Winter Hill Mass Trespass

My grandad told me many times that his father and uncle where at the mass trespass at Winter Hill near Bolton in 1896. As this is the 125th anniversary, it seems like a good time to write a brief post about the event.

Today Winter Hill is probably best known as the home of a television and radio transmitter, but in the 19th century its open moorland was a place for the residents of Bolton to escape the overcrowding, noise and grime of the town. The land was owned by Colonel Richard Henry Ainsworth of Smithills Hall, and used by him for grouse shooting. He considered the walkers a threat to the grouse and a nuisance. In the summer on 1896, he had gates erected to prevent access and instructed his gamekeepers to ensure people were kept out.

Towards Bolton from Coalpit Road (image from Google Street View)

Protests were organised

On Sunday, 6 September 1986 locals attended a walk, organised by the local Social Democratic Federation, to test access to the moor. Initially around a 1000 people gathered at the bottom of Halliwell Road to listen to speeches from the organisers. As they set off walking up Halliwell Road, their numbers swelled, and by the time they reached the gates on Coalpit Road there were around 10,000 people in attendance.

Memorial stone on Coalpit Lane

At the gates, they were met by the gamekeepers and a small number of police officers. The crowd was not about to be turned back, singing and chanting they broke down the gates and rushed on towards the moor, passing the Colonel’s shooting huts, and on to Winter Hill. They then carried on across the moor and down to Belmont, were many celebrated their victory in the Wright’s Arms and Black Dog pubs.

From the Bolton News

There were further marches to Winter Hill, attended by thousands of people, on the following two weekends, as well as one on a Wednesday to allow shop workers to attend on their afternoon off. The march on the 13th September was said to be attended by over 12,000 people, this time with no interference from the police or gamekeepers.

Colonel Ainsworth took the organisers of the marches to court and won his case. Heavy fines were imposed, most of which were paid by public contributions.

Though the marches didn’t result in a change in the law at the time, the land eventually passed into the ownership of Bolton Council and people began freely using it.

Less than 40 years later another mass trespass, this time on Kinder Scout in the Peak District, began the process of winning the right to roam in England.

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