One of my photos of Ravenstones Brow on Saddleworth Moor, has been featured in a video by Creative England.
To see the video and read more about the project, visit this link.
One of my photos of Ravenstones Brow on Saddleworth Moor, has been featured in a video by Creative England.
To see the video and read more about the project, visit this link.
This is a story of murder most foul! It brought ghoulish sightseers flocking to Saddleworth long before Brady and Hindley set foot on the moor. Still unsolved after nearly 200 years, these were the original moors murders.
Here lie the dreadfully bruised and lacerated bodies
of William Bradbury and Thomas, his son, both of
Greenfield, who were together savagely murdered in an
Unusually horrid manner, on Monday night, April 2nd.
1832, William being 84 and Thomas 46 years old.
Throughout the land wherever news is read.
Intelligence of their sad end has spread.
Those now who talk of far-famed Greenfield hills.
Will think of Bill o’ Jack’s and Tom o’ Bills
Such interest did their tragic end excite.
That, ere they were removed from human sight.
Thousands on thousands came to see.
The bloody scene of catastrophe.
One house, one business, and one bed.
And one most shocking death they had.
One funeral came, one inquest past.
And now one grave they had a last.
Saddleworth is a beautiful place, of that there is little doubt. A place dripping in natural beauty, history and folklore, stories occupy almost every nook and corner of this wild corner of Britain. Sadly, the story that most people will associate with Saddleworth is that of the Moors Murders of the 1960’s. A desperately sad story of five murders that penetrated the national psyche and still hangs like a pall over the area today.
These were not the first murders to happen on the moor or to gain national notoriety. For that, we need to step back to 1832 and visit the Moor Cock Inn, that used to cling to the steep hillside on Greenfield Road. Like many buildings around Saddleworth, it was a solid, squat stone building, built to withstand the wild weather that these parts often receive.
The resident landlord in 1832 was 84 year old William Bradbury, or Bill O’ Jack as he was known, in the local manner of naming men after their fathers. In this case, the pub was known as Bill O’ Jack’s too. He lived at the pub with is son Thomas, a 46 year old gamekeeper. Thomas had a quick temper and was not a popular man, due to numerous run-ins on the moor with locals taking peat, cutting heather or poaching the local livestock.
On the evening of Monday 2 April 1832, Thomas Bradbury and Ruben Platt, a regular and friend of the Bradburys, watched a group of Irish men walking near the pub. They stood and watched until they had passed. It was not uncommon to find gangs of navvies in the area at this time, working on the turnpike road to Holmfirth.
By the next morning, both William and Thomas were discovered at the Moor Cock Inn, laying in pools of their own blood. Thomas had been severely beaten around the head and didn’t regain consciousness. A popular newspaper report at the time described the scene as, ‘the walls and flags streaming with gore.’
William was discovered upstairs in his bed, with the tools of the assault all around him, a poker, a spade, a broken pistol and a sword stick. All matted with blood and hair. The Manchester Courier called it the ‘one of the most diabolical murders ever committed.’
William regained consciousness for a short time, when asked who had attacked him, he blurted out the word, “pats” or “platts” before he died. This only seemed to serve to widen the mystery, as this single utterance could be taken in several different ways. Pats being a derogatory term for the Irish, Platt being a common local surname or Platters being a term for gypsies, who gathered broom from the moors to weave into baskets.
Another trail of investigation lead to a local poacher, against who Tom was due to give evidence the next day at Pontefract Magistrate’s Court. The poacher had boasted that Tom would never stand as witness against him and indeed, the case was dismissed when Bradbury was unable to testify.
The public inquest was held at the King William IV pub in Uppermill, although no evidence was discovered to tie any of the suspects to the murder. The verdict of “Wilful murder against some person, or persons at present unknown” was returned after the examination of several witnesses. A reward of £100 was offered for any information regarding the case. It was never claimed although it was a huge sum for the time.
The murders gained notoriety far and wide, beyond Saddleworth. The spread of national newspapers were a relatively new phenomena and then as now, they played the story for all it was worth. Coach parties set out for the moor, to visit the scene of the murders and commemorative plates were even produced on significant anniversaries.
Nearly 200 years on, the Moor Cock Inn is long gone (although the foundations can still be found at Bill O’Jack’s plantation) and all that remains is a weathering gravestone in the corner of a churchyard. It is a mystery that will now most probably never be solved, but the story still has the power to fascinate and has been absorbed into the rich tapestry of Saddleworth lore.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Folklore is often relegated to the realms of fairytales. Bedtime stories or tales to be told around on open hearth on a cold winter’s night. Often however, it can direct us to places that can be a joy to capture images of throughout the seasons. Sometimes there is a grain of truth in these tales that, with a little research, can provide us with a window to peer back into a location’s history.
The Boarder Lands of Saddleworth Moor
Tucked away in the Pennine Hills at the northern tip of the Peak District National Park, the Saddleworth district is a string of villages following the ribbon of the River Tame, with a long and often tumultuous history. Historically a part of West Yorkshire (included in the De Laci’s ‘Honour of Pontefract’ following the Norman Conquest), Saddleworth has been administered by Oldham Metropolitan Council and a part of Greater Manchester since 1974. Even now it is often a matter of personal opinion as to whether Saddleworth is in Yorkshire or Lancashire.
