Two  Important Anniversaries
written by Mike Skuse

 This year is the 75th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, and therefore a very important occasion for all country lovers. The Act not only paved the way for the creation of the first 10 National Parks in the UK. It also encouraged nature reserves and footpaths and the all important “rights of way” to get to these places.

But it might never have happened without a famous – or infamous – illegal demonstration, seventeen years earlier.

The idea of public access to private land really started in April 1932, when about 400 very left-wing workers from “Manchester way” converged on a mountain in Derbyshire called Kinder Scout and deliberately and noisily climbed to the top, over privately owned bracken and heather.

“I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler, From Manchester way; I get my pleasure the hard moorland way. I may be a wage-slave on Monday, But I am a free man on Sunday.”

They were met by the police and gamekeepers. There were many injuries and arrests.

The things that he said were unpleasant, In the teeth of his fury” I said , “Sooner than part from the mountains, I think I would rather be dead.”

Their leader, who was jailed along with four others, was a Jewish Communist called Benny Rothman, whose family stemmed from Romania. He was a born agitator, who spent his whole life afterwards in trade union work and in opposing Oswald Mosley’s Faschist Union.  When he was young, he found time to make a bike out of salvaged parts and to cycle round North Wales.

Public support for him and for all these brave souls spread very quickly by way of the Press, aided by the growing interest in hiking and camping (does anyone remember those beautful Railway adverts?) and in 1936 the government thought it expedient to form a “Standing Committee on National Parks” with members from the RA, YHA, CPRE, and, I’m delighted to tell you, our own organisation CPRW. This was followed by further legislation, enhancing the protection already granted in the 1949 Act.

The rest, as they say, is history. How fortunate we are now to have all these places, and now Access Land as well  – “land open to the public by permission of the owners.”

Our job in CPRW is to guard all this countryside publicised so irrepressibly by those furious ramblers from “Manchester way”.

Finally, a little story from my youth………just after the war, I used to cycle around the Surrey hills in the school holidays. No traffic, because petrol was still rationed, and no signposts because they had been removed during the war. And only very old pre-war maps.  Because of these difficulties I got to know these  hills very well and even at that age could see their beauty. We were reading Wordsworth at school, so that helped. One day my mother went to the House of Commons on some outing with the Women’s Institute, and when she returned I asked her what they were talking about. “Oh, nothing interesting” she said.  “Some boring stuff about having national parks and things.” So I’ve known about this Act of Parliament  since the day it was debated!

 

MS