Ramblin’ with History

On our last day in Derbyshire, we rambled both in the hills and along the River Derwent. I’ve long appreciated the wide public access to the English countryside, of which I’ve taken substantial advantage over the years on visits to the Yorkshire Dales and Moors, Devon, Cornwall, Sussex, Shropshire, the Brecon Beacons, the south Wales coast, the Lake District, and Norfolk—not to mention many rambles on Scotland’s mainland and the Isle of Skye, and along the west coast of Ireland.

I was aware that this wide public access isn’t accidental but rather the result of vigilance on the part of scores of volunteers, but it turns out there’s a lot more to know—and in this history, more than one Duke of Devonshire played a role.

It’s not even remotely possible, starting out with as little knowledge as I have, to get my arms around and accurately reflect the history of these moorlands, so I can only pass on a small bit of the tale, and it has to do with grouse. I suppose the first thing to know is who owned the land in Derbyshire. Here’s a clue:

. . . some of the Peak District moors had been divided up in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, long before the period of parliamentary enclosure. John Farey estimated that about half the Derbyshire moors were private, notably the Duke of Devonshire’s Hope Woodlands and Lord Howard’s lordship of Glossop. [David Hey, A History of the Peak District Moors, Ch. 5, Improvement and Enclosure]

Within those vast private estates, “rough, unimprovable moors . . . were quickly adapted to the shooting of grouse.” [citation, Ch. 5]

The most radical change in the history of grouse-shooting came with the introduction of shooting butts, or ‘driving holes’ as Dransfield called them. These were made of stone or wood and were mostly disguised by turf up to waist level, though others were dug deep into the ground. The shooter was accompanied by a loader or two to keep up the rate of fire. Whereas in the past birds had been shot as they flew away, they were now driven by beaters towards the butts. . . . The practice whereby each sportsman had one or more loader behind him in the butt to take the discharged gun and pass him a loaded one so that he could fire continuously meant that far more birds had to be reared by the gamekeepers and driven into the line of fire. . . . By the 1880s the bags shot each day were enormous. [citation, Ch. 5]


[w]hen it became the general custom to drive grouse towards the guns to increase the size of the bag, the moors had to be managed to produce far more birds. . . . This new method was disliked by many as being unsporting, but when it was adopted by such leading aristocrats as the Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Rutland it gradually became accepted. [citation, Ch. 6]

Other grouse management “improvements” followed, including encouraging the growth of heather to the detriment of wild grasses and bog-moss. [citation, Ch. 6] This, in turn, led the landowners to stop allowing farmers to graze sheep on the moors. “It was thought that as the management of heather had increased the numbers of grouse enormously, further gains would be made if the young shoots were left to the birds.” [citation, Ch. 6]

David Wood of Old Booth Farm was no longer able to graze 700 sheep on the moor but was reduced to keeping forty sheep on his own land. A telling point for those owners who were not themselves sportsmen was that more income could be obtained from grouse-shooting than from renting moorland for sheep or cattle grazing. [citation, Ch. 6]

Given this trajectory, what happened next isn’t so surprising:

As the moors became more intensively managed for grouse-shooting, so the owners and their gamekeepers became more hostile to people who wished to pick bilberries or to enjoy a walk over rough moorland on their day off work. Bilberry pickers were turned away from Broomhead Moor from 1898 and from other moors not long after. The moors were now managed solely as sporting estates. Sales of game were the only source of revenue. The intensive management of the moors solely for the purpose of shooting led to the removal not only of the sheep but also of ramblers. A clash of interest soon loomed large and was not resolved until the end of the twentieth century. [citation, Ch. 6]

Even after the appetite for grouse had declined, “and the cost of rearing grouse was greater than the income from sales,” the Duke of Devonshire, among other landowners, persisted in managing their moors “between the two world wars.” [citation, Ch. 6]

Enter the rambler clubs.

