During the months when we were urged to forego our right to roam across the moors of the Peak District, in order to save lives, it was worth sparing a thought for those denied access to much of this glorious countryside for very different reasons.
During the 1920s and 1930s, many living and working in the choking environment of the Northern industrial towns and cities sought escape by taking Sunday rambles in the healthy open moorland of Derbyshire, only to find huge tracts reserved as grouse moors for the exclusive use of the landed gentry.
At that time, there were only a dozen accessible footpaths of two miles or more running across the moors. The great plateau of Kinder Scout, visible on the horizon when viewed from the Manchester conurbation, was strictly out of bounds, despite access to this ‘promised land’ being a mere sixpenny bus ride away, at the Peak District village of Hayfield. Bleaklow Hill, an area with an even greater wilderness quality, a few miles north of Kinder Scout, was similarly guarded by gamekeepers.
At an Easter camp held in 1932 by the British Workers’ Sports Federation in the village of Rowarth, there was much discussion about a recent occasion when ramblers from the federation had been turned back by gamekeepers on the western approach to Bleaklow Hill. Reasoning that the keepers would have been thwarted if confronted by a much larger gathering of walkers, members came up with the idea of promoting their case for public access to the Derbyshire moors by organising a ‘mass trespass’ on the better-known hill of Kinder Scout.
The trespass was fixed for Sunday, 24th April 1932, with ramblers being urged, via publicity in the Manchester newspapers, to gather in the village of Hayfield before making their way towards Kinder Scout. At that time, it was possible to travel by train from the city all the way to the Derbyshire village. However, knowing the police were waiting at Manchester’s London Road Station and issuing restraining orders, some chose to cycle to the village. They included Benny Rothman, a twenty-year-old unemployed motor mechanic, and his friend Woolfie Winnick.
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