Marsden Moor & Upper Colne Valley – Part One

A view of Pule Hill from White Moss on Wessenden Moor

A view of Pule Hill from White Moss on Wessenden Moor

Marsden Moor sits at the very periphery of Yorkshire, in the wild Pennine boarder lands. As the narrowest point of the Pennines, it has been exploited as a crossing point since humans first came to this area. A walk on Marsden Moor is a journey through several thousand years of history.

Since the last ice age, Marsden Moor has been a place of human habitation. Flints from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods have been found all over Marsden Moor, with particularly important concentrations at March Hill, Windy Hill, Pule Hill and Warcock Hill. These were sites of flint tool production, with numerous cores, flakes and striking hammers found, especially on March Hill, which is amongst one of the most important Mesolithic sites for such finds in the country. More flints were found under the peat at Cupwith Hill and Buckstones. A number of the flint finds on these hills can now been seen in the Tolson Museum in Huddersfield and Saddleworth Museum in Uppermill.

Sunrise view from Buckstones. Pule Hill rises on the left, March Hill on the right.

Sunrise view from Buckstones. Pule Hill rises on the left, March Hill on the right.

As agriculture spread across the region and the residents of Marsden Moor became more settled, certain landscape features took on symbolic importance.

From almost any point of view on Marsden Moor, Pule Hill forms a magnificent centre piece (it can even be seen from Castle Hill, several miles away). It rises, wedge shaped from the moorland floor and affords 360 degree views all around.

pulehill

The view from Pule Hill, looking towards Warcock Hill, Redbrook Reservoir and Standedge road cutting

The name ‘Pule Hill’ derives from the Celtic and Old English words, peol, pul and pol. Meaning the hill in the marsh. It first appeared as Puil Hill on Greenwood’s 1771 map, and was variously referred to as both Pole and Pule Hill by locals. (1)

It is not surprising that at the summit of this conspicuous landmark, Bronze Age burials and cremations were discovered in 1896 by George Marsden. The cremations were contained within pottery urns, which can now be seen in the Tolson Museum in Huddersfield. James A. Petch decribed the find in a museum pamphlet:

“Several Bronze Age interments have been found in the locality. Of these the most important is that discovered on the summit of Pule Hill and excavated in 1896 by the late Mr. George Marsden. The finding of an arrowhead led to digging and four urns containing burnt human remains, and so-called “incense cup” were uncovered and removed. In 1899 the site was again opened up for further examination. It was then noted that the urns had been set in cavities dug into the rock to a depth of about 18 inches. The type of the urn fixes the interment as belonging to the Bronze Age, and characteristic of such interments are the rock-cavities. The site is however somewhat exceptional in that no trace was found of the mound which was usually heaped over an interment. As the site is very exposed, the mound may have been weathered away, leaving no traces visible to-day. Along with the urns were found an arrowhead, one or two scrapers, a disc, a few pygmies and a number of flakes and chippings. It is important to note that these flints are mostly the relics of a Mas d’Azil Tardenois workshop which existed long before the interment was made on the summit of Pule Hill, and that they have no necessary connection with the Bronze Age burial. (2)

The summit of West Nab

The summit of West Nab

Wherever you are on Marsden Moor, the landscape is dominated by the mysterious West Nab (although strictly speaking, located on Meltham Moor). One feels that this hill is steeped in history and tradition, yet when compared to other local hilltops, such as Castle Hill, surprisingly little is known about it. Rumoured to have been a place of ‘Druidic’ worship, West Nab does not easily give up its secrets (more on West Nab here).

Topped by what I strongly suspect to be a Bronze Age cairn, the mid-winter sun rises over its peak, when viewed from Buckstones. Below the Nab are two earthworks, one being a possible animal stockade dating from the Iron Age. The other being Romano-British and the possible remnant of a temporary camp, from an early Roman attempt to cross the Pennines via Wessenden Head to Greenfield (another, similar fort can be found at Kirklees Park, at the southern end of Calder Valley).

Midwinter sunrise over West Nab, from Buckstones

Midwinter sunrise over West Nab, from Buckstones

Roman activity around Marsden Moor was not limited to this one attempted crossing. The Chester to York road passed over Marsden Moor via the fort at Castleshaw (Rigodunum), over Standedge, down Thieves Clough and around the base of Pule Hill, with a possible signalling station at Worlow (3). The road would then have carried on towards present day Marsden and most likely have crossed the river Colne somewhere nearby, before starting the climb towards a second Roman fort at Slack (Cambodunum). The road then struck out towards York, via Lindley Moor.

The Roman history of Marsden Moor is one of pioneers. Yorkshire was not occupied by the Romans until 72AD, when Cartimandua, the Queen of the Brigantines requested their assistance during civil war with her husband Venutius (find more here). The first period of the fort at Castleshaw dates from 79AD, as does the fort at Slack. Both forts being first constructed of turf and timber. It has been speculated that Rigodunum (fort of the king) may have been built of the site of an earlier Brigantine settlement. No evidence to support this however, has yet been uncovered, but Bronze Age pottery has been found at the site (4).

