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.

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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.

The Lost World of Wardsend Cemetery

7389937988_724f00b70f_oOn the overgrown hillside overlooking Hillsborough in Sheffield, known in the 11th century as ‘Wereldesend’, lies the now near forgotten Wardsend Cemetery. Victorian monumental headstones loom out of woodland and dense ivy undergrowth. Rusted wrought iron railings and the tombs to which they are attached, tumble back into the earth to join those that lie beneath.

The land on which the cemetery now stands, was bought in 1857 by Rev. John Livesey when the churchyard of St. Philip’s Church on Infirmary Road (since demolished) closed for burials. It was consecrated by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Musgrave, on the 5th of July 1859. The first burial being a two year old girl, named Ann Marie Marsden. She is, in keeping with tradition, the ‘Guardian of the Cemetery.’ A small chapel and Sexton’s house were included, only the ruined footings of which remain today.

The cemetery has a close association with the nearby Hillsborough Barracks and an obelisk commemorates the soldiers of 6th, 19th, 24th, 33rd, 51st, 55th Regiments of Foot, Victorian Army, who died whilst at Hillsborough Barracks during the period 1866 – 1869. There are graves of several soldiers, killed during both World Wars as well as some of the 240 victims of the Great Sheffield Flood of the night of 11th/12 March 1864, when the Dale Dyke reservoir at Bradfield collapsed.

Local legend has it that of the four clock faces on the old St. Philip’s Church tower, one was never lit at night. This, it was said, was to allow the bodysnatchers at the nearby Wardsend Cemetery to carry out their grisly work, unable to see when the witching hour had come.

7389936400_f6df3f8372_oNefarious deeds came to light in 1862, when a labourer named Robert Dixon accused the sexton, Isaac Howard of disinterring newly buried bodies and selling them for dissection.

Dixon had moved into the sexton’s house in the cemetery and in his own words, “I observed a curious smell in the room above the stable. I thrust some knots out of the deal boards, and looked down into the stable. We had then been there two or three weeks. I saw about 20 coffins – some of persons about 15 and 16 and 10 years old – others were those of stillborn children. None of them appeared to be the coffins of grown-up persons. I had seen Howard lock and unlock this door, and knew he had the key. The coffins were not covered over with anything, and were lying on the ground, piled in heaps on the top of each other. I saw some broken-up coffins piled in a corner by themselves – the wood appeared to be new. Those pieces are there now. The day I flitted (last Monday) I and several other men saw in the stone shelf near the house four or five sides and lids of coffins.”

The suspicion was that Isaac Howard was supplying the Sheffield Medical School with corpses for dissection. Also that money supplied by the medical school for the ‘decent burial’ of remains legally obtained from the workhouse, was being kept by Howard and the bodies disposed of in a less than respectful manner.

As the news broke, it caused revulsion amongst the occupants of Sheffield, many of who would have had family members buried at Wardsend. On the evening of June 3rd, what became known as the Sheffield Cemetery Riots of 1862 took place when a crowd gathered at the cemetery to find a large hole containing coffins, with and without bodies, one of which had clearly been dissected. Underneath the coffins was said to be several feet of human remains. Many of the crowd began to disinter the coffins of their relatives and a number of graves were found to be empty.

The crowd forced their way into the sexton’s house demolishing the windows and doors, before marching to Howard’s home half a mile away in Burrowlee. Howard learned a mob was on the way, fled and went into hiding, eventually being found in Bakewell, Derbyshire. The crowd set fire to his house, which was completely destroyed.

7389939922_63439c5149_oIt emerged that the law had been breached by both the medical school and the town’s workhouse. The workhouse had sent bodies to the school in sacks and the school, after dissecting them, had allowed Howard to convey them to Wardsend in plain wooden boxes. The law required that coffins should be used.

It appears that the medical school, nervous of its reputation as a school for bodysnatchers, were trying to hush up its activities.

Now the grim tale took a sensational twist as suspicion began to focus on the Rev. John Livesey. It was revealed that he had made a false entry in the burial register, having failed to check that the body of a boy named James Greatorex had been interred.

On June 11th, a public meeting of parishioners at the Peacock Inn, Hoyle Street, severely criticised Livesey. The next night a crowd of 3,000 Sheffielders gathered in the Temperance Hall, Townhead Street, and demanded Livesey should be suspended until he had either been cleared or condemned.

On June 23rd, Livesey was committed to York Assizes, charged with making a false entry in the burial register. Isaac Howard made a statement implicating Livesey. He said that he had removed bodies from their graves, but only on the instructions of the Vicar. Howard was committed to York Assizes, charged with unlawfully disinterring the bodies of two children, William Henry Johnson and Charley Hinchliffe.

