Ruins at Crow Edge

Cresting on the rising swell of fields,
a rotting hulk of stone and wood.
Soil lapping at your walls,
time dissolves you slowly.

What noises once echoed around your crumbling byres,
laughter, braying and shouts.
Dim, receding memories fly from your crumbling walls,
like the crows nesting in your cracks.

Steps suspended, no longer climbed,
your roof no longer mended.
Once a stern steward, now helpless,
as the green swell pulls you under.

The Corn Law Rhymer

Ebenezer Elliott (17 March 1781 – 1 December 1849)

Ebenezer Elliott's grave in All Saints Churchyard, Darfied

Ebenezer Elliott’s grave in All Saints Churchyard, Darfied (behind railings).

There is one grave that stands out a little from the others in the peaceful churchyard of All Saints in Darfield. It seems slightly better tended with a fresh coat of paint on its iron railings. This is the grave of Ebenezer Elliott.

Known as the Corn Law Rhymer, Elliott was a vociferous champion of the industrial poor and critic of the Corn Laws (or Bread Tax) at a time of great political upheaval. Internationally famous during his own lifetime, he struck an odd figure in that he was a radical of the factory owning class. He was also something of an early exponent of the right to roam, taking to the countryside on a Sunday, freed of the weekday chains of the factory.

Footpaths(excerpt)

The poor man’s walk they take away,
The solace of his only day,
Where now, unseen, the flowers are blowing,
And, all unheard, the stream is flowing

Elliott was born in Masbrough, Rotherham, the son of a foundry owner known as ‘Devil Elliott’, on account of his fiery Calvinist sermons. A rather solitary child, the young Ebenezer preferred to play truant from school and spend his time exploring the countryside around Rotherham. It was his love of nature that influenced his early poetry.

At the age of sixteen he was set to work in his father’s foundry, where he remained until 1816 until the firm failed after his father’s death and he was declared bankrupt. With funds from his wife’s sister, he moved to Sheffield in 1819 to set up as an iron merchant and steel manufacturer.

Throughout this time he continued to write poetry, but his experience of impoverishment forged an affinity with the poor. He could see the effect that the hated Corn Laws (which he named the Bread Tax) had on the poor and blamed them for his own downfall.

The Corn Laws were introduced in 1815 and imposed restrictions and tariffs on imported grain, designed to keep prices high and favour domestic producers. The effect of this was to raise food prices and ensure that shortages left people hungry.

Becoming increasingly politically active, Elliot’s views demanding change to benefit both manufacturers and workers were well  known in Sheffield, where he was often disliked by other business owners. He set up the Sheffield Mechanics’ Anti-Bread Tax Society,  campaigned for the 1832 Reform Act and became active in the Chartist movement.

He earned the name of ‘The Corn Law Rhymer’ following a burst of published poems, The Village Patriarch (1829), The Ranter (1830) and the Corn Law Rhymes (1831). These were followed by the even more incendiary Corn Law Hymns in 1835.

His poems gained him international fame and his most celebrated poem, The People’s Anthem was even sung in schools.

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh, God of mercy! when?
Not kings and lords, but nations!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!

Upon the advice of his doctor, who considered that he may drop dead during one of his furious tirades against the Bread Tax, Elliot retired in 1841 to a house at Hargate Hill near Great Houghton, on the outskirts of Barnsley. Here he lived a quiet life, following his literary interests. He lived to see the Corn Law repealed in 1846, before his death in 1849 after an attempt at self-surgery.

He was buried in the churchyard of nearby All Saints Church at Darfield, where his tomb can still be seen. A monument to Elliott was erected in 1854 outside the post office in Sheffield market place, later moved to its current position in Weston Park on 1874. The statue depicts Elliott sat on his favourite rock in Rivelin Valley. The rock bearing his name can still be seen at the top of Black Brook waterfall.

Celebrated during his lifetime, Ebenezer Elliott has been largely forgotten in the century and a half since his death. He struck an odd figure as a bourgeois factory owning exponent of free trade, yet was ferocious in his defence of the rights and struggles of the working class. His poetry should be remembered for not only casting light upon the conditions that working people were forced to endure, but for his love of nature too. He wrote many poems about the beauty of the Peak District and his beloved Rivelin Valley.

from Win-Hill, or, the Curse of God

High on the topmost jewel of thy crown,
Win-Hill! I sit bareheaded, ankle-deep
In tufts of rose-cupp’d bilberries; and look down
On towns that smoke below, and homes that creep
Into the silvery clouds, which far-off keep
Their sultry state! and many a mountain stream,
And many a mountain vale, “and ridgy steep;”
The Peak, and all his mountains, where they gleam
Or frown, remote or near, more distant than they seem!

