The ‘Respectable’ Reaction – The Manchester Ramblers’ Federation and the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, 1932.

What was the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass Sign 1905Trespass?

 Until the late-twentieth century, walkers and climbers in places like the Peak District and Scotland had to put up with being excluded from vast areas of mountains and moorlands, which were ‘protected’ by landowners in the interests of game shooting. A long-running campaign emerged in the mid-nineteenth century to create a principle of free access to these areas for working people, but nothing was achieved for many decades. In 1932, a small group of ramblers, led by the communist British Workers Sports Federation organized a ‘mass trespass’ up the highest moor in the Peak – Kinder Scout. About 400 people took part, and after a resulting fight on the moors, several were arrested. The extremely harsh sentences they received over the coming months provided the access campaign with a new narrative, and almost certainly helped push through the (still very limited) legislation of the late-1930s. But the trespass did not represent the majority of ramblers, and the ‘respectable’ rambling groups who were involved in negotiations over National Parks and access bills disowned the militancy of the BWSF. You can find out more here. What was the reaction of these ‘respectable’ ramblers and how did it shape countryside leisure?

The Manchester Ramblers’ Federation and the Mass Tresspass.

‘A period of more than the usual froth and bubble’ was how Edwin Royce, president of the Manchester Ramblers’ Federation, responded to the mass trespasses and the British Workers’ Sports Federation’s radicalizing presence at the 1932 Winnats Pass demonstration. ‘The year 1932’, he hopefully, but inaccurately predicted, ‘will not be remembered as a red letter year for the rambler’.[1] For the respectable, middle-aged and middle-class men who had installed themselves as the leaders of Manchester’s organized rambling community, the militancy of the mass trespasses were an unconscionable challenge to their authority over campaigns for access and national parks –campaigns which already attracted several thousand people to the annual protest in Derbyshire.

It is easy to dismiss the MRF as representative of a wealthy middle-class rambler, content to submit to the will of game-keepers and able to seek permissions from landowners. Yet the clubs who subscribed to the Federation numbered well over 100, and included not just the clerks and school-teachers who predominated in the Holidays Fellowship and Co-operative Holidays Association. It also represented long-established workers’ rambling clubs, and many women ramblers, though the voices of both were notably excluded from publications. Implicit references in their Handbook and personal letters also suggest that they condoned trespass without explicitly encouraging such activities.[2] They sought compromises with landowners and game-keepers, but from the late 1920s, had become increasingly frustrated by this approach. Instead, their strategy was to force the landowners to the table through legislation, not just in the form of the Access to Mountains Act, but with a new system of National Parks as well. Hence the increasing emphasis on the Winnats Pass demonstrations – planned to be expanded into a ‘Rambler’s Sunday’ of joint protests in 1933.[3]

Their objection to the mass trespass was not due to a disapproval of its aims, or even the supposed illegality of its actions. Rather, Royce and his friends feared that the militant tactics of the mass trespass were representative of a contemporary ‘rambling craze’ which was, at the time, threatening to unseat the organized rambling community. The new ‘hikers’, as the MRF described them, were younger, working men and women who visited the countryside in ways that the male, middle-class leadership of the MRF found intolerable. ‘Hiking’, for the MRF, formed an illegitimate conduct in the outdoors to be contrasted to ‘rambling’ – the two words formed a running controversy in the Manchester Guardian through 1931 and 1932 over the use of the ‘Americanism’ ‘hiking’ to describe a homegrown conduct of ‘rambling’. Beginning around 1928, reports from the MRF Handbook increasingly focused on the supposed transgressions and delinquencies of this group. Harold E. Wild, for example, commented on the ‘misuse’ of ‘one’s freedom over the Derbyshire Hills’ which resulted from ‘noisy young folk “letting off steam”’ – elsewhere, this same group were described as ‘troubadours’ and ‘jazz-band larrikins’, and as ‘hanging in ape-like festoons’ while singing music hall songs and wearing suggestive clothing such as shorts with no shirt.[4]

The concerns of ‘respectable’ ramblers like Royce and Wild were effectively two-fold. On the one hand, they feared that the actions of the new groups in the outdoors, if not regulated, would harm the campaign for access by rendering the activity of rambling illegitimate. On the other, they worried that these new activities would irrevocably alter walking in the outdoors so that it would no longer be the practice in self-development and ‘social re-adjustment’ that they advocated. Thus the actions of the ‘hikers’ and mass-trespassers needed to be distanced from the MRF, and brought under control – and from around 1933, the MRF did indeed manage a set of ‘warden-guides’ in the Peak who were supposed to manage and watch the behavior of walkers over the moors.

These attempts to regulate countryside behavior by the the Manchester Ramblers’ Federation and other organisations such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE), represent the beginnings of the regulated forms of countryside conduct that are familiar to us today. Numerous ‘volunteer warden’ schemes were set up in the early 1930s – including, apparently, 8000 recruits in Derbyshire – the first attempts were made (by the CPRE – the Manchester Ramblers’ Federation actually refused to take part) to create a ‘Code of Courtesy for the Countryside’ between 1933 and 1935, and all this from the same groups who were most closely involved in advocating for the Peak District as the first national park.[5] While the Kinder Scout mass-trespass presaged a period of genuine progress on the issues of access to the outdoors, it also served to encourage existing rambling organisations to think more about regulating conduct than promoting freedom, and to establish some of the closely-defined behaviors that characterize so much of outdoors leisure today.

[1] Edwin Royce, ‘Federation Notes’, Manchester Ramblers’ Federation Handbook 1933, p. 85.

[2] See, for example, Wanderbird, ‘The Albatross’, MRF Handbook 1929, pp. 62-63; A. W. Hewitt, ‘The Ramblers’ Federation Manchester and District – Delegates Report, National Council of Ramblers’ Federations Conference (draft)’, London Metropolitan Archives 4287/02/498.

[3] Meeting of the National Council of Rambling Federations 01.10.1932, NCRF Minute book, LMA/4287/02/498.

[4] Harold E. Wild, ‘The Unobtrusive Rambler’, in MRF Handbook 1928, p. 13; Edwin Royce, ‘Federation Notes: This Hiking’, MRF Handbook 1932, p. 10; T. E. Bean, ‘The Complete Rambler’, MRF Handbook 1931, pp. 22-3; Clarion Rambler, ‘The Lost Lands of Derbyshire’, MRF Handbook 1931, p. 25. For more on this, see B. Anderson, ‘A Liberal Countryside? The Manchester Ramblers’ Federation and the “Social Readjustment” of Urban Citizens’, Urban History 38:1 (2011), pp. 84-102.

[5] Letter to CPRE from National Council of Ramblers’ Federations, 01.1935, LMA/4287/02/498; Hewitt, ‘Delegates Report’, p. 2; Turton, ‘Ramblers’ Rights Movement’, LMA/4287/02/498.


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