay railway lines or do whatever they like. One thing can be taken as a certainty, we will have no say.

As for fracking, that is another matter entirely which would need an extended essay in its own right. Let’s just say that it would be a disaster for our national parks, countryside or communities to have this nightmare imposed upon them. It represents no cure at all for our energy security or economy, will not bring about any appreciable long-term boost for jobs, will not lower energy prices and will be an environmental disaster in terms of its effect on wildlife, water supplies and air quality. I urge you to go and find information on fracking for yourself and not take my word on this matter.

The Kinder Mass Trespass in 1932

The Kinder Mass Trespass in 1932

Rights of access for ordinary people to some of our best loved landscapes could be lost. It would be as if the Kinder Trespass had never happened. The lifetime of hard work by Tom Stephenson, who’s commitment and passion led to the opening of the Pennine Way, undone. Our national parks just a fond memory (massive budget cuts have already seen the Peak District National Park Authority forced to put many of its best loved locations up for lease or sale)and the long fought for ‘Right to Roam’ extinguished. We could well see a return to the days when ordinary people were excluded from their own landscape.

The Infrastructure Bill represents the biggest land-grab since the Enclosure Acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When George Osborne stated that green spaces would be protected, he meant the estates of his wealthy friends. Lands belonging to the Crown are conveniently exempt.

What do Labour have to say about this? Surprisingly little. Surely we can rely on Labour to champion the rights of common people? Unfortunately not, they have no current plans to oppose the bill. It seems that the transformation of the Labour Party from its socialist roots to neoliberal corporatists is complete.

Benny Rothman of the Kinder Trespass (left) and Tom Stephenson, creator of the Pennine Way (centre)

Benny Rothman of the Kinder Trespass (left) and Tom Stephenson, creator of the Pennine Way (centre)

So there we have it, all nicely stitched up for a foregone conclusion. Private companies win and the rights of ordinary people are trampled over once again. Once these measures are passed into law, they will be very hard to reverse, even if the will from any future government to do so is there and all current indications point to that being unlikely.

What can we do to stop this? In all probability, not an awful lot but we must try. You can write to your MP or councillors and express the strength of your opposition. With next year’s general election on the horizon, your local politicians will be keen to gain your support, especially in marginal constituencies. Let them know how much of an important issue this is. You can get involved in your local community groups, rambler’s groups or outdoor sports groups and spread the word, or get involved in your local anti-fracking group. But most important of all, keep the spirit of Benny Rothman, Tom Stephenson and all of those men and women who fought for our right to protect and access our beautiful landscape alive!

Marsden Moor & Upper Colne Valley Part Two

Millstone Edge, looking into Saddleworth.

Millstone Edge, looking into Saddleworth.

The moors of the Pennine hills have a fine tradition of playing host to sedition. From Brigantine rebellions against the rule of Rome, to the class struggles of the Industrial Revolution. It is as if the will to fight against oppression is a tangible element, embedded in these liminal places of rocky outcrops and quaking peat bogs. The Pennine winds sing songs of noble causes past, open spaces bring forth new ideas and the plentiful rain washes it down the hillside streams, into the numerous reservoirs that surround the watershed. The history of Marsden Moor and the Colne Valley is not just about geology and natural history, it is also about people.

Despite its comparatively remote location, Marsden found itself embroiled in the forge of the industrial revolution and the tumultuous politics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as transport routes improved along Colne Valley bringing both commerce and ideas.

A milestone below Pule Hill, on the old Wakefield to Austerlands turnpike.

A milestone below Pule Hill, on the old Wakefield to Austerlands turnpike.

The view from the Roman road and turnpike road, as it is just about to crest Standage into Saddleworth.

The view from the Roman road and turnpike road, as it is just about to crest Standage into Saddleworth.

