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Battle of Kinder Scout

The Battle of Kinder Scout is a 20 minute film shown on BBC2 in July 1970 as part of the ‘Look Stranger’ series. It is introduced by Ewan MacColl, press officer for the Trespass.

Against a sweeping aerial backdrop of the landscape of Kinder, he begins by declaring “There is in this tight little island more diversity, more contrast, than in any other land in the world. This is our desert, a vast plateau of peat bog and heather, the high moors of the Peak District, fit only for grouse – or so they say. Now in this century, since the valleys and plains have been covered with the workshops of Britain, these high and lonely places have become a lung, a place for people to breathe”.

The scene cuts to Edale station, where ramblers disembark from their train, to the background chorus of MacColl’s 'The Manchester Rambler'.  “Access is easy and freedom unlimited … but it wasn’t always so. This was private land, still is”, says MacColl, “I remember when it was jealously guarded and reserved exclusively for the landed gentry and their festival of August 12th”.

Seventy-seven year old Tom Stevenson is introduced as the man who thought of the 250-mile Pennine way and fought for it from 1935 to 1965 – arguing it through, winning the co-operation of land owners and extracting legislation from parliament.

We next meet Fred Heardman, up on Kinder. As ‘Bill the Bog-trotter, he was the first to cross the 56 miles of Kinder and Bleaklow both ways in under 10 hours – moving fast through the sunken sled roads and groins to avoid gamekeepers or sinking into the bogs.

After interviewing a few hikers who appear to know little of the 'Battle for Kinder Scout', Ewan MacColl describes how on April 24th 1932, four or five hundred ramblers assembled on Hayfield recreation ground prior to making the Mass Trespass over Kinder Scout.  “To understand that Trespass I think you have got to know something about the background.”  Over a third of the 3 million unemployed in the 1930s were under 20. Walking was an outlet for their energies. Rambling clubs mushroomed. The owners of the grouse moors were alerted to the dangers and clashes between walkers and gamekeepers became more frequent, more bitter. With the words “The time was ripe for direct action”, MacColl introduces Benny Rothman, Dave Nesbitt and Tony Gillett, at the quarry where the protest demonstration began.

Benny Rothman, Dave Nesbitt, Tony Gillett

Benny Rothman says, “I was the secretary, and had been for 2 or 3 years, of the British Workers Sports Federation in the North. We organised camping, rambling and cycling. Of course I was involved right from the very start”.

Tony Gillett, “My experience of walking alone and meeting gamekeepers had been a private amusement, but this was serious political action I was taking.”

Dave Nesbitt, “The only chance that a young person had of getting away from mucky Manchester and Salford, full or slums and smoke and grime, was for about a shilling or one-and-six, to come out here in the fresh air, and there used to be a mass exodus on a Sunday morning.”

Benny Rothman, “In fact, what brought this particular incident about, was an incident arising from a camp that we had a few weeks before locally. Some of our youngsters wanted to go up onto one of the tops here and they were turned back. And they came back very annoyed, and they talked it over, and we decide that they couldn’t turn all of us back, and that hence a mass trespass – I don’t know who coined the term, but that's what we decided to do. This was our effort to speed things up, and we explained that we were going to go to Kinder Scout, efforts would probably be made to stop us, we didn’t want any violence, we didn’t want any clashes, but we were going up.”

The group of four original trespassers then retrace their steps up past the reservoir, singing as they go, to the site of the trespass at William Clough. Here, on seeing a group of keepers, they had raced up the hill, off the path. Benny Rothman, “We were stopped by a group of keepers, one of the keepers lashed out with his stick and of course was brought to the ground, and that started a bit of a general scuffle. Dave Nesbitt, “It was like king Canute trying to stop the waves.” Tony Gillett, “I personally took a stick off a keeper, and that having been achieved, there was no further violence.”

Perhaps the most affecting part of the film is the re-encounter with Horace Oldham, a Waterboard official who was amongst those trying to stop the trespassers in 1932. After some good-natured banter as the four trespassers greet Mr Oldham, the ‘Battle of Kinder Scout’ is rejoined 38 years on.

“I don’t think you achieved anything”, declares Oldham in a provocative tone. “Well that is just a matter of opinion, isn’t it”, replies Rothman in a calm manner, while rubbing together and clasping his hands.  “People can walk over here freely now”, adds MacColl.  “They could always walk along here”, states Oldham.  “But not along there”, is the reply, as Nesbitt points to the open hillside.

Horace Oldham & Benny Rothman

“Now you can”, says Oldham, “but it was far to early – look, all the ground was owned by people who paid for it, they bought it”.  Nesbitt interjects, “Aye, but their ancestors had pinched it … haven’t you heard of the Enclosure Act?”.

Oldham, “I’ve seen deeds on that going back on that to 1652”

Nesbitt, “Aye, but it doesn’t alter the fact that at one time this was common land. Wait a moment, the only kind of fresh air that we could get from a mucky city was for a shilling ride up to Marple to ramble in this fresh air. Now ramblers they always respected natural things … such as the birds, the grouse, nests, etc.”.

Oldham, “I’ll agree with you there, but the point is this, we had crowds here on the holidays, Bank holidays, who were out, as they are this day, out for vandalism”.

Nesbitt, “I disagree, I think you were brainwashed, I mean it’s alright for you, I mean you had a vested interest, you had a job, you were a gamekeeper”.

Oldham, “I wasn’t a gamekeeper, I worked on the Waterboard, on the Corporation”.

Nesbitt, “they hired you to beat us up, why did you have those sticks with you – wait a minute, there were six of you, I think there was more than six of you, but we will just put it at six. You had no chance of stopping us going on to the Kinder Scout, yet you used your sticks”.

Oldham, “We hate mob rule”.

Nesbitt, “It wasn’t mob rule”.

Oldham, “It turned out to be mob rule ... Oh, yes it did”.

Nesbitt, “Because you tried to do something impossible”.

At this point Ewan MacColl separates from the group (still reliving the argument in the background) to broaden the picture about numerous meetings and demonstrations held, petitions and lobbying of parliament. There was an annual demonstration in the Winnats Pass. Back then to Tom Stevenson, at the time a young reporter with the Daily Herald.  In 1932 the gathering protested against what they described as savage sentences inflicted on the five young men who had taken part in the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout. He describes the Mass Trespass as “Undoubtedly the most melodramatic episode in the long campaign for the right to walk on the mountains and moors of this country. But much more tedious and less spectacular was the work of the Ramblers who held annual demonstrations.”

Last Modified: 20 Jun 2008