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

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

Hartshead Church: Brontës, Luddites and Robin Hood

Heatshead Church

Heatshead Church

For many, the name Hartshead will only be familiar via the motorway service station on the M62, just before the junction 25 turn off for Huddersfield. However, this quiet little corner of West Yorkshire guards a deep sense of history.

The first known church to be built here was a Norman church, built in at least 1120 when the Earl of Warren granted the site to the Priory of Lewes. Some elements of the Norman stonework still survive. This may have replaced an earlier Saxon chapel. In a field nearby lies the Lady Well, where it is thought that Paulinus may have performed baptisms and hints at a much longer tradition of worship here, going back well before Christianity reached Britain. The church was remodelled in 1662 and was extensively renovated in 1881, which is the structure that we see today.

In the churchyard stands the remains of an ancient Yew tree, which is probably at least as old as the church itself. Local folklore tells that Robin Hood cut his final arrow from this tree before his arrival at the nearby Kirklees Priory (Nunwood in Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Shirley’). It is said that he was the nephew of the Prioress and sought refuge here to be bled (a common medieval cure for ailments). Upon his arrival with his companion Little John, he was installed in the gate house, where either by accident or design the Prioress bled him to death. His grave is still reputedly in the grounds of Kirklees Park (another version has his final resting place at Hartshead Church). Little John left casting a curse on the Priory and it is said that the Prioress’ ghost still stalks the grounds.

Left: The ancient yew treeRight: A sundial dating from 1611

Left: The ancient yew tree
Right: A sundial dating from 1611

Patrick Brontë served as vicar here from 1810 to 1815, at a time when the Huddersfield area was in the grip of revolutionary Luddite uprisings that so scared the authorities, 1000 troops were garrisoned in the town. While at Hartshead, Brontë met his wife Maria and had two children, Elizabeth and Maria, neither of which survived infancy. Charlotte Brontë later based her book ‘Shirley’ on the area, with Hartshead Church being cast as Nunneley.

On the night of 11th April 1812, between 150 to 300 Luddites gathered near the waymarker known locally as ‘Dumb Steeple’ in Cooper Bridge. They set off across Harthead Moor with the intention of storming William Cartwright’s Mill at Rawfold, near Cleckheaton. Cartwright had received a tip-off and had fortified his mill in preparation, arming a handful of employees and appealing to the Cumberland Militia (stationed just a mile away) to provide men. What followed can only be described as carnage.

As the Luddites attempted to break in, they were fired at from the mill and were eventually forced to withdraw, leaving behind two seriously wounded men. The wounded were taken to the Star Inn, Roberttown, were both died from loss of blood. Many others were wounded and it is said that trails of blood and flesh, even a finger were found in the area around the mill. It is known that several Luddites died later from their wounds, some reputedly being buried in secrecy in Hartshead Churchyard. Patrick Brontë was opposed to the Luddites, but did not stop the funerals.

The Luddite losses at Rawfold led directly to an act of revenge, with the shooting of William Horsfall, the owner of Ottiwell’s Mill in Marsden, while en-route over Crosland Moor back to Marsden from Huddersfield*. The Milnsbridge Magistrate, Joseph Radcliffe pursued the case vigorously and three men were hung at the New Drop at York Castle for their supposed part in Horsfall’s murder. A further thirteen men hung, for their part in the raid on Rawfold’s.

Although the authorities managed on this occasion to stamp out the threat of the Luddites, resentment burned for generations to come and this was just the first of many uprisings and campaigns in the area, that eventually led to the formation of Trade Unions and better working conditions.

Dark clouds over Heatshead Church

Thought to be near the spot of the Luddite burials

*To be covered in detail in a separate article to come.

Black Dick of the North

Black Dick's Tower

Black Dick’s Tower

Every year on the 5th July, this little folly near Mirfield, known as Black Dick’s Tower or The Temple, is said to be haunted by the ghost of ‘Black Dick of the North’, carrying his severed head under his arm.

There is much conflicting information about Sir Richard Beaumont (1574-1631). He was named ‘Black Dick of the North’ by James I, it is supposed because of his dark doings. He is said to have variously been a highway man, a gambler, a bad debtor and was supposedly killed in a duel. He is also said to have murdered a young serving girl who he had made pregnant and practiced black magic at the tower.

