Marsden Moor Revisited

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

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

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

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

Pule Hill Ruins

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

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

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

Path to Pule HillPule Hill Milestone

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The many layers of landscape photography

What is it about landscape photography that makes me keep going back for more?

I spent much of one Sunday morning asking myself this question, as a ferocious wind did its damnedest to blast me off of Marsden Moor.

A wind blasted morning at Millstone Edge

A wind blasted morning at Millstone Edge

Crouched behind a large rock, which provided at least a little shelter from the grasping fingers of the Pennine wind, waiting for a break in the clouds, I began to ponder just what it was that had coaxed me out of bed at 4.00am and up on to the moor on a day like this. I spotted a jogger approaching, the only other living soul that I saw all morning. We waved at each other in grim solidarity, in recognition of each other’s battle with the elements.

It was this that made me realise that it was a question of motivation. I could have been happily snoozing in a warm bed, but it was the promise of possibilities that had lured me up to the moor. The prospect of capturing something unique and beautiful, that told a little of the story of this amazing and often overlooked corner of the British Isles.

In my mind, landscape photography is about much more than taking photographs. It isn’t about the amount of kit that you carry with you. All of the stuff that you read in photography magazines is about making you buy more products from their advertisers, not about making you a better photographer.

To me, landscape photography is about getting to know your locations inside out. Appreciating how  geology has formed the shape of the land, how human interaction has affected its appearance and the values that have been placed upon it. Going back time after time, experiencing locations in all seasons and weather conditions. After a while, you learn to read the landscape before you. Knowing where the sun will rise and set at any given time of year and which angles you can effectively photograph. How history has interacted with the landscape, building up layers of meaning and telling the story of the location.

Muddy moorland tracks

Muddy moorland tracks

Hidden beauty! It is surprising what beauty can be found in a bit of boggy moorland

Hidden beauty! It is surprising what beauty can be found in a bit of boggy moorland

I have already written about the history of Marsden Moor here and here. Also about the area’s greatest son, Ammon Wrigley here. As you walk (or on this occasion, stagger) across the moor, you are surrounded by history. Every hilltop around you has something on it. Fragments of flint left by Mesolithic hunters, or burials left by Bronze Age farmers. Down in the valley of Castleshaw, the Romans built two forts, driving their road northwards over the moor and around Pule Hill. Angles, Saxons and Vikings made their farmsteads in the area (one Viking losing a gold ring in Chew Valley, over the hill in Saddleworth). The Normans used much of the area around Huddersfield for hunting, building their castle at Castle Hill nearby.

The industrial revolution swept through the area, bringing textile manufacture and sowing the seeds of the early Labour Movement throughout the valleys, in the shape of Luddites, Plug Rioters and Chartists. History even passes under your feet here, in the shape of the Standedge Tunnels. Redbrook engine house was used to haul rock out of the tunnel and you can still even see the rows in which the rock was tipped from carts on the spoil heaps surrounding the building. As the narrowest point of the Pennines, Standedge has for millennia, been the place where transport routes cross the hills.

The drystone wall outlines of fields wrestled from the moor, now lie jumbled, as the moor once again takes back its own. The Pennine Way crosses the moor. A symbol of hard won victories by our forefathers (in this case particularly Tom Stephenson) in wrestling access to the land from the ownership of the privileged few, for the enjoyment of the many. A battle fought famously on Kinder Scout, just a couple of hilltops away from here.

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

 

Light breaking around the Pennine Way on Marsden Moor
Light breaking around the Pennine Way on Marsden Moor

I feel a deep connection with the Southern Pennines, particularly the areas around Huddersfield where I was born and where my father took me walking when I was as a child. The sense of wonder at the contrasts between the industrialised valleys, with dark mills and grim looking factories, clustering around the rivers and canals, and the wild hilltops has never left me. Once I left school and began work in those foreboding places, where daylight hardly penetrated through over a century of accumulated grime, those wild and airy hilltops became even more important as a means of escape. A liminal place to dream of better things. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the Chartists took their meetings on to the hills. Not just to evade the watchful eye of authority, but to take their ideas to a place where freedom is tangible and ideas are received by the expansive sky, rather than the stamping boot of oppression.