There flows the Ashop, yonder bounds the Wye,
And Derwent here towards princely Chatsworth trends;
But, while the Nough steals purple from the sky,
Lo! northward far, what giant’s shadow bends?
A voice of torrents, hark! its wailing sends;
Who drives yon tortured cloud through stone-still air?
A rush! a roar! a wing! a whirlwind rends
The stooping larch! The moorlands cry “Prepare!
It comes! ye gore-gorged foes of want and toil, beware!”
It comes! Behold! – Black Blakelow hoists on high
His signals to the blast from Gledhill’s brow.
Them, slowly glooming on the lessening sky,
The bread-tax’d exile sees, (in speechless woe,
Wandering the melancholy main below,
Where round the shores of Man the dark surge heaves,)
And while his children’s tears in silence flow,
Thinks of sweet scenes to which his soul still cleaves,
That home on Etherow’s side, which he for ever leaves.
Now expectation listens, mute and pale,
While, ridged with sudden foam, the Derwent brawls;
Arrow-like comes the rain, like fire the hail;
And, hark! Mam-Tor on shuddering Stanage calls!
See, what a frown o’er castled Winnat falls!
Down drops the death-black sky! and Kinderscout,
Conscious of glory, laughs at intervals;
Then lifts his helmet, throws his thunders out,
Bathes all the hills in flame, and hails their stormy shout.
High on the topmost jewel of thy crown,
Win-Hill! I sit bareheaded, ankle-deep
In tufts of rose-cupp’d bilberries; and look down
On towns that smoke below, and homes that creep
Into the silvery clouds, which far-off keep
Their sultry state! and many a mountain stream,
And many a mountain vale, “and ridgy steep;”
The Peak, and all his mountains, where they gleam
Or frown, remote or near, more distant than they seem!
There flows the Ashop, yonder bounds the Wye,
And Derwent here towards princely Chatsworth trends;
But, while the Nough steals purple from the sky,
Lo! northward far, what giant’s shadow bends?
A voice of torrents, hark! its wailing sends;
Who drives yon tortured cloud through stone-still air?
A rush! a roar! a wing! a whirlwind rends
The stooping larch! The moorlands cry “Prepare!
It comes! ye gore-gorged foes of want and toil, beware!”
It comes! Behold!—Black Blakelow hoists on high
His signals to the blast from Gledhill’s brow.
Them, slowly glooming on the lessening sky,
The bread-tax’d exile sees, (in speechless woe,
Wandering the melancholy main below,
Where round the shores of Man the dark surge heaves,)
And while his children’s tears in silence flow,
Thinks of sweet scenes to which his soul still cleaves,
That home on Etherow’s side, which he for ever leaves.
Now expectation listens, mute and pale,
While, ridged with sudden foam, the Derwent brawls;
Arrow-like comes the rain, like fire the hail;
And, hark! Mam-Tor on shuddering Stanage calls!
See, what a frown o’er castled Winnat falls!
Down drops the death-black sky! and Kinderscout,
Conscious of glory, laughs at intervals;
Then lifts his helmet, throws his thunders out,
Bathes all the hills in flame, and hails their stormy shout.

Kinder Trespass 85th Anniversary

A small section of the Pennine Way, as it crosses Marsden Moor

This land is our land! The movement for access.

Monday 24th April 2017 will be the 85th anniversary of the infamous Kinder Trespass, an event that passed into history as an iconic, direct challenge to the age-old authority of the landowning classes. There is more to the story than just the trespass alone. It is just one incident in a long fight for access to our beautiful countryside, that has resulted in our right to roam today.

Walking high upon the hills
Rough-shod against well-heeled
A butterfly breaks upon the wheel
A compass and a cap
A sing-song and a scrap
A dotted line across the map
You Can (Mass Trespass, 1932), Chumbawamba

The Chumbawamba song ‘You Can (Mass Trespass, 1932)’ on their 2005 album ‘A Singsong and A Scrap’ captures the bravery and positive attitude of a working class movement that began at the end of the nineteenth century. The movement for access to our Pennine hills and moors by ordinary people, cooped up all week in grimy, polluted, industrialised towns and cities, in pursuit of clean air, exercise and the simple appreciation of our beautiful Pennine landscapes. A movement that eventually led to the celebrated 1932 mass trespass on Kinder Scout, the formation of our nation parks, the creation of the Pennine Way and eventually the right to roam.

Our Pennine hills have for centuries fostered the expression of free thought, radicalism and the demands for the rights of common people. Maybe it is something in the water that falls from the boundless skies, to percolate through the peat and gritstone into our reservoirs. One of the first named individuals in British history – Venutius, the estranged husband of the first century Brigantine Queen Cartimandua, made his stand against the Romans among the Pennine hills. Through the ages there are tales of King Arthur, resistance to Norman rule and Robin Hood’s exploits. The Luddites practised their drills on the moors near Huddersfield and the Chartists held their meetings on the hill tops, away from the factory owners and the prying eyes of authority. The Manchester lawyer (a contemporary of Friedrich Engels and Karl Mark) Ernest Jones’ 1846 speech to 30,000 people, among the gritstone outcrops of Blackstone Edge is still remembered.

A Chartist rally on moorland.

But waved the wind on Blackstone Height
A standard of the broad sunlight
And sung that morn with trumpet might
A sounding song of liberty!
The Blackstone Edge Gathering, Ernest Jones

At the time of the trespass, well known Peak District landscapes such as Kinder Scout (which had been enclosed in 1830), Stanage Edge and Bleaklow where the privately owned preserve of the privileged few. These grouse shooting moors were fiercely guarded by estate gamekeepers, only used for a short time each year to provide sport to the landowner and his parties of privileged friends. At Stanage Edge on most days, you will now find climbers all along the escarpments, but in the early years of the twentieth century, climbers used to bribe gamekeepers with barrels of beer to turn a blind eye, in order to pursue their sport.

It hadn’t always been this way. Even when William I parcelled up Britain into ‘Honours’ for his supporters in the Norman gentry and great swaths of our lands were declared to be Royal Hunting Parks, some common land was put aside in most manors, for use as a resource by ‘commoners’. Manorial tenants had rights to pasture their sheep, take wood and turf, fish or take sand and gravel and what was considered waste ground, was farmed by the landless.