In 1900 George Herbert Bridges Ward formed what he described as ‘the first Sunday workers’ rambling club in the North of England’, the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers. It was to become the most active group in the access movement during the first half of the twentieth century and Ward became widely known as The King of the Ramblers, the most vociferous champion of the right to roam. [citation, Ch. 7]

The intrepid Ward

inserted an advertisement in the Clarion inviting readers to join him on a strenuous 20-mile ramble around Kinder Scout on Sunday 2 September 1900, meeting at Sheffield Midland station to catch the 8.30 am train to Edale. Eleven men and three women took up the invitation. They probably already knew each other. The choice of travel by rail was significant, for the line through the Hope Valley to Manchester (with a station at Edale) had been opened just a few years before. Now, ordinary people from the industrial cities had quick and cheap access into the heart of the Peak District, including Kinder Scout. The first ramble (a hard walk that Ward had reconnoitred the week before) followed an ancient footpath along the southern side of Kinder Scout, past Barber Booth and Upper Booth farms, up Jacob’s Ladder to Edale Cross, and down the other side of the Pennines to lunch and a sing-song at Hayfield. The party returned via the William Clough footpath around the northern side of Kinder Scout to the Snake Inn, the path that had been re-opened three years earlier. Tea for fourteen was ordered at the inn, to the surprise of the staff who had to bake fresh bread and cakes, and after another sing-song and long walk the return train was caught at Hope, arriving back in Sheffield at 8 pm. What a day! Ward kept repeating ‘Pioneers, oh pioneers’. He was asked to organise five more walks the following year. From such modest beginnings a mass movement was created. [citation, Ch. 7]

Ward organized the first trespass, “in the long campaign for access to mountain and moorland,” in 1907. [citation, Ch. 7] It’s a long story of which this is only a small part, but one major event, in 1932, in which it doesn’t seem Ward participated, grew into a legend: the Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout. Here’s an excerpt from a contemporaneous account:

Four or five hundred ramblers, mostly from Manchester, trespassed in mass on Kinder Scout to-day. They fought a brief but vigorous hand-to-hand struggle with a number of keepers specially enrolled for the occasion. This they won with ease, and then marched to Ashop Head, where they held a meeting before returning in triumph to Hayfield. Their triumph was short-lived, for there the police met them, halted them, combed their ranks for suspects, and detained five men. Another man had been detained earlier in the day. [citation, Ch. 7]

In David Hey’s account,

Before the trial the trespassers had not received much public support. The mainstream rambling bodies, which had used organised trespass before in defence of footpaths, were angry that these young Manchester communists had, as they saw it, ruined their lobbying work. Philip Daley of the Manchester Ramblers’ Federation (and later a member of the Ramblers’ Association Executive) spoke for many when he said that it was ‘a positive hindrance and deterrent to the discussions and negotiations to secure the freedom of the hills’. The turning point came with widespread disgust at the harsh sentences, which were out of all proportion to the crimes. The Manchester Guardian captured the public mood when it said that the trespass had resembled a university rag and should have been treated as such. By trying to teach these Manchester youths a lesson, the military men and country gentlemen on the jury had shot themselves in the foot. The sentences received national publicity, nearly all of it hostile. A stunt that would soon have been forgotten became entrenched in public memory. At a gathering for the seventieth anniversary of the mass trespass in 2002, the eleventh Duke of Devonshire said that the decision to prosecute ‘was a great shaming on my family and the sentences handed out were harsh’. [citation, Ch. 7]

It took over two decades more, but finally, in 1954,

the eleventh Duke of Devonshire allowed the public to roam over his part of Kinder Scout and three years later he granted the same right over Bleaklow, then in 1958 an agreement was reached on access across the remaining part of the Kinder plateau after the Peak Park Planning Board had threatened to issue orders on fifteen owners. [citation, Ch. 7]

And what of Bert Ward?

Bert Ward died long before the battle was won and his influence declined as he grew old. A reward for his achievements came on 8 April 1945 when the Sheffield and District Federation of Ramblers’ Associations presented him with the deeds to the 54 ½ acres of Ward’s Piece on the summit of Lose Hill, across the Edale valley from Kinder Scout, which he immediately handed over to The National Trust. [citation, Ch. 7]

Our walks were gentle strolls, nothing like the one Ward took in 1900, but we did follow his lead in one respect, which was to end our last hill walk with tea and cake.