Most of those factories are now gone. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Milnsbridge, which once bristled with mill chimneys. I am just about old enough to remember the last few that rose out of Colne Valley. I would stand on the hillside above Manchester Road, where I played as a child and marvel at their height, the sense of space and depth that they created. But they have now passed into history and many of the mills have been scoured of that accumulated grime and turned into flats.

Even though those old places of toil are now largely gone, the open spaces of the Pennines are still as important now as they ever were. Work in places of production may have been replaced with work in places of service. Job security has been replaced with fear of redundancy, our wages stagnated and our rights eroded by temporary or zero hour contracts. Where austerity has replaced hope of a better future for ordinary people, we once again need those open spaces to dream of better things. Places that allow the human spirit to soar and our ideas to take form, away from the suffocating grasp of an increasingly judgemental media and the authoritarian tone that is pervading society.

Fast moving clouds on a windy Millstone Edge

Fast moving clouds on a windy Millstone Edge

It is these layers of history, threads of intertwining meaning stretching back in to early human development and beyond, that fuel my passion for these hills. Over the course of thousands of years, people have come and gone, each using the landscape in different ways, each placing different meanings on the land.

Those layers remain, waiting for us to discover them. And that is the thing that motivates me out of bed and onto the hills, to take up the promise of discovery. Another chance to untangle those layers, using my viewfinder as a frame to tell those stories and the various screens that we place in front of ourselves to advertise the importance of these places. To remind people in the present, that those who went before us placed values on the landscape that transcend our modern interpretations.

Our landscapes and access to them must be protected, for they belong to us all. Including everyone who has been here before us, those of us who are here now and those who will follow us. The weight of custodianship is upon us and in order to protect them, we need to understand and appreciate our landscapes first.

As I crouched behind that stone on Marsden Moor, I could almost see Ammon Wrigley striding up onto the moor as he would have done 100 years ago. The Pennine wind pulling at his coat and scarf, past the Dinner Stone, where his ashes were scattered. It is his words that I think may be most pertinent to end this piece.

The strange wild people of the past
Have vanished race on race,
And we, like shadows on the grass,
Now pass before its face.

Ammon Wrigley, On a Yorkshire Moor

Sunrise at Northern Rotcher

Sunrise on Northern Rotcher

 

 

 

Making the best of ‘bad’ weather

Smoke from a grass fire lingers over Yeoman Hey,  Saddleworth Moor.

Smoke from a grass fire lingers over Yeoman Hey, Saddleworth Moor.

Someone once said that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. But despite being dressed in the latest Gortex mountain gear, many photographers will pack away their equipment and head for home when the light doesn’t show. However, grey skies, hill cloud and conditions that are considered less than ideal, can still make for atmospheric photography.

Ask any landscape photographer what gets them out of bed and off into the hills, at all manner of un-godly hours and the reply will always be the same. To catch the light! That beautiful, fleeting light that only sunrise or sunset can throw across the rocks, turning them into hot coals and lighting up the sky in glorious pinks and oranges. When everything comes together, those mornings are a true joy.

More often than not however, an early start can be met by less than perfect conditions. Those photos of perfect mornings with raking light, dramatic skies, frosty rocks and misty valleys are hard won. They are the work of stubborn persistence, going back time and time again until you are rewarded by rare conditions of light and atmospherics.

Although it is obviously always good when the elements combine to present you with those valued shots, I am a great believer that all is not lost, when the conditions don’t play ball. Quite often, some of my favourite shots have come out of the worst of conditions.

Hill cloud, cloud-bound horizons or over-zealous mists can conspire to block out the light, right at the vital moment. It just means that sometimes you need to be adaptable and work a little harder, with the conditions that you are given.

Low cloud almost obscures sunrise on Higger Tor.

Low cloud almost obscures sunrise on Higger Tor.

The sun finally breaks through at Higger Tor.

The sun finally breaks through at Higger Tor.

One of the best morning’s work that I ever produced came from a morning when at first, all seemed very unpromising. I arrived at Higger Tor one frosty January morning to find low cloud skimming the hill top. It seemed that another early rise had been in vain! I took the path to the top of the tor, set up and managed to capture a couple of shots of the sun sneaking between the horizon and the cloud base. Both were fine shots but I thought that would be my lot.