The first Wakefield to Austerlands Turnpike road was constructed in 1758, following an old packhorse route running from Huddersfield, through Longroyd Bridge and Thornton Lodge before starting the long climb up Crosland Moor to Holt Head. Then close to Marsden, before passing the base of Pule Hill and following the route of the Roman Road along Thieves Clough. This was upgraded to the Coach Road by Blind Jack Metcalf in 1790, sections of which were floated over the peat bogs on rafts of heather. In 1839, the new coach road (now the A62 Manchester Road) was opened.

The famed Standedge Tunnel, part of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which enters the hillside at Diggle, runs under Standedge and Pule Hill, and exits at Marsden, was started in 1795 and finished in 1811. Progress was surprisingly slow, with work stalling for lengthy periods. These stoppages caused considerable hardship to the miners, tradesmen and labourers, who were not paid during lay-offs (1). Signs of the tunnel can still be found on the surface, with air vents on Pule Hill and Redbrook Engine House, opposite the Carriage House Inn. Built in 1803, this was used to bring spoil to the surface and still sits surrounded by huge heaps of rubble.

Snow clouds over Standedge from Pule Hill, overlooking the A62 Manchester Road. The route of the old turnpike road can also be seen crossing the moor from left to right, crossing the A62 and up Thieves Clough.

Snow clouds over Standedge from Pule Hill, overlooking the A62 Manchester Road. The route of the old turnpike road can also be seen crossing the moor from left to right, crossing the A62 and up Thieves Clough.

Redbrook Engine House (built 1803), sits on spoil heaps from the construction of Standedge Tunnel.

Redbrook Engine House (built 1803), sits on spoil heaps from the construction of Standedge Tunnel.

Colne Valley was flooded on 29th November 1810, when Swellands Dam (on Bobus) burst its banks at one o’clock in the morning. Factories and homes were destroyed from Marsden to Paddock. The event became known as the ‘Night of the Black Flood’ and took the lives of six victims (2).

Colne Valley has been at the heart of the textile industry for centuries. The steep hillsides of the valley, dotted with weaver’s cottages. Then variously water and steam powered mills. By virtue of this, Marsden played a unique role in the story of the Luddites.

The cropping frames, so hated by the Luddites, were made at the Marsden foundry of the Taylor brothers, James and Enoch. Ironically, the hammers used by the Luddites to destroy the frames were made by the same foundry and were known as ‘Enochs’, leading to the Luddite cry of, “Enoch makes them and Enoch shall break them.”

Another major player was William Horsfall, the outspoken, anti-Luddite owner of Ottiwells Mill in Marsden. He fortified his mill with gun loops and his quoted desire to, “ride up to his saddle girths in Luddite blood”, led to his assassination by four men, while riding back to Marsden from Huddersfield Cloth Hall, across Crosland Moor. He stopped briefly at the Warren House (which stood on the corner of what is now Charles Street and Blackmoorfoot Road) for a stirrup cup before continuing up the turnpike road. Four men were waiting for him in a walled plantation (on the corner of what is now Dryclough Road and Blackmoorfoot Road). They fired on him and fled, while he fell from his saddle. He was taken back to the Warren House, where he died the next day.

The view from Crosland Moor, overlooking Milnsbridge and Golcar, towards Scapegoat Hill and Slack.

The view from Crosland Moor, overlooking Milnsbridge and Golcar, towards Scapegoat Hill and Slack.

His assassins were pursued by the magistrate Joseph Radcliffe, of Milnsbridge House (3), where he would interview suspects in his ‘sweat room’. George Mellor, William Thorpe and Thomas Smith of John Wood’s Cropping Shop in Longroyd Bridge (Benjamin Walker’s life was spared for turning evidence), were hung at York in January 1813. The evidence for their guilt was never truly proven and their alibis ignored, but the appointment of a hanging judge sealed their fate before the trial had begun.

