Open Spaces Society symposium for The MERL, 8 September 2021

As part of my Open Spaces Society fellowship for the Museum of English Rural Life, I hosted a symposium on open spaces, commons and trespass on 8 September 2021.

merl logo

We had a great range of papers, photography, poetry and campaigns highlighted. I’m grateful to all the speakers, participants and Kate Ashbrook, Sarah Hacking, Nichola Finan from OSS and Caroline Gould, Tom and Danielle from the MERL for helping with the event.

open spaces society logo

Summary of the presentations:

I began with an overview of the Open Spaces Society lantern slide collection, showing how most of the early 20th century slides were taken of landscapes in the south-east of England, and highlighting some of my favourites from the themes of forests, rural idyll and the intrusion of modernity into the countryside.

Ruth Quinn (University of Hull) then followed with a paper about contested ideas of conservation of the rural landscapes in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Saltaire, West Yorkshire. How does heritage preservation deal with working farms and a changing countryside?

Adam Bennett shared his evocative photographs of commons around England. The variety of landscapes, topography, flora and fauna belied any public idea that commons are a homogeneous landscape. Adam’s current project, ‘Common Ground’, can be seen on his website:

Mark Gorman (Newham Heritage) gave the history of the campaign to save Epping Forest in the 1870s. The campaign was distinguished by the working-class involvement, which contrasted with the more middle-class leadership of the Commons Preservation Society. His book about the campaign can be purchased from here:

Dave Toft (Hayfield Kinder Trespass) gave a moving performance of his poem about the Kinder Trespass. Plans for the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Trespass will be posted on their website:

Chris Chilton (Winter Hill 125 and Bolton Socialist Club) showed us photographs of the commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Winter Hill Mass Trespass that had occurred on Sunday 5 September 2021. The day was attended by groups from across the region and from all sorts of communities. He noted Kate Ashbrook’s call to action, that the commemoration was not just a historical piece but had continued relevance for the campaign for rights of way and public access.

Keith Sands gave the history of the Range West climbers’ trespass of 1991 in Pembrokeshire. He presented new research and contemporary photographs showing the creativity of protest, and a reminder of the long-term impact of military requisitioning of moorland by the MoD. The climbers ironically gave names to particular parts of the routes after phrases or sayings of the police, as an amusing form of resistance. Keith’s article about the trespass is in the current issue of Climber magazine:

We then had a practical session identifying some of the missing locations in the lantern slides collection. To help, go to:

near box hill
Open Spaces Society lantern slide, near box hill

Main themes and areas of research emerging from the papers:

1. Why the prominence of forests and trees in the Open Spaces Society lantern slide collection?

The lantern slides are organised in boxes, and there are over a box of slides dedicated to ancient forests and trees. Burnham Beeches in Berkshire feature particularly. It’s obvious why the CPS would then be interested in preserving ancient forests, and be interested in ancient oak trees that were distinctive, for example the great trees in the New Forest. But why so many pictures of individual tree trunks, e.g. in the Burnham Beeches and Epping Forest images, when many were not particularly remarkable individually?

2. Flooding and erosion

There was some discussion about whether the early 20th century images could be used to show landscape change in relation to flooding and erosion in riparian landscapes.

3. The significance of locality and regional differences between commons

Adam’s photographs and the case studies presented by the speakers showed clearly how no commons are the same. Different landowners and commoners have different ideas of what the commons could be used for. A lord of the manor may not want a common to be regulated or developed because of the cost. Differences of ecology and nature preservation are also significant.

What were other countryside preservation and amenity groups elsewhere in the UK doing while the OSS focused on south-east England?

The impact of military requisition on public access and nature conservation also differs across the country.

Discussion on the chat and further links and reading:

There was a very lively discussion over the chat, with many useful links and further reading to be shared.

