History Corner – Kinder Mass Trespass 1932

Environmental issues are commonly dismissed as middle class concerns, reserved for those who have no more pressing issues affecting their daily lives. However, people from all classes and backgrounds share the same basic needs of drinkable water, breathable air and a non-toxic, habitable planet

We also all need a connection to wilderness, to not be stuck in exclusively human- or even machine-mediated spaces. Long before concepts of ‘nature deficit disorder’ this was understood by city-dwellers who, working all week in the factories, or unemployed during times of economic depression, would look to the surrounding hill country in their free time. 

The fight for access to these places, unrestricted by grouse-shooting landowners, was seen as an important part of the working class struggle in Manchester and other industrial towns and cities. It was members of the Young Communist League who organised the pivotal mass trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932.

Described asthe most successful direct action in British history,’ the trespass was well planned, widely advertised to maximise numbers and used the disproportionate police and judicial response to gain widespread public sympathy

Five of the 400-or-so trespassers were jailed for 2 to 6 months, accused of ‘unlawful assembly and breach of the peace’ and convicted on charges of ‘riot’, ‘assault’ and ‘incitement’, but the subsequent outcry resulted in the legislative victories of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act and the ‘right to roam’ enshrined in law in 2000.

As singer Ewan MacColl, who participated in the action and commemorated it in the song ‘The Manchester Rambler’, recalled:

‘part of the revolutionary objective was to create a world that would harmonize with that other one that you enjoyed so much […] If the bourgeoisie had had any sense at all they would never have allowed the working-class youth into that kind of countryside. Because it bred a spirit of revolt.’ (‘Theatres of the Left’, p.227 – google preview)

North flank of Kinder Scout

It has been said that you will not fight to defend that which you do not love. Modern environmentalism, to the extent that it remains rooted in real experiences and relationships with these wild places, is indebted to those who fought for the rights of common access, and should stand with those who are continuing these struggles in the present day.

For more information see the Hayfield Kinder Trespass Group’s website, watch the short documentary, ‘Mass Trespass’ by Well Red Films and read Ben Harker’s article, ‘‘The Manchester Rambler’: Ewan MacColl and the 1932 Mass Trespass’. 

-reproduced with permission of Willow Publishing.

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