The Luddites were just one chapter in the long tale of the Labour Movement in this area, agitated by the poverty induced by the Napoleonic Wars, the outlawing of Trade Unions and the hugely undemocratic state of suffrage in nineteenth century Britain. The 1819 Peterloo Massacre in Manchester only served to antagonise the situation, as did the Corn Laws and the monstrous 1834 New Poor Law.

What followed was a ground swell amongst the working classes, demanding suffrage and representation via parliamentary reform, which became to be known under the umbrella term of Chartism.

The first People’s Charter was published in 1838, on the basis of the following main aims:

1. A vote for every man twenty one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime. 


2. The ballot – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote. 


3. No property qualification for members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor. 


4. Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country. 


5. Equal constituencies securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of larger ones. 


6. Annual Parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

The Lancashire/West Yorkshire Pennine Moors were often used as venues for mass political meetings that could be termed as seditious by the authorities. They were often accessible by foot and not easy places to be taken by surprise by troops on horseback. Something that would have been considered important after the Peterloo Massacre. Chartist meetings tended to take place out of the gaze of the authorities and mill owners and could attract surprisingly large numbers. A meeting on Blackstone Edge in 1846, attracted 30,000 people to hear Ernest Jones speak.

Millstone Edge on the boundary between Saddleworth and Marsden.

Millstone Edge on the boundary between Saddleworth and Marsden.

When the second Chartist petition, containing 3,250,000 signatures was handed to Parliament in 1842, a motion to hear the petitioners was defeated by 287 votes to 49. This sparked widespread unrest resulting in a general strike, that spread through a number of industrial towns in August 1842 and became known as the Plug Riots.

On 12th August, thousands of strikers streamed out of Lancashire, over Standedge, into the Colne and Holme Valleys. They stopped off at the mill of Sykes and Fisher in Marsden to demand that work stop immediately. Upon refusal, they drew the plugs of the mill’s boilers (which stopped the steam driven machinery). After visiting the Taylor’s foundry, they marched through Colne Valley, stopping off at Slaithwaite, Golcar and Longwood, drawing the plugs at every mill, until eventually, a mob of over 6000 were confronted by troops at Longroyd Bridge and read the riot act (4).

Overlooking Pule Hill and March Haigh Reservoir (which feeds the Huddersfield Narrow Canal), from Buckstones.

Overlooking Pule Hill and March Haigh Reservoir (which feeds the Huddersfield Narrow Canal), from Buckstones.

In 1848, as Europe quaked under revolution (in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere), the Chartists held a huge outdoor meeting at Kennington Common, on 10th April, which processed to Parliament to present another Charter. In Manchester, Chartists stormed the hated workhouses.

Following the failure of this final Charter, the movement petered out and many moved towards the Trade Union movement. Although the Chartists didn’t achieve their aims during the lifetime of the movement, all but one of their demands (annual Parliaments) were eventually enacted.

It is not overly imaginative to say, that during those years during the first half of the nineteenth century, Britain came as close as it has probably ever come, to revolution and Marsden played a crucial role during those turbulent times.

(1)  www.marsdenhistory.co.uk

(2)  Floods in these valleys were not uncommon. Another flood in Holme Valley, when Bilberry Reservoir burst its banks on 5th February 1852, caused 81 deaths.

(3)  Milnsbridge House still survives and can be found on the junction of George Street and Dowker Street, in much reduced circumstances to those that Joseph Radcliffe enjoyed. It once stood in beautifully landscaped grounds, with two ponds. The industrialisation of Milnsbridge hemmed the house in, although for a while, its gardens were maintained as a park. Now however, the once grand house is now used by a fabrication company and the exterior has suffered greatly.

(4)  The History of Huddersfield and its Vicinity – DFE Sykes 1898

Blackstone Edge

The Aiggin Stone

The Aiggin Stone

The Aiggin Stone

This upright stone is thought to be a medieval waymarker, sited on an old packhorse route, overlaying a Roman road crossing the Pennines. A rude latin cross is incised on the stone, with the letters I.T. Possibly used as a stopping point to say prayers for a safe journey over the moors (being a much more dangerous undertaking thatn it is today), or sometimes as a resting place for those carrying coffins, where prayers for the dead would be recited (1). It is also possibly a boundary marker, being so close to the Yorkshire/Lancashire boarder.

