Kinder: The gamekeeper’s tale
Not surprisingly, the recollection of the mass trespass by John Watson, head gamekeeper and estate manager on James Watts’s Kinder estate, was quite different from that of the trespassers. He claimed it was an “over-publicised and grossly-exaggerated disturbance.”
His son, Ian Watson, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a gamekeeper on Kinder, recalled that in 1982, his father had been invited by the BBC to make a recording with trespass leader Benny Rothman. “He refused to attend,” said Ian, “He did not wish to be involved with any publicity for the book which Benny was preparing for the 50th anniversary of the Kinder Mass Trespass.”
“But he was not aware that the BBC were recording their telephone conversation, parts of which were later broadcast without his permission, and extracts were taken out of context,” said Ian. His father was, of course, very annoyed with the BBC and it was this that decided him to write his own account.
John Watson recalled that for several weeks, newspapers had announced that a Mass Trespass over Kinder Scout would take place, led by members of the British Workers’ Sports Federation, mostly young communists from the Manchester area.
On April 24, 1932 the meeting of ramblers took place in Hayfield village. “A few hundred were present, but the organisers were disappointed as they had expected thousands,” said Watson. They marched on to Bowden Bridge quarry where Benny Rothman addressed the gathering and discussed which way they would approach Kinder. They decided to walk up the public road to the reservoir and then follow the Snake public footpath up and around to William Clough. According to Watson, by this time the crowd had dwindled to about 100 to 150.
Watson continued: “Part way up William Clough some of the hikers left the path for about 50 yards, where they were met by two gamekeepers and 10 local farmers, etc. who had volunteered to help. A short scuffle took place and one of the men, Edward Beever, was kicked in the groin.”
According to Watson, while Beever was on the ground, four people lay on his arms and legs to hold him down. A farmer, Fred Simpson, picked them off one by one and threw them down the heathery bank.
“At the pre-arranged signal of a whistle, all the so-called mass trespassers returned to the public footpath,” he continued. “Here the majority of the hikers decided to return to Hayfield while others, who had not participated in the trespass, continued up the William Clough footpath.”
Meanwhile, back in Hayfield, police (some of whom were dressed as hikers and had accompanied the walkers to William Clough), identified the six ringleaders to uniformed officers and these were arrested. “The whole mass trespass,” claimed Watson, “consisted of about 50 yards by 100 yards wide.”
Watson also denied the claim that a large party had walked from Edale across Kinder Scout via Kinder Downfall to join the main party in William Clough. “This statement was quite untrue,” he said “I was there with another 16 men on the ridge near the Downfall (Sandy Heys) with the whole area in view for the full day, and nobody crossed Kinder Scout.”
He claimed what actually happened was that two groups met on the public footpath at Ashop Head. The group who had witnessed the incident from the William Clough footpath (some of these may have been the party who walked from Edale via Edale Cross) met another group who had walked up the footpath from the Woodlands Valley at Ashop Head. Gamekeepers from the Woodlands Valley had kept this group under observation to ensure that they stayed on the public footpath.
“This stupid mass trespass episode caused much concern with the genuine walker and did more harm than good,” claimed Watson. “For several weeks after this incident, members of the Ramblers’ Federation, the Rucksack Club and the Bogtrotters looked me up to offer their hand and apologise.
“Any claims that this affair helped to bring about Access to Mountains are a complete fallacy, as this Bill had been going back and forth in various forms for over 50 years. Why this senseless and stupid affair warrants so much publicity in the papers and television and a plaque fixed in the quarry to the memory of the mythical Mass Trespass is beyond comprehension.”