This arrangement stood for centuries, throughout the medieval period, the English Civil War and into the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Enclosure Acts had existed since the twelfth century, but from about the middle of the eighteenth century, the pace of enclosures of ‘common’ and  ‘waste’ land increased sharply. Land would be divided into parcels (many of Yorkshire’s famous dry stone walls date from this period) and either sold or leased out. The obvious effect of this was to increase profits for the estate owners, it also saw people who had previously worked the land evicted, dispossessed and forced to move to the towns and cities to work in industry for subsistence wages. The punishment for throwing down fences that enclosed common land was death.

“For whoever may own the land, no man can own the beauty of the landscape; at all events no man can exclusively own it. Beauty is a kind of property which cannot be bought, sold or conveyed in any parchment deed, but is an inalienable common right; and he who carries the true-seeing eyes in his head, no matter how poor he may otherwise be; is the legitimate lord of the landscape.”
Walks Around Huddersfield, G. S. Phillips 1848

Packhorse train

As trade between the growing towns and cities increased, the informal network of tracks and hollow ways became literally bogged down and unsuitable for growing coach traffic. Turnpike Trusts were formed to build improved roads and charge a fee at toll houses to pass along them. As many of the ancient routes used for centuries had been blocked by enclosures, more traffic was forced onto the turnpikes. It is no coincidence that the landowners also tended to be trustees of the turnpike roads.

The poor man’s walk they take away,
The solace of his only day,
Where now, unseen, the flowers are blowing,
And, all unheard, the stream is flowing
Footpaths, Ebenezer Elliott

The first half of the eighteenth century was a turbulent time. The Napoleonic Wars, trade barriers, increasing mechanisation and the hated Corn Laws brought a desperate population to the brink. Probably the closest that Britain has ever come to revolution. Fearing the influence of the French Revolution would spread, the Combination Acts of 1799/1800 outlawed the formation of trade unions. This act was repealed in 1824 and a push for universal representation began, in the form of the popular movement of Chartism. By the end of the century trade unionism had entered a period of unparalleled growth and by 1918, membership stood at six and a half million, inspired by the revival of socialism.

Workers not only demanded better pay and conditions, but a better work-life balance too in the reduction of working hours to eight hours per day. It is worth remembering that at this point, the working week was still six days and workers (particularly the young) who had been cooped up in factories all week began to look for better uses of their leisure time. This led to the formation of a number of sports and recreation clubs within the growing Labour movement.

Much of the moorland of the Peak District was at this time privately owned and used for only a few days of grouse shooting per year. The latter part of the 19th century saw the moors more keenly managed for this purpose and access became even harder. The ancient footpath up William Clough on the western side of Kinder was closed by the landowner in 1877, only to be re-opened in 1897 after campaigning by the Peak District and Northern Counties Footpaths Preservation Society.

In 1900 George Herbert Bridges Ward (who became known as the ‘King of the Ramblers’, Ward’s Piece on Lose Hill is named after him), the first Secretary of the Sheffield Labour Representation Committee, formed the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers (named after the socialist newspaper ‘The Clarion’). This was the first true working class rambling club, as opposed to the existing rambling associations that tended to be composed of the middle classes, with Dukes and Earls among their patrons. Other working class rambling clubs soon followed.

Ward was convinced that the landowners were acting illegally in stopping ancient paths and bridleways across the moors and spent many long hours researching rights of way. As early as 1907 the Clarion Ramblers organised a mass trespasses on Bleaklow, again in 1911 and continued to do so until 1927, when the owner Lord Howard re-opened the Doctor’s Gate path. Regular trespasses also took place at Winnats Pass from 1926 until 1939.

The most enthusiastic enforcer of injunctions against trespassers was Manchester businessman James Watt, who owned the area around Kinder Downfall. He issued an injunction against Ward in 1923 forbidding him to trespass on Kinder Scout and from encouraging others to do the same. However, despite this Ward is pictured below, trespassing on Kinder Scout soon after in January 1924.

GHB Ward (centre with stick and white jumper) trespassing on Kinder Scout with fellow members of the Clarion Club in January, 1924. (Picture courtesy of Ann Beedham)

Only twelve legal footpaths were available to walkers, allowing access to about one percent of the Peak District, access to the vast majority of moorland was forbidden. These few footpaths became overcrowded as the number of ramblers grew. Walkers would often sneak off the paths to find quieter places, to be chased off by gamekeepers. In 1928 Ward noted that the summit of Kinder Scout was, “overrun with ramblers of all types.” It is thought that by 1932, 15,000 people left Manchester alone, every weekend to walk in the Peak District. Resentment towards the landowners was growing.

I may be a wage slave on Monday
But I am a free man on Sunday
The Manchester Rambler, Ewan MacColl

It wasn’t uncommon for ramblers to be confronted and assaulted by bands of gamekeepers, the ramblers federations received numerous complaints. The keepers didn’t always have it their own way however and Eric Byne recounted how on one occasion he and his friends were attacked by four keepers with guns and cudgels on a walk from Bradfield to Edale:

“What followed must have been a surprise. All eight of us were members of Footit’s ju-jitsu Gymnasium in Hillsborough, and after the shock of the first scuffle we succeeded in disarming the men and tossing them in the brook. This happened three times until the keepers were completely cooled down.”

The 1932 Kinder Trespass has become an iconic event in British history, a demonstration that people power can really work. Benny Rothman, one of the trespass organisers who were imprisoned for their part, became the figurehead of the trespass. He campaigned about access and environmental issues for the remainder of his life.