What is known to be fact about Richard Beaumont is that he was the son of Edward Beaumont and Elizabeth Ramsden and was first cousin to Elizabeth I. He was knighted by James I in 1609 and in 1615, was a Justice of the Peace for the County of York. He was in command of a Kirkheaton troop of soldiers and was treasurer of a fund for disabled soldiers of the West Riding. In 1625 he was a Member of Parliament for Pontefract and in 1628, was made Baronet of Whitley by Charles I. His estates included Sandal Castle near Wakefield. He founded Kirkheaton Grammar School in 1610, with Reverend Stock and when he died in 1631, he was interred in the Beaumont Chapel in Kirkheaton Church, where his wonderfully elaborate tomb can still be seen. Although he died unmarried, he had two illegitimate daughters, Isabella Lees and Isabella Bromswood.

The Beaumonts arrived in Britain with William the Conquerer and were awarded lands in Huddersfield in the early part of the 13th century, as part of the Honour of Pontefract, held by the De Laci family. Whitley Hall was built by Richard Beaumont in the early 17th century, although there was probably a house on the site as early as the late 14th century. It was remodelled in 1704 and the grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. The Beaumont family continued the occupy the hall until 1917. An attempt at restoration was made by Charles Sutcliff who bought the hall in 1924 but it was sold once again in 1950, this time to an open cast mining company and the hall was demolished. The Temple is now the only structure that remains of the estate. It stands on a ridge of high ground, just off Liley Lane between Grange Moor and Kirkheaton.

There are a number of potential holes in this particular ghost story. It is likely that Richard was named Black Dick of the North due to his swarthy complexion and black hair. The Temple was built (most likely as a summer house) in 1752, over a century after he had died. His tomb gives his date of death as being October 20th and not July 5th. Also, a bit of historical confusion may lie behind the story of his headless ghost, as it was Robert de Beaumont who lost his head during the Elland Fued c.1341, when the John de Eland attacked him in his home at Crosland Hall in Crosland Moor.

When they had slain thus suddenly
Sir Robert Beaumont’s side,
To Crossland they came craftily
Of Nought they were afraid.

The lady cry’d and shrieked withal,
When as from her they led
Her dearest knight into the hall
And there cut off his head.

Author unknown c.16th C

It seems that in this case, tales from elsewhere have been twisted a little to fix them to this particular location. And perhaps in the process, unfairly staining the good name of Richard Beaumont.

PS: Those of you who have reached this post via a Google Search for ‘Black Dick’, sorry to disappoint you!

Castle Hill: History & Folklore Pt3

Introduction

In this final installment I examine perhaps the most enduring and romantic legend attached to Castle Hill, that of the Dragon and the Golden Cradle and see how this could possibly connect the hill to another feature in the surrounding landscape.

The Victoria Tower at Castle Hill looking west to West Nab

The Victoria Tower at Castle Hill looking west to West Nab

The Dragon in Folklore

A very old tale tells that Castle Hill is home to a sleeping dragon that guards a golden cradle. Folklore of dragons as the guardians of treasure can be found all over the world. Some of the earliest written tales seem to have originated in Greek Mythology but it is likely that the notion is much older.

In the case of Castle Hill, it is possible that this particular legend was attached to the hill in the time of the Anglo-Saxons, although of course dragons existed in Celtic and Norse lore too. The dragon of the Saxons was the Wyrm, often depicted looking more like a ferocious serpent without the wings or limbs of the better-known Medieval dragon. In a rental record of 1425, the hill is referred to as. ‘three acres of demesne land called Wormcliffe’. The name occurs again in a manorial survey of 1584 (1).

It was common for dragon legends to be attached to hills and burial chambers by the Germanic peoples who came to Britain at the time that the Roman Empire was beginning to crumble. Such as Wormelow Tump in Herefordshire, said to be the burial place of Arthur’s son Amr and Drake Howe cairn near Guisborough, thought to originate from the Old Norse ‘draukr’. In the epic Saxon poem Beowulf, he finally meets his end fighting a dragon that guard’s treasure, when a slave steals a cup from the hoard and provokes attacks upon the towns and crops of the Geats.