One lesson that I have learned, is to stick with it. If you get nothing, at least it is nice to be out! After another  twenty minutes, the sun rose just enough to clear the cloud on the horizon and punched through the low level hill cloud, lighting up the frosty rocks with golden light. It was one of those jaw-dropping moments that stays with you for a lifetime.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out quite so well. But there is still plenty of promise during those times when the sun doesn’t struggle through.  Grey skies, hill cloud and mist can have their own beauty. The textures offered by  glowering skies and soft, diffused light can still introduce drama into photography and are ideal conditions to shoot for black and white.

Mono is a much over looked aspect of landscape photography and can be just as pleasing as an image saturated in colour.

Light punches through overcast skies at Derwent Edge, near the Wheel Stones.

Light punches through overcast skies at Derwent Edge, near the Wheel Stones.

Beams of light illuminate the hills around Derwent Valley, from Curbar Edge.

Beams of light illuminate the hills around Derwent Valley, from Curbar Edge.

Light over Alderman Hill, from Hollin Brown Knoll, Saddleworth Moor.

Light over Alderman Hill, from Hollin Brown Knoll, Saddleworth Moor.

On those cloudy days, it is worth a try at shooting during the middle of the day. All of those landscape photography rules-of-thumb advise against this, but it is often when the sun is higher that it stands a better chance of punching through the cloud, producing dramatic rays of distant light.

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

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

Low cloud blocks out the long distance views from Upper Burbage Brook.

Low cloud blocks out the long distance views from Upper Burbage Brook.

Low cloud can have a beauty of its own, even though it may well block out the views as well as the light. The trick is to find a foreground that can add interest in its own right. In the image above, the worn old stones at the crossing point of Burbage Brook and sweep of the middle distance draw the eye into the centre of the image. That you can only just make out the shape of the hill beyond, through the hill cloud adds atmosphere to the image. Those moments of perfect light are fleeting and our wild, upland places are more often to be found in cloud and rain. I think it is important to celebrate all of the moods that my beloved Pennines have to offer and the dark rocks coupled with the moody sky at William Clough on Kinder Scout (above), achieve that mood perfectly at this iconic location. It was here that the legendary Kinder Scout Trespass took place.

A layer of hill cloud lingers around Curbar Edge.

A layer of hill cloud lingers around Curbar Edge.

In the image above, a layer of cloud plays around the quarries of Curbar Edge. The cloud was thin enough to allow through the sunrise colours in the clouds above, but thick enough to block out the sun. However, what this image may lack in light, I think it makes up for in atmosphere. I remember that the morning was very still and cold, with a feeling akin to being underwater.

Mist rolling over Hathersage Moor, from Higger Tor.

Mist rolling over Hathersage Moor, from Higger Tor.

Hill cloud rolls in from Wessenden Head, from the slopes of West Nab.

Hill cloud rolls in from Wessenden Head, from the slopes of West Nab.

The windswept grasses on the summit of West Nab, Meltham Moor.

The windswept grasses on the summit of West Nab, Meltham Moor.

A cold winter wind whips the grasses of Buckstones, on Marsden Moor.

A cold winter wind whips the grasses of Buckstones, on Marsden Moor.

Another great way to add interest to images is with texture and movement. The wind-whipped grasses of the Pennines are particularly characteristic and a feature of the hill tops of the Meltham, Marsden and Saddleworth areas. I find the sweep of the grasses not only a useful device in the composition of the image, sweeping the eye into the frame, but something that is evocative of these wild places, drenched in history and folklore.

The Aiggin Stone at Blackstone Edge, near Rochdale.

The Aiggin Stone at Blackstone Edge, near Rochdale.

Black Dick’s Temple, near Kirkheaton, Huddersfield.

Black Dick’s Temple, near Kirkheaton, Huddersfield.

St John’s Church, Oulton near Leeds.

St John’s Church, Oulton near Leeds.

Places of historical or architectural interest often work well when framed against moody skies. Such as the spire of a church as above, or a place that is the subject of historical tales. A dark, moody background can be far more evocative of these legends, than a perfectly light scene ever can. The Aiggin Stone above, is a Medieval way-marker on the old packhorse route (which overlies a Roman Road) over the moors above Rochdale. It was a stopping point for travellers to say prayers for a safe passage on their journey. I think that the foreboding nature of the sky compliments the history of the place.

Black Dick’s Temple (see my earlier piece on this blog for more) is swathed in tales of dark doings, death and deception. A jolly sunset would be a bit inappropriate!

