MORE than 100 people formed a human chain in a high-profile show of defiance ahead of a public inquiry to decide the future of an historic piece of land in Ramsbottom.

They gathered at a public footpath which runs through Church Fields — land which has been closed to the public for almost three years.

Saturday’s 30-minute peaceful protest came days before a public inquiry is scheduled to open to consider a bid by Ramsbottom Heritage Society to secure town/village green status for Church Fields.

The hearing will take place at Ramsbottom Civic Hall next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The society has been examining the legal status of Church Fields since its owners, Peel Holdings, fenced off the land in April, 2011.

Society president Andrew Todd has collected statements from many residents whose memories of playing on the fields stretch back to the 1920s.

Peel disagrees over the history of the land with the society claiming it has been used by local people for at least 200 years.

They say the earliest map of Ramsbottom, drawn when the Grants bought land in the town in 1806, names it as Hall Common. The field was widely used by walkers, dog walkers, blackberry pickers, birdwatchers and for a whole host of leisure pursuits before the fence appeared.

Among the youngest of those who took part in Saturday’s human chain event were three-year-old twins Nicole and Faith Holt, who each take turns to play Fiz Stape’s daughter, Hope, in Coronation Street.

Mr Todd said: “The human chain stretched for about a distance of 100 yards on a public footpath and public right of way which runs through Church Fields.

“I was very pleased with the turnout. I saw a lot of familiar faces, including those who had written statements and letters for us. It was a very warm and communal experience. There is a lot of interest in and affection for that land which has been in our family beyond living memory and we resent the way it was taken from us.”

Former Ramsbottom stationmaster and keen conservationist Brian Almond took part in the demonstration along with his wife, Trudie, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.

Carrying a placard detailing the previous attractions and uses of the land, the 71-year-old said: “I don’t want Church Fields to be taken over for housing or anything else. I have lived in the town for 45 years.

“I used the fields when I was a keen walker and my children and grandchildren used to play there. I’m very annoyed that the field is closed off. Everywhere around here seems to be taken over by Peel Holdings.”

Next week’s inquiry will be chaired by independent inspector Alan Evans. He will later give his recommendations to Bury Council which will ultimately make a decision on the town/village green status bid.

Peel Holdings declined to comment.