The stone once stood several feet tall but has been diminished by falling and being pushed over. It was found laying in the heather in 1930 and was set back up again in 1933. It has been suggested that the name is a corruption of the Latin word ‘Agger’, meaning “a pile, heap, mound, dike, mole, pier – in Roman antiquity, an earthwork or other artificial mound or rampart.” (2)

An alternative suggestion is, ““The name ‘Aiggin’ suggests a pronunciation resembling either ‘edge’ or ‘hedge’ and thus it might mean ‘Edge Stone’. Alternatively it could be derived from the French ‘aguille’, meaning a needle or sharp-pointing rock.” (3)

 

The weather worn boulder Robin Hood's Bed

The weather worn boulder Robin Hood’s Bed

Robin Hood’s Bed

At the highest point on these lonely, windswept moors, sits a weather worn boulder known as Robin Hood’s Bed. The top of the boulder is hollowed out in a large depression. Legend has it that Robin Hood once slept here, while his followers stood guard.

There is a possibility that the Robin Hood legend here could have displaced a much older legend, that the site was the resting place of an ancient leader. In old Welsh, the word bedd means ‘grave or tomb’ (4). The etymology of the nearby village of Walsden means ‘Valley of the Welsh’ (5). Anglo-Saxon settlers called the indigenous Britons, ‘Welsh’, meaning foreigner. So it is possible that the name derives from the old British site of an ancient tomb.

Another oddity is that when I reached here, after climbing from the car park near the M62, I saw a line of people dressed in what appeared to be white robes walking away on the footpath that leads to the car park near Blackstone Edge Reservoir!

 

Blackstone Edge

Blackstone Edge

Blackstone Edge Chartist Meeting

But waved the wind on Blackstone Height
A standard of the broad sunlight
And sung that morn with trumpet might
A sounding song of liberty!

It is hard to believe now that this high moorland outcrop played a part in the battle for our civil rights. Yet on Saturday 1st August 1846, 30,000 people from the surrounding mill towns and villages gathered here at a Chartist’s rally, to hear Manchester radical Ernest Jones speak.

The days of radical uprisings, the outlawing of trade unions, the hangings and deportations of the Luddites and the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, were still within living memory. The Chartists were the first mass working class labour movement, calling for political reform in Britain, they would often hold their meetings in remote places to avoid the attentions of the mill owners and police. They took their name from the Peoples Charter, first published in May 1838 calling for, amongst other demands, universal suffrage.

“When the State calls for defenders, when it calls for money, no consideration of poverty or ignorance can be pleaded, in refusal or delay of the call. Required, as we are universally, to support and obey the laws, nature and reason entitle us to demand that in the making of the laws, the universal voice shall be implicitly listened to. We perform the duties of freemen; we must have the privileges of freemen. Therefore, we demand universal suffrage. The suffrage, to be exempt from the corruption of the wealthy and the violence of the powerful, must be secret.”

Between 1838 and 1851, five petitions were put to parliament. The second in 1842 containing over three million signatures. All were voted down by MPs (leading to the Yorkshire and Lancashire Plug Riots). Although Chartism itself failed to achieve it’s aims, it did seriously unnerve the political elites and opened to door to winning gradual political reform throughout the remainder of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century.

Though hunger stamped each forehead spare
And eyes were dim with factory glare
Loud swelled the nation’s battle prayer
Of – death to class monopoly!