The dragon was a potent symbol in Britain following the Roman retreat. The Saxon battle standard was that of a white dragon, which had probably been inherited from the Roman draco, a wood or metal dragon head with gaping jaws on a pole or lance with coloured material fixed behind it. This would bellow like a windsock and most probably make an unsettling noise when caught by the wind or in motion. These were first thought to have been introduced into the Roman Army by Samaritan and Dacian cavalry during the 2nd century (2).

The battles between the Britons and the Saxons is symbolised by dragons in the tales of Merlin. Vortigern, King of the Britons is attempting to erect a tower after beating a retreat into northwest Wales from the Saxons. Each day, he and his men return to find their work destroyed. Vortigern is advised by his wise men to sacrifice a boy with no father and sprinkle his blood on the foundations to appease the restless spirits of the place. His men go out and eventually return with a boy named Myrddin Emrys (Merlin Ambrosius). Merlin advised that the tower would not stand as a pool containing two dragons, one white and the other red lay beneath the tower placed there by Lludd. He ordered that the pool should be dug out and drained and the dragons released. This Vortigern did and the two dragons fought fiercely. When asked to tell what this portended, Merlin explained that the white dragon was the Saxons and the red the Britons. That the Saxons were winning and would oppress the Britons but that a leader would emerge and drive the Saxons back. The fort was named DInas Emrys (Fortress of Ambrosius) (3) (4).

Dragons and serpents are also used as symbols of paganism in folktales of the christianisation of Britain. At Winlatter Rocks in Derbyshire, a priest fought off a dragon and left his footprints behind in the process. St Columba’s encounter with the Loch Ness Monster is also an allegorical tale of the victory of christianity over paganism.

The Celtic goddess Bride (another aspect of the Brigantine goddess Brigid) was known as the Serpent Queen. The day of Brigid/Bride is 1st of February (the pagan Imbolc or christian Candlemass), the snake is believed to emerge from its bolt hole on this day and symbolise the coming of spring. ‘Early on Bride’s morn shall the serpent come from the hole, I will not harm the serpent, nor will the serpent harm me’ (5). When St Patrick supposedly drove the serpents out of Ireland, he in reality was attempting to purge Ireland of the worship of Bride. He was of course unsuccessful and she became christianised as St Bride.

As we have already seen in the previous part of this blog, Brigid was likely to have already been associated with the hill by the Brigantines, by way of being the goddess of high places. It is also possible that the hill was seen as a sacred place of Brigid by way of the fire that destroyed a section of the hillfort. Maybe a shrine was placed on the hill to placate the goddess (6). Brigid also being associated with fire (7). If Brigid/Bride’s guise of the Serpent Queen was also considered here, then there is already a tradition in place of the hill being protected by a serpent. It may also be that as the hill was circled by quite impressive fortifications, the Saxons recognised it as a likely place for a stronghold in the case of possible rebellion and the sleeping dragon is a representation of a possible Celtic uprising should the dragon awake.

West Nab dominates the horizon beyond Netherton and Meltham

The saddleform feature of West Nab dominates the horizon beyond Netherton and Meltham

The Cradle

What then of the golden cradle, the treasure that the dragon is said to guard? Why a cradle and not a hoard of treasure as at many other sites bestowed by dragon and treasure legends? (8) If the hill was home to an altar to Brigid, could it have been that infanticide occurred at such a place?

‘The invasion of Britain in the first century could have been considered catastrophic enough to trigger the sacrifice of newborns by indigenous people attempting to persuade the gods to lend them assistance in their resistance to the invading Romans.  Researchers at Hambleden were appalled to discover at least one infant skeleton with cut marks indicating it had been possibly ritually dismembered.’ (9)

Or perhaps in a world where infant mortality was much more commonplace than now, maybe deceased offspring were brought to the hill in some form of funerary rite. Alternatively, it could be possible that newborns were brought to the hill for a form of blessing, the Serpent Queen protecting their cradle.