A small pool at Carhead Rocks.

A small pool at Carhead Rocks.

Ice and mist at Ladybower (left) and one of the waterfalls along Greenfield Brook, Saddleworth Moor.

Ice and mist at Ladybower (left) and one of the waterfalls along Greenfield Brook, Saddleworth Moor.

Puddles on Stanage Edge, reflecting the sky.

Puddles on Stanage Edge, reflecting the sky.

A slight chink in the murk, reflected in the still waters of Ladybower Reservoir.

A slight chink in the murk, reflected in the still waters of Ladybower Reservoir.

If you can, when the light isn’t playing nicely, try to get near water. Water works particularly well, reflecting surrounding scenery and available light, or by adding movement and contrast.

In the images above, a small pool at Carhead Rocks reflects the dramatic skies above. Ice at Ladybower adds both texture and perspective to the image. A waterfall at Greenfield Brook on Saddleworth Moor brings movement and contrast to the dark rocks of Ravenstones Brow, framing the image from above.  Even puddles are a great device to use to add interest.

The other shot of Ladybower was taken on a particularly murky morning. Stanage Edge was a white-out, so by dropping below the cloudbase and putting water into the frame, I was able to capture a slight chink in the clouds reflected in the still waters. The reeds provide good foreground interest too.

Snow clouds from Over Owler Tor, Hathersage Moor.

Snow clouds from Over Owler Tor, Hathersage Moor.

One November morning, while out on Over Owler Tor, I was caught in a fast moving snow storm. Of course, the moors look fantastic in snow anyway, but I particularly liked the image above as the contrast between the snow and the dark rocks make the image look almost mono, except the wedge of green to the left of the frame, of the fields below the snowline. I think it captures the foreboding mood of the darkening skies well.

Light streams through dark clouds over Uppermill, from Shaw Rocks on Saddleworth Moor.

Light streams through dark clouds over Uppermill, from Shaw Rocks on Saddleworth Moor.

An evening stroll on Stanage Edge, under dark skies.

An evening stroll on Stanage Edge, under dark skies.

So, I hope that I’ve managed to convince you that there is still much beauty to be found and plenty of great photographic opportunities, when the light doesn’t show. Don’t pack up your gear and head for breakfast. Stick with it and work a little harder to find subject matter that suits the conditions. You never know what will happen and unless you are there, you will not capture those great images when the opportunity presents itself. The bacon butties can always wait a little longer!

Pre-sunrise on Curbar Edge, Derbyshire.

Pre-sunrise on Curbar Edge, Derbyshire.

Waiting for the light to break at Curbar Edge.

Waiting for the light to break at Curbar Edge.

Ammon Wrigley

Ammon Wrigley

Ammon Wrigley

If you venture up on to Millstone Edge, at Standedge on Marsden Moor, you will be in good company. This little corner of the Pennines was so loved by local poet, writer and historian Ammon Wrigley, that his ashes were scattered near the Dinner Stone.

The views over Saddleworth overlook the places where he was born, raised and lived his whole, long life. Look closer and you will spot his memorial plaque. Now sat between those of his two daughters.

The Wrigley Plaques

THE ASHES OF
AMMON WRIGLEY
BELOVED WRITER OF SADDLEWORTH
FOLK-LORE, PROSE AND POEMS,
WERE SCATTERED FROM THIS SPOT

ON THE 14TH SEPTEMBER
— 1946 —

HIS WAS THE SWEET AND GENEROUS SOUL
THAT LOVED NOT SELF ALONE
BUT TO OUR POORER NATURES GAVE
THE FRAGRANCE OF HIS OWN.

WINDS OF THE PENNINES FRESH AND FREE
YOU WERE EVER GOOD FRIENDS TO ME
OUT ON THE MOORS FROM MORN TILL EVE
HAPPY WITH YOU AND LOATHE TO LEAVE.

SO OVER THE HILLS I’LL TAKE MY WAY
AND MATE WITH THE WILD AND FREE
TILL MY DUST IS FLUNG TO THE WINDS
IN MY HILL COUNTRY.

Ammon Wrigley’s writings display the heart and soul of the Pennines. His love of those rocky uplands and the people that inhabited them, shines through his work. This is his story.

