A BOLTON MP outlined Bolton's mass trespass of 1896 in support of the case for a statutory "right to roam".

In a bid to ensure the Government goes ahead with access legislation to uncultivated land, David Crausby recalled how, in the late summer of 1896, "the people of Bolton were taught the hard lesson that those who own land want to keep it entirely for themselves. Nothing much has changed."

The Bolton North East Labour Backbencher told his parliamentary colleagues that Colonel Ainsworth, who owned the local bleachworks, decided to close a track leading to Winter Hill.

The MP said this denied the right of access to thousands of local workers to walk in the fresh air and enjoy the countryside after a week's work. He hired extra men to use force to keep walkers off his property, erecting signs saying that trespassers would be prosecuted, and built a locked gate to block the road.

Mr Crausby said: "Ainsworth's action caused outrage in Bolton and a protest was organised inviting the public to join a demonstration at Winter Hill on the following Sunday. The demonstrators intended to test the right of way over the moors."

A crowd of a thousand swelled to more than 10,000 as workers flocked from their rows of terraced houses.

Bolton socialist Joe Shufflebottom told the crowd: "We have met today to say to Messrs Ainsworth and Co that we, the people of England, have the right to pass through, and we will do so."

And Mr Crausby said that there were scuffles at this march, although a following procession of 12,000 walked over the land to Belmont without trouble a week later.

Mr Crausby said he hoped that this year the right called for by Mr Shufflebottom would be delivered and said that, sadly, the mass movement died off after 1896.

Describing the protest as "neither a total failure nor a massive success", the MP has told Environment Protection Minister Michael Meacher - in charge of the legislation: "The lesson of the story is that it does not matter how many people march over the moor - be it 10,000 or 100,000.

"Without a statutory Right to Roam, the rights of the privileged few will eventually take precedence over the majority.

"The law will continue the rights of the Colonel Ainsworths of the world to shoot grouse along with a small party of their friends to be more important than the rights of millions to enjoy the countryside.

"That is why a statutory Right to Roam is essential."

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