 

(1)  Ray Spencer – The Northern Antiquarian http://megalithix.wordpress.com

(2)  Herbert Collins (1950) – The Northern Antiquarian http://megalithix.wordpress.com

(3)  James Maxium (1965) – The Northern Antiquarian http://megalithix.wordpress.com

(4)  Paul Bennett – The Northern Antiquarian http://megalithix.wordpress.com

(5)  Kai Roberts – The Northern Antiquarian http://megalithix.wordpress.com

Hartshead Church: Brontës, Luddites and Robin Hood

Heatshead Church

Heatshead Church

For many, the name Hartshead will only be familiar via the motorway service station on the M62, just before the junction 25 turn off for Huddersfield. However, this quiet little corner of West Yorkshire guards a deep sense of history.

The first known church to be built here was a Norman church, built in at least 1120 when the Earl of Warren granted the site to the Priory of Lewes. Some elements of the Norman stonework still survive. This may have replaced an earlier Saxon chapel. In a field nearby lies the Lady Well, where it is thought that Paulinus may have performed baptisms and hints at a much longer tradition of worship here, going back well before Christianity reached Britain. The church was remodelled in 1662 and was extensively renovated in 1881, which is the structure that we see today.

In the churchyard stands the remains of an ancient Yew tree, which is probably at least as old as the church itself. Local folklore tells that Robin Hood cut his final arrow from this tree before his arrival at the nearby Kirklees Priory (Nunwood in Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Shirley’). It is said that he was the nephew of the Prioress and sought refuge here to be bled (a common medieval cure for ailments). Upon his arrival with his companion Little John, he was installed in the gate house, where either by accident or design the Prioress bled him to death. His grave is still reputedly in the grounds of Kirklees Park (another version has his final resting place at Hartshead Church). Little John left casting a curse on the Priory and it is said that the Prioress’ ghost still stalks the grounds.

Left: The ancient yew treeRight: A sundial dating from 1611

Left: The ancient yew tree
Right: A sundial dating from 1611

Patrick Brontë served as vicar here from 1810 to 1815, at a time when the Huddersfield area was in the grip of revolutionary Luddite uprisings that so scared the authorities, 1000 troops were garrisoned in the town. While at Hartshead, Brontë met his wife Maria and had two children, Elizabeth and Maria, neither of which survived infancy. Charlotte Brontë later based her book ‘Shirley’ on the area, with Hartshead Church being cast as Nunneley.

On the night of 11th April 1812, between 150 to 300 Luddites gathered near the waymarker known locally as ‘Dumb Steeple’ in Cooper Bridge. They set off across Harthead Moor with the intention of storming William Cartwright’s Mill at Rawfold, near Cleckheaton. Cartwright had received a tip-off and had fortified his mill in preparation, arming a handful of employees and appealing to the Cumberland Militia (stationed just a mile away) to provide men. What followed can only be described as carnage.

As the Luddites attempted to break in, they were fired at from the mill and were eventually forced to withdraw, leaving behind two seriously wounded men. The wounded were taken to the Star Inn, Roberttown, were both died from loss of blood. Many others were wounded and it is said that trails of blood and flesh, even a finger were found in the area around the mill. It is known that several Luddites died later from their wounds, some reputedly being buried in secrecy in Hartshead Churchyard. Patrick Brontë was opposed to the Luddites, but did not stop the funerals.

The Luddite losses at Rawfold led directly to an act of revenge, with the shooting of William Horsfall, the owner of Ottiwell’s Mill in Marsden, while en-route over Crosland Moor back to Marsden from Huddersfield*. The Milnsbridge Magistrate, Joseph Radcliffe pursued the case vigorously and three men were hung at the New Drop at York Castle for their supposed part in Horsfall’s murder. A further thirteen men hung, for their part in the raid on Rawfold’s.

Although the authorities managed on this occasion to stamp out the threat of the Luddites, resentment burned for generations to come and this was just the first of many uprisings and campaigns in the area, that eventually led to the formation of Trade Unions and better working conditions.

Dark clouds over Heatshead Church

Thought to be near the spot of the Luddite burials

*To be covered in detail in a separate article to come.