After lunch, we took another walk, this time along the River Derwent. At its end, at river’s edge, stood a block of flats—but that’s only the most recent incarnation of the building:

Calver was once a centre for cotton spinning and the impressive 7-storey Calver Mill that operated from 1785 to 1920 still stands on the River Derwent to the East of the main village at Calver Bridge, just off the A623. The mill’s somewhat austere external appearance allowed it stand as a film-double for Colditz Castle in a film about the prisoner of war camp but it has since been converted to flats and its appearance has now softened considerably. [citation]

Postscript: An article by David Hey on the Mass Trespass may be found here. As described in the abstract to the article:

For many years Kinder Scout was the scene of bitter conflict over public access to moorland. The Mass Trespass from Manchester in 1932 is now credited by every journalist and even by some historians as the turning point in the battle for ‘the right to roam’ over forbidden lands. In reality, the story is far more complicated than the legend that has grown up around this single afternoon stunt. The Mass Trespassers were totally ignorant of the achievements of the previous generation; they did not continue their demonstrations; and it was the persistence of the long-established rambling associations that eventually achieved success.

More about David Hey may be found here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Listening List

Ewan MacCollThe Manchester Rambler (1932)

David Hey wrote:

Tom Stephenson was dismissive of the whole affair. ‘The mass trespass,’ he wrote, ‘was dramatic, yet it contributed little, if anything, to the access campaign.’ He claimed that public interest soon faded and that perhaps the best thing to stem from the episode was Ewan MacColl’s song ‘The Manchester Rambler’ . . . . At the time of the trespass MacColl was 17-year-old Jimmie Miller from Salford. Unlike many of the others he had been on previous moorland rambles and he was involved with the publicity before the event. He went on to become a well-known actor, singer and writer of protest songs . . . [citation, Ch. 7]

Here are the lyrics to one of the verses:

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 my head
No man has the right to own mountains
Any more than the deep ocean bed

Bonus Track: Ewan MacColl, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (1957), which MacColl wrote for his wife, Peggy Seeger.

Bonus Bonus Track at this link. A great song, ever so apt to this post, the singing of which was led, in 2009, by a hero of the Hudson Valley.


Credits: The sources for quotations may be found at the links in the text. As always on the blog unless indicated otherwise, the photographs are mine.


9 thoughts on “Ramblin’ with History

  1. Steve Schwartzman

    You’ve given a good example of the way popular history frequently distorts reality, in this case making the effect of the mass trespass seem much greater than it was. People’s lack of effort to verify things is one reason distortions persist.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Steve: Indeed it is. I appreciate what’s often called “revisionist” history, which, to my mind, is a continual, and appropriate, reassessment of history as new information and concomitant shifting of perspectives are brought to bear.

  2. hilarymb

    Thanks Susan – I shall refer to this, after I’ve given it a proper read and when I’ve found something else that came up – but has gone for now! Our social history is so interesting … now we have different struggles with the countryside … too many with lack of knowledge and thus not understanding what they do … but we move on. Your reply to Steve and Steve’s comment both add so much – Cheers Hilary

      1. hilarymb

        Hi Susan – thanks for the thought … I did make some notes – but it’s not at the forefront of my blogging brain at the moment – but who knows! So at some stage I’m sure I will … cheers Hilary

  3. David N

    Perhaps I’ve mentioned it before, but Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust is very fine on comparing America’s divide between ‘don’t walk’ and national parks on the one hand and England’s network of public rights of way veining the land. We should be very proud of that legacy, and fight against the farmers and property-owners like the ghastly Jeremy Clarkson who try to infringe it.

      1. David N

        Excellent. There are some good ones in North Norfolk which you may have come across. We started off on one such for our last Norfolk Churches Walk.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          David: I don’t recall it and will be on the lookout. It’s certainly a welcome development here, where there is so much less from which to choose.

Comments are closed.