Long before the famous trespass on Kinder from Hayfield, there was the less well known, but much larger march over Winter Hill, behind Bolton Lancashire.
In August 1896, Colonel Richard Ainsworth, the local squire and factory owner, closed a track known as Coal Pit Road. A gate was erected part way up this lane where it split from the track to the hill farms. This lane had been constructed by his grandfather in 1822 as access to his a small colliery high up on the on the side of Winter Hill. After the mines were worked out, it was continued to be used as a way over the moors and across to the still working pits and brick and tile works at Hole Bottom. Colonel Ainsworth used the track as access onto the moors for his beloved shooting parties.
In the 1890’s he became chairman of the local council and took the opportunity to close some of his tracks and paths on his estate. On Coal Pit Road, he decided that local people disturbed the grouse and his shooting parties.
Two locals, the wonderfully named Solomon Partington and Joseph Shufflebotham, decided to organise a trespass to reclaim the “historical right of way”. On 6th September, around 1,000 assembled at the bottom of Halliwell Road near Bolton town centre and set off on a seven-mile walk via the disputed track and over the top of the hill.
More joined the walk as they headed towards Coalpit Road, many of them colliers in their working clothes rather than their sunday best. Employees at Ainsworth’s Smithills bleach works, will also have joined in as the march made its way up Smithills Dean Road. By the time the gate was reached, there were 10,000 walking, led by a brass band. At the gate, Police and gamekeepers were waiting for the marchers. There were speeches, warnings of legal action from both sides and a short melee. Despite police reinforcements being called, the crowd continued up the path to the top of the hill, removing obstructions and any signs blocking the way. They went over the top of the hill and down into Belmont where the local did a roaring business.
The following weekends more marches were held, eventually, Ainsworth succeeded in getting writs issued to the leaders and the marches stopped while the court case was held. The Colonel won his case, proving to the court this it wasn’t a right of way and he was within his rights to close the path. The leaders of the march were bankrupted for the legal fees and damages they had incurred.
It took many years for the path to be declared a right of way, and Boltonians lost interest in the dispute. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the council bought the land and ramblers started organising access again, that access became free, although Boltonians would no doubt wander across the moors, up Coal Pit Road to the top of Winter Hill.
The memorial stone was erected in 1996, the centenary of the march. It is located just where the main track leaves Coalpit Road proper and Colonel Ainsworth constructed his gate. The gate there now stops vehicle access and tries to keep Mountain Bikes out. Over the last few years bad weather has eroded the upper section of the track and access for mountain bikes has been restricted. It is no longer the great bike route to Winter Hill it once was, is still the best direct way to the top of Winter Hill.
If you would like to read more about the Trespass, I would recommend Paul Salversons booklet, Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Morning. The 1896 Battle for Winter Hill. He also has excellent publications on Allen Clarke.