Oral histories are interviews with people talking about their memories of things that have happened in their life. They can be about particular events or about what daily life and places were like during their childhood. This can give us valuable insights into the past and help us to see history from a personal perspective.
Through the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, a collection of oral history from the Greater Manchester area is being digitised. One of these interviews is with Benny Rothman (1911-2002), an activist who was one of the organisers of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass in 1932. In the interview he talks about the events leading up to the mass trespass, what happened on the day itself, and the aftermath including his prison sentence.
The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass took place on the 24th April 1932. At that time, it was illegal to go walking on privately owned land and there weren’t public rights of way like there are today. After having encountered aggressive gamekeepers while out rambling, a young group of walkers decided that something should be done. Kinder Scout is the highest peak in the Peak District so it was a prime location to take a stand, and in the end around 400 people took part in the trespass. In this clip, Benny Rothman talks about the decision to have the trespass.
As one of the leaders of the trespass, Benny Rothman provides a behind-the-scenes look at what happened on the day. He describes the scene of the large crowd of trespassers in animating detail and reveals that a third of the Derbyshire police force were there to deal with them! The trespassers made it up to the top despite running into some gamekeepers and held a meeting, which Benny Rothman spoke at.
However, on the way down they were met by the police who arrested some of the walkers. These clips talk about the group setting off for the walk up Kinder Scout and the encounter with the police.
Benny Rothman was one of the six people arrested on the day. He defended himself in court but was eventually found guilty of riot and sent to prison for four months. He was only 20 years old at the time and had trouble getting a job when he came out of prison but he continued to be an activist for the rest of his life. Here, he tells a story from his prison days.
The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass kicked off a movement pushing for better access to the British countryside and contributed to a change in the law and establishing public rights of way for walkers. In 1949, the Access to the Countryside Act was passed which meant that public access to Kinder Scout was finally granted soon afterwards so today anyone can go and walk in the footsteps of the original trespassers!
This blog post was written by Naomi Hall, an MA Library and Information Management student at Manchester Metropolitan University, who is currently on a work placement with Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.
If you would like to listen to the full interview (reference MANOH/20-21), it is accessible in the search room at Manchester Central Library. Benny Rothman’s papers are held at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.
You can find out more about the national Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project at the British Library’s website. Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.