The initial spark for the 1932 trespass happened at the British Worker’s Sports Federation’s Easter camp (an organisation composed largely of members and supporters of the British Communist Party) that year, held at Rowarth, a few miles west of Kinder Scout. A small group headed for an organised ramble over Bleaklow. Benny Rothman recounted:

“The small band was stopped at Yellow Slacks by a group of gamekeepers. They were abused, threatened and turned back. To add to the humiliation of the Manchester ramblers, a number of those present were from the London BWSF on a visit to the Peak District, and they were astounded by the incident. There were not enough ramblers to force their way through, so, crestfallen, they had to return to camp.”

Flyers distributed around Manchester called for attendance at a rally in Hayfield Recreation Ground on 24th April. This was changed to Bowden Bridge Quarry at the last minute to avoid the police and the Parish Council, who had posted copies of local bylaws forbidding meetings there and supplied the Parish Council Clerk to read them if anyone attempted to make speeches. About 400 ramblers met at the quarry and after short speech by Benny Rothman, who stepped in when the scheduled speaker decided to pull out, set off along the legal footpath towards William Clough at 2.00pm.

The rally at Bowden Bridge Quarry.

For by Kinder, and by Bleaklow, and all through the Goyt we’ll go
We’ll ramble over mountain, moor and fen
And we’ll fight against the trespass laws for every rambler’s rights
And trespass over Kinder Scout again…
Trespass song based on a parody of ‘The Road to the Isles’.

At Nab Brow, they caught first sight of the keepers dotted along the slope beneath Sandy Heys. A whistle was sounded for the troupe to stop. On a second whistle they turned right to face Kinder Scout. When the third whistle sounded, they began to scramble up the steep slope towards the keepers. Although a few minor scuffles ensued and in some cases, the gamekeeper’s sticks were taken and turned against them, there was only one injury (a gamekeeper knocked unconscious suffered a twisted ankle). In the majority of cases, the protesters just walked through the line of keepers, they reformed at the top of the brow and were greeted by a smaller group from Sheffield who had made their way up from Edale (one account by a gamekeeper states that there was no group from Sheffield and another account says that the Sheffield group joined the rally at Ashop Head).

Low cloud skims the hill tops of William Clough, Kinder Scout.

Low cloud skims the hill tops of William Clough, Kinder Scout.

Being unfamiliar with the terrain, the Manchester group didn’t actually make it to the summit of Kinder Scout. They instead turned towards Ashop Head where a short rally was held, before retracing their steps along the path down William Clough. They were met by the police at the Stockport Corporation Water Works and an attempt to grab someone from the crowd was chased off by the ramblers. At the beginnings of Hayfield village, they were met by an inspector in a police car, who suggested that they form a column behind him to lead them into the village. They did this and sang as they marched into Hayfield.

It was of course a trap, as when they reached the centre of the village they were stopped by police who began to search among them, accompanied by gamekeepers. Six arrests were made (five on the return to Hayfield and another later that afternoon). Benny Rothman was one of those arrested. They were first of all detained at Hayfield, then taken to New Mills, due to the crowd gathered outside calling for their release and charged with unlawful assembly and breach of the peace (notably not trespass, which was a civil offence), as the Duke of Devonshire insisted on pressing ahead with charges.

All pleaded not guilty, so Benny Rothman, Tony Gillett, Harry Mendel, Jud Clyde, John Anderson and Dave Nesbitt were committed for trial at Derby Assizes. It was said that the jury was composed of a cross section of the Derbyshire country establishment, including two brigadier generals, three colonels, two majors and two aldermen. Despite an impassioned speech by Benny Rothman, it was obvious that they were not going to get a sympathetic hearing and they were handed jail terms of between two to six months each.

The mass trespass at WInnats Pass, 1932.

The sentences, seen as draconian even then, caused outrage and probably did more to promote the cause than the trespass itself. A few weeks after the trespass, 10,000 ramblers assembled at the annual rally at Winnat’s Pass. On 18th September 1932 another trespass of about 200 Sheffield ramblers took place at Abbey Brook in the Upper Derwent Valley, via the Duke of Norfolk’s Road. The authorities had learned their lesson at Kinder Scout and did not wish for the trespass to become public knowledge, so there were no arrests this time, but upon arriving at Abbey Brook the trespassers found about forty gamekeepers and a few police waiting for them. Brief scuffles ensued before the trespassers sat down and ate their sandwiches.

The momentum for public access to the hills and moors was growing. Throughout the 1930s, moves were made towards the creation of national parks, an idea first raised by Ramsay MacDonald in 1929 and the subject of the Addison Report in 1931, although it would be another twenty years before the establishment of the Peak District National Park. The Addison Report was kicked into the long grass during the depression of the early 1930s but resurrected at a conference in 1935. The Standing Committee for National Parks was formed in 1936 and published ‘The Case for National Parks in Great Britain’ in 1938.

In 1939, the Access to Mountains Act finally passed through parliament as a Private Member’s Bill, introduced by Arthur Creech Jones (Labour MP for Shipley) but in such a mutilated form that it was described as a landowner’s charter and for the first time, made trespass a criminal offence in certain circumstances. It was bitterly opposed by the newly formed Rambler’s Association, who sought to repeal the long fought for bill.