Another possible and very interesting explanation that involves a connection to another landscape feature is suggested by John Billingsley. Symbolic landscapes have found gathering acceptance in association with ancient sites. For example, Callanish stone circle on the Isle of Lewis is aligned to a landscape feature on the horizon, known as ‘Cailleach na Mointeach’ or the ‘Old Woman of the Moors’, formed by the shape of Mount Clisham. It is here that a lunar phenomenon occurs every 18.6 years where the moon skims low across the hills. Also at the summer solstice sunrise, the ‘golden one’ is said to walk down the avenue of stones. A likely reference to the sun. Avebury stone circle lies at the heart of a symbolic landscape that includes both natural and man-made features such as the massive artificial hill, Silbury Hill. Castlerig Stone Circle in Cumbria uses surrounding landscape features as alignments. These are just three well-known places in a long and growing list of symbolic landscapes in the British Isles.

The southwestern horizon from Castle Hill, looking towards the moors beyond Holmfirth to Meltham Moor, is dominated by a saddle feature formed between the points of West Nab and Hind Hill on Shooters Nab. John Billingsley suggests that when the sun sets between these two points (thought to be during February, if 1st February, that would be perfect) this could represent the golden cradle.

‘If we follow this line of speculation so far, what then might we make of the legend of the golden cradle, the treasure of Castle Hill? Gold, like the sun, like fire; a cradle, like a bowl, like the saddle on the SW horizon; treasure, like the protection of a powerful goddess; buried in the ramparts, where the mysterious fire started. Nothing proven, but perhaps there is something to think about?’ (10)

Here another representation of Brigid as the goddess of fire may come into play. The sun, cradled in the saddle of the hills like the eternal flame of Brigid, or Brigid putting the sun to bed in its cradle.

A further theory of interest is put forward by Catherine McLester, similar in regard of a celestial alignment being at the heart of the golden cradle legend but this time centered on the belief that the cradle is buried in the hill’s ditches.

‘According to tradition the cradle lies buried at a certain point in the ditch or moat between the north-east ward and the middle ward on which the public house stands.’ Philip Ahier (11)

Catherine McLester suggests that possibly during an autumnal moonrise over the hill, the rising moon may align with the ditch in question, when viewed from the south east of the hill and form the golden cradle of legend (12).

The summit of West Nab. A compass carved in the rock near the ‘bowled’ stone

The summit of West Nab. A compass carved in the rock near the ‘bowled’ stone

West Nab

West Nab itself is a place worthy of consideration. Sat on the western point of Meltham Moor overlooking Wessenden Head, it too could have a very interesting history. The summit of the hill is strewn with boulders that is the result of glacial scatter. At the very top of the hill is a curious looking boulder that is greatly weathered, along the brow of which are three large ‘bowls’, big enough for a man to sit in. Next to this stone, underlying the trig point is what looks very much like the remains of an ancient cairn. There is also what could be a toppled former rocking stone lying on the cairn spoil and other rocking stones (now destroyed) have been recorded elsewhere on the Nab. In some cases, rocking stones have also been known as cradle stones. As one of the highest points locally, it would be no surprise if it were found to have been a place of reverence to the Bronze and Iron Age locals. Visible from both West Nab and Castle Hill is Pule Hill on Marsden Moor, where early Bronze Age cremation burials have been found.

A letter to the Yorkshire Post in the 1930’s ventures to call West Nab a ‘Temple of the Sun’:

‘The unique feature at West Nab is the three seats cut in the rock of the highest and largest stone, facing the east, doubtless those of the priests of the sacred Triad, from which they watched for the first rays of the sunrise, when the sacrifice was made’.

Although the local historian and folklorist Philip Ahier correctly explains away the correspondent’s suppositions as being the result of nature (13). I still can’t help but feel that in a way, he may be right in his suspicions of West Nab being a place of ancient importance. There has been plenty of ancient historical activity around West Nab.

In the fields on either side of Wessenden Head Road, that rises out of the village of Meltham are two ancient earthworks. On the left by Royd Edge (where flints have been found) is an irregular square enclosure that resistivity surveys suggest was probably Iron Age in date. On the right below Oldfield Hill is a sub-rectangular enclosure. Here the same resistivity surveys didn’t quite find a conclusive use, but dated it to possible Iron Age or Romano-British (14). One finding was that the ditches are cut in a ‘V’ shape, which is common (although not exclusive) for early Roman military earthworks. It is possible that this was a rudimentary Roman Camp that oversaw an early attempt to cross the Pennines via Wessenden Head, the current A635 and into Saddleworth. A possible ‘Agger’ (raised bed of a Roman Road) has been found at Shiny Brook Clough (15). A Roman observation post at Castle Hill would have overlooked both the camp and a good section of that road.

