The access campaigner Benny Rothman has been honoured with a blue plaque on his former home in Timperley, on the outskirts of south Manchester. Ed Douglas went along to watch the unveiling.
It’s not the grandest of houses, but it’s encouraging to know that someone who once lived in this ordinary semi-detached could have such an impact on British life, especially someone from what was then perceived as a suspiciously foreign culture.
Jerry Perlman from the Ramblers reminded the 80 or so gathered to watch Benny Rothman’s name honoured with a blue plaque on the side of 86 Crofton Avenue that the diminutive walker was just one of a number of Jews who made their mark campaigning in the greener bits of our pleasant land. “Howard Jacobson take note,” he joked.
“For so many years Benny Rothman has been an utter hero to me,” Pearlman added. “He caused me to get interested in the access movement.
All those present agreed that Rothman had been an inspirational figure, not just in the access movement, but as an anti-fascist campaigner in the 1930s and a trades unionist after the war. Benny remained a communist his whole life.
During the 1980s, he led the campaign against the grim provisions of water privatisation legislation that threatened to turn back the clock to a less enlightened era. And he lived long enough to see the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000.
Roly Smith, friend of Mr Rothman and chair of the Kinder 80 Committee, said: “It's down to them that we have got what we have today. Kinder Scout and places like that were forbidden and Benny and his pals decided they wanted to do something about it. When they went to prison it united the ramblers and eventually led to this Act.”
Smith recalled how many years ago when he started work for the Peak District National Park Authority as head of information, he was given a blacklist of people he wasn’t allowed to talk to. Benny was at the top of the list. But, Smith recalled, he talked to him anyway, and found him as doughty a campaigner as ever. “He was the first person to mention the threat of water privatisation to me.”
Benny’s son Harry, an academic who has devoted his life to the study of the environment, and his sister Marian led a large family group who had gathered once again at their old home. “He would have been very surprised and proud to see the plaque and he would say it's down to the work of lots of other people at the same time,” Harry said.
Benny went to jail for leading the Kinder Mass Trespass in 1932, in what turned out to be a serious error of judgement on the part of the landed establishment.
“He said it was very educational and he wasn't forgotten in there, he got visits from important legal people concerned they had been unfairly treated. It didn't put him off campaigning, he went on campaigning on environmental issues most of his life."
Councillor Jonathan Coupe, of Trafford Council, said: "The honour of having a blue plaque attributed to you means you have really made an impression on society.
"Mr Rothman contributed to the changing of history and it is because of him that we are able to enjoy the local countryside as often and freely as we can today."