Could century old court case hold the key to footpath dispute?

Coun Samuel Moody cutting the fence back in 1908.
Coun Samuel Moody cutting the fence back in 1908.
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A century old court case into an historic right of way dispute has provided fresh evidence in a campaign to bring a coastal pathway back into public use.

Skegness historian and coastal access campaigner Paul Marshall came across the intriguing case while researching the disputed footpath beside the North Shore golf course and its history.

Just as today, the 1908 residents of Skegness and Winthorpe were angered by the golf course’s decision to prevent access to routes which had been used for generations as public rights of way.

Filled with drama, rebellion and even threats of violence, the newspaper extracts reveal how the public successfully fought their corner against the landowner.

Leading the charge was Skegness councillor Samuel Moody, who in May 1908 attended the site of the footpath obstruction armed with ‘an axe, pitchfork and wire cutters’ and announced his intention to cut through.

“For 200 years the family which I bear the name have used this footpath for purposes of social intercourse, labour and worship without let or hindrance and also the parishioners of the parish have past over to reach the Winthorpe Church for a similar period of time,” he was quoted as saying by the Skegness Herald.

“For 71 years members of the Primitive Methodist Church on Roman Bank have also used this path to get to their place or worship. “For a period of 80 years a large proportion or members have used this path for the purpose of reaching the lifeboat station when the summons came to rescue lives.

“Therefore I claim for myself, my children and my children’s children’s children, I claim for my fellow parishioners and their children the right to use this path unhindered.

“Now I’m going though.”

His rebellious deed was reportedly greeted by ‘renewed cheering’, though Coun Moody was aware the fight had ‘not ended’ and, sure enough, he and his seven accomplices were later brought before magistrates in Spilsby to answer charges of criminal damage and trespass.

Numerous witnesses for the defence gave evidence of historic uses of the footpath to access the convalescent home in Winthorpe, the Skegness Lifeboat Station and even burial parties.

After hearing the evidence, the magistrates ruled the defendants had ‘just cause in their action’ and dismissed the matter to the High Courts.

There was yet more drama before the High Court case began when the estate workers built a 20 foot fence to block access once again, prompting the angered residents to set it alight. A tit-for-tat dispute raged on, as the estate removed the Winthorpe residents’ fresh water supply and only reconnected it after threats of physical violence from the villagers.

Mr Marshall is yet to complete his research in to the High Court case, though it has been well documented that it ruled in favour of Coun Moody.

However, whereas it had always been assumed that the High Court ruling referred to a pathway crossing the golf course from an entrance on Roman Bank, known locally as ‘Granny’s Opening’, Mr Marshall believes his research reveals that the route in question actually runs between Winthorpe and Skegness, along the coastal pathway still under dispute today.

Coun Moody is described as cutting the fence almost opposite Church Lane, placing him at the Winthorpe end of the golf course. And the historic accounts of the path’s use mention parishioners travelling along it to attend the church in Winthope, which the Roman Bank connecting path would not reach.

“The question this evidence poses is, does the golf course have a right to close part of the right of way established after the 1908 dispute,” said Mr Marshall. “We are at a similar place to where we were in 1908.

“The residents of Winthorpe are very angry that the golf course continues to restrict access across the coast to Skegness and as well as this it is not good for tourism. Already we are seeing acts of unrest when wire fencing is being cut consistently and I feel it could spill over unless something is done.”

William Mitchell, whose family owns the golf course, says he can’t comment as negotiations regarding the access are currently being carried out with Lincolnshire County Council. However, his view, which he says is shared by the Environment Agency, is that the land in question is a sea defence and not a footpath.

Skegness historian and coastal access campaigner Paul Marshall came across the intriguing case while researching the disputed footpath beside the North Shore golf course and its history.

Just as today, the 1908 residents of Skegness and Winthorpe were angered by the golf course’s decision to prevent access to routes which had been used for generations as public rights of way.

Filled with drama, rebellion and even threats of violence, the newspaper extracts reveal how the public successfully fought their corner against the landowner.

Leading the charge was Skegness councillor Samuel Moody, who in May 1908 attended the site of the footpath obstruction armed with ‘an axe, pitchfork and wire cutters’ and announced his intention to cut through.

“For 200 years the family which I bear the name have used this footpath for purposes of social intercourse, labour and worship without let or hindrance and also the parishioners of the parish have past over to reach the Winthorpe Church for a similar period of time,” he was quoted by the Skegness Herald.

“For 71 years members of the Primitive Methodist Church on Roman Bank have also used this path to get to their place or worship.

“For a period of 80 years a large proportion or members have used this path for the purpose of reaching the lifeboat station when the summons came to rescue lives.

“Therefore I claim for myself, my children and my children’s children’s children, I claim for my fellow parishioners and their children the right to use this path unhindered.

“Now I’m going though.”

His rebellious deed was reportedly greeted by ‘renewed cheering’, though Coun Moody was aware the fight had ‘not ended’ and, sure enough, he and his seven accomplices were later brought before magistrates in Spilsby to answer charges of criminal damage and trespass.

Numerous witnesses for the defence gave evidence of historic uses of the footpath to access the convalescent home in Winthorpe, the Skegness Lifeboat Station and even for burial parties.

After hearing the evidence, the chairman of the magistrates ruled the defendants had ‘just cause in their action’ and dismissed the matter to the High Courts.

There was yet more drama before the High Court case began when the estate workers built a 20 foot fence to block access once again, promoting the angered residents to set it alight.

A tit-for-tat dispute raged on, as the estate removed the Winthorpe residents’ fresh water supply and only reconnected it after threats of physical violence from the villagers.

Mr Marshall is yet to complete his research in to the High Court case, though it has been well documented that it ruled in favour of Coun Moody.

However, whereas it had always been assumed that the High Court ruling referred to a pathway crossing the golf course from an entrance on Roman Bank, known locally as ‘Granny’s Opening’, Mr Marshall believes his research reveals that the route in question actually runs between Winthorpe and Skegness, along the coastal pathway still under dispute today.

Coun Moody is described as cutting the fence almost opposite Church Lane, placing him at the Winthorpe end of the golf course. And the historic accounts of the path’s use mention parishioners travelling along it to attend the church in Winthope, which the Roman Bank connecting path would not reach.

“The question this evidence poses is, does the golf course have a right to close part of the right of way established after the 1908 dispute,” said Mr Marshall.

“We are at a similar place to where we were in 1908.

“The residents of Winthorpe are very angry that the golf course continues to restrict access across the coast to Skegness and as well as this it is not good for tourism.

“Already we are seeing acts of unrest when wire fencing is being cut consistently and I feel it could spill over unless something is done.”

William Mitchell, whose family owns the gold course, says he can’t comment as negotiations regarding the access are currently being carried out with Lincolnshire County Council.

However, his view, which he says is shared by the Environment Agency, is that the land in question is a sea defence and not a footpath.