The Corn Law Rhymer

Ebenezer Elliott (17 March 1781 – 1 December 1849)

Ebenezer Elliott's grave in All Saints Churchyard, Darfied

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

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

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

Footpaths(excerpt)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from Win-Hill, or, the Curse of God

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

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

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Carl Wark: Prehistoric Ritual Enclosure or Dark Ages Battlefield?

Carl Wark rises out of the boggy centre of Hathersage Moor like a mini volcano. There is a hint of the primeval about it, especially when partially shrouded by mists or hill cloud, as it often is. It is an evocative and mysterious place, that even now holds its secrets closely. Only a single, small scale excavation has been conducted there and that proved to be inconclusive.

It has long been classified as an Iron Age hillfort and sits in a landscape dotted with prehistoric remains, such as a round house near Toad’s Mouth, a ring cairn and possible standing stone on the slopes of Winyard’s Nick, along with both burial and clearance cairns, and Bronze Age field systems. One cairn appears to have been a burial and excarnation complex and a furnerary urn was found there during the 1950s (1).

A small standing stone near Winyard's Nick.

A small standing stone near Winyard’s Nick.

Carl Wark is a conspicuous landmark from every angle and would almost certainly have been used in some manner during the prehistoric period. It seems highly likely that nearby Higger Tor would have also been a significant landmark. Towering over Carl Wark, it seems unthinkable that there would not be some manner of relationship between the two.

View of Carl Wark from Higger Tor

View of Carl Wark from Higger Tor

The flat-topped shape of Higger Tor is echoed in the shape of the largest stone in Wet Withens Stone Circe, on the northern edge of Eyam Moor, where the cairns and stone circe face towards Hathersage Moor, on the Summer Solstice sunrise/Winter Solstice sunset alignment. It is also worth noting that from the western end of Carl Wark, the midwinter sun sets over the pinnacle of Over Owler Tor, across Hathersage Moor to the south west. It seems highly likely that Carl Wark had its place in a ritual landscape, surrounded by significant landscape features.

Midwinter sunset over Over Owler Tor from Carl Wark

Midwinter sunset over Over Owler Tor from Carl Wark

To the south west of both Higger Tor and Carl Wark is the massive gritstone boulder, known as Mother Cap. Visible for miles around, it has been suggested that this was used as a marker for the nearby stone circles and cairn complexes and possibly illuminated at night by fire.

Mother Cap

Mother Cap

The northern, southern and eastern sides are defended by sheer rock faces, although the southern side is lined by a single course of undressed stone. It is the western facing side, where the land descends down a gentle slope, along which the great wall was built. What remains is about three meters high and about forty meters long, with the possibility that it may have once been higher and topped by a wooden palisade. The entrance at the northern end of the wall is modern and probably the result of the footsteps of decades worth of visitors.

The south facing entrance at the southern end of the wall is particularly interesting, as it is narrow enough to allow entry to the interior only in single file and then, due to a blocking boulder, anyone entering is guided to turn to their right. Meaning that with the majority of people bearing their shields on their left arm, their less defended right flank would be exposed.

The entrance at the southern end of the wall

The entrance at the southern end of the wall

The entrance at the southern end of the wall

The entrance at the southern end of the wall

The entrance at the southern end of the wall

The entrance at the southern end of the wall

It is often asked if Carl Wark is a fort, why wouldn’t the much loftier Higger Tor make a better site to place it? Higger Tor may well be higher and look steeper from the south, but once past the southern brow of the hill, the land extends into a plateaux which then gently slopes to the north towards Stanage Edge. This would mean a much larger area would need to be defended. Although Higger Tor overlooks Carl Wark, there is enough distance between the two to put the fort out of range of arrows that could be fired in its direction.

The interior of Carl Wark, looking towards Higger Tor, from near Caer's Chair

The interior of Carl Wark, looking towards Higger Tor, from near Caer’s Chair

Once inside, the interior of Carl Wark is unlike any other hillfort that I can think of. Compared to Mam Tor for example, the interior of Mam Tor contains a number of hut foundations. This is common among hillforts in that they defended some form of living quarters, be they permanent or temporary. No such space exists within Carl Wark for similar structures, being tightly packed with boulders. The best known boulder being the rock named Caer’s Chair, which overhangs the rock face on the northern edge of the site and was described by Major Hayman Rooke, following his visit in the mid eighteenth century as, “a seat of justice, where the principle Druid sat… this place must have been intended for holy uses, or as a court of justice”(2).

