Berkhamsted Common. Photo: Roger Jones CC-BY-SA-2.0

Berkhamsted Common. Photo: Roger Jones CC-BY-SA-2.0

As battles go, it’s less well known than Hastings or Bosworth, but a night-time raid to save the people’s right to use an open space is being celebrated by the National Trust.

The Battle of Berkhamsted Common took place on the night of 6 March 1866 when a campaign group organised a gang of navvies and East End hard men to help locals tear down a three-mile iron fence erected by a local peer.

The Open Spaces Society, then the Commons Preservation Society, had been founded only the year before Lord Brownlow erected the 6ft-high barrier around part of Berkhamsted Common. The society organised a trainload of men to walk from Tring Station to the common in the middle of the night to fell the fencing.

The common was never enclosed again and, 60 years later in 1926, it was acquired by the National Trust, which had been founded by the Open Spaces Society in 1895.

The trust is staging an exhibition and commemorative walk on its Ashridge Estate. The exhibition opened yesterday at the visitor centre and runs until 31 March 2016, with free admission.

The story of the common from ancient times to the present day is told in the exhibition. It focuses on the traditional uses of common land by local people in the 19th century and tells the story of the sickly young Lord Brownlow and his domineering mother, Lady Marian Alford.

OSS general secretary Kate Ashbrook said: “We are delighted that the National Trust is celebrating this momentous victory.

“We have a joint history of fighting for commons which are so important to people today, starting 150 years ago with the foundation of the Open Spaces Society and the colourful Berkhamsted battle.

“The lovely Berkhamsted Common and Ashridge Estate are a fine model of the achievements of the National Trust over the years. But our histories are intertwined: after the Open Spaces Society founded the National Trust we raised money to buy threatened land and give it to the trust to own and manage.

“It is thanks to both organisations that there are so many splendid open spaces for people to enjoy today.”

A commemorative walk runs from Dick’s Camp rural car park on the B4506, just south of the Aldbury turning, around the perimeter of the section of common that Lord Brownlow attempted to enclose in 1866. Leaflets of 6km and 3.5km routes can be picked up from the visitor centre.

A guided walk, followed by mulled wine and hot snacks, will take place at 4pm on Sunday 6 March 2016. Tickets cost £15 and can be booked from the visitor centre.

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