This appears to be nothing new. It seems that Saddleworth has seen bitterly fought boarder disputes that go way back into the Dark Ages and possibly beyond, leaving behind place names and tales of bloodshed ingrained in the landscape.
Following the Roman withdrawal during the 5th century AD, it is thought that Britain subdivided into kingdoms along similar lines of the old pre-Roman tribal boundaries. The kingdom of Elmet covered approximately what is now West Yorkshire and was centered on Leodis (Leeds). It was an independent Brythonic kingdom that is likely to have been a part of the Brigantine confederacy, prior to the Roman occupation of the north. To the west, Rheged covered what is now Cumbria and Lancashire, later subdividing into North and South Rheged.
Around Saddleworth Moor are three rocky outcrops that bear the name ‘Raven’. Ravenstones Brow looms over Greenfield Brook and can be seen from the A635 Holmfirth to Greenfield Road. Ravenstone Rocks on Broadstone Hill above Diggle commands views over the Tame Valley and Raven Rocks near West Nab keep a watchful eye on Wessenden Head. Local poet and folklorist Steve Sneyd suggests that these could have been important boarder points during the Dark Ages, drawing similarities between a number of landscape features bearing the ‘Raven’ name that formed the boarders of North Rheged (1).
The raven is a powerful symbol in Celtic mythology and widely used on banners during the Dark Ages, seen as a messenger of the gods and often associated with protection. Reference the myth of how ravens are charged with guarding the Tower of London and should they leave, it is said that the kingdom will fall. This legend dates from a much older tale where the Celtic king Bran the Blessed (Bran being the Celtic word for raven), asked that his head be severed and buried on White Mount in London facing towards France. As long has his head remained there, it would protect the kingdom. When the Normans later built the Tower of London on the White Mount, the legend of protective ravens was transferred to the new building.
A Tale of Two Giants
Two great hills stand at the entrance to the Upper Tame Valley, Alphin Pike and Alderman’s Hill. These were said to be the homes of two giants, Alphin and Alder who initially were on good terms. However, both fell in love with Rimmon, a water nymph from the bubbling waters of Chew Brook in the valley below. Rimmon chose Alphin, which enraged Alder and the two giants fought by casting boulders at each other, until Alphin was struck and killed. Rimmon cast herself from an outcrop in grief and joined Alphin in death.
While this legend on the surface appears to be nothing more than a fairytale, it could well have its roots in the ancient boarder conflicts of the area between Celts and advancing Germanic invaders. Those who are familiar with the tale of the Battle of Win Hill may spot a similarity here. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to supplant the two giants for armies based on opposing hills, rolling rocks onto each other. Rimmon being the land that they fought over, or the name of a local Celtic deity. It certainly seems that place names such as Alderman (Elder Man) and Kinder (Children) have their roots in Germanic languages, while Alphin is possibly of Celtic origin (Al – cliff or rock).
It seems that the kingdom of The Peak was absorbed into Southern Rheged at the end of the 6th century. Elmet was over-run by the Angles around 616AD, when Ceredig was defeated at Bawtry. The Anglian king of Bernicia Aethelfrith was killed but Edwin of Deira seized power and absorbed Elmet into their expanding kingdom of Northumbria. Rheged would have come under increasing pressure from the east, as Celtic Britain was pushed further west. Southern Rheged fell in approximately 635AD, Northern Rheged reputedly falling some time before 730AD (2).
A Land of Legend
The hilltops of Saddleworth Moor are littered with strange rock formations. At Pots and Pans, near Alderman’s Hill is the distinctive Pots and Pans Stone. Seen from the right angle, the rock bears a simulacrum of a human face with protruding chin and hooked nose. Local lore attributes druidical connections and the water in the many weather worn indentations on the top of the stone is said to cure eye ailments. Although by the look of the water, I would be willing to take my chances with Optrex.
Standing Stones above Greenfield Brook is not in fact an ancient stone circle but a natural rock formation. Although nearby Adam’s Cross does appear to hint at a location of ancient worship. There is said to be a lost stone circle and cairn field in this area, although I have yet to find anything after numerous searches. I suspect that the odd naming of the natural outcrop may have aided confusion here.
Sugar Loaf rock on Dick Hill is a glacial erratic (and possible former rocking stone) that has toppled from it’s base. A short distance away are the Boggart Stones, sat just above Upperwood Farm House. In folklore Boggarts are supernatural, shape shifting entities, so it seems that yet more folklore could have faded from memory here, leaving behind only a hint in the place name.
Some photographers like to visit a location, shoot it and move on, which is fine. We all have our own individual working practices. However, I find it a great advantage to immerse myself in the landscapes that I work in. I find that knowledge of the area, its history, customs and stories really brings the landscape to life and strengthens an emotional connection to the subject. It informs and sometimes changes how I shoot the landscape before me.
(1) Three Ravens to the West, Northern Earth Magazine issue 76: Steve Sneyd
(2) Northumbria itself fell in when the Danish Viking Ivar the Boneless of Dublin took York in 865AD. Northumbria, distracted by civil war briefly re-united to attempt a recapture of York but failed and the Danes took Northumbria in 867AD.
The article originally appear on Peak District On-line.