Throughout the 1940s, the momentum towards the establishment of national parks continued, including the publication of the 1947 Hobhouse Report, suggesting 12 potential national parks. This resulted in Clement Atlee’s visionary post-war Labour Government passing the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council were formed under the new act (both merged in 2006 to form Natural England). On 17th April 1951, the Peak District National Park became the first of its kind in Britain. In 1955 the first access agreement for Kinder Scout was signed and in 1962, access to Stanage Edge was agreed.

Alongside these gradual steps towards the creation of the national parks, a special mention must be given to the remarkable Tom Stephenson who in 1935 set into motion the idea of the ‘Jubilee Trail’. Thirty long years of persistent negotiation followed, his dream eventually realised when in 1965 the Pennine Way opened, stretching roughly 268 miles from Edale to Scotland.

Imprisoned for his beliefs as a conscientious objector during the First World War, Tom Stephenson fought for access throughout his life and as Secretary of the Ramblers’ Association from 1948 to 1968, was instrumental in the creation of the national parks too.

The 1968 Countryside Act placed a duty on every minister, government department and public body to have, “due regard for conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.” In 1970, the Peak District National Park purchased the North Lees Estate, including Stanage Edge. In 1982, the National Trust bought Kinder Scout and declared it open for access in perpetuity.

Benny Rothman (left) and Tom Stephenson (centre), Stephen Morton (right).

When the Countryside Rights of Way Act was passed in 2000, it signified the final realisation of over a century of struggle for the Right to Roam. At the 70th anniversary celebration of the trespass on Kinder in 2002, Andrew, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, publicly apologised for his grandfather’s actions:

“I am aware that I represent the villain of the piece this afternoon. But over the last 70 years times have changed and it gives me enormous pleasure to welcome walkers to my estate today. The trespass was a great shaming event on my family and the sentences handed down were appalling. But out of great evil can come great good. The trespass was the first event in the whole movement of access to the countryside and the creation of our national parks.”

Even now, in what we like to think of as an elightened age, our rights of access are under attack. The Infrastructure Act 2015 clears the way for publicly owned land to be seized and sold to private bidders with all protections such as SSSI status and rights of way extinguished. This is the same act that allows oil and gas companies to drill and frack under our homes without first seeking our permission. It could also see fracking companies invade and industrialise our National Parks, resulting in not only access to some of our best loved landscapes once again forbidden, but the potential to pollute some of our most fragile landscapes. Part of the western fringe of the Peak District National Park falls into the latest round of fracking licencing blocks and there is no guarantee that further licences won’t intrude deeper into the park in future.

When in 1990 the Peak Park Authority decided to close Kinder Scout for the whole of August, in order to discourage hunt-sabbing of the grouse shoot, public pressure soon persuaded them to change their minds. Government and fracking companies will find that they have wildly misjudged the public mood should they threaten our National Parks or countryside. Those wild Pennine hilltops are as important as any listed building and budget cuts to the Peak District National Park Authority have already threatened its continued ownership of iconic locations such as Stanage Edge. Should this act result in the sale of our public land to private interests, or a bar placed on access to our cherished landscapes, the hilltops will once again ring with demands for justice.

Benny Rothman later expressed regret that he didn’t work more closely with the ramblers’ associations of the time, who distanced themselves from the trespass and considered it to be a politically motivated attempt to grab the headlines. However, as a piece of direct action it was spectacularly successful, as it provided the public impetus that forced the issue into the open and gained a lot of public sympathy for the cause. As each anniversary slips by the trespass creates its own mythology and has come to symbolise the struggle between the working and the landed classes as effectively as the Peasant’s Revolt or the Chartists.

It is important that we keep the spirit of Benny Rothman, Tom Stephenson, Bert Ward and all of those men and women who fought for our rights to protect and access our beautiful landscapes alive.

Over looking the trespass site at William Clough towards Sandy Heys (in cloud).

The next time that you walk on the moorlands of the Peak District, or any of our spectacular hilltops, remember that raggle-taggle band of ramblers, who came to Kinder Scout from the mills and factories of Manchester and Sheffield 85 years ago. Thank them and the tireless work of the ramblers’ associations that both preceded and followed them, for the fact that you can now walk freely, where you choose in these high places of beauty. And if ever any government minister, landowner or company executive attempts to take those rights away, just ask yourself, “what would Benny do?”

A short radio documentary about the trespass ‘Witness’ is available here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02pkd8l

This article has been adapted and expanded from the original version published in 2012 for the 80th anniversary of the trespass.

In the company of deer

Early Morning MagicSummer can be the cruelest season for landscape photography. Early sunrises and late sunsets don’t fit comfortably into the modern pattern of life. Sunrise before 5.00am often means rising at 2.00am to be in position on a Pennine hill top to catch the first colours of dawn. Sometimes it can be an exhilarating experience to spend a summer night on the moors waiting for dawn, but it isn’t something that can be done regularly if you have to function like a normal human being and do a day job, resisting the overwhelming urge to fall asleep during the afternoon.

It isn’t unusual for me to deviate a little from my normal approach to landscape photography during the summer months. Often I will use the long daylight hours to visit historical buildings, or scout out new locations. Last year I enjoyed photographing new fern fronds unfolding in our garden, lavender buds bursting into life and butterflies visiting the buddleia. Often a summer project will present itself to me naturally.

Defending His Domain

The Rut

This year, springtime had been unusually busy. With a general election approaching I had been frantically producing materials for my local (newly formed) Green party. Once the election was over, my thoughts began to turn back to routing around in the history around me. A walk around the monuments at nearby Wentworth Castle presented me with a new project, but not one that I had expected.

