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Right to Roam: The Kinder Mass Trespass of 1932

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Authored by Katherine Waite
Published on 14th September, 2023 17 min read

Right to Roam: The Kinder Mass Trespass of 1932

"We ramblers, after a hard week’s work, in smoky towns and cities, go out rambling for relaxation and fresh air. And we find the finest rambling country is closed to us… our request, or demand, for access to all peaks and uncultivated moorland is nothing unreasonable"
- Benny Rothman, speaking in his defence at the trial at Derby Assizes.

The right to roam freely in open country, often taken for granted now, was only protected and enshrined in law with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in the year 2000. This Act was the result of centuries of lobbying and agitation. This article will examine one pivotal event, the Kinder mass trespass of 1932, that is often credited with determining the rural access we have today and acted as an important link in the chain of events that lead to the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act sixty-eight years later. On 24th April 1932 a group of 400 young workers led by 20 year old Benny Rothman, Lancashire secretary of the British Workers’ Sports Federation, set off to stage a mass trespass on the Kinder Scout in the Peak District in Derbyshire. The ensuing arrests and sentencing resulted in an outcry that changed land rights for generations to come. It is important to remember that the right to roam was fought for and we enjoy access to our countryside today due to the activism of these young workers.

Enclosure of Common Land

Contesting the right of who owns, and who can use and access land, was not a new phenomenon in 1932. From as early as the twelfth century land was enclosed for agricultural purposes and this practice became more common during the Tudor period. Traditional commoners' rights on large, open, communal fields came to an end with policies of enclosure. An individual could buy the ground rights and have exclusive rights of use of a specific section of land. Despite popular resistance, between 1604 and 1914 over 5,200 enclosure Bills were enacted by Parliament, which accumulated to 6.8 million acres.[1] 

The desire for common land for recreation became an increasingly contentious issue with the growth of urbanisation brought about by the Industrial Revolution. There was public concern about the state of industrial towns, particularly as a result of the reports published by the Select Committee of 1833 describing unhygienic and unsafe conditions.[2] The 1830s also saw devastating pandemic outbreaks throughout the country, which were especially bad in industrial towns. Edwin Chadwick’s work on this led to the Public Health Act of 1848, the first example of the government taking responsibility for the health of its citizens. It was believed that miasma, or bad air, caused disease. The fact that in poorer districts the air was foul and the death rate high was taken as proof. It was argued that fresh air was key for good health, therefore many philanthropists and entrepreneurs pioneered the use of public parks to try to counter the ills of the time.[3]

By the 1860s the enclosure of common land was brought to an end when influential city dwellers became increasingly concerned that areas for recreation were becoming scarce, resulting in the formation of the Common’s Protection Society. The Common’s Protection Society garnered support in Parliament and in 1876 the Commons Act ruled that enclosure should only take place when it benefitted the public.[4] The legacy of this society is still felt today. The Common’s Protection Society became the influential Open Spaces Society and ultimately the National Trust.

Freedom to Roam

In 1884 the first freedom to roam bill was introduced to Parliament by Liberal MP, James Bryce. The bill stated "no owner or occupier of uncultivated mountains or moorlands in Scotland shall be entitled to exclude any person from going on such lands for recreation or scientific or artistic study, or to molest him in so walking". Although this bill did not pass, it did bring attention to the cause and was brought back in several forms over the next century by James Bryce and his brother Annan Bryce. James had previously supported various organisations aimed at preserving public rights of way, including the Open Spaces Society. 