The Flavian period fort at Castleshaws was established by Agricola, covering an area of about 2.5 acres. Protected by ditches and banks, on top of which stood wooden palisades, towers at each corner, plus four gated entrances. The interior contained a number of buildings, including barracks, stables, granaries, workshops, the headquarters and a commandant’s house. There was also a Vicus (civilian settlement) next to the road that ran alongside the fort. The fort was decommissioned around 90AD.

Around circa 105AD, the second, smaller Trajanic fortlet was built on the same site, but using just the southern section of the older fort. On this occasion, the ramparts were built using stone foundations with two gated entrances, enclosing buildings including a hypocaust. It seems that the fortlet was abandoned around 120AD. The fort at Slack was abandoned around 125AD, possibly as a result of diverting forces to Hadrian’s Wall (5). Models of both periods of the fort can be seen at the wonderful Saddleworth Museum in Uppermill.

Overlooking Castleshaws from Northern Rotcher on Millstone Edge, Standedge

Overlooking Castleshaws from Northern Rotcher on Millstone Edge, Standedge

Following the Roman withdrawal, Britiain divided into independent kingdoms, quite possibly along similar tribal lines that existed before the coming of the Empire. Although the boarders have never been clearly defined, it is possible that Marsden Moor fell within the kingdom of Elmet (more on this here).

Occupation around the area of Marsden seems to have been sparse during the Dark Ages, with a few piecemeal farmsteads and clearances dotted along the hillsides. A pattern that probably endured up to the Industrial Revolution. Meltham is of Saxon origin and Slaithwaite is probably a Danish settlement, although the area of Marsden may have been inhabited by Norse settlers from Cumbria. Early documents refer to March-dene, which was taken as part of the Honour of Pontefract by Ilbert de Laci, following the Norman Conquest. In 1273, during the reign of Edward I, a thief was apprehended by Hugo, Constable of Almondbury, Henry Odeli and Robert of Marchdene (6). In the time of Edward III (1327-77), the lands around Marsden were part of the Lord’s hunting estate:

The portion of the demesne of Marsden, indeed, is, in an Inquisition of the reign of Edward III, expressly described as a forest two and a half miles long and two broad, and used by the lord as a hunting ground, it being one of the conditions on which the villeins held their holdings that they should escort the lord from Marsden to his chief castle at Pontefract, either personally or with one horse and man (7).

The uninhabited hinterlands of these hills would probably have been the abode of outlaws and highway men. Indeed, the Buckstones Inn had just such a reputation. There is a popular local tale of a ghostly sighting of Highway Men on the A640 New Hey Road near Buckstones, just past Nont Sarah’s pub by a police officer on night duty, dating from 1968.

Elizabeth I sold the manor of Marsden to one Edward Jones, for £29. Later, the manor passed to the Greenwoods, and by the 18th Century, it was owned by the Radcliffe family (the same Radcliffe family who would later pursue the Luddites) (8). The population would soon increase dramatically as the Industrial Revolution came to Colne Valley.

(1)  Northern Antiquarian – Dyson 1944.

(2)  Early Man in the District of Huddersfield – Petch 1924

(3)  Huddersfield & District Archaeology Society – Newsletter Winter 2006/07

(4)  northernarchaeologicalassociates.co.uk

(5)  Huddersfield in Roman Times – Richardson 1925

(6)  Marsden Through the Ages – E. Irene Pearson 1984

(7)  The History of the Colne Valley – DFE Sykes 1906

(8)  marsdenhistory.co.uk

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A Brief Guide to Curbar and Froggatt Edge

The 18th Century Guide Stoop at Curbar Gap

The 18th Century Guide Stoop at Curbar Gap

Curbar Edge and Froggatt Edge are in fact a single stretch of gritstone escarpment. It is difficult to know where one ends and the other starts.

Starting from the southern end of Curbar Edge, ticketed parking is available at Curbar Gap Car Park. If you don’t mind a bit of a climb, there are also a few lay by parking spaces next to the road below the edge.

Before heading for the edge itself, a small detour through the gate at the eastern end of the car park will bring you to an 18th century guide stoop. Now enclosed by a drystone wall, this would have been directly next to the road before the early 19th century land enclosures. Stoops were erected after an act passed in 1697 to help traders and travelers on the old packhorse routes, who would often become lost on the moors and sometimes, lose their lives in bad weather.

A fine spring sunset on Curbar Edge, looking towards Baslow Edge

A fine spring sunset on Curbar Edge, looking towards Baslow Edge

Light breaks over Curbar Edge following sunrise in late summer

Light breaks over Curbar Edge following sunrise in late summer

A winter sunset on Curbar Edge

A winter sunset on Curbar Edge

Once back in the car park, take the steps at the western end and follow the path around the field wall towards the edge itself. Pass through the kissing gate and you will see the main path before you. To your left is a small path through the heather that leads directly to the edge. This is one of the best vantage points on the edge, affording views to Baslow Edge on the other side of Curbar Gap and Derwent Valley beyond. There are numerous rock formations here that add great foreground interest to your images. To my mind this stretch of the edge is classic Curbar with an unmistakable look of it’s own. This is a good spot for sunsets throughout the year and sunrises during the winter months.