I can see Wentworth Castle from the end of the road that I live on. A wooded hilltop across the valley that has been occupied since at least the Iron Age, now crowned with an 18th century castellated folly. A little further down the slope stands Wentworth Castle, a huge country pile sat on the hillside in all its Georgian splendour. For more about the history of Wentworth Castle, see my earlier post. While researching this, I decided that I needed to have a proper walk around the parkland and explore the monuments.

I parked near the Strafford Arms, walked through Strafford Gate and up the hill to the restored Serpentine Bridge. Following the path along the Serpentine (originally an ornamental river, but now a series of half dried-up ponds) I eventually reached the small patch of woodland, heading for the Rotunda. As I emerged from the woods, there in the field before me was a couple of Fallow Bucks, with Red Deer further down the hill. I was of course immediately smitten! I made a return trip with my camera with the intention of photographing the Serpentine Bridge and Rotunda, it didn’t take much for my attention to turn towards the deer and my summer project was born.

Red Stag & HindsIn a Sea of GoldI returned to Wentworth Castle Park almost every day over the summer. Sometimes walking the dogs, sometimes with my camera but always watching the deer as closely as possible, getting to know their habits and just how closely they would tolerate me. While the fawns were still young, the does were quite jumpy. They would bark their dismay when I drew close and an early lesson in respecting distance was learned when a red doe charged at one of my dogs. Fortunately, there was a big wire fence between us but it demonstrated that these are not just docile, passive animals. They should be respected and given space.

There has been a deer park at Wentworth Castle/Stainborough since at least the Elizabethan era and two species of deer inhabit the park. Red deer, which are farmed at Round Green nearby and smaller Fallow deer, which seem to live a more-or-less wild existence. Red deer seem to abide by a herd mentality where as the Fallow deer seem more likely to wander in small groups or individually and are more flighty. Once you get too close for comfort, they will spring away with a bounding grace, where Red deer will just ease out of your way.

Early Morning at Wentworth CastleCall of the HerdI gradually learned how to get closer. I realised quite early on that trying to sneak up unseen was pointless. Dozens of super-sensitive eyes, ears and noses will know you are there before you even see the herd. I found that giving them time to get used to my presence, while gradually moving forward diagonally produced the best results. Eventually, I found that I could almost walk amongst the herd, although respecting a certain distance is still important and by using a long lens, I don’t need to get too close anyway. There are only so many close-up head-shots that are useful and I prefer to try to capture the deer in their environment. I feel that the wellbeing of the animals is by far more important than getting photos and after a while (usually no more than an hour) I withdraw and let them get on with doing whatever deer do when humans aren’t around.

As summer turned towards autumn, the foals grew bigger and the does became less jumpy. The stags began to joust as rutting season approached and were becoming too distracted to worry much about me. I was starting to recognise individual animals by this time and have to confess a certain fondness for the biggest stag of the herd, a monarch stag who I nicknamed ‘The Big Feller’. He is an impressive creature with huge antlers and when he throws his head back and lets out his baleful bellow, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Getting close to Fallow deer is a different proposition to the reds and often turns out to be more by luck than judgement. I found that I was more likely to bump into them than follow them, as they favour the areas of mixed woodland and long grass. The bucks seem to be more relaxed than the does and will tolerate you more closely. There are a couple of bigger bucks that once they were in rutting season didn’t seem bothered by human presence in the slightest. In fact they have passed within a few feet of me without concern.

In the Long GrassStags & GrassesOne occasion left me almost speechless. While photographing a couple of bucks in long grass the large white buck announced himself by crashing through the undergrowth. He and the other large buck began ‘parallel trotting’ (a way to size each other up before fighting) towards me before locking antlers with a ferocity that belies their cute appearance. These animals are 200lbs of pure muscle with antlers attached to the front, that bear a close resemblance to medieval weaponry. They were so close that at one point I had to jump out of the way! It was an exhilarating experience.

There is something about deer, stags in particular that strikes a deep chord within me. During the Mesolithic period, the image of the stag was scratched into cave walls (such as Creswell Crags) to influence the success of the hunt through ritual magic. The image of the shaman is of a human form bearing antlers. During the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods, stags’ antlers were modified into picks that dug the great ditches around Avebury and many of our other Pre-Roman monuments. From the Celtic horned god Cernunnos to Edward Landseer’s painting, ‘The Monarch of the Glen’, the image of the stag has been a potent symbol, embedded in our folklore for millennia after millennia.

Woodland StagWentworth SunriseIt maybe that the stag represents the spirit of nature, purity and freedom. Dwellers of the green forest, survivors of a primeval past before humans held the ascendency over nature. Even after spending most of the summer around the deer at Wentworth Castle Park, I still feel a deep pang when rounding a corner and coming face to face with a stag, or hearing his bellow nearby. That sense of wonder has not left me with familiarity. I’m looking forward to following the rutting season throughout the autumn and hope that I’ll have plenty more images to share here in the coming weeks.

Stags on the Horizon

The lost towers of Worsbrough Common

When I first moved to Barnsley in 2004, I was keen to discover the history of the area that I was moving to. A quick search on the brilliant megalithic.co.uk website lead me to an entry on Pastscape detailing that an Iron Age Hillfort had occupied the very hilltop on which I live in Worsbrough Common.