West Nab Triangulation Point possibly sits on top of an ancient cairn

West Nab Triangulation Point possibly sits on top of an ancient cairn

Conclusion

It seems then, that the story of the dragon and the golden cradle is likely to be an amalgamation of certain cultural or religious influences associated with the hill and possible celestial alignments that build eventually into the legend that we are familiar with. Possibly beginning with the tale of the golden cradle by way of mythologising actual events into folk memory, followed by the addition of a guardian dragon by Germanic invaders from their own culture, or the adaption of associations that already existed via an identification of the hill with Brigid or as a possible centre for native uprisings. We must remember that in past times, people did not apply the same literal meanings to stories that we do today. Folktales are often ways in which societies with oral traditions remember events, customs or allegories to pass from one generation to the next. They have layers of meaning that speak to those who are accustomed in their ways. It is common for tales to change over time as embellishments are added by subsequent storytellers.

Much by the way of tradition and folklore has been lost over the years. The little that we know about the Celts, particularly the Celtic inhabitants of Yorkshire, comes from the Romans and it is likely that a great deal of what they wrote was biased and self serving. By the time the Normans arrived in Britain, a thousand years had passed since the Roman invasion. Our understanding of that period of British history is fragmentary at best and a great deal of what has survived can be dubious or inaccurate. So piecing together the ancient tales of this land can sometimes be a matter of personal interpretation that is open for correction if later evidence comes to light. I will happily amend any content if that should happen.

I hope that though out this short series I have been able to demonstrate that the landscape we see around us today, can be viewed almost as a storybook of the history of the area. Physical remains, legends and place names sometimes reveal a glimpse into a distant past and unrecorded events that have long passed from memory. This can add levels of meaning and interest to photographic work in the landscape.

If anyone has any questions or further information regarding the history and folklore of the areas that I have covered (or any others around Yorkshire/Derbyshire and the Peaks), please feel very welcome to contact me via my website.

Sunrise from West Nab Brow. Castle Hill is to the left of the sun

Sunrise from West Nab Brow. Castle Hill is to the left of the sun

(1) The Making of Huddersfield – George Redmonds

(2) Robert Vermaat

(3) History of the Kings of Britain – Geoffrey of Monmouth

(4) Geoffrey of Monmouth’s works are generally thought to be rather unreliable as historical references. It seems that he has taken earlier tales of Myrddin and added the Ambrosius part of the name to create a link with Ambrosius Aurelianus, a 5th century Romano-British leader who campaigned against the Saxons and may have led the British forces at the Battle of Badon Hill. He is also one of the historical figures that may have influenced early tales of King Arthur.

(5) From a Gaelic prayer for St Bride’s Day – Kate Westwood 1998

(6) An Earth Mysteries Interpretation of Castle Hill – John Billingsley

(7) A perpetual flame in honour of Brigid/St Bride was kept alight at Kildare. It was only extinguished during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

(8) This is probably a good point to refresh your memory that a Romano-British coin hoard was found on the hill in 1829, including five Brigantine gold coins.

(9) Simon Mays 2011

(10) An Earth Mysteries Interpretation of Castle Hill – John Billingsley

(11) Legends and Traditions of the District of Huddersfield, Vol 1 – Philip Ahier

(12) Castle Hill and the Golden Cradle, Huddersfield Local History Journal, Winter 2005-2006 – Catherine McLester

(13) Legends and Traditions of the District of Huddersfield, Vol 2 – Philip Ahier

(14) Royd Edge & Oldfield Hill Earthworks, Geophysical Survey – Archaeological Services WYAS

(15) Three Ravens to the West, Northern Earth Magazine issue 76 – Steve Sneyd

Castle Hill: History & Folklore Pt2

Introduction

Continuing from the previous installment that looked at the history of Castle Hill, this part now concentrates on the many aspects of folklore and legend that are associated with the hill. As would be expected from a prominent location that has been occupied variously by so many different cultures, over such a long time-span, it is not surprising that the hill is drenched in legend. Many tales involving sleeping dragons, the devil, a Brigantine Queen and secret tunnels abound, that it is difficult to pick out the grains of truth from so many fantastic stories.

