How Benny re­claimed the land

Jewish pioneer’s protest 80 years ago led to the right to roam the coun­try­side

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY JONATHAN KALMUS

ON APRIL 24 1932, a five-foot-tall Jewish­man­ledahike­u­pamoun­tain,which in turn led to ti­tanic clashes be­tween Bri­tain’s po­lit­i­cal left and right, be­tween work­ing and up­per classes, and even to a public in­quiry in­volv­ing pop-star Madonna.

The man was Benny Roth­man, a Jewish com­mu­nist from Manch­ester, who led the Kinder Scout mass tres­pass — the most im­por­tant turn­ing-point in the public gain­ing the right to roam across Eng­land’s coun­try­side.

“He was a law-abid­ing cit­i­zen un­less he felt the law was wrong,” re­called Pro­fes­sor Harry Roth­man, Benny’s son, pay­ing trib­ute to his fa­ther, who died in 2002, aged 90. “Un­doubt­edly his Jewish back­ground and her­itage con­trib­uted to what he be­came.”

Of the 500 protest­ing ram­blers, many were Jews. The group marched to Kinder Scout, the so-called “for­bid­den moun­tain” — the high­est point in Der­byshire’s Peak Dis­trict, owned by the Duke of Devon­shire. Here, they were faced by armed game­keep­ers, striv­ing to up­hold a na­tion­wide de­nial of ac­cess to open coun­try in­cor­po­rated within pri­vate land.

A scuf­fle at Kinder Scout re­sulted in Benny’s ar­rest, along­side Julius Clyne, Har­ry­mendel,david­nuss­bau­mandtwo oth­ers. Mr Jus­tice Ac­ton, who presided over the court case, did not let the Jew- ish back­ground of most of the de­fen­dants go un­no­ticed. He was “sure the jury would not be prej­u­diced by the for­eign­sound­ing names of two or three of the de­fen­dants”.

The men, ex­cept for Harry Men­del, were im­pris­oned. Benny Roth­man re­ceived a four-month jail sen­tence. Their harsh treat­ment gave rise to such a public out­cry that, some weeks later, 10,000 ram­blers as­sem­bled for a march across the nearby Win­nats Pass.

“Cer­tainly a lot of English of­fi­cials and mag­is­trates were quite an­ti­semitic; my fa­ther had no doubts about that,” said Pro­fes­sor Roth­man, re­veal­ing that it was not the only time his fa­ther found him­self be­fore the courts.

“At the time, there were marches by Sir Oswald Mosley’s Bri­tish Union of Fas­cists.they­di­dat­tack­many­jew­ish­peo­ple in Manch­ester. Nat­u­rally, my fa­ther and these young Jewish lads got to­gether to sort them out.”

At one protest against a BUF meet­ing op­po­site Crump­sall Li­brary, north Manch­ester, Benny was ar­rested and bound over­for12­months.atan­other,onlyayear af­ter Kinder Scout, Benny was thrown over a bal­cony by BUF Black­shirts.

Ben­ny­roth­man­con­tin­ued­cam­paign­ing un­til his last days, and this bore fruit inthe­coun­tryside­an­dright­sof Way­act 2000, which fi­nally en­shrined the right of walk­ers to freely roam across open English coun­try.

Writer and coun­try­side ex­pert, Roly Smith, ex­plained: “Benny’s out­stand­ing qual­ity was his abil­ity to unite peo­ple. The ridicu­lous sen­tences so in­cited the rest of the ram­bling move­ment that they got to­gether. His later cam­paign­ing meant that 76 per cent of the Peak Dis­trict Na­tional Park’s ac­cess rights for walk­ers are be­cause of Benny. ”

But his bat­tle is far from over. Last year, ram­blers were at the fore­front of a coali­tion gov­ern­ment climb-down over sell­ing off 248,000 hectares of UK forests.

Fol­low­ing a public in­quiry in 2004, Madonna and her for­mer hus­band, film di­rec­tor Guy Ritchie, were pre­vented from ban­ning ram­blers walk­ing across their £9 mil­lion coun­try es­tate.

Harry Roth­man be­lieves his fa­ther’s cause is still alive be­cause “we live in a class so­ci­ety with a very small elite who own most of the wealth, and the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple are within a few month of poverty… There have been enor­mous ad­vances, but all achieved through strug­gles.”

For the 80th an­niver­sary on April 24, Wil­low Pub­lish­ing is is­su­ing a new ver­sion of The Bat­tle for Kinder Scout, Benny Roth­man’s ac­count of the protest. Hun­dreds of peo­ple are due to re-en­act the protest, and a blue plaque will be placed on Benny’s for­mer home.

Stand­ing ( far right in shorts) at Kinder Scout, 21-year-old Benny Roth­man ex­horts the crowd to “mass tres­pass”

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