The Upper Derwent Valley’s ‘Forgotten Trespass’
PUBLISHED: 09:00 16 May 2014 | UPDATED: 17:27 29 April 2016
copyright Karen Frenkel
Roly Smith looks back at a landmark event in Peak District history with Terry Howard, president of the South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire Ramblers
The Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout on 24th April 1932, has gone down in ramblers’ folklore as the most significant direct action in the century-old battle for the Freedom to Roam on our mountains and moorland.
But there was another, largely forgotten, mass trespass five months later, when a group of about 200 ramblers deliberately walked along the then-forbidden Duke of Norfolk’s Road to Abbey Brook in the Upper Derwent Valley.
Terry Howard, president of the South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire Ramblers, chairman of the Sheffield Group and secretary of the Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland (SCAM), believes it is high time the event was properly recognised.
It’s a situation Terry hopes will be put right at this year’s Spirit of Kinder event, to be held at Sheffield Town Hall on Saturday, 26th April.
‘Although it is often overlooked, the events of 18th September 1932, played an important role in the battle for the Right to Roam, and the fight to gain access to our mountains and moorlands,’ said Terry.
‘The reason that the Abbey Brook Trespass has not received the same amount of publicity was because the authorities had learned their lesson from the Kinder event. After what had happened on Kinder, the landowners and police did not want to make an issue out of it, and they deliberately played it down.
‘No arrests were made, so they didn’t get the adverse publicity they had encountered after five ramblers had been imprisoned after the Kinder Trespass.’
Terry said that this was an attitude which still prevailed when SCAM were trespassing in the 1980s and 1990s. ‘We always told the landowners we were coming, and we would often find previously locked gates opened to us.’
Also unlike the Kinder Trespass, the Abbey Brook one seems to have had the support of the official Ramblers’ Federation, and the stalwart trespasser GHB (Bert) Ward, so-called King of the Clarion Ramblers, appears to have helped with the route and given it his blessing.
On that bright, sunny Sunday morning, about 200 ramblers took the tram out from Sheffield to the western terminus at Middlewood. It was a 3½-mile walk over Wadsley Common, Kirk Edge and through Bradfield, where they had lunch, to reach the start of the trespass. This was at the point where the mysterious Dark Age earthwork of the Bar Dyke crosses Mortimer Road, the Strines road linking Moscar with Langsett.
According to the previously-unpublished diary of an unknown 16-year-old girl, a member of the co-operative educational group the Woodcraft Folk, it was an exciting day.
‘Of course we got plenty of stares as we marched along singing Woodcraft and “Bolshie” songs,’ she recalled. ‘We were all told to keep together and no names were to be mentioned.’
When they arrived at the Bar Dyke and the start of the Duke of Norfolk’s Road there were two gamekeepers and a man on a bike there to greet them. ‘A gamekeeper advised us to go back,’ recalled the Woodcrafter. ‘As we went straight on, he sent the cyclist with a message, we presume, to get assistance.’
Undeterred, the group set off along the disputed right of way, which Ward had proved had been established as a public road as long ago as 1811. The route, which takes its name from the local landowner, Viscount Howard, Duke of Norfolk, passes along Hurkling Edge and over Flint Hill and Brusten Croft Ridge before descending into the deep confines of Abbey Brook and the valley of the Upper Derwent. It was tough going, ‘about five miles of rough moorland, up and down tufts of grass and falling in bogs,’ recalled the youngster.
‘When we got to Peter’s Rock, which is a point overlooking Abbey Brook, we met with opposition in the form of about 40 gamekeepers, among whom were a few policemen,’ recalled the trespasser.
‘In the meantime the gamekeepers whom we had seen in the bottom... rounded up on us and stopped us, but only by the use of big pit props. Two lads got it worse than any of us, as one refused to give his name and address.’
Photographs taken on the day show gamekeepers raining blows on the heads and shoulders of the undefended ramblers. After a heated argument, they eventually set off back the way they had come, accompanied this time by the police and gamekeepers.
‘They swallowed the remarks, which we all could not resist from making, very well,’ said the girl. ‘I am sure they must have enjoyed their five-mile walk on a Sunday afternoon. We shall make them into ramblers yet!
‘It was a full day of excitement although we had to turn back, but numbers make a difference. Next time we want a thousand, not two hundred.’
The Duke of Norfolk’s Road was not finally acknowledged as a right-of-way by the West Riding County Council until November, 1955, under the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.
Terry Howard, a member of the Woodcraft Folk since the age of 10, added: ‘The Abbey Brook trespass certainly focussed attention on the access situation on this side of the Pennines. And we should never forget it.’