The OSS Online Exhibition at The MERL, exploring the history of the Open Spaces Society and the invaluable work it continues to do today:

The main exhibition page:

Dr Katrina Navickas’ blog, Mapping the Lantern Slides, on The MERL website:

Felicity McWilliam’s blog, Contested Countryside: Commons & the Cold War:

MERL Blog:

Shane Ewan has also written about flooding as a part of urban environmental history:

The Thames Conservancy Archive at the Berkshire Record Office was recently catalogued for anybody working on the history of rivers.


The DEFRA Magic Map:

Wokingham District Veteran Tree Association

Simon Thurley’s Monuments Men is a good account of the development of Scheduling (introduced 1882), Matless (Landscape and Englishness) on attitudes to landscape conservation and there was a lead-up pre-war to 1947 act which introduced listing. Go to Historic England website.

Lionel Brett’s book ‘Landscape in distress’ was still bemoaning roadside advertising

Common Ground did a lot of work attempting to make the local, ordinary places ‘special’ by recognising the huge gulf between national designations and local cultural association and therefore importance. Parish Maps, Apple Days and other celebrations were part of that toolbox. Conservation rather than Preservation made the switch for developers easier.

Nicola Chester’s new book ‘On Gallows Down’, which addresses various aspects of commons and enclosure from a personal and a nature-writing perspective.

Dr Keren Jones (Hon Sec of Landscape Institute) has an interesting story on owners v commoners on

Ewan Maccoll’s ‘moving on song’ comes to mind in connection with travellers being thrown under the bus:

Relating to rights of access but with swimming water, here’s a podcast on the legacy of Waterlog by Roger Deakin.

Map of potential lost rights of way which need to be claimed before 1st January 2026:

Further Reading:

David Matless, Landscape and Englishness (Reaktion Books, 2001):

Marianna Dudley, An Environmental History of the UK Defence Estate 1945 to the Present (Continuum, 2013):

Paul Salveson, Will Yo Come O’ Sunday Morning:–the-1896-battle-for-winter-hill/

John Withington, Flood, Nature and Culture, published by Reaktion Books, 2013:

Paul Readman, Storied Ground (2018)

‘The problem with the preservationists’ – talk for the Changing Landscapes network symposium

pennine way zoom

You can watch my short paper on the history of preservationist movements, access, amenity and the Industrial Pennines, for the University of Reading Changing Landscapes AHRC network symposium, 30 March 2021.

Link on their webpage, with some of the other talks, including Corinne Fowler on her work on Green Unpleasant Land, and Paul Readman on footpaths:

Direct link to file:

links on the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, 2021, parts 3 and 4, ‘unauthorised encampments’ and the new statutory offence of public nuisance

guy shrubsole sheffield posters (with PDF report)

clauses 54 to 60
unauthorised encampments
serious annoyance subject to 10 years in prison

government response to consultation:

measures on encampments



David Mead for the LSE blog:

Winter Hill 1896 mass trespass commemoration

winter hill stone

On 12 March 2021, I took part in an excellent discussion about the Winter Hill mass trespass near Bolton in 1896.

Local historian Paul Salverson, land reform campaigners Guy Shrubsole and Nick Hayes, and actor Maxine Peake spoke, alongside me. We were chaired by Bolton FM’s Keith Harris. It was a great evening with a large number of local people participating.

guy shrubsole sheffield posters
Guy Shrubsole, photo of posters in Sheffield protesting against the criminalisation of trespass in the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021

Watch the event here:

report on the event in the Bolton News:

Write up on this Victorian Bolton blog:

The organisers of ‘Winter Hill 125’ are hoping to hold a commemorative walk in September this year.

See my earlier blogpost:

‘Aggravated trespass’ and the Ramblers

private land keep out sign

Current government proposals to make trespass a criminal offence have been criticised by groups representing Gypsies & Travellers, and the Ramblers. Trespass has always been a civil offence, but the change to criminal office would increase police powers and potential sentences for those convicted. Guy Shrubsole, as always, is at the helm of bringing the issues to attention.

