Mass Trespass is an entertaining 13 minute documentary film by WellRedFilms about the 1932 Kinder Scout Trespass, which has been described as the most important event of civil disturbance in the history of England.
It is universally accepted that the 24 April 1932 ramble on the moors in what is now the Peak District National Park by 400-500 working class youth, mainly from Manchester and Sheffield, helped pave the way for the creation of national parks and the right to roam on mountains and moorlands across the UK.
Manchester’s Benny Rothman, then a 20-year old unemployed motor mechanic with a background in trade union activity in the Unite heritage union, Amalgamated Engineering Union, was one of five young men imprisoned for defying trespassing laws that were policed by burly gamekeepers who jealously guarded the moors for their grouse-shooting masters.
Rothman had been thrust to the front of the trespassers when the main speaker failed to arrive. His impromptu speech heralded the start of the short trespass, which was opposed by 20 to 30 keepers. On their return to nearby Hayfield, Rothman and four other men were arrested and charged with public order offences, although not of trespass!
Their trial was riddled with class prejudice and on conviction they were imprisoned for between two and six months. Rothman conducted his own defence. It was a masterpiece of working class rhetoric. He was sent to prison for four months and in which time he learnt shorthand!
In Mass Trespass, WellRedFilms has skilfully combined images from 1932 with ramblers walking today on open countryside and re-enacted part of Rothman’s court case.
Modern campaigners for open spaces such as Kate Ashbrook, Roly Smith, who wrote the script for film, and Martin Porter describe how important the events in 1932 were. How they were part of a large peaceful campaign that included numerous public meetings, out door events and the lobbying of MPs. How success was built on collective organisation, a willingness to stand up for core beliefs and the use of innovative tactics that put their opponents on the back foot and led to mass public support that ultimately could not be ignored. These ideas remain vital today.
Smith, who knew Rothman well, describes him as “a fantastic little character, a man of principle.“ Ashbrook describes Rothman, whose parents were forced to flee Romania because Jews were the target there of religious persecution, anti-Semitism and racism, as “brave.”
Action against Mosley
Rothman, a member of the Communist Party, was certainly that when he left prison and immediately became one of the main organisers, especially amongst the Jewish community, in Manchester against the growing threat of fascism in the form of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. Ideological opposition was successfully combined with a strong physical presence on the streets that helped prevent Mosley organising.
Ashbrook, who is general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and vice-chair of the Ramblers, praises the mass trespassers’ achievements that led to the passing of the 1949 National Parks and Countryside Act and the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000, but warns ”our rights are not complete. That is why we are still campaigning for access to woodland and the coast.”
The documentary makes comparisons with current struggles against fracking and the highly contentious chopping down of hundreds of trees by Sheffield City Council.
It closes with a link to the booklet written by myself, who features in the documentary, for Unite Education on Benny Rothman and which can be downloaded for free
The booklet shows how Rothman’s part at Kinder Scout in 1932 was just one act in his lifelong struggle for the rights to roam, workers’ and equal rights, trade union organisation and socialism. Thousands of Unite members have read the book. Other free books on Tom Jones, Julia Varley, Tony Hall and the 1889 Great Dock Strike can also be read for free
Congratulations to WellRedFilms for producing such a good documentary in Mass Trespass, which the actor and political activist Maxine Peake has said is, “A must see! A gem. Informative and inspiring. Lest we never forget Benny Rothman and the mass trespassers… because of their passion and bravery we have our freedom to roam. Long may they continue to inspire us.”
The film, which was directed, filmed and edited by film maker Jordan Carroll can be watched for free here
WellRedFilms is a small Sheffield-based group of videographers and activists who have made 45 short documentaries and features over the past few years. To take a look at their other films see here