Trespass

The mass trespass of Kinder Scout in 1932 was a notable act of ‘trespass by ordinary working people from Manchester and Sheffield.  It was undertaken at Kinder Scout, in the Peak District of Derbyshire, on 24 April 1932, to highlight that walkers in England and Wales were denied access to areas of open country that had been enclosed by rich landowners, in the early 19th Century.

Although of course long dead, I have always felt that John Clare should be their patron Saint.

The year is 1820, the place Helpston, an impoverished village in Northamptonshire.  Over the past decade the parish and those around it have been transformed by a parliamentary Enclosure Act.  For centuries the village had been surrounded by huge open fields in which labourers were entitled to farm their strips of land.  To the south, there had been a heath on which a poor man could graze a few sheep or a cow.  But now there are fences, hedgerows, gates.  Trees have been felled and “No Trespassing” signs gone up.  New roads have appeared, streams have been dammed and redirected.  Boundary lines have been imposed like a grid on a landscape that once felt open and free. The common folk?  Legally pauperised.

On paths to freedom and to childhood dear 
A board sticks up to notice “no road here” 
And on the tree with ivy overhung 
The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung 
As though the very birds should learn to know 
When they go there they must no further go

An excerpt from the Act of Enclosure for Helpstone

"AND be it further Enacted, That no Horses, Beasts, Asses, Sheep, Lambs, or other Cattle, shall at any Time within the first Ten Years after the said Allotments shall be directed to be entered upon by the respective Proprietors thereof, be kept in any of the public Carriage Roads or Ways to be set out and fenced off on both Sides, or Laned out in pursuance of this Act."

So at a stroke, no poor man - without an 'allotment' -  could graze his stock on the newly enclosed land.  Pauperised at the stroke of the Parliamentary pen, largely by the very men who would benefit by the Enclosures.  So labourers such as Clare were thrown onto the not so tender mercies of those for whom they worked...


They give me eight pence by the day
& make it up at night
With six pence worth of parish pay
& can ye call it right

Pet MS B6 p166

TRESPASS
dreaded walking where there was no path
And pressed with cautious tread the meadow swath,
And always turned to look with wary eye,
And always feared the farmer coming by;
Yet everything about where I had gone
Appeared so beautiful, I ventured on;
And when I gained the road where all are free
I fancied every stranger frowned at me,
And every kinder look appeared to say,
“You've been on trespass in your walk to-day.”
I've often thought, the day appeared so fine,
How beautiful if such a place were mine;
But having naught I never feel alone
And cannot use another's as my own.

The Poems of John Clare
ed. J. W. Tibble (2 volumes, Dent, 1935)

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