Kinder Trespass, 80 Years On

Rock on the slopes of Kinder Scout, overlooking a moody William Clough.

Rock on the slopes of Kinder Scout, overlooking a moody William Clough.

For by Kinder, and by Bleaklow, and all through the Goyt we’ll go
We’ll ramble over mountain, moor and fen
And we’ll fight against the trespass laws for every rambler’s rights
And trespass over Kinder Scout again…

Trespass song based on a parody of ‘The Road to the Isles’.

The Right to Roam

Sunday 24th April 1932 is a date that resonates in the history of the Peak District. As this was the day when more than 400 ramblers took to the then private Kinder Scout, to challenge the landowner (the Duke of Devonshire) over access rights. As we approach the 80th anniversary of this watershed moment in the history of countryside access, it is a good point to assess what progress was made after the trespass and how we currently approach the subject. The 1932 Kinder Trespass has become an iconic event in British history. A demonstration that people power can really work and a small part of the over all movement for a fairer and more equal society. Benny Rothman, one of the trespass organisers who were imprisoned for their part, became the movement’s figurehead. He campaigned about access and environmental issues for the remainder of his life.

Successive enclosure acts throughout the 18th and 19th centuries had snatched swathes of what was once common land. Much of the moorland of the Peak District was privately owned and used for only a few days of the year for grouse shooting. A few footpaths allowed access to about one percent of the Peak District, access to the vast majority of moorland was forbidden. Rambling associations tended to be composed of the middle classes, with Dukes and Earls amongst their patrons. Climbers at Stanage Edge used to bribe gamekeepers to turn a blind eye to their activities with barrels of beer. By the 1920’s and 1930’s however, rambling was becoming a much more popular pastime amongst the working classes. It is thought that tens of thousands of ramblers would head for the Peak District every Sunday. Resentment began to build to the landowners who barred access and the slow lobbying of the official rambling associations. In 1927 a mass trespass took place at Winnat’s Pass, organised by the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers.

The initial spark for the 1932 trespass happened at the British Worker’s Sports Federation’s (composed largely of members and supporters of the British Communist Party) Easter camp that year, held at Rowarth, a few miles west of Kinder Scout. A small group headed for an organised ramble over Bleaklow. Benny Rothman recounted:

“The small band was stopped at Yellow Slacks by a group of gamekeepers. They were abused, threatened and turned back. To add to the humiliation of the Manchester ramblers, a number of those present were from the London BWSF on a visit to the Peak District, and they were astounded by the incident. There were not enough ramblers to force their way through, so, crestfallen, they had to return to camp.”

A Singsong and a Scrap

Flyers distributed around Manchester called for attendance at a rally in Hayfield Recreation Ground on 24th April. This was changed to Bowden Bridge Quarry at the last minute to avoid the police and the Parish Council, who had posted copies of local bylaws forbidding meetings there and supplied the Parish Council Clerk to read them if anyone attempted to make speeches. About 400 ramblers met at the quarry, and after short speech by Benny Rothman, who stepped in when the scheduled speaker decided to pull out, set off along the legal footpath towards William Clough at 2.00pm.

At Nab Brow, they caught first sight of the keepers dotted along the slope beneath Sandy Heys. A whistle was sounded for the troupe to stop. On a second whistle they turned right to face Kinder Scout. When the third whistle sounded, they began to scramble up the steep slope towards the keepers. Although a few minor scuffles ensued and in some cases, the gamekeeper’s sticks were taken and turned against them, there was only one injury (a gamekeeper knocked unconscious suffered a twisted ankle). In the majority of cases, the protesters just walked through the line of keepers, where they reformed and headed for the plateau. Once at the top, they were greeted by a smaller group from Sheffield (possibly from the Clarion Ramblers, another Socialist inspired walking organisation), who had made their way up from Edale. This account was later challenged by one of the gamekeepers, who claimed that no other party had been present that day.