During a survey of Carl Wark in 1948 Stuart Piggott noted that the wall and earthen bank was very similar to structures dating from the Dark Ages at forts in Scotland. When FG Simpson dug trenches into the earth bank behind the wall during his excavation in 1950, little dating evidence was found. However, the turf sod construction led to placing a date of 5th or 6th century as its likely origin (3)

View along the wall on Carl Wark

View along the wall on Carl Wark

The name Carl Wark seems to have a number of possible derivations.  It is probable that the current name has come down to us from ‘Carl’s Work’, or ‘Charles’ Work’ according to Hayman. Karl being the old Germanic/Nordic version of Charles. It has also been suggested that Carl and Charles are old names for the god Odin, meaning ‘Old Man’ (4) and for the devil also. To the all conquering Christians of the Dark Ages or early Medieval period, Odin was probably cast as the Devil in order to dissuade pagan practises. Meaning that it is the place, work or fort of Odin and variously, the Devil (5).

Another explanation could also be that its modern name is derived from its possible Saxon name ‘Caelswark’, the fort of the Caels (Celts). Caer can also mean a fortified place in Celtic tongues (6).

The enigma of Carl Wark is that the possibilities for interpretation of its history are numerous. My personal view is that it is a multi-period site, that was adapted for different uses over long periods of time. We know that the area around Carl Wark saw human activity throughout prehistory, particularly during the Bronze Age, when the area to the south was cleared for use as farmland and the associated building of living areas and funerary enclosures took place. It seems highly unlikely that places so conspicuous as Higger Tor, Over Owler Tor and Carl Wark would not have been significant to some degree to the inhabitants of the time. Especially taking into account views of seasonal events, such as sunrises and sunsets in context of the surrounding landscape. Caer’s Chair could well be significant in this respect, along with the other odd rock forms that litter the higher places of the moor.

Summer view of Higger Tor and Carl Wark, from Over Owler Tor

Summer view of Higger Tor and Carl Wark, from Over Owler Tor

Winter view of Higger Tor and Carl Wark, from Over Owler Tor

Winter view of Higger Tor and Carl Wark, from Over Owler Tor

The nature of the wall and entrance strongly suggest a defensive purpose. It has been suggested that the wall could have been built to block the view of Mam Tor from the interior, as some kind of snub. Personally, I think that such a function could have been achieved much more easily with a wooden palisade, rather than going to the trouble of building a turf and stone wall. In my mind, there is little question that the wall and entrance was built with defence as its primary purpose.

When compared to other walls that have been dated to the prehistoric period, such as those nearby at Gardom’s Edge, which are thought to date from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, the method of construction is very different, being largely constructed of a rubble core. In my opinion, the wall at Carl Wark is not of the prehistoric period, but as Piggott suggests dates from the Dark Ages. It was not uncommon during this period for ancient places to be reused and refortified.

As outlined in my previous post, Britain divided into independent kingdoms following the withdrawal of the rule of Rome. Boarder squabbles were common amongst these kingdoms but it was the aggressive expansion of the Northumbrian Angles of Bernicia and Deira, during the 7th century that caused much stress, especially in the region of the Southern Pennines. Piggott’s estimated date for the construction of the wall at Carl Wark was 5th or 6th century, or possibly later. Within margins of error, this places the fortification of Carl Wark bang in this period of history.

Within easy walking distance of Carl Wark are Win Hill and Loose Hill, in Hope Valley. Local folklore says that they gained their names when opposing armies of Mercians and Northumbrians camped on their slopes prior to going into battle in 626AD.

In 626AD, Prince Cwichelm of the West Saxons (Wessex) sent an assassin to kill Edwin of Deira. The attempt was unsuccessful and resulted in Edwin marching south to take his revenge on the Saxons. Prince Cwichelm and his father, King Cynegils of Wessex marched north to meet him (possibly with King Penda of Mercia). It is reputed that they met in Hope Valley.

The army of Wessex and the Mercians was much larger than that of the Northumbrians and it seems that the battle began to go against them. According to legend, the Angles had built a wall on Win Hill on which they were camped, behind which they withdrew. The Saxons, sensing victory charged forward but were crushed when the Northumbrians rolled boulders down the hillside on to them.

As there is no known documentary evidence to support that this battle took place, it could all be pure speculation and folklore. Also, no archaeological remains of the wall on Win Hill have ever been found. However, it is not uncommon for folklore to be transplanted from one place to another and there is one place nearby where a wall, most probably dating from the right period definitely exists. At Carl Wark.