The Sphere, 6th September 1930

By the early twentieth century, building on the ideas of previous generations, there was a growing appreciation of the health benefits of exercise in the countryside as well as public parks. Regarded as the ‘Phenomenon of the Post-War Youth,’ hiking saw an explosion of popularity in the early 1930s, as young walkers took to the hills of Great Britain and beyond.[5] This rise in popularity was in part due to the fact that working conditions had been slowly improving, with rising wages and a reduction of working hours. However, it was also impacted by the shockwaves of the 1929 wall street crash, which increased unemployment in England. By the end of 1930 unemployment more than doubled to 20 per cent.[6] There are many articles charting and analysing this phenomenon within the Illustrated London News series. The above article published in The Sphere in September 1930 illustrates the revival of hiking, remarking that the youth of both sexes were increasingly engaging in the activity.[7] On the whole coverage was relatively positive regarding an increase in those seeking outdoor excerise. 

The Sphere, 18th June 1932

However, almost two years later, another article published in The Sphere on 18th June 1932 took a more alarmist tone. The author despaired that "few hikers are very punctilious on the subject of right of way" and disapproved of the lack of "attention paid to private property".[8] Furthermore, the author argued that the “Right of Way Act which has just been passed has opened hitherto forbidden ground to the hikers, and now they are clamouring for still more privileges, and urging the passing of the Access to Mountains Bill, which will allow them to roam at liberty over the downs and moors and hills of England, and leave hardly a corner immune from intrusion”.[9] The author continued on to warn that 

within the last two years hiking has increased to such an extent and become so generally prevalent that it is really a little difficult to see where it will end, and a little alarming to contemplate the extent to which it may grow. One begins to wonder whether the countryside, especially in the vicinity of big towns, will be large enough to accommodate the ever-increasing hordes of bare-legged, sunburnt boys and girls. The gardens and parks of great houses will no longer be private, country lanes will soon resemble crowded thoroughfares, country inns will be as noisy and crowded as popular Corner Houses, and older and staider folk, wishing to have a quiet Sunday walk, will have to restrict themselves to the silent streets of the deserted cities.[10] 

As this author pointed out, conflicts began to emerge between people demanding greater access to the countryside and the landowners. In 1931 a government inquiry had recommended the creation of a "national park authority", however this is not acted upon and tensions continued to grow. This was the situation on the eve of the Kinder mass trespass in 1932.

The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass

In 1932 the Kinder Scout in the Peak District was exclusively kept for grouse shooting by the landowner, the Duke of Devonshire. The Duke employed gamekeepers year-round to patrol his land and keep walkers out, despite the fact that he only used the land for a few days each year. A few weeks prior to the mass trespass a group of frustrated walkers were chased off the Duke’s land by his gamekeepers. Unhappy with a lack of progress by mainstream ramblers groups, on 24th April 1932, between 400–600 workers set off on a walk up Kinder Scout. They were organised by the British Workers' Sports Federation, a Communist-influenced group, and many of those who joined the Kinder mass trespass were also members of the Young Communist League. The protest aimed to highlight that walkers were denied access to areas of open countryside which had been fenced off by wealthy landowners who forbade public access. As expected, the walkers were met by a line of gamekeepers, and when entry was refused, a fracas broke out. Ultimately, the gamekeepers were overwhelmed and the walkers continued on to their destination, the Kinder plateau.

Working Class Movement Library 

In a BBC interview in the 1980s participant Benny Rothman said of the event that it 

was possibly a naive idea that if enough ramblers went on a ramble, no group of keepers could stop them because there would be more ramblers than keepers. We went up the bank from William Clough in one long line and as we went up the bank, the person in charge of the keepers gave instructions to the keepers to come down the bank and meet us halfway. They did that and there must have been a dozen or slightly more brandishing their sticks and shouting 'get back'. Of course we just ignored them or pushed them aside until we got to the top.[11]

Working Class Movement Library 


However, when the walkers returned back to the town of Hayfield, the police were waiting. Six of the walkers were arrested for their part in the day, including Rothman. They were charged with breach of the peace, as well as unlawful assembly and were successfully prosecuted. Five of the walkers were sentenced to jail time of between two and six months. Benny Rothman spoke in his own defence at the Derby Assizes and stated "[w]e ramblers, after a hard week’s work, in smoky towns and cities, go out rambling for relaxation and fresh air. And we find the finest rambling country is closed to us… our request, or demand, for access to all peaks and uncultivated moorland is nothing unreasonable."[12] This resonated with many people and there was a general outcry at the perceived severity of the sentences. A huge wave of public sympathy united the ramblers cause and further ignited the right to roam movement.[13]

