Mass trespass on Latrigg recalled

Date: Thursday 2nd April 2015

MEMBERS and friends of the Lakeland Dialect Society met at Thirlmere for the first meeting of the year.

Following lunch, everyone was welcomed by the chairman, Bryan Dawson, who told the meeting a request had been made that a dialect item be included at all meetings. He invited Mrs. Cynthia Nicholas to read her poem about the Helm Wind. President Ted Relph then gave a welcome.

The secretary informed members that all tickets for the performance of John Peel’s Awake at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, were sold out, but that a second performance was planned for the following weekend, Saturday, 18th April, in Caldbeck village hall in aid of local charities.

The speaker was Roy Ellis, from Keswick, who gave an interesting presentation about the mass trespass of Latrigg. Mr. Ellis said he first became aware of the event through the late George Bott’s book on the history of Keswick. Although most present had heard about the trespass of Kinder Scout, few had heard of the Keswick trespasses which were much bigger, more successful and peaceful.

The man concerned about access along old footpaths was Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, who became vicar of Crosthwaite, Keswick, in 1883. Rawnsley was already known as a great campaigner, having been involved with the protests against railway lines from Windermere to Ambleside, Honister to Braithwaite and up Ennerdale all these had been successful and he was considered to be a great defender of the Lake District.

The Keswick Footpath Preservation Association was set up and Canon Rawnsley became its president. It identified all the threatened footpaths. The association arranged to trespass and challenge the closures. Two on Latrigg, Spooning Green Lane and the Terrace, crossed land owned by the Spedding family, who lived at Windebrowe, and a path at Fawepark was an old corpse road which crossed the land of Mrs. Spencer Bell.

In 1887, a group of 20 people gathered at a blocked gate at Fawepark and Henry Irwin Jenkinson explained that they were challenging the closure and removed the obstacles, walked to the end of the path and back.

Later in the day they gathered at the entrance to the path up Latrigg, and found their way barred. Once again Mr. Jenkinson explained their intent, they removed the blockage and walked up Latrigg and back. These actions made no real difference.

Another meeting was held, where it was said that if people did not have access on these footpaths, the Lake District could not be considered the playground of England, and Keswick would suffer from loss of tourism. The press took up the story, and it became a national issue.

A Wednesday at the end of September, 1887, saw another trespass at Fawepark when 500 people and six wagonettes arrived, promised the landowner they would to do no damage and drove and walked along the route and back.

Mr. Jenkinson urged the protesters to gather again on the Saturday for a trespass on Latrigg. This time 2,000 gathered in Keswick, including Samuel Plimsoll. They accessed the path, at the summit they sang the National Anthem and they were back in Keswick by 6pm.

Miss Spedding issued writs for damages against the Keswick Footpath Preservation Association and the case was heard at Carlisle in July, 1888. The landowners stated that the paths should be used only by the landowners and their tenants, but 40 protesters testified that the paths had been used without hindrance, one witness being the son of the poet Robert Southey who had regularly used the paths as a boy.

The court sat for two days and then a compromise was reached that Spooning Green Lane be a public right of way and the Terrace remain private. This was seen to be a victory, and when the men returned to Keswick they were met by a brass band. Other landowners who had closed paths reopened them. The undoubted hero of the hour was Henry Irwin Jenkinson, who was instrumental in raising funds to purchase the land for Fitz Park, and is commemorated on the entrance gates.

As a regular walker on Latrigg, Mr. Ellis said that he gives thanks for the campaigners that made access possible. He ended his talk by discussing the trespass of Kinder Scout in 1932. This is well recorded because, by then, newspapers had pictures. On the day, 500 people trespassed and were met by 60 of the Duke of Devonshire’s gamekeepers.

There were scuffles, and arrests, all those taken to court receiving sentences of between two and six months. Still nothing changed about access and it took until 1952 to get all access routes open throughout the country.

Mr. Ellis was thanked by Mr. Dawson who said we should be thankful to the trespassers, for without them we would not have access to so many beautiful places in our country.