They then pressed on to Ashop Head, where a short rally was held to congratulate the participants on a successful trespass. It was suspected that some may be fined upon their return and a hat was passed around for donations. The party then began to make their way back to Hayfield, retracing their steps along the path down William Clough. They were met by the police at the Stockport Corporation Water Works and an attempt was made to grab someone from the crowd but was chased off by the ramblers. At the beginnings of Hayfield village, they were met by an inspector in a police car, who suggested that they form a column behind him to lead them into the village. They did this and sang as they marched into Hayfield.

It was of course a trap, as when they reached the centre of the village they were stopped by police who began to search amongst them, accompanied by gamekeepers. Six arrests were made (five on the return to Hayfield and another later that afternoon). Benny Rothman was one of those arrested. They were first of all detained at Hayfield, then taken to New Mills, due to the crowd gathered outside calling for their release and charged with unlawful assembly and breach of the peace (notably not trespass, which was a civil offence), as the Duke of Devonshire insisted on pressing ahead with charges.

All pleaded not guilty, so Benny Rothman, Tona Gillett, Harry Mendel, Jud Clyde, John Anderson and Dave Nesbitt were committed for trial at Derby Assizes. It was said that the jury was composed of a cross section of the Derbyshire country establishment, including two brigadier generals, three colonels, two majors and two aldermen. Despite an impassioned speech by Benny Rothman, they were handed jail terms of between two to six months each.

A summer sunset at Kinder Scout, looking towards Ashop Head.

A summer sunset at Kinder Scout, looking towards Ashop Head.

Steps in the Right Direction

The sentences, seen as draconian even then, caused outrage and probably did more to promote the cause than the trespass itself. The trespass also caused division amongst rambler associations, who had been petitioning for an Access to Mountains Bill in Parliament since 1884 and held rallies at Winnat’s Pass since the mid 1920s. They were of the opinion that access could be negotiated and were very different to the young trespassers who saw access as a matter of right. A few weeks after the trespass, 10,000 ramblers assembled at a rally at Winnat’s Pass. It was clear that momentum was beginning to build.

The years following the trespass would see slow steps towards access. Throughout the 1930s, moves were made towards the creation of national parks, an idea first raised by Ramsay MacDonald in 1929 and the subject of the Addison Report in 1931, although it would be another 19 years before the establishment of the Peak District National Park. The Addison Report was kicked into the long grass during the depression of the early 1930s but resurrected at a conference in 1935. The Standing Committee for National Parks was formed in 1936 and published ‘The Case for National Parks in Great Britain’ in 1938.

In 1939, the Access to Mountains Act finally passed through parliament as a Private Member’s Bill, introduced by Arthur Creech Jones (Labour MP for Shipley) but in such a mutilated form that it was described as a landowner’s charter and for the first time, made trespass a criminal offence in certain circumstances. It was bitterly opposed by the newly formed Rambler’s Association, who sought to repeal the long fought for bill.

Throughout the 1940s, the momentum towards the establishment of national parks continued, including the publication of the 1947 Hobhouse Report, suggesting 12 potential national parks. This resulted in Clement Atlee’s visionary post-war Labour Government passing the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council were formed under the new act. Both merged in 2006 to form Natural England. On 17th April 1951, the Peak District National Park became the first of its kind in Britain. In 1955 the first access agreement for Kinder Scout was signed and in 1962, access to Stanage Edge was agreed.

Alongside these gradual steps towards the creation of the national parks, a special mention must be given to Tom Stephenson, who in 1935 set into motion the idea of the ‘Jubilee Trail’. Many long years of negotiation followed and his dream was eventually realised when in 1965, the Pennine Way opened, stretching from Edale to Scotland.

The 1968 Countryside Act placed a duty on every minister, government department and public body to have, “due regard for conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.” In 1970, the Peak District National Park purchased the North Lees Estate, including Stanage Edge. In 1982, the National Trust bought Kinder Scout and declared it open for access in perpetuity.