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 30th April 1932


The lasting legacy of the Kinder mass trespass can still be seen today. The current president of the Ramblers, the national walking charity, Mr Maconie believes that the trespass is part of a timeline of events that led to the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act and is still ongoing.[14] The general outrage that greeted the arrest and sentencing of the walkers was a catalyst for the passing of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949, which effectively created protected national parks. Fittingly, in 1951 the Peak District became Britain’s first national park and agreements for access to Kinder Scout were negotiated the following year.

This event was memorialised in the song "The Manchester Rambler" by Ewan MacColl. In 1932 singer Ewan MacColl was known as Jimmy Miller and was an unemployed communist from Salford who took part in the walk up Kinder Scout. Ben Harker, who has written a biography of Ewan MacColl, describes that at the beginning of the 1930s Jimmy was an "angry young man" who was out of work, a member of the Young Communist League, and ready to ramble his way to a revolution. MacColl "felt very powerfully that access to the countryside was a birthright which had been denied to working class people by industrialisation and capitalism".[15]

Hayfield Kinder Trespass Group

In 2011 the Hayfield Kinder Trespass Group was established to celebrate the 1932 Mass Trespass and honour the contributions of all who strived to secure the Right to Roam. The group obtained a grant of £18,000 from the Peak Park’s Sustainable Development Fund to carry out the Kinder Trespass Archive Project. One of the worthy aims of this group is to "acquire premises to establish a permanent space within the village to provide a venue for exhibitions and information for local people and the large (and increasing) number of visitors who come here every week to walk, cycle and run in the surrounding hills and valleys".[16] The group's chairman John Harvey explains that this "is a heritage topic of national and regional importance which merits being developed into a significant visitor attraction".[17]

The Right to Roam in 2023

In 2020, when the infectious disease coronavirus triggered a global pandemic, normal patterns of life were disrupted. During a series of preventative measures the public was instructed to lockdown, follow the 2-meter rule, and avoid enclosed spaces. At times, the public were only allowed to leave the house for outdoor exercise. This lead to an unprecedented increase in the general public engaging in outdoor leisure activities. Government figures show that by the summer of 2020, 39% of people said they were walking more than before the pandemic struck and cycling trips for leisure had increased by 26% on the previous year.[18] The benefit of exercise on the nation’s mental and physical health was hard to overstate for many. A reflective piece written for The Guardian in December of 2020 considers how “2020 became the year of the walker”.[19] However, despite the historic lobbying and passing of Acts outlined in this article, in 2019 only 8% of the country was available for public use without the permission of the landowner.

The battle for access rights is not won. Earlier this year, landowner Alexander Darwall won a court case to stop people wild camping on his land in Dartmoor national park. Inspired by the Kinder trespasses, campaigner Nick Hayes and writer Guy Shrubsole started up their own series of trespasses, which began in 2021. After the judge ruled in favour of landowner Darwall, right to roam campaigners organised a trespass on Darwall’s land, to which 3,500 people turned out. MacMahon argues that “this is so much more of an issue than Dartmoor…[i]t threatens everything we’ve taken for granted, really, which is access rights that we all enjoy, which are under a fundamental threat if this is allowed to go unchecked”.[20] Dartmoor national park will appeal against the judgment. Campaigners hope and believe that this may be the catalyst to increased rights to roam in the United Kingdom.


