Radical History

This short article explores the history of Kinder Scout, a mountain in the Peak District of England. In the 1930’s, a number of working class people gathered to walk on the mountain in an act of civil disobedience. This protest against access to countryside eventually led to a change in the law. This historic example of effective, militant mass protest provides a powerful example of one type of action that is needed today.

by Aimee Wild

The countryside in England is wonderful.

The ‘right to roam’ is a fundamental way of life for some people, me included. As the countryside is given over to roads, houses and shopping malls it has become imperative to protect  what is left and rewild as much as we can. Hundreds of years ago, the land we live on was claimed, by the rich. Rights to land access were denied, restricted, changed. Some of our ancestors were brutally forced of the land they had scratched a living from for centuries; land needed to feed families. Laws were put in place to prevent people hunting, foraging, fishing and even walking on the land. Access to the countryside, to wild places was restricted. Our access to land was fought for, not freely given, and only granted following a long struggle.

Reference to this struggle is not taught in our schools.

Any stories that illuminate the working-class struggle for land and freedom have been squashed. Generations of people have been provided with an education the dominant culture deems appropriate. Songs, books and information provided by those that govern are censored and de-politicised to offer the idea we are lucky to have what we do. This morning I listened to a protest song, written by 17-year-old Ewan MacColl (his birth name was Jimmie Miller), to remember a deliberate act of civil disobedience, the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in 1932. Kinder Scout is a mountain in the Peak District, with stunning views, unique moorland, and waterways. The protest action in 1932 was organised by the Manchester Sports Federation, an organisation founded by the Manchester and Salford Area of the Communist Party. The well-known Ramblers Association was developed shortly after this.

Civil Disodedience got results.

Working class people, women and men, gathered and walked protesting the refusal to allow public rights of way over land privately owned by the Duke of Derbyshire. This act of civil disobedience was met with violence from gamekeepers employed by the landowner. The protest cost six ramblers several months in prison. Time incarcerated that would have had a significant impact on family and friends. This campaign eventually led to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 and the creation of the Peak District as Britain’s first National Park in 1951. Many years later we would see the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Here are the two verses from the song I refer to and a link to the original. These two verses are often left out when the song is played in folk tunes these days. It is a powerful, political English folk tune. The politics and struggle of it deserve to be heard.

The Manchester Rambler by Ewan MacColl

The day was just ending and I was descending
Down Grindsbrook, just by Upper Tor,
When a voice cried ‘Hey you!’ in the way keepers do,
He’d the worst face that ever I saw.
The things that he said were unpleasant,
In the teeth of his fury I said:
‘Sooner than part from the mountains,
I think I would rather be dead.’

He called me a louse and said: ‘Think of the grouse!’
Well I thought, but I still couldn’t see
Why all Kinder Scout and the moors roundabout
Couldn’t take both the poor grouse and me.
He said: ‘All this land is my master’s.’
At that I stood shaking me head:
‘No man has the right to own mountains
Any more than the deep ocean bed.’

The land we roam on is being destroyed.

Field by field of natural habitat concreted over to build more houses. Woodland decimated to make way for more roads. Miles upon mile of ancient woodland, huge areas of biodiversity destroyed at a rate of knots. Thousands of species of plants and animals lose their habitat year on year. The right to roam is a strong, we have laws protecting our access to the countryside. We have no law protecting the destruction of the land. This needs to be rectified before it is too late.

I love our countryside. We need to fight to protect it.

Aimee Wild is a DGR guardian in the UK, an educator, feminist and writer. You can listen to the Northern Folk tune here.

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