Fleeting Light at Castle Hill

Fleeting Light at Castle Hill

A Queen, a King, Tunnels and the Devil

An ancient tale tells how Cartimandua, the hereditary Queen of the Brigantines (1) at the time of the Roman invasion, made the hill her stronghold during civil war with her husband. It seems that Cartimandua already occupied the Brigantine throne when the Roman invasion of Claudius arrived in 43AD and that Cartimandua was a willing client of the Roman Empire. Venutius rebelled against the Queen when she handed Caratacus (chief of the Catuvellauni) to the Romans in c.51 AD. Cartimandua divorced her husband and took up with his arms bearer Vellocatus, who she married in c.69 AD (2). This caused a second revolt, resulting this time in Venutius ousting the Queen from Eboracum (York), who fled under Roman protection. If she fled to Castle Hill is doubtable, as at this point the hill had been abandoned more than 400 years earlier and no sound evidence has been found for further fortification in this period.

Venutius knew that the Roman forces would come for him and fortified a number of locations in the Pennines near Grassington, at Ingleborough and at Stanwick Camp (it is also speculated that the line of the Roman Rig in South Yorkshire may also be part of Venutius’ line of defence). The Romans crossed into the north in 74 AD. One column led by Agricola up the western side of the Pennines and another led by Petillius Cerialis up the eastern side (3). Venutius made his final stand at Stanwick Camp and was defeated. The Romans seized Eboracum and subjugated the Brigantines. They fortified York and moved the Brigantine capital to Isurium Brigantium (now Aldborough near Boroughbridge). Further Brigantine rebellions continued sporadically almost until the end of Roman rule.

There has been much speculation that the hill may have been the site of Arthur’s stronghold of Camelot. This most likely arises from the Roman name for the hill of Camulodunum (not to be confused with Colchester, which bore the same name), seemingly named after the Celtic war god Camulos (the native British equivalent of the Roman god of war Mars, or the Greek god Ares) (4), who is represented as The Champion (depicted as sporting the horns of a ram) and is in keeping with one of the Celtic ways of warfare, conducted by combat between champions rather than all out set battles. Consider the possibility that the hill was being used for such contests by the local tribes when the Romans arrived. The fort was no longer occupied by a war-like tribe and had not been occupied for four centuries. Why then would the Romans name it after a Celtic war god?

The Keep

The Keep

It is true that there was a 5th century king of the Pennines named Arthius and slightly later, Arthwys of Elmet (born c.479 AD). It is unlikely that either made their strongholds on Castle Hill as Arthius was most likely based further north in Cumbria and Elmet seems to have been centered on Leodis (Leeds), which is a better contender for the home of Arthwys. No archaeological evidence has been found for occupation in the period either. There were a number of kings during this period that bore the name Arthur and the exploits of all of these could well have contributed to the tales of the High King Arthur when they were collected from the early Medieval period onwards (5). Also the etymological connection between the Celtic war god Camulos and the kingdom of Camelot is interesting, in that it provides a connection between King Arthur and pre-Roman conquest Britain. It may just be that the earliest legends of Arthur go way back into our prehistoric past and were later embellished with tales of the exploits of later Kings named after him. Frances Pryor has an interesting theory that the tale of the sword in the stone goes back to the casting of Bronze Age weapons (6) and there are many other tales of swords embedded in stone throughout Europe, that go way back beyond the Iron Age.

Local folklore tells of a number of tunnels that are said to lead out from the hill. Amongst others, one to Deadmanstone in Berry Brow and the other to St Helen’s Gate in Almondbury. There could be a number of explanations for these legends, other than physical tunnels. In the case of Deadmanstone, the rock has a hole in it through which a man can crawl. It was the custom in bygone times when carrying coffins from the Holme Valley for burial at Almondbury, to rest at Deadmanstone. Legend also tells that corpse would be pulled through the hole before being placed back in the coffin, in some form of ritual re-birth or rites of passage. There is also a tale that the remains of a soldier were found walled up in a cavity in Berry Brow, although it is not clear if this was at Deadmanstone. Depending on which version you read, it varies between a Roman Soldier, or a guard caught unaware by raiding Scots (7).