Born on October 10th 1861, at Far Hey, near Oxhey in Denshaw, into a typical working class family of the time. His father Thomas worked in the local mills, as did his mother Mary (nee Waddington). They later moved to Millcroft in Castleshaws Valley, where Ammon attended school.

Young Ammon received only the most basic education and suffered at the hands of poverty:

One of the blackest memories of my early years is of a Christmas time. Work at the mill had been bad for over a month, and we were never more poverty stricken. We had no paraffin for our lamp and barely a barrowful of coal. If a neighbour woman had come into our house on the Christmas Eve, she would have seen a father, mother and two little lads sitting in silence and gloom as they watched a few red cinders die down in the grate.”

And one grey rock, like pagan god, Solemn as death, and lone, That oft, maybe, the hill tribes made Their ancient worship stone. On a Yorkshire Moor (except)

And one grey rock, like pagan god,
Solemn as death, and lone,
That oft, maybe, the hill tribes made
Their ancient worship stone.
On a Yorkshire Moor (excerpt)

In 1870 at the age of nine, Ammon began working half days at Johnny Mill, where his mother and father worked, later moving to Linfitts Mill. Ammon was quick to observe the irony that man had to toil away his days, while the cattle could laze away their days in the sunlight fields.

His love of writing began early. He was seven when his father awarded him three pence in appreciation of a poem that he had written about a wayside well. He would often recite Shakespeare for the amusement of his father’s friends.

Ammon was more than just a poet. His books gather up the soul of Saddleworth and describe a world now lost to us. He wrote of the local characters of the area, such as Joe of Ragstones:

The only scrap of homestead left in the neighbourhood is on the edge of the moors, a gable of Ragstones, famous as being once the home of an eccentric and somewhat scholarly recluse named Joseph Radcliffe, better known in the dales as “Joe o’th’ Ragstones.” The old-folk custom of calling men by the names of their farmsteads still prevails in Saddleworth.

Old Joe had a great deal of the hermit in his nature, and cared little for human company. He lived what is now called the simple life, just for the love of it, not as men do now, – merely to advertise themselves. The thing he set great store upon were his books, his dogs, and his lonely, battered old homestead. He had read much, and his knowledge of French history, particularly of the great Napoleonic period, was held to be fairly exhaustive. (1)

He had a keen interest in the history of Saddleworth and would often collect flints from March Hill. He rediscovered the Roman fort at Castleshaw. Originally rediscovered by Thomas Percival in 1752, but subsequently lost again under the plough.

One warm, dreamy morning in the August of 1897, I chanced to be idling away and hour in one of the high fields above Broadhead. As I looked lazily across the valley, I suddenly saw the complete outlines of the Roman Station at Castleshaw. Giving the field a careful survey I quickly realised that what I had just seen was no trick of the imagination, but, on the contrary, was a very tangible fact. Perhaps I was assisted to the identification by the fact that I was fresh from reading “Forty miles round Manchester,” an old 18th century work which contains a plan of the Castleshaw fort. It may seem a remarkable confession, yet it is none the less true that, although I was reared close to Castleshaw and had roamed over the camp field hundreds of times both before and after I knew something of its archaeological importance, I had seen nothing. I had entirely failed to observe the outlines which had been so clearly revealed to me that morning from the fields across the valley. What had remained, at close quarters, broken, detached, and unintelligible, when seen from a distance formed a compact whole, easily identified. (2)

Overlooking Castleshaws from Northern Rotcher on Millstone Edge

Overlooking Castleshaws from Northern Rotcher on Millstone Edge

He also carried out excavation work at the fort, although his methods would undoubtedly make modern archaeologist baulk!

Castleshaw (extract)
Where the lordly moors of Stanedge
Shake the meadows from their feet,
Where the wind-words heather-scented,
Shape themselves to language sweet :

There in the weeds of silent mourning,
Lines of pain about thy brow,
Grey, old-fashioned country hamlet,
Sad and ruined standest thou.

Widely published during his lifetime, the Ammon Wrigley Fellowship was formed in 1931, to meet annually and celebrate his work while he was still alive. The Fellowship, already numbering over 200 members, held its first annual dinner in 1933. Ammon, well known for disliking public functions, did not attend due to the sudden onset of a ‘cold’. He was persuaded to attend subsequent dinners however and the Fellowship also organised outings to many of the locations featured in Ammon’s poems. The Fellowship lasted up to 1983.

