Hartshead Church: Brontës, Luddites and Robin Hood

Heatshead Church

Heatshead Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dark clouds over Heatshead Church

Thought to be near the spot of the Luddite burials

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

Advertisements

Black Dick of the North

Black Dick's Tower

Black Dick’s Tower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author unknown c.16th C

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

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