Exploring the High Peak village of Hayfield
- Credit: Mike Smith
From the trespassers of 1932 to the breathtaking views on its doorstep, Hayfield is a village synonymous with excellent walks and hospitality.
During the months when we were urged to forego our right to roam across the moors of the Peak District, in order to save lives, it was worth sparing a thought for those denied access to much of this glorious countryside for very different reasons.
During the 1920s and 1930s, many living and working in the choking environment of the Northern industrial towns and cities sought escape by taking Sunday rambles in the healthy open moorland of Derbyshire, only to find huge tracts reserved as grouse moors for the exclusive use of the landed gentry.
At that time, there were only a dozen accessible footpaths of two miles or more running across the moors. The great plateau of Kinder Scout, visible on the horizon when viewed from the Manchester conurbation, was strictly out of bounds, despite access to this ‘promised land’ being a mere sixpenny bus ride away, at the Peak District village of Hayfield. Bleaklow Hill, an area with an even greater wilderness quality, a few miles north of Kinder Scout, was similarly guarded by gamekeepers.
At an Easter camp held in 1932 by the British Workers’ Sports Federation in the village of Rowarth, there was much discussion about a recent occasion when ramblers from the federation had been turned back by gamekeepers on the western approach to Bleaklow Hill. Reasoning that the keepers would have been thwarted if confronted by a much larger gathering of walkers, members came up with the idea of promoting their case for public access to the Derbyshire moors by organising a ‘mass trespass’ on the better-known hill of Kinder Scout.
The trespass was fixed for Sunday, 24th April 1932, with ramblers being urged, via publicity in the Manchester newspapers, to gather in the village of Hayfield before making their way towards Kinder Scout. At that time, it was possible to travel by train from the city all the way to the Derbyshire village. However, knowing the police were waiting at Manchester’s London Road Station and issuing restraining orders, some chose to cycle to the village. They included Benny Rothman, a twenty-year-old unemployed motor mechanic, and his friend Woolfie Winnick.
On arriving in Hayfield, Benny and Woolfie, accompanied by several hundred other would-be trespassers, set off along Kinder Road, a lane that extends for 0.8 miles from the village towards the foothills of Kinder Scout. Among them was 16-year George Haig who, when he died last year at 103, was the last surviving member of the trespassers.
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When they reached Bowden Bridge at the head of Kinder Road, the party paused to hear words of encouragement from the pint-sized Benny, who had mounted a rock for use as a rostrum. A plaque, unveiled by him in 1990, commemorates the occasion. It is decorated with a fine carving that illustrates a line of trespassers walking in determined fashion to make their protest.
Suitably fired up, the ramblers set out towards the summit. On the sound of a pre-arranged signal of three blasts from Woolfie’s whistle, they began to fan out and scramble up the slopes of William Clough, only to be confronted by stick-waving gamekeepers. Scuffles ensued and the trespassers were forced to retreat. On their return along Kinder Road, they were intercepted by a line of police officers. Several arrests were made for ‘riotous assembly’ and five ringleaders were sentenced subsequently to imprisonment for between two and six months.
The trespassers’ demonstration of civil disobedience and the public’s reaction to the severity of the sentences was a pivotal moment which contributed greatly to the establishment, in 1951, of large parts of the Peak District, including Kinder Scout, as England’s first national park. However, the full rights of walkers to roam through the common land and uncultivated uplands of England had to wait until the millennium year with the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act.
Although a branch line from New Mills, which enabled excursion trains to run from Manchester, closed in 1970 and a bypass, which was opened in 1978, has spilt the village in two, the oldest part of Hayfield, clustering on the eastern flank of the bypass, looks much the same now as it did in 1932. The settlement is still dominated by St Matthew’s Church, whose tower features a large clock said to have been modelled on Big Ben. Some of Hayfield’s cottages cling in picturesque fashion to the steep slopes of Highgate Road, whilst others are set on the banks of the river Sett or are arranged in long terraces that run like contour lines across the surrounding hills.
The beauty of those hills is captured in photographs taken by Simon Bridges, the proprietor of the Elephantstones Gallery, where displays of his evocative images are supplemented by exhibitions of paintings by Harry Ousey and a selection of prints, cards, gifts and Scandi vintage. Although the gallery closed during lockdown, its goodies remained available online.
When cafés open again, visitors will be able to stop for refreshments at various village tea rooms, just as in the 1930s. Today’s versions are Rosie Lee’s Tea and Coffee Room, on Kinder Road, which serves delicious home-cooked food, and Millie’s Tea Rooms, on the main street, a welcoming place that brings to mind Joanne Harris’s novel Chocolat, because a cup of coffee or tea at Millie’s is accompanied by a mouth-watering complimentary chocolate, made by the owner and chocolatier Steve Lee. The nearby village chippy is another favourite because it cooks everything to order and is known for serving large portions.
Hayfield has almost as many inns as it had in the 1930s. Kinder Lodge, on the western side of the relief road, has accommodation and serves award-winning full English breakfasts. The main street contains the George Hotel, one of the Peak District’s oldest public houses, as well as the Pack Horse, a gastro pub with a menu that reacts to the seasons. The Royal Hotel, built originally as a parsonage, occupies a position adjacent to the cricket ground, where Arthur Lowe, who played Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army, was a keen member, and Colosseo, behind the church, is a stylish Italian bar and restaurant.
Although these restaurants and pubs have had to remain closed due to the pandemic, Colin and Leesa of the Sportsman Inn have provided takeaway food for delivery and collection. Their pub is located at the far end of Kinder Road, which is approached from one of the cutest corners in the village, where a quirky back-to-back building houses a butcher’s shop and a laundry. The road makes its way towards the Sportsman after passing between a fine terrace of 18th century weavers’ cottages and the 17th century Fox Hall. The hall was the former seat of the Waterstones, one of the biggest landowners in the district.
If the trespassers of 1932 had managed to evade the Duke of Devonshire’s gamekeepers after reaching the end of Kinder Road, they would have reached a 2,000ft-high plateau before making their way to the Downfall, a waterfall that varies from a mere trickle in dry conditions to a cascade that defies gravity by blowing back on itself in wet and windy weather.
In the months when we were asked to limit our time outside, it was easy for us to understand the frustrations of the ramblers of the 1930s. Like them, we had to confine our view of the Downfall to a distant glimpse of a deep gash on the eastern horizon.
Now, with the easing of restrictions, we can enjoy dramatic close-up views of the Downfall.
In the words of the trespassers’ anthem, The Manchester Rambler, we can, once again, get our ‘pleasure in the hard moorland way’ – keeping a social distance, of course.