When the Countryside Rights of Way Act was passed in 2000, it signified the final realisation of over a century of struggle for the Right to Roam. At the 70th anniversary celebration of the trespass on Kinder in 2002, Andrew, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, publicly apologised for his grandfather’s actions:

“I am aware that I represent the villain of the piece this afternoon. But over the last 70 years times have changed and it gives me enormous pleasure to welcome walkers to my estate today. The trespass was a great shaming event on my family and the sentences handed down were appalling. But out of great evil can come great good. The trespass was the first event in the whole movement of access to the countryside and the creation of our national parks.” 

It is a source of great happiness that Benny Rothman lived to see this act passed. He lived to celebrate his 90th birthday, passing away in January 2002, just a few weeks before the 70th anniversary of the trespass.

The Long Road Ahead

Since it’s creation, the Peak District National Park Authority has worked to improve access, biodiversity, learning, safety, management and planning. However, the current government’s assault on public funding has also effected the PDNPA, whose budgets have been slashed. The effect of this is that much of the small percentage of the Peak District that the authority actually owns, is now up for sale or lease.

Recently the PDNPA agreed a lease partnership for the Eastern Moors with the National Trust and the RSPB (who also lease Dovestones Reservoir and it’s surrounding moorland from United Utilities). The authority has also found it necessary to offer up the Roaches and Stanage Edge, in the hope of attracting similar lease deals. Of course, it is a condition that any partners will maintain the natural habitats and access that goes with these iconic Peak District locations.

Although there seems to be no immediate threat to access at these locations, or any current danger of the break up of the PDNPA, it is always worrying when those things that were previously held in public ownership are passed on to private control and one cannot help but fear that this could just be the thin end of the wedge. Already the current Tory led government have floated the idea of selling off the nation’s forests, to be met with a backlash so furious (thanks in part to the petitioning website 38degrees.org.uk) that they immediately backed down. Had this policy not been met with such overwhelming opposition, it is almost certain that the national parks would have been next.

It is concerning that other legislation could have a negative effect upon our green spaces, such as the recent Localism Act that places our countryside in real danger. It places profit and national economic policy before conservation. It dictates that the default position for any planning application is to be “yes”, planning authorities are obliged to “meet local development needs” and deliver a 20% increase in land available for new build housing. The act is the result of intense lobbying by the construction industry. In towns and cities, there could well be enough brown belt land to meet these needs (although Kirklees Council have just ear-marked a considerable amount of green belt for development), the countryside however, without reserves of ex-industrial brown field sites, will probably have little choice but to make green belt available to developers.

Although many victories have been won over the long course of the struggle for access, it would be easy for us to become complacent in thinking that as access to some of the country’s best natural spaces are currently enshrined in law, that these rights are secure. This regressive government’s mood is one of rolling back public funding under the guise of austerity and it would come as no great surprise that, if access laws were judged to be an obstacle to private profit, there is every possibility that they could be repealed. As with our hard won rights in other areas of society, we owe it to our forebears to keep ourselves informed and ensure that their centuries of struggle for social progress are not undone. That we avoid sleepwalking into a future, where our rights to the land that we all cherish are taken away from under our feet once again.

The next time that you walk on the moorlands of the Peak District, or further afield, remember that raggle taggle band of ramblers, who came to Kinder Scout from the mills and factories of Manchester and Sheffield 80 years ago, and thank them and those that followed for the fact that you can now walk freely where you choose in these high places of beauty. And if ever it is suspected that any government minister, landowner or company executive is attempting to take those rights away from you, just ask yourself, what would Benny do?

This article originally appeared on Peak District On-line.

Over looking the trespass site at William Clough towards Sandy Heys (in cloud).

Over looking the trespass site at William Clough towards Sandy Heys (in cloud).