Higger Tor dominates the skyline, from the wall on Carl Wark

Higger Tor dominates the skyline, from the wall on Carl Wark

Could it be that the battle didn’t take place at Win Hill but on Hathersage Moor? The interior of Carl Wark is strewn with boulders that could certainly be levered off of the edges onto the enemy and there is a strong possibility that its name could link it with builders of Germanic origin. I must point out that there is no hard evidence to support this, it is a highly subjective personal theory that stands to be corrected. But it is tantalising non-the-less to think that what little evidence there is, points to the wall being built in association to the expansion of the Northumbrian Angles and that Hathersage Moor could well have played host to a bloody Dark Ages battle.

(1)    Sheffield’s Golden Frame: Bill Bevan (2007)

(2)    The Mystery of Carl Wark: (Mick Savage (1999)

(3)    Antiquity Publications Limited Antiquity 25 (1951)

(4)    The Hall of Waltheof: Sidney Addy (1893)

(5)    Addy also suggests that Higger Tor was named after the Norse word for fear, ‘yggr’. Personally, I’ve always thought of ‘Higger’ as being a corruption of ‘Higher’, due to its obvious higher aspect when seen from Carl Wark.

(6)    The Mystery of Carl Wark: (Mick Savage (1999)

Wentworth Old Church and the Earl of Strafford

The ruins of Wentworth Old Church

The ruins of Wentworth Old Church

Wentworth Old Church, in the village of Wentworth near Barnsley, traces its origins back to the 13th century (the first mention being in 1235) and contains the tombs of many of the Wentworth family and the Earls of Strafford. The tower dates to the 14/15th century and in 1548 Thomas Wentworth bequeathed stonework for Monk Breton Priory that he had bought following the dissolution. The remainder of the current church was rebuilt in 1684 for William Wentworth. Although the majority of the church is now in ruins (the north chapel still intact), it is still clear to see what a magnificent building it must have been in it’s prime.  It was replaced by a new church, which stands immediately to the south in 1877 and the old church fell out of use. It now stands sentient over the churchyard, all faded glory and weathered stone.

Thomas Wentworth (1593-1641) was an advisor to Charles I, High Sheriff of Yorkshire, Lord Deputy of Ireland and the first Earl of Strafford. However, he seems to have fallen from favour and in 1641 was imprisoned in the Tower of London on a charge of treason. Charles I found himself under immense pressure from parliament to sign Wentworth’s death warrant, which he did on 10th May 1641. Wentworth was executed two days later and his body still lies under this church. When Charles I was himself executed eight years later, he seemed to be of the opinion that it was his punishment for allowing the execution of Thomas Wentworth.

Two views of the 14/15th century tower and 17th century doorway

Two views of the 14/15th century tower and 17th century doorway

Wharncliffe and the Dragon of Wantley

From the Hobb Stones, across Brownlow Rocher towards Wharncliffe Lodge

From the Hobb Stones, across Brownlow Rocher towards Wharncliffe Lodge

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

Walter Scott, Ivanhoe.

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The stables of Wharncliffe Lodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hobb Stones on Brownlow Rocher

The Hobb Stones on Brownlow Rocher

Different views of the Hobb Stones

Different views of the Hobb Stones

St Mary’s, Worsbrough

St Mary's Church, Worsbrough

St Mary’s Church, Worsbrough

St Mary’s Church stands in Worsbrough Village, near Barnsley. There are some fantastic tomb stones here (some of the biggest I’ve ever seen), many dating back to the 18th and even 17th century.

The church itself dates to at least the mid 12th century, with the possibility that it stands on the site of an earlier Saxon church (the name Worsbrough is of Saxon origin). A couple of hundred yards north of here, a Saxon cross used to stand in a field by a well, where four tracks met named Helliwell Hill (a corruption of Holy Well). Meaning that this little hill has probably been a place of some importance for well over a thousand years, possibly going back even into prehistory.

The churchyard contains the mass grave of 75 miners killed in The Darley Main Colliery Disaster 1849. In the church stands the unique and curious double-decker oak tomb and figures of Sir Roger Rockley who died in 1553. The south door dates from 1480.

St Mary's, Worsbrough

St Mary’s, Worsbrough

Royd Moor, Thurlstone

The view across Millhouse Green towards Thurlstone Moor and the Woodhead Pass.

The view across Millhouse Green towards Thurlstone Moor and the Woodhead Pass.

Rising high out of the Pennine mill village of Thurlstone, near Penistone, is an unprepossessing side road named High Bank Lane. As it rises up the hillside it becomes a trackway, leading to Royd Moor, some spectacular Yorkshire views and a few interesting fragments of history along the way.