Although this was exciting, searches on the ground soon confirmed that nothing seemed to remain. Unlike the nearby hilltop at Stainborough, which still bears the ditches of its hillfort, Worsbrough Common has a large council estate built in the 1950s. It is likely that this swept away any traces that might have remained. The highest point of Worsbrough Common is still tantalisingly marked as ‘Castle Hill’ on OS maps. At first I thought that this might be the only trace of the hillfort that remained, but I was to find out that it came by its name for a different reason.

Although it seems that the hillfort is probably lost, Worsbrough has a fascinating history that has largely been preserved by the good fortune of being located on the edge of Barnsley. During my research into the hillfort, I came across an ancient tome ‘Worsbrough: Its Historical Associations and Rural Attractions’ by Joseph Wilkinson, published in 1872. Among its illustrations is an etching plate, dating from 1779 of Worsbrough Common (below) which piqued my interest.

Worsbrough Common in 1779

Worsbrough Common in 1779

“The towers and trees which once stood here gave an air of antiquity and romance to the place, and the observer on contemplating from a distance their fortification-like aspect, was carried back in thought to the days of chivalry and warfare.”
Joseph Wilkinson, Worsbrough: Its Historical Associations and Rural Attractions.

The etching depicts a view across Worsbrough Common, with the Highstone (Black Rock) in the foreground and the hilltop horizon dominated by a line of castellations and towers. Although the drawing doesn’t accurately match the topography of the landscape, the drawing could have been made from memory and a certain amount of artistic license allowed, the track could correspond to the current position of Mount Vernon Road, which would place the castellations on the skyline running from Kingwell Lane, past what is now Mount Vernon Hospital, towards Black Rock and Castle Hill. As the area is now heavily built over, I considered that all trace of the castellations would now be lost. Especially as the towers have not been included on the OS map of the area, from the 1850 edition onwards, but were included on Castle Hill on the first issue OS map of the area, dated 1841.

The 1841 First Issue Ordnance Survey map of Worsbrough.

The 1841 First Issue Ordnance Survey map of Worsbrough.

I was delighted to hear from a local source that two of the towers still survive in Kingwell Woods. In fact there is a local tale that the woods are haunted by a Blue Lady dating from the Civil War, who died by falling down and abandoned mine shaft or tunnel in the area. It didn’t take me long before I went to have a look.

Kingwell Woods is a forlorn place. A narrow strip of land on a steep bank between Elmhirst Farm and Kingwell Road, it feels like a forgotten corner of Barnsley. One of the towers is easy to find, perched high on the bank, surrounded by thick woodland, it can be seen from the road once you know where to look. It is in a sad state, perched partly on natural rock outcrops, it still has bits of walling adjoining it and the remains of stone steps leading up the steep bank. Looking like it is used as a drinking den, empty cans and the remains of a fire litter the interior.

kingwell wood,worsbrough common, tower

One of the lost towers in Kingwell Wood.

The second tower is proving a bit more elusive. I headed down into the woods, but after a couple of hundred yards wading through tangles of brambles and ivy while carrying a heavy tripod, I turned back before I met the same fate as the Blue Lady. There were scatters of what could be drystone rubble, but nothing identifiable (there was a pinfold in this area that may also add to the confusion). The woods are so densely overgrown that I may have walked right past it. So that is another adventure for another day. Probably once some vegetation has died back in the winter and without heavy camera gear.

kingwell wood, tower, worbrough common

Another view of the tower in Kingwell Wood.

How did these towers come to be on a hillside in Barnsley? There was certainly no castle here throughout the medieval period and the construction is definitely not in the same fashion as medieval fortifications. The answer lies in an 18th century local family feud that came to rest on the hill on the opposite side of Dove Valley, known now as Wentworth Castle.

When the second Earl of Strafford died childless in 1695, Thomas Wentworth (1672-1739) expected to inherit the estate at Wentworth Woodhouse. However, the estate was unexpectedly passed to his cousin, Thomas Watson. In 1708, he purchased the estate of Stainborough Hall from the Cutler family and began creating an estate to rival that at Wentworth Woodhouse, changing the name to Stainborough Castle. A new Barque wing was completed in 1715 and in 1731, Thomas completed a mock castle behind the house on the hill top that was the site of the previously mentioned hillfort. He then changed the name to Wentworth Castle.

William Wentworth (1722-1791) succeeded his father in 1739 and inherited his father’s appetite for building, adding another wing to the house. The 18th century was a period with a taste for follies, usually along classical lines, they were almost always of a romantic nature. Wentworth Castle certainly has classical follies, but there was another agenda at play here.

The Wentworths were engaged in a show of one-upmanship with their relatives at Wentworth Woodhouse and what better way to promote your estate from that of a country house, than to declare it a castle of ancient origin. The estate was much larger than it is today and included the hillside of Worsbrough Common, which is clearly visible from Wentworth and a line of castellations would have looked magnificent from the grounds of the house (especially with the sun rising above them). Along with the folly on top of the hill at Stainborough Castle, it would also have given the landscape a feeling of ancient continuity.

View of Wentworth Castle from Worsbrough Common.

View of Wentworth Castle from Worsbrough Common.

So what date could we attach to the building of the towers on Worsbrough Common? The 1817 Enclosure Act for Worsbrough Common gives us the following information.

“Enacted that all the Castle-ruins, and Ornamental Buildings which have formerly been erected by William Earl of Strafford, or any of his ancestors, upon the said Commons, shall, with the ground whereupon the same do stand, at all times hereafter be deemed the property of F.W.T.V. Wentworth, &c., with liberty to repair, support, and rebuild the same, and for that purpose to carry materials through and over the allotments adjoining to the said Castle-ruins, and Ornamental Buildings.”1

This seems to confirm that the towers were certainly the work of either Thomas Wentworth or his son William. If built by Thomas, they could have been constructed at the same time as the Stainborough Castle folly, around 1731. The tower in Kingwell Woods is similar in appearance to those that rise above the folly entrance.