The 1932 Kinder Scout mass trespass was a catalyst to the creation of national parks in Britain. It was not only a cornerstone of the right to roam movement but also became arguably one of the most successful episodes of direct action in British History.[21] Belinda Scarlett, manager of the Working Class Movement Library, the home of the Benny Rothman archive and other archive material relating to the trespass, said the event was "one of the most important examples of direct action of the socialist and communist politics of the 1930s".[22] In recent times, the Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the positive impact that physical exercise, green spaces, and fresh air can have on mental and physical health. With 92% of England’s land and 97% of its rivers not being covered by the right to roam, the fight to protect and extend our land access rights is as important as ever.[23]

[1] UK Government, “Enclosing the land”, UK Government,

[2] Frank Clark, “Nineteenth-Century Public Parks from 1830”, Garden History, no 1 (1973): 31-41.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Simon Fairlie, “A Short History of Enclosure in Britain”, The Land, no 7 (July 2009): 24.

[5] Rose Staveley-Wadham, “Hiking in the 1930s – Exploring the ‘Phenomenon of Post-War Youth’”, The British Newspaper Archive (June 2021)

[6] Alun Howkins, and John Lowerson, “Trends in Leisure 1919-1939: A Review for the Joint Panel on Leisure and Recreation Research” (London: Sports Council and Social Science Research Council, 1979): 48.

[7] The Sphere, “Knapsackery on the Surrey Hills”, The Sphere, 6th September 1930, British Online Archives.

[8] M.B, “Hiking: The Phenomenon of Post-War Youth”, The Sphere, 18th June 1932, British Online Archives.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] BBC, “Right to roam protester Benny Rothman honoured”, BBC News, 25th October 2012,

[12] Eric Allison, “The Kinder Scout trespass: 80 years on”, The Guardian, 17th April 2012.

[13] BBC, “Kinder Scout trespass: How mass action 90 years ago won ramblers roaming rights”, BBC News, 24th April 2022,

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ben Harker, Class Act: The Cultural and Political Life of Ewan Maccoll (London: Pluto Press, 2007).

[16] Kinder Visitor Centre, “About us”, Hayfield Kinder Trespass Group,

[17] BBC, “Archive marks Kinder Mass Trespass anniversary”, BBC News, 8th March 2012,

[18] Department for Transport, “The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on walking and cycling statistics, England: 2020”, UK Government,

[19] Alan Franks, “How 2020 became the year of the walker”, The Guardian, 18th December 2020.

[20] Helena Horton, “’Captured the public zeitgeist’: Court to hear appeal against England wild camping ban”, The Guardian, 17th July 2023.

[21] Kinder Visitor Centre, “About us”, Hayfield Kinder Trespass Group,

[22] BBC, “Kinder Scout trespass: How mass action 90 years ago won ramblers roaming rights”, BBC News, 24th April 2022,

[23] Jon Moses, “There’s no right to roam over a staggering 92% of England. I’ve decided to take a stand”, The Guardian, 17th August 2022, 

Further Reading and Research:

Kevin Cahill, Who Owns Britain, (Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2002).

Benny Rothman, The 1932 Kinder trespass: a personal view of the Kinder Scout mass trespass, Working Class Movement Library (1982) - Shelfmark: J06

Communist Party of Britain, Benny Rothman and Kinder Scout 1932-2012, Working Class Movement Library  (2012) – Shelfmark: AG Rambling Box 2

Malc Cowle, Trespassers!: a tribute to Benny Rothman and all fighters for the freedom to roam, Working Class Movement Library (2012) – Shelfmark: C27

Authored by Katherine Waite

Katherine Waite

Katherine Waite is Head of Publishing at British Online Archives. Katherine studied History at Newcastle University, graduating in 2016. She has worked in the editorial and content teams at British Online Archives. As Head of Publishing she is currently working on curating a collection on the history of pandemic disease in the United Kingdom.

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The British Online Archives blog is a platform for scholars to present their research to students and the general public. The posts cover a range of historical themes and debates from around the world. The opinions expressed represent those of the authors, not British Online Archives or Microform.

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