Thurlstone dates from at least the Saxon period and derives its name from a combination of the Anglo-Saxon term ‘tun’ (meaning fenced area or enclosure) and the Old Danish personal name ‘Thurulf’, suggesting that a settlement already existed when it was taken over by the Vikings and named after the local lord.

A possible ancient boundary stone on High Bank Lane

A possible ancient boundary stone on High Bank Lane

As the track climbs out of the village and past the fields, a very peculiar stone stands out from its drystone wall surround. A roughly triangular shaped boulder (which would once have stood alone before the wall was built), with a sub-circular depression in the centre. On here a rude cross has been carved (looking very much like it has been carried out with modern tools, and is very smooth and polished to the touch).

My guess is that it once existed as some form of marker, possibly a boundary stone. Despite searching, references have been impossible to find, so if there is anyone out there that has any information of any kind about this curious stone, I would love to learn more about it.

An old guide stoop, embedded in the wall

An old guide stoop, embedded in the wall

It seems almost certain that the track would once have been used as a packhorse route and this is supported by a very old guide stoop near the top of the lane. In 1697, it was ordered that guide posts be erected on the moors where routes intersected. Mile posts were made compulsory on all turnpike roads in 1767, although it is unlikely that this track was ever a turnpike.

Pointing the way to Huddersfield (other directions are no doubt hidden by the wall), the guide stoop certainly predates the drystone wall that is built around it. Probably built around the time of Thurlstone’s Act for enclosing common land, which was passed in 1812 (Penistone followed in 1819). The style of carving looks to place the stoop around the mid 18th century.

The track becomes a modern road surface, once it reaches Spicer House Lane, which continues for approximately a further 4km, until it reaches the A635 Doncaster to Manchester road, near New Mill.

Spicer Hill observation platform

Spicer Hill observation platform

A noticeable feature of the moor at this point, are the wind turbines on Spicer Hill. In fact, a viewing platform has been built that commands an excellent view over them. As well as a number of reservoirs that catch the water draining off of these moors.

Continue past Broadstone Revervoir, to the junction of Windmill Lane, turn towards High Flats and you will find the faint remains of an earthwork dating from either the Iron Age, or Romano-British period, at a place appropriately named Castle Hill.

If anyone does have any information regarding the stone described above on High Bank Lane, please contact me via my website.

Sunset on High Bank Lane

Sunset on High Bank Lane

The Rich Man and the Needle’s Eye

The Needle's Eye, from the north

The Needle’s Eye, from the north

Up on the ridge, overlooking the old stately home of Wentworth Woodhouse, in a clearing in Lee Wood, stands one of the four follies of the Wentworth estate. A curious, stone built gateway, known as the Needle’s Eye.

The pyramid measures approximately 38 feet in height, with a base of almost 20 feet on each side. The passageway is a little under nine feet wide and contains stone benches on each side, with wheel-stops inside each corner. It is topped by a stone carved funerary urn, rather than a pyramidion.

Surprisingly little is known of its construction date or purpose. Its design is attributed to architect, John Carr. Local legend tells that it was built by Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham (1730-1782), to win a wager that he could drive a coach and horses through the eye of a needle. Various dates are given for the date of construction, all of which fall within the life-span of the 2nd Marquess, ranging from mid-century to 1780. However, its English Heritage listing states that it is clearly visible on an engraving dating from circa 1730.

Charles Watson-Wentworth is an interesting character. Twice Whig Prime Minister (1765-66 and again from March 1782 until his death in July of that year), and a descendant of Thomas Wentworth, MP for Pontefract and the first Earl of Strafford, executed at the Tower of London by Charles I in 1641 to appease parliament*. At the age of fifteen Charles’ father made him Colonel in charge of a volunteer defense force, against the Jacobite uprising of 1745.  He rode from Wentworth to Carlisle, to join the Duke of Cumberland in his pursuit of Charles Stuart. The nearby Hoober Stand was constructed to celebrate the victory over the ‘Young Pretender’. Charles was responsible for much of the building at the great house and among the grounds. He was buried in the Earl of Strafford’s vault in York Minster and a mausoleum built in Wentworth’s grounds to commemorate him.

There has been a house at Wentworth since Saxon times, the wealth of the subsequent landowners being built on the coal measures of the estate. The pyramid stands at the crossroads of two old (now disused) coaching roads, on the boundary between Wentworth and Rainborough. Near the gate that leads from Coley Lane onto the track, is an ancient stone that looks a little like a miniature cross base. Local lore supposes that it was used as a vinegar stone (in which coins were left in exchange for food by those infected with the plague) and although it looks too small to have once held a wayside cross, due to its position, it could have held a boundary marker of some description. It is possible that the Needle’s Eye