Ammon died on 31st August 1946. His ashes were scattered near the Dinner Stone, as per his instructions, on a stormy September 14th by members of the Ammon Wrigley Fellowship. It is said that when Harry Walne, President of the Fellowship, opened the casket, the wind seized the ashes and carried them up and away.

The Dinner Stone

The Dinner Stone

The Dinner Stone
Where the old rock stands weathered and lone
And black as night, turned into stone,
There’s a green church I call my own,
Take my ashes and scatter them there,
Roughly or kindly, just as you care.

Ammon loved Saddleworth and its people, but his main love was the Pennine Moorland around the area that he was born and raised. Most of his books are now long out of print and can be hard to find. However, it is still possible to piece together a collection by scouring second hand bookshops and keeping watch on various websites.

My response to Ammon’s work is very personal. I find it a source of wonder and inspiration that this man visited the exact same places that I now visit, one hundred years before me and felt much the same awe and attachment that I now feel. His words echo perfectly the sentiment of my photographs of this area, although separated by the passage of a century. When out on the moors around Saddleworth and Marsden, his words ring through my head and I am very conscious that I am following his footsteps.

Ammon's spot

Ammon’s spot

Ammon died twenty years before I was born. I would have loved to have met him and walked the moors with him, or conversed with him in the corner of an old stone Saddleworth pub. We are fortunate however that he left his knowledge behind in his numerous books and that his collections are preserved in the area where they were compiled, at Saddleworth Museum. I would urge anyone to visit that wonderful facility. The £2 admission fee is more than worthwhile and I would even suggest a small donation to help keep it open.

It seems fitting to leave the final words with Ammon:

I could wander through a hundred cathedrals, I could hear a hundred learned divines preach from carved oak pulpits, I could hear a hundred surpliced choirs sing the Nunc Dimittis and feel more impressed than if someone had whistled in my ear ; but I could not tramp across a solitary stretch of moor without being moved by some deep and incomprehensible influence ; the silence, the vastness, and the awesome mystery of the great waste lands awake a feeling which, if not exactly reverence, is closely akin to it. I sometimes wonder if this feeling is merely an impression produced by great contrasts, say, where one has been hemmed in all week by man, ­− his works and his artificialities, − and then comes to be set down among the calm sincerities of lonely moorlands, where mighty forces, obeying unwritten laws, work silently and unceasingly age after age. The moors take the pride out of a man, the humble him by making the span of his life seem even more trivial than it really is ; their vastness makes his smallness even smaller ; to be conscious of this feeling now and then does a man good, it sets him square with himself and prevents him from having a “ swellhead.” (3)

Saddleworth from Millstone Edge, Standedge

Saddleworth from Millstone Edge, Standedge

(1)  Lurden and Joe o’th’ Ragstones – Songs of a Moorland Parish 1912.

(2)  The First Excavations of the Roman Camp at Castleshaw – Songs of a Moorland Parish 1912.

(3)  Songs of a Moorland Parish 1912.

Many of the details of Ammon’s life were taken from Sam Seville’s book, With Ammon Wrigley in Saddleworth.

Marsden Moor & Upper Colne Valley Part Two

Millstone Edge, looking into Saddleworth.

Millstone Edge, looking into Saddleworth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Millstone Edge on the boundary between Saddleworth and Marsden.

Millstone Edge on the boundary between Saddleworth and Marsden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1)  www.marsdenhistory.co.uk

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

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

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

Marsden Moor & Upper Colne Valley – Part One

A view of Pule Hill from White Moss on Wessenden Moor

A view of Pule Hill from White Moss on Wessenden Moor

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

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

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

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

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

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

pulehill

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

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

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

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

The summit of West Nab

The summit of West Nab

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

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

Midwinter sunrise over West Nab, from Buckstones

Midwinter sunrise over West Nab, from Buckstones

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

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

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

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

Overlooking Castleshaws from Northern Rotcher on Millstone Edge, Standedge

Overlooking Castleshaws from Northern Rotcher on Millstone Edge, Standedge

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

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

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

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

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

(1)  Northern Antiquarian – Dyson 1944.

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

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

(4)  northernarchaeologicalassociates.co.uk

(5)  Huddersfield in Roman Times – Richardson 1925

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

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

(8)  marsdenhistory.co.uk