Here you will also find the remains of millstone quarries and in some places can still find the quarrying marks on rocks that had been selected for detachment from the rock face.

A climber conquers the Pinnacle Stone as light breaks through a stormy sky

A climber conquers the Pinnacle Stone as light breaks through a stormy sky

Winter melt-waters swell the little waterfall on Froggatt Edge

Winter melt-waters swell the little waterfall on Froggatt Edge

As you continue along the edge, the ground rises slightly and eventually levels out. Near here you will find Curbar’s unmistakable Pinnacle Stone. Popular with climbers, the Pinnacle Stone provides a great subject matter, shot from the north with the view of Derwent Valley stretching away behind it, it is a perfect location for sunsets, on the occasions when it is light by warm, late evening light. An abandoned millstone lies nearby too, presenting further opportunities for compositions here.

As you follow the edge northwards look out for more rock formations, the odd interesting bit of graffiti carved into the rocks and an ancient cairn perched right on the cliff edge. It is possible to stand directly on top of the cairn without noticing that it is there. If you look closely however you will notice a ring of small stones with a depression in the middle, where it was robbed out by 19th century antiquarians (with a very different attitude to excavation to that of modern day archaeologists). In the centre is the remains of the stone cist.

As the path begins to fall slightly, you will see Froggatt Edge before you. If the weather has been wet before your visit, look out for the little waterfall on the edge as Curbar gives way to Froggatt Edge. It is particularly active as the winter snows begin to melt and the area behind the edge starts to drain.

Close to this is a large drystone sheepfold and a very prominent outcrop of rocks, both of which make for good subject matter. There is also a fine view to the north, taking in Higger Tor, Over Owler Tor and Stanage Edge.

The Peak District’s neatest graffiti artist strikes again!

The Peak District’s neatest graffiti artist strikes again!

Continuing, the edge now turns slightly towards the east. As you approach the woods, look out for Stoke Flat Stone Circle on your right. Built very much in the tradition of other circles in the area, it consists of a bank with two entrances, into which stones are set. Only one stone of any appreciable size remains. at a little over a metre tall. Quite often, the weathered out hollow on the top of the stone contains coins. This is a fantastic little circle, surrounded by birch trees and despite only being about ten yards from the main path, seems to be by-passed by the many walkers taking in the views in the opposite direction. The circle is also surrounded by several nearby cairns.

Once in the woods, you will find a number of rocky outcrops that offer a slightly different take to the usual wide views from the edge. Pass through the gate and over the stream and eventually the path leads you back to the road to Froggatt. There is roadside parking here, as well as the National Trust (ticketed) car park a little further up the road before The Grouse pub, should you wish to approach the walk from the Froggatt Edge end first.

Stoke Flat Stone Circle in early spring

Stoke Flat Stone Circle in early spring

Rock outcrop in Froggatt Woods

Rock outcrop in Froggatt Woods

For the return journey, should you have the time, energy and inclination, you could continue up the road a little way until you come to the gate leading to White Edge Lodge and take the path along White Edge back down to Curbar Gap. You can also find an interesting stop off point between the southern end of White Edge and Curbar Gap at Swine Sty. A prehistoric settlement where the footings of houses and an open burial cist still can be seen.

Curbar and Froggatt Edges offer a classic Peaks walk, with great views in various places both up and down Derwent Valley. If you are there early in the morning and if you are lucky, you may see the Red Deer from Big Moor in the fields around Curbar Gap.

Wentworth Old Church and the Earl of Strafford

The ruins of Wentworth Old Church

The ruins of Wentworth Old Church

Wentworth Old Church, in the village of Wentworth near Barnsley, traces its origins back to the 13th century (the first mention being in 1235) and contains the tombs of many of the Wentworth family and the Earls of Strafford. The tower dates to the 14/15th century and in 1548 Thomas Wentworth bequeathed stonework for Monk Breton Priory that he had bought following the dissolution. The remainder of the current church was rebuilt in 1684 for William Wentworth. Although the majority of the church is now in ruins (the north chapel still intact), it is still clear to see what a magnificent building it must have been in it’s prime.  It was replaced by a new church, which stands immediately to the south in 1877 and the old church fell out of use. It now stands sentient over the churchyard, all faded glory and weathered stone.

Thomas Wentworth (1593-1641) was an advisor to Charles I, High Sheriff of Yorkshire, Lord Deputy of Ireland and the first Earl of Strafford. However, he seems to have fallen from favour and in 1641 was imprisoned in the Tower of London on a charge of treason. Charles I found himself under immense pressure from parliament to sign Wentworth’s death warrant, which he did on 10th May 1641. Wentworth was executed two days later and his body still lies under this church. When Charles I was himself executed eight years later, he seemed to be of the opinion that it was his punishment for allowing the execution of Thomas Wentworth.

Two views of the 14/15th century tower and 17th century doorway

Two views of the 14/15th century tower and 17th century doorway