Loxley Common: Legend & Murder

Sunrise on Loxley Common

Sunrise on Loxley Common

The village of Loxley sits on the very edge of the Peak District National Park, to the west of Sheffield and now almost swallowed by urban sprawl.

Loxley Common lies between the villages of Wadsley, Worrall and Loxley, near Hillsborough. Today a popular spot for dog walkers, there are few clues now left to it’s somewhat dark and grisley past.

Roman artifacts have been found on the common and it is said that Mary Queen of Scots used to ride here, during the period that she was imprisoned at Sheffield Castle. The common was used to graze animals and collect wood for centuries and from the mid 19th century, ganister was mined here, for use in lining the furnaces of the local iron and steel works (1). Interestingly, recent discoveries have been made that could push use of the common back into prehistory.

The common is also home to the sword in the stone, a rock that bears the lightly incised carving of what looks like a broadsword. Little is known of the origin or date of this, but it will be interesting to hear of any future advances on this or the possible prehistoric remains.

Robin Hood’s supposed birthplace on a hillock at Little Haggas Croft (Loxley Firth), lies close to Loxley Common. It is near here where outlaws were said to wait for travellers between York and Peveril Castle (owned by the Sheriff of Nottingham), on their way to the hunting grounds of the Royal Forest of the Peak.

First mentioned in the Sloan Manuscript, dating from around the end of the 16th century, it is said that he was born around 1160. A survey by John Harrison in 1637 describes the Haggas Croft site as, “‘the foundacion (sic) of an house or cottage where Robin Hood was born’ (2). The ‘Gest of Robyn Hode’ (originally possibly dating from around the early 1400’s) certainly places Robin Hood in Yorkshire.

As well as the Robin Hood legend, the common is also the scene of other stories, including murder and gibbetting.

In c.1740, Thomas Halliday built the supposedly fire resistant Cave House on Loxley Common, over the entrance to a cave. The house was occupied by the local game keeper.

It was the evening of 30th December 1812 when Mary Revill was murdered in Cave House, stood lonely on Loxley Common. Her husband Lomas Revill, a game keeper, hadn’t come home that night. He had been seen in the local inn and was found the next morning in the gamekeeper’s cabin. deep in the woods. The night has seen a storm cover the common in deep snow and footprints leading from the cottage seemed to enter a cave on the brown of the ridge and disappear.

As time passed, Lomas Revill is said to have become a strange man and prematurely aged. As another New Year’s Eve approached, someone at the local inn remarked that the gamekeeper hadn’t been seen for a few days. A party of men went up to the cottage on the common and there in an outbuilding, found his body hanging from a rafter. The spectre of a white lady is said the haunt the area still.

Loxley Common, close to Cave House

Loxley Common, close to Cave House

Frank Fearn is a name that will be for ever associated with Loxley Common, for it was here where his gibbetted body hung in chains.

Frank Fearn was hung in 1782 (probably in York) for the murder of local watchmaker Nathan Andrews. He lured Andrews with a story of a pocket watch club (where customers would save weekly towards the cost of a pocket watch) at the Old Horns Inn at High Bradfield. En route to the Old Horns Inn, Fearn clubbed and stabbed Andrews to death on Kirk Edge Road and hid his body in a nearby copse.

Following his execution, his body was returned to Sheffield and gibbetted on Loxley Common, close to the scene of his crime. There it hung until Christmas Day 1797, when Frank’s bones finally fell from their chains. The land on which the gibbet stood, was purchased by Thomas Halliday, owner of the Robin Hood Inn as a tourist attraction. The land was later bought by John Payne, who’s descendants donated the land (Loxley and Wadsley Common) to the people of Sheffield in 1913.

In 1792 the body of Highway Man Spence Broughton was gibbetted at Attercliffe in Sheffield. His accomplice, John Oxley escaped from prison and hid out on Loxley Common. When spotted on the common, he committed suicide rather than face the same fate as Fearn and Broughton.

(1)  Wadsley & Loxley Commoners: http://www.wadsley-loxley.org/history.html

(2)  Quoted in Addy, A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighbourhood of Sheffield, p. lxxiii.

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A Trip Along Stanage Edge

A winter sunrise at Stanage Edge southern trig point

A winter sunrise at Stanage Edge southern trig point

A summer evening on Stanage Edge

A summer evening on Stanage Edge

At approximately four miles long, Stanage Edge is one of the Peak District’s best known and impressive locations. A walk along Stanage Edge is a journey through not only through the geology and natural history of the area but 4000 years of human history and influence.

The southern section of the edge is by far the most popular, with a several nearby car parks and easy access. It is used for a multitude of recreational activities and during a walk along the edge, you will no doubt encounter climbers, joggers, cyclists, ramblers, families and occasionally paragliders. As well as photographers! It is not a place to visit if you are looking for solitude.

The northern end, between Stanage End and High Neb, is much quieter. It can be accessed via a small parking spot on the A57 near the turning for the Strines. Or from Dennis Knoll car park at the starting point of the Long Causeway. You are far more likely to find yourself alone here. Near the A57 parking spot, a drystone wall marks the boarder between Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

Starting from the southern end and traveling north, there are numerous spots of interest along the edge. Parking at the roadside lay by above Overstones Farm allows the easiest access, with just a short walk to the southern terminus of the edge (parking is also available at Upper Burbage Bridge, Hook’s Car and Stanage Plantation Dennis Knoll).

