Sunday, 20 July 2014

A Free Man on Sunday

Here's another of the byways of history that is easily passed by - the mass trespass of Kinder Scout.
It seems strange now to think of the Ramblers' Association as a radical communist movement! Yet in the late 1920s and 1930s a walk in the countryside could be met by hostile farmers and gamekeepers with shotguns, and there was a militant left wing group of ramblers calling themselves Red Grouse. The working people from the industrial towns of the north wanted to get out on their days off to fresh air and countryside, and the landowners wanted to keep the walkers off their land, even where public footpaths existed.
The differences between the two culminated in the mass trespass on the moorland around Kinder Scout in the Peak District in 1932. Trespass was not a criminal offence (and still isn't), but half a dozen men were sent to prison for between two and six months after violent scuffles with the gamekeepers who were trying to keep the walkers off the mountain. The moors were kept for grouse shooting at the time, and were owned by the Duke of Devonshire. Undeterred by the threat of prison sentences, ten thousand ramblers gathered a few weeks later for a walk up Winnat's Pass, nearby.

The only way most people get to hear about this now is through Ewan McColl's song The Manchester Rambler, which has the refrain: "I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday" and includes a verse where a walker argues with a gamekeeper:
"well, he called me a louse, and said 'Think of the grouse'". Most of the ramblers who went on the mass trespass came from Manchester.
There's also an excellent children's book about the mass trespass by Fay Sampson called A Free Man on Sunday - she also wrote the Pangur Ban series for children, a Celtic fantasy involving a white cat, an Irish monk and an Irish princess - and a magical dolphin. She's also written Arthurian fantasy and (more unusually) Sumerian fantasy based around the goddess Inanna.
The mass trespass was the first event in the struggle to open up the countryside to the public, and paved the way for the first National Parks, which were created after the Second World War. The Right to Roam is now enshrined in law, in the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act. On the 70th anniversary of the mass trespass, a commemorative walk was held, and the present Duke of Devonshire apologised for the actions of his grandfather in 1932. Benny Rothman, who was one of the leaders of the mass trespass and was sentenced to six months imprisonment for his part in it, lived to see the Right to Roam legislation - he died in 2002 at the age of 90.

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