BBC news report, 21 February 2020

This is not the first time that the government have tried to do this, nor received criticism from both Gypsy/Traveller groups and the Ramblers’ Association.

Criminal Justice bill 1994 and ‘aggravated trespass’

The Criminal Justice and Public Order bill of 1994 raised huge opposition. The most famous resistance was by ravers and New Age Travellers against the clauses aimed at outdoor raves, restricting events playing ‘repetitive beats’.

But another major intervention was the clause that developed a new offence of ‘aggravated trespass’. Section 68 (1):

A person commits the offence of aggravated trespass if he trespasses on land in the open air, and in relatio to any lawful activity which persons are engaging in or are about to engage in on that or adjoining land in the open air, does there anything which is intended by him to have the effect

a) of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity,

b) of obstructing that activity or

c) of disrupting that activity.

Section 68 (1) Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

The Ramblers’ Association challenged the clause. Their correspondence about the bill is now in London Metropolitan Archives.

private no access sign
LMA, Ramblers’ Association archives

The Ramblers did consider what the landowning associations thought would be the application of the Act, and were consoled by the fact that in the December 1994 issue of the Country Landowner Association magazine, their legal advisor warned that ‘it would be imprudent in the extreme for Members to misuse the provisions to cover ordinary forms of trespass … it should not be used to curtail peaceful forms of protest’. They noted the expense and publicity if such a case were prosecuted would be adverse, ‘and would give credence to the argument that the offence is a ruse to make trespass generally a criminal offence’. The warning against using the legislation against trespassers was supported by an agent for several Peak District landowners. (magazine, July 1995, in LMA, 4287/03/057, Ramblers’ Association file on the Criminal Justice Act 1995).

independent 25 July 1994
Independent, 25 July 1994

Court cases

The first court case raised by the Act and the section on aggravated trespass was against Richard Lloyd and Margaret Jones, who took part in a peaceful protest on the road near Stonehenge to mark the 10th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield, which in itself was a landmark event in the history of protest about the freedom of public assembly. Penny English published an excellent analysis of the long-duree history of battles of access to Stonehenge from 1894 onwards, from which this summary is taken (English, 2002).

In 1985, the Free Festival that had taken place at Stonehenge for many years, was banned by English Heritage and the National Trust. People travelling to Stonehenge for the festival were arrested on charges of unlawful assembly, obstruction of the highway and obstruction of police. The incident and the New Age Travellers who were the targets, were a key target of the 1985 Public Order Act, together with gypsies and also striking miners.

Ten years later, in 1995, Salisbury district council prohibited the holding of trespassory assemblies within 4 miles of Stonehenge. Jones and Lloyd were convicted under section 14 of the 1986 Public Order Act, and although their appeal to the Crown Court was successful, the Divisional Court reinstated their convictions. The court held that ‘peaceful assembly does exceed the limits of the public’s right of access to the highway’. A further appeal to the House of Lords was successful. (English, 2002, 14).

The Ramblers’ papers on the 1995 Act contain a report of the case from one of the defendants’ character references. It concluded ‘three points of concern to ramblers that the prosecution made:

  1. that an assembly need not necessarily include twenty people
  2. that they do not have to have common purpose
  3. that the right of the public on a highway is limited to passing and repassing’.
criminal justice act 1994

‘static/mobile’ or ‘sedentarist’ binary in law

In an advice sheet to members, the RA and British Mountaineering Council noted that under the new legislation in Scotland, ‘trespassing on a moor with the intention of disrupting (even peacefully) a legally organised shoot and other similar activities is now a criminal offence, punishable with a fine of up to £2500 or a 3 month prison sentence’.