Stainborough Castle folly, before two of the towers fell in a storm.

Stainborough Castle folly, before two of the towers fell in a storm.

Another clue could be the date carved into Black Rock. It is said that the Earl of Strafford thought that the rock was hollow and intended to convert it into a summer house. This would explain the three arched doorways carved into the rock face. That date carved above the central arch is 1756, which places it firmly in the time of William Wentworth. William certainly had a taste for building follies and built the Corinthian Temple and Rotunda, which stand in the current parkland around Wentworth Castle, Archer’s Gate, Strafford Gate, Serpentine Bridge, the Obelisk at Birdwell and possibly the now lost pyramid at Blacker Hill, known as the Smoothing Iron.

The likely conclusion is that the Worsbrough Common towers were constructed at some time between 1731 and 1756. It is possible that they are contemporary with Stainborough Castle folly, but given William’s passion for folly building and that he was responsible for the masonry work on Black Rock, this could well point to him also being the builder of the Worsbrough Common towers.

It is a great shame that what remains of the towers that once dominated the Worsbrough skyline are now forgotten and in such a state of disrepair. Especially given that Wentworth Castle park has been so spectacularly restored of late. Perhaps a little bit of care and attention is over-due for this little piece of Barnsley heritage.

 

  1. Worsbrough: Its Historical Associations and Rural Attractions. Joseph Wilkinson (1872).

Marsden Moor Revisited

Marsden Moor
I’ve written about Marsden Moor quite extensively already on this blog (here and here), but it is always good to revisit and take the opportunity to find something new.

I find that whenever I visit Pule Hill, the temptation is to head straight for the top. That is exactly what I did on a recent visit with my nephews and niece recently.

As I was pointing out the ventilation shafts for the Stanage Tunnel , it struck me that I hadn’t ever taken the time to go and photograph the area on the side of the hill, usually bypassing it in favour of the summit.

So the next day I went back, armed with my camera and a determination to capture those industrial towers rising from the hillside. I found that unlike Redbridge Engine House on the other side of the, road (another relic related to construction of the Stanage Tunnel), the ventilation shafts weren’t quite so photogenic. Despite frequently changing lens, moving around the brick towers and trying different compositions, I just couldn’t settle upon an image that quite captured what I wanted.

Pule Hill Ruins

Fortunately, Pule Hill is rich in other features and eventually I eventually settled on the image above, in which the ventilation tower is relegated to a middle distance feature, with the course of the path and a ruined hut providing foreground interest.

Telegraph poles and the boardwalk over a particularly boggy section of path, also provided good subjects and I couldn’t resist having another crack at the old milestone at the foot of Pule Hill, which dates from the old turnpike road, build by Blind Jack Metcalf of Knaresborough.

I was a little disappointed that no light managed to break through, but I think that the dark skies suite the nature of the place well.

Path to Pule HillPule Hill Milestone

Deadmanstone

DeadmanstoneThe Deadmanstone at Berry Brow near Huddersfield, is a nearly forgotten outcrop of rock, through which a natural tunnel runs. Numerous legends surround this unassuming eruption of rock from the hillside, that may or may not explain how it came about its name.

Local folklore tells that in the days when the church at Almondbury served as the parish church for the Holme Valley, funeral processions passing the stone would stop and rest the coffin. A distant local memory also recalls that corpses would be taken from their coffins and pulled through the hole, before recommencing on their journey to Almondbury. Perhaps this represented some symbolic form of passage to another world.

Another legend is equally gruesome and gives various accounts that the remains of a ‘soldier’ were found walled up either at the stone (possibly in the tunnel) or somewhere nearby. Variants state that the soldier was either Roman or maybe a victim of Scottish Boarder Reivers, who raided deep into England. The legend isn’t specific about where or when the soldier was found and could possibly be transposed from the site of the (now demolished) Deadmanstone House or its medieval predecessor, which was a fortified manor house with deep cellars.

A further possibility could be that the Deadmanstone was the site of the burial of a prehistoric chief or warrior and the legend has become confused over the years. Indeed the name ‘Deadman’ could have been derived from ‘Dobman’ or ‘Dobbie’, a legendary shape-shifting spirit, popular in local lore and often associated with guardianship of burial places. The hole in the stone may also be associated with healing or ritual purposes, by passing through the stone as above.

The stone is also associated with another enduring legend that a tunnel leads from the nearby ancient fort of Castle Hill, about a mile away. Castle Hill is associated with a number of tunnel legends, which could possibly denote solar or lunar alignments from the hill. Or may have been influenced by the deep cellars of the former manor house, that stood on the land directly above the Deadmanstone, now occupied by a modern housing estate.

That so many legends are still attached to this odd outcrop is heartening. Especially as it now sits enclosed by modern housing and is often passed by cars entering and leaving the estate. A small remainder of Huddersfield’s past clings doggedly to the hillside, despite how its surroundings have changed.
Deadmanstone Berry Brow
Deadmanstone: Door to the Other World: Steve Sneyd, Northern Earth No. 99, 2004
Legends & Traditions of Huddersfield & Its District: Philip Ahier, 1944
The Old Stones of Elmet: Paul Bennett, 2001