Although there was little evidence against Livesey, the jury found him guilty. The judge showed what he thought of the verdict and sentenced the clergyman to one week imprisonment. Howard, also found guilty, was also treated leniently and was given a three month sentence. Livesey was later pardoned, after Howard came clean about his crimes.

By the turn of the century over 20,000 interments had taken place and in 1901, a further two acres of land on the other side of the railway were added. Wardsend Cemetery remains the only cemetery in England with a railway running through it!

The final burial took place in 1977 and the cemetery was officially closed in 1988. Since then it has been virtually abandoned by the church and despite efforts by the council and the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery, it remains one of the few truly lost romantic spaces in South Yorkshire.

7389934618_5fd80119f3_o

Murder on the Moors

The Bradbury Grave in St Chads Churchyard

The Bradbury Grave in St Chads Churchyard

This is a story of murder most foul! It brought ghoulish sightseers flocking to Saddleworth long before Brady and Hindley set foot on the moor. Still unsolved after nearly 200 years, these were the original moors murders.

Here lie the dreadfully bruised and lacerated bodies
of William Bradbury and Thomas, his son, both of
Greenfield, who were together savagely murdered in an
Unusually horrid manner, on Monday night, April 2nd.
1832, William being 84 and Thomas 46 years old.

Throughout the land wherever news is read.
Intelligence of their sad end has spread.
Those now who talk of far-famed Greenfield hills.
Will think of Bill o’ Jack’s and Tom o’ Bills

Such interest did their tragic end excite.
That, ere they were removed from human sight.
Thousands on thousands came to see.
The bloody scene of catastrophe.

One house, one business, and one bed.
And one most shocking death they had.
One funeral came, one inquest past.
And now one grave they had a last.

Saddleworth is a beautiful place, of that there is little doubt. A place dripping in natural beauty, history and folklore, stories occupy almost every nook and corner of this wild corner of Britain. Sadly, the story that most people will associate with Saddleworth is that of the Moors Murders of the 1960’s. A desperately sad story of five murders that penetrated the national psyche and still hangs like a pall over the area today.

These were not the first murders to happen on the moor or to gain national notoriety. For that, we need to step back to 1832 and visit the Moor Cock Inn, that used to cling to the steep hillside on Greenfield Road. Like many buildings around Saddleworth, it was a solid, squat stone building, built to withstand the wild weather that these parts often receive.

Left: The Moor Cock Inn. Top Right: WIlliam Bradbury. Bottom Right: Thomas Bradbury

Left: The Moor Cock Inn. Top Right: William Bradbury. Bottom Right: Thomas Bradbury

The resident landlord in 1832 was 84 year old William Bradbury, or Bill O’ Jack as he was known, in the local manner of naming men after their fathers. In this case, the pub was known as Bill O’ Jack’s too. He lived at the pub with is son Thomas, a 46 year old gamekeeper. Thomas had a quick temper and was not a popular man, due to numerous run-ins on the moor with locals taking peat, cutting heather or poaching the local livestock.

On the evening of Monday 2 April 1832, Thomas Bradbury and Ruben Platt, a regular and friend of the Bradburys, watched a group of Irish men walking near the pub. They stood and watched until they had passed. It was not uncommon to find gangs of navvies in the area at this time, working on the turnpike road to Holmfirth.

By the next morning, both William and Thomas were discovered at the Moor Cock Inn, laying in pools of their own blood. Thomas had been severely beaten around the head and didn’t regain consciousness. A popular newspaper report at the time described the scene as, ‘the walls and flags streaming with gore.’

William was discovered upstairs in his bed, with the tools of the assault all around him, a poker, a spade, a broken pistol and a sword stick. All matted with blood and hair. The Manchester Courier called it the ‘one of the most diabolical murders ever committed.’

A view of the Moor Cock Inn, above Greenfield Brook.

A view of the Moor Cock Inn, above Greenfield Brook.

William regained consciousness for a short time, when asked who had attacked him, he blurted out the word, “pats” or “platts” before he died. This only seemed to serve to widen the mystery, as this single utterance could be taken in several different ways. Pats being a derogatory term for the Irish, Platt being a common local surname or Platters being a term for gypsies, who gathered broom from the moors to weave into baskets.

Another trail of investigation lead to a local poacher, against who Tom was due to give evidence the next day at Pontefract Magistrate’s Court. The poacher had boasted that Tom would never stand as witness against him and indeed, the case was dismissed when Bradbury was unable to testify.

The public inquest was held at the King William IV pub in Uppermill, although no evidence was discovered to tie any of the suspects to the murder. The verdict of “Wilful murder against some person, or persons at present unknown” was returned after the examination of several witnesses. A reward of £100 was offered for any information regarding the case. It was never claimed although it was a huge sum for the time.