Although they didn’t mention the legal precedent, this harks back to a law case from 1892 ( Harrison v Duke of Rutland, [1893] 1 Q.B. 142 (1892). A man was prosecuted for obstruction of the highway when he attempted to disrupt a grouse shoot on the moors outside Hathersage in the Peak District. The owner of the land and head of the grouse shoot, the Duke of Rutland, got his servants to restrain and hold down the man on the road. The man appealed for unlawful imprisonment, but his appeal was rejected because he was ‘admittedly on the highway, not for the purpose of using it as a highway but for the purpose of preventing the Duke and his friends from exercising their undoubted right of shooting [therefore] he was a trespasser on the road’. (Manchester Guardian, 5 December 1892; LMA, 4287/02/010, Harrison v Rutland, 1892; Sheffield Independent, 5 December 1892).

This was a significant judgement as free passage along a public highway is a common right, whether or not it goes across private land, but the case proved that people could only use the public highway for getting from A to B, and not for other purposes.

This is an example of what I am terming the ‘static/mobile’ binary, in which landowners and static uses of property have precedence over mobile or nomadic uses. As I’ve blogged before, I’m influenced by Antonia Layard’s model of the ‘trespass/licence binary’ in English law, that explains why anyone who doesn’t have licence to use a piece of land is automatically a trespasser. My ‘static/mobile’ binary framework also echoes Zoe James and Rebekah Southern’s idea of what they call a ‘sedentarist binary’ that discriminates against Travellers, Gypsies and Roma in legal and social policy, and is relevant for the current government’s proposals on trespass.

But the RA and BMC did conclude that, as long as climbers and hillwalkers behaved responsibly, they could not be liable to be prosecuted for aggravated trespass. There was clearly a class and ethnic consideration to the sorts of people who were more likely to have the legislation used against them.

Richard Card and Richard Ward’s study of the Act in the Journal of Planning and Environmental Law in 1996 argued that ‘ramblers who simply trespass, or the family who picnic beyond the confines of the footpath (and who thus become trespassers) do not intend to have any of the effects set out in section 68 (a, b and c above, about intimidating or obstructing the lawful activity on adjoining land) … irrespective of whether their conduct has such an effect or not.’ Nor does the section criminalise mass trespass, unless something is done in relation to any lawful activity, actual or imminent, on the land or adjoining land’. (Card and Ward, 1996, 6).

i.e. there has to be an intent of disruption or obstruction of landowners, deliberately, for it to be aggravated trespass.

I’m researching more on legislation and especially county council policy towards gypsies and travellers, and how it has changed over time. More anon.

Further reading:

  • Richard Card & Richard Ward, ‘Access to the Countryside: the impact of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994’, Journal of Planning & Environmental Law (1996)
  • Zoe James and Rebekah Southern, ‘Accommodating nomadism and mobility: Challenging the sedentarist binary approach to provision for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma’, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 39 No. 3/4 (2019)
  • Penny English, ‘Disputing Stonehenge: Law and Access to a National Symbol’, Entertainment Law, Vol.1, No.2 (Summer 2002), 1–22
  • Gavin Parker and Neil Ravenscroft, ‘Land, Rights and the Gift: The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Negotiation of Citizenship’, Sociologia Ruralis, 41: 4 (2001)

Winter Hill mass trespass 1896

winter hill

I’ve been working on the archives in Bolton relating to the Winter Hill mass trespass of 6 September 1896. More to follow but here are some links to work that has already been done on the event.

‘Will yo’ come o’ Sunday morning’,
For a walk o’er Winter Hill.
Ten thousand went last Sunday,
But there’s room for thousands still!”

“O the moors are rare and bonny,
And the heather’s sweet and fine,
And the road across this hill top,
Is the public’s – Yours and mine!”
The main account is by Paul Salveson, in his 1982 pamphlet,

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896′

see also:

Douglas Hope, Thomas Arthur Leonard and the Co-operative Holidays Association (Cambridge Scholars, 2017):

Walking Histories, edited by Chad Bryant, Arthur Burns, Paul Readman (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016):