In many cases, tales of tunnels, great strides or leaps can be indicators of solar alignments to other landscape features. At Alsmcliffe Crag near North Rigton is a natural cave in the rock, known as Faerie Parlour, which legend says is the entrance to the Otherworld. One tale tells how curious locals pushed a goose into the fissure for it to re-emerge three-and-a-half miles away at Harewood Bridge. The goose is a symbol of the sun and the direction of travel from Almscliffe Crag to Harewood Bridge closely coincides with sunrise on the winter solstice (8).

On St Helen’s Gate in Almondbury, lies St Helen’s Well (St Helen being a christianised pagan deity), which doubtlessly lies at the heart of the legend of a tunnel to this location. It lies north east of Castle Hill and could possibly be in line with the summer solstice sunrise. Another possibility is that the legend of the tunnels relates to the journey taken by funeral corteges (or corpse ways) from Deadmanstone to Almondbury, via Castle Hill. It was also said that it was possible to pass through the landscape, using the natural folds of the land and remain unseen from the hill. Perhaps to people who knew the landscape intimately and may have planned their escape route, this too could contribute to the legend of tunnels leading out from the hill.

Castle Hill from the Flats

Castle Hill from the Flats

A further tale tells how the devil was said to have made a mighty leap from Netherton Scar to Castle Hill. At Netherton Scar is a (most likely naturally occurring) depression in the rocks known as the Devil’s Footprint. This tale opens up all sorts of interesting theories. Netherton Scar lies a couple of miles south west of Castle Hill, tantalisingly close to an alignment with the winter solstice sunset. Perhaps the devil in this case symbolises the sun (Lucifer the light bearer), a christian demonisation of enduring pagan practises such as sun worship. It is interesting to note that other footprint marks in rocks have been associated with the coronations of Celtic kings, such as at the centre of the Scottish/Irish kingdom of Dalriada at Dunadd and King Arthur’s Footprint at Tintagel.

Other possible explanations here could include a folk memory of one of the many fires on the hill. It would be a great feat if folk memory of the fires that destroyed the Bronze Age settlement or the Iron Age fort had survived, although Brigid, the goddess of the Brigantines was the goddess of high places and of the hearth, so the connection with fires on the hill may possibly have endured. Another explanation could be connected with the beacon fires on the hill, or perhaps connected with the various dark doings of the Norman overlords in the castle dungeons. It may have seemed to the local populace that the devil himself had come to reside at the grim castle on the hill.

In the next and final installment, I shall examine perhaps the most enduring and romantic legend attached to Castle Hill, that of the Dragon and the Golden Cradle and see how this could possibly connect the hill to another feature in the surrounding landscape.

(1) A confederacy of northern tribes stretching from roughly modern South Yorkshire/Derbyshire to southern Scotland, with the possible exception of the Parisii in East Yorkshire/Humberside.

(2) It has been speculated that the tale of Cartimandua, Venutius and Vollocatus could have been the original inspiration for the tale of the adulterous tryst of Arthur, Guinevere and Mordred (later replaced by Lancelot), which bears many similarities.

(3) Brigantia – Guy Ragland Philips.

(4) Huddersfield in Roman Times – Ian A. Richmond

(5) That Arthur existed at all in a historical context is doubted. The primary source for such proof was his mention in the Historia Brittonium (History of the Britons), attributed to the 9th century Welsh ecclesiastic Nennius and the 10th century Annales Cambriae (Welsh Annals). No mention of Arthur can be found in the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede’s 8th century work, the work of Gildas, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or any manuscripts prior to the 9th century. Current thinking is that his origins lie in pre-Roman conquest folklore as a fictional hero or Celtic deity, that later became historicised and intermingled with the deeds of regional Dark Ages Kings bearing the name Arthur.

(6) Britain AD – Francis Pryor

(7) Deadmanstone. Door to the Other World; Northern Earth Issue 99 – Steve Sneyd

(8) The Old Stones of Elmet – Paul Bennett