Before you reach the edge itself, a short scramble up to a well known group of millstones is a worthy diversion. These lie just below the part of the edge where the trig point stands. Millstone production took place along the Eastern Edges from medieval times, through to the first half of the 20th century. These particular millstones are thought to date from the early nineteen hundreds and were probably pulping stones. They were abandoned where they were made due to a collapse in demand. They have now become one of the iconic Peak District views and a reminder of the area’s industrial past.

Light breaks over Win Hill and Hope Valley following rain

Light breaks over Win Hill and Hope Valley following rain

The view north along the edge to Stanage Plantation and High Neb

The view north along the edge to Stanage Plantation and High Neb

A short climb from here brings you onto the top of the edge. Just a few feet away is the trig point (457m/1499 ft), from which wonderful views in all directions can be had, particularly following Derwent Valley with views of Win Hill and Kinder Plateau to the north and down towards Chatsworth House in the south. Also west along Hope Valley to the cement works at Castleton, the Great Ridge and Mam Tor beyond. Generally, Stanage Edge, being west facing, is best photographed in the late afternoon or evening, when the light catches the escarpments. However, this end of the edge affords views south and to the east, making it a good spot for sunrises too.

A medieval packhorse route stretches north to south along the edge and paved sections can still be found. Follow this northward, with a splendid, expansive view of the edge stretching up towards Crow Chin ahead of you. Eventually, you come to a small cave and ledge in the upper part of the escarpment known as Robin Hood’s Cave, which the outlaw was said to use as a hideaway. This area has very strong connections with the legend of Robin Hood, with his reputed birthplace of Loxley only eight miles to the north, just to the west of Sheffield. The reputed grave of Little John lies nearby in St Michael’s Churchyard in Hathersage. The cave is now partially collapsed, apparently with someone inside it when the collapse happened. According to a local story, he was only found three years later when the rubble was cleared.

The area between the cave and Stanage Plantation offers some good opportunities for photography, with it’s dramatic walls of rock and long views towards Crow Chin. This area is particularly popular with climbers and care should be taken not to trip over or dislodge their ropes fixed amongst the rocks on top of the edge.

In 1845 Charlotte Brontë visited her friend Ellen Nussey, whose brother was the vicar of Hathersage and stayed at the vicarage for three weeks. During this time, she took the opportunity to explore Hathersage and its surrounding moorlands. It is well known that she used Hathersage as the setting for her novel Jane Eyre and that Thornfield Hall is based on North Lees Hall, an Elizabethan Manor House occupied by the Eyre family and visible from Stanage Edge.

It is unsurprising that Stanage Edge was chosen as a location for the 2005 film adaption of Pride and Prejudice. The rock on which Keira Knightley stands during the sweeping, panoramic scene on the edge can be found at the northern end of Stanage Plantation. You can view a clip here.

A summer sunset over the rock on which Keira Knightley stood during the famous scene in Pride and Prejudice


A summer sunset over the rock on which Keira Knightley stood during the famous scene in Pride and Prejudice

A late summer evening stroll on the edge

A late summer evening stroll on the edge

A little further on and you will arrive at the track known as the Long Causeway, which starts at Dennis Knoll, crosses the edge and continues to Stanedge Pole and Redmires beyond. It has been speculated that the causeway is a section of the yet undiscovered Roman road from Navio fort in Hope Valley, to Templeborough. It seems however that the causeway is more likely to be a much more recent packhorse route than a Roman road.

From the causeway, it is a short stretch to High Neb and Stanage Edge’s second trig point (458m/1502 ft). This is a great place to capture views of the edge stretching to the south and another batch of millstones that lay below the edge. At Crow Chin are two bronze age cairns and from here, the edge turns northeast.

High Neb looking south

High Neb looking south

Stretching west, away from the edge you will see Bamford Moor below you. Hidden amongst the heather here are more bronze age cairns, including a ring cairn. Further north, after Jarvis Clough, lays Moscar Moor and Hordron Edge which includes one of the Peak’s best stone circles at the Seven Stones of Hordron.

One of the hundred or so numbered grouse troughs

One of the hundred or so numbered grouse troughs

One of the unique features of the northern section of Stanage Edge are the numbered grouse troughs carved into the rocks. These were carved about 100 years ago to catch rainwater. At this time, Stanage Edge was a privately owned grouse moor and it is thanks to the persistence of those ramblers and climbers of the first half of the 20th century that the first National Park was created in the Peak District in 1951, so that we can now all enjoy this beautiful area.

A little further along the edge, set back slightly in the heather is a ruined hut, most probably a game keeper’s shelter or possibly associated with the quarry. Finally you arrive at Stanage End to find old quarries and boundary markers, this is the northern-most tip of Stanage Edge.

Of course, you don’t need to attempt to shoot the whole of Stanage Edge in a single go. The images that accompany this text have been shot over the course of a number of years. Often it is best to choose a small section and get a few good compositions, rather than running around like a loony during the few minutes when the light is at its best. You can always go back again another time and cover a different section.

A spring sunset near Crow Chin, looking over Moscar Moor

A spring sunset near Crow Chin, looking over Moscar Moor

A Spring sunrise overlooking Moscar Moor and Derwent Edge

A Spring sunrise overlooking Moscar Moor and Derwent Edge

A Winter sunrise on Stanage Edge

A Winter sunrise on Stanage Edge

 

 

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.