The murders gained notoriety far and wide, beyond Saddleworth. The spread of national newspapers were a relatively new phenomena and then as now, they played the story for all it was worth. Coach parties set out for the moor, to visit the scene of the murders and commemorative plates were even produced on significant anniversaries.

Nearly 200 years on, the Moor Cock Inn is long gone (although the foundations can still be found at Bill O’Jack’s plantation) and all that remains is a weathering gravestone in the corner of a churchyard. It is a mystery that will now most probably never be solved, but the story still has the power to fascinate and has been absorbed into the rich tapestry of Saddleworth lore.

StChads

St Chads Churchyard, Saddleworth.

Marsden Moor & Upper Colne Valley Part Two

Millstone Edge, looking into Saddleworth.

Millstone Edge, looking into Saddleworth.

The moors of the Pennine hills have a fine tradition of playing host to sedition. From Brigantine rebellions against the rule of Rome, to the class struggles of the Industrial Revolution. It is as if the will to fight against oppression is a tangible element, embedded in these liminal places of rocky outcrops and quaking peat bogs. The Pennine winds sing songs of noble causes past, open spaces bring forth new ideas and the plentiful rain washes it down the hillside streams, into the numerous reservoirs that surround the watershed. The history of Marsden Moor and the Colne Valley is not just about geology and natural history, it is also about people.

Despite its comparatively remote location, Marsden found itself embroiled in the forge of the industrial revolution and the tumultuous politics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as transport routes improved along Colne Valley bringing both commerce and ideas.

A milestone below Pule Hill, on the old Wakefield to Austerlands turnpike.

A milestone below Pule Hill, on the old Wakefield to Austerlands turnpike.

The view from the Roman road and turnpike road, as it is just about to crest Standage into Saddleworth.

The view from the Roman road and turnpike road, as it is just about to crest Standage into Saddleworth.

The first Wakefield to Austerlands Turnpike road was constructed in 1758, following an old packhorse route running from Huddersfield, through Longroyd Bridge and Thornton Lodge before starting the long climb up Crosland Moor to Holt Head. Then close to Marsden, before passing the base of Pule Hill and following the route of the Roman Road along Thieves Clough. This was upgraded to the Coach Road by Blind Jack Metcalf in 1790, sections of which were floated over the peat bogs on rafts of heather. In 1839, the new coach road (now the A62 Manchester Road) was opened.

The famed Standedge Tunnel, part of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which enters the hillside at Diggle, runs under Standedge and Pule Hill, and exits at Marsden, was started in 1795 and finished in 1811. Progress was surprisingly slow, with work stalling for lengthy periods. These stoppages caused considerable hardship to the miners, tradesmen and labourers, who were not paid during lay-offs (1). Signs of the tunnel can still be found on the surface, with air vents on Pule Hill and Redbrook Engine House, opposite the Carriage House Inn. Built in 1803, this was used to bring spoil to the surface and still sits surrounded by huge heaps of rubble.

Snow clouds over Standedge from Pule Hill, overlooking the A62 Manchester Road. The route of the old turnpike road can also be seen crossing the moor from left to right, crossing the A62 and up Thieves Clough.

Snow clouds over Standedge from Pule Hill, overlooking the A62 Manchester Road. The route of the old turnpike road can also be seen crossing the moor from left to right, crossing the A62 and up Thieves Clough.

Redbrook Engine House (built 1803), sits on spoil heaps from the construction of Standedge Tunnel.

Redbrook Engine House (built 1803), sits on spoil heaps from the construction of Standedge Tunnel.

Colne Valley was flooded on 29th November 1810, when Swellands Dam (on Bobus) burst its banks at one o’clock in the morning. Factories and homes were destroyed from Marsden to Paddock. The event became known as the ‘Night of the Black Flood’ and took the lives of six victims (2).

Colne Valley has been at the heart of the textile industry for centuries. The steep hillsides of the valley, dotted with weaver’s cottages. Then variously water and steam powered mills. By virtue of this, Marsden played a unique role in the story of the Luddites.

The cropping frames, so hated by the Luddites, were made at the Marsden foundry of the Taylor brothers, James and Enoch. Ironically, the hammers used by the Luddites to destroy the frames were made by the same foundry and were known as ‘Enochs’, leading to the Luddite cry of, “Enoch makes them and Enoch shall break them.”

Another major player was William Horsfall, the outspoken, anti-Luddite owner of Ottiwells Mill in Marsden. He fortified his mill with gun loops and his quoted desire to, “ride up to his saddle girths in Luddite blood”, led to his assassination by four men, while riding back to Marsden from Huddersfield Cloth Hall, across Crosland Moor. He stopped briefly at the Warren House (which stood on the corner of what is now Charles Street and Blackmoorfoot Road) for a stirrup cup before continuing up the turnpike road. Four men were waiting for him in a walled plantation (on the corner of what is now Dryclough Road and Blackmoorfoot Road). They fired on him and fled, while he fell from his saddle. He was taken back to the Warren House, where he died the next day.

