Ruins at Crow Edge

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

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

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

The Corn Law Rhymer

Ebenezer Elliott (17 March 1781 – 1 December 1849)

Ebenezer Elliott's grave in All Saints Churchyard, Darfied

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

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

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

Footpaths(excerpt)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from Win-Hill, or, the Curse of God

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

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

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

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

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

Wharncliffe and the Dragon of Wantley

From the Hobb Stones, across Brownlow Rocher towards Wharncliffe Lodge

From the Hobb Stones, across Brownlow Rocher towards Wharncliffe Lodge

“In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster. The remains of this extensive wood are still to be seen at the noble seats of Wentworth, of Warncliffe Park, and around Rotherham. Here haunted of yore the fabulous Dragon of Wantley; here were fought many of the most desperate battles during the Civil Wars of the Roses; and here also flourished in ancient times those bands of gallant outlaws, whose deeds have been rendered so popular in English song.”

Walter Scott, Ivanhoe.

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The stables of Wharncliffe Lodge

Wharncliffe Chase is an area of wild upland above the southern end of Wharncliffe Crags, north of Sheffield. Prehistoric human settlement is evidenced by a Mesolithic camp near Deepcar and a settlement at the northern end of the crags. Over 2000 quern stones have been found along the crags, dating back to the Iron Age. There also seems to be some evidence that the Romans passed this way too. Following the Norman Conquest, Wharncliffe was one of the many ‘chases’ in the area set aside as a royal hunting park for the Lords of Hallamshire.

The Wortley family have had a home on the site of Wortley Hall, probably since Norman times. It was Sir Thomas Wortley that built the first lodge at the top of the crags in 1510, there have been two other Wharncliffe Lodges since, the current structure being a Victorian rebuild. Some features of the original lodge still remain.

The Wortleys seem to have had a rare talent for annoying the locals, especially by enclosing land for their deer park. Two hamlets were destroyed when the chase was extended, Stanfield and Whiley and it was the actions of Richard Wortley in 1589 that led to bitter conflict with locals and the creation of the satirical ballad, ‘The Dragon of Wantley.’ In 1591, eleven people were charged with hunting deer in the park and vandalising walls and fences. They are also said to have hung the body of a deer from gallows and nailed it’s head to Wortley Church door. In 1603 George Blount of Moore Hall disputed Wortley’s attempted increase in tithe payments and won his case. It maybe that the character of More of More Hall in the tale is based on him.

All sorts of cattle this dragon would eat,
 Some say he ate up trees, 
And that the forests sure he would
 devour up by degrees: 
For houses and churches were to him geese and turkeys;
 He ate all and left none behind,
 But some stones, dear Jack, that he could not crack,
 Which on the hills you will find.

One of the many twisted, long dead trees on Brownlow Rocher

One of the many twisted, long dead trees on Brownlow Rocher

The tale of the Dragon of Wantley tells how a dragon, living in a cave in the crags (there is still a cave known as ‘Dragon’s Den’ near Wharncliffe Lodge), terrorised the locals by preying upon their children and cattle. The knight, More of More Hall takes on the dragon in battle, wearing a suit of spiked armour, waiting in a pond for the dragon to come and drink. More kills the dragon either (depending on which version you read) with a blow or by allowing the dragon to coil around him and squeeze, thus impaling itself of his spikes.

His son Francis Wortley, seems to have continued the family tradition of antagonism and fought a duel with Sir John Savile (of the Saviles of Tankersley) in 1626. Wortley, along with the Wentworths, sided with the Royalists during the English Civil War. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1644, his estates confiscated, to be returned upon payment of a fine.

The lodge is still in the ownership of the Wortley family. A later resident stocked the deer park with North American Bison and occasionally, the odd bison bone still turns up around the chase.

The Hobb Stones on Brownlow Rocher

The Hobb Stones on Brownlow Rocher

Different views of the Hobb Stones

Different views of the Hobb Stones