The view from Crosland Moor, overlooking Milnsbridge and Golcar, towards Scapegoat Hill and Slack.

The view from Crosland Moor, overlooking Milnsbridge and Golcar, towards Scapegoat Hill and Slack.

His assassins were pursued by the magistrate Joseph Radcliffe, of Milnsbridge House (3), where he would interview suspects in his ‘sweat room’. George Mellor, William Thorpe and Thomas Smith of John Wood’s Cropping Shop in Longroyd Bridge (Benjamin Walker’s life was spared for turning evidence), were hung at York in January 1813. The evidence for their guilt was never truly proven and their alibis ignored, but the appointment of a hanging judge sealed their fate before the trial had begun.

The Luddites were just one chapter in the long tale of the Labour Movement in this area, agitated by the poverty induced by the Napoleonic Wars, the outlawing of Trade Unions and the hugely undemocratic state of suffrage in nineteenth century Britain. The 1819 Peterloo Massacre in Manchester only served to antagonise the situation, as did the Corn Laws and the monstrous 1834 New Poor Law.

What followed was a ground swell amongst the working classes, demanding suffrage and representation via parliamentary reform, which became to be known under the umbrella term of Chartism.

The first People’s Charter was published in 1838, on the basis of the following main aims:

1. A vote for every man twenty one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime. 


2. The ballot – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote. 


3. No property qualification for members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor. 


4. Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country. 


5. Equal constituencies securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of larger ones. 


6. Annual Parliaments, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since though a constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.

The Lancashire/West Yorkshire Pennine Moors were often used as venues for mass political meetings that could be termed as seditious by the authorities. They were often accessible by foot and not easy places to be taken by surprise by troops on horseback. Something that would have been considered important after the Peterloo Massacre. Chartist meetings tended to take place out of the gaze of the authorities and mill owners and could attract surprisingly large numbers. A meeting on Blackstone Edge in 1846, attracted 30,000 people to hear Ernest Jones speak.

Millstone Edge on the boundary between Saddleworth and Marsden.

Millstone Edge on the boundary between Saddleworth and Marsden.

When the second Chartist petition, containing 3,250,000 signatures was handed to Parliament in 1842, a motion to hear the petitioners was defeated by 287 votes to 49. This sparked widespread unrest resulting in a general strike, that spread through a number of industrial towns in August 1842 and became known as the Plug Riots.

On 12th August, thousands of strikers streamed out of Lancashire, over Standedge, into the Colne and Holme Valleys. They stopped off at the mill of Sykes and Fisher in Marsden to demand that work stop immediately. Upon refusal, they drew the plugs of the mill’s boilers (which stopped the steam driven machinery). After visiting the Taylor’s foundry, they marched through Colne Valley, stopping off at Slaithwaite, Golcar and Longwood, drawing the plugs at every mill, until eventually, a mob of over 6000 were confronted by troops at Longroyd Bridge and read the riot act (4).

Overlooking Pule Hill and March Haigh Reservoir (which feeds the Huddersfield Narrow Canal), from Buckstones.

Overlooking Pule Hill and March Haigh Reservoir (which feeds the Huddersfield Narrow Canal), from Buckstones.

In 1848, as Europe quaked under revolution (in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere), the Chartists held a huge outdoor meeting at Kennington Common, on 10th April, which processed to Parliament to present another Charter. In Manchester, Chartists stormed the hated workhouses.

Following the failure of this final Charter, the movement petered out and many moved towards the Trade Union movement. Although the Chartists didn’t achieve their aims during the lifetime of the movement, all but one of their demands (annual Parliaments) were eventually enacted.

It is not overly imaginative to say, that during those years during the first half of the nineteenth century, Britain came as close as it has probably ever come, to revolution and Marsden played a crucial role during those turbulent times.

(1)  www.marsdenhistory.co.uk

(2)  Floods in these valleys were not uncommon. Another flood in Holme Valley, when Bilberry Reservoir burst its banks on 5th February 1852, caused 81 deaths.

(3)  Milnsbridge House still survives and can be found on the junction of George Street and Dowker Street, in much reduced circumstances to those that Joseph Radcliffe enjoyed. It once stood in beautifully landscaped grounds, with two ponds. The industrialisation of Milnsbridge hemmed the house in, although for a while, its gardens were maintained as a park. Now however, the once grand house is now used by a fabrication company and the exterior has suffered greatly.

(4)  The History of Huddersfield and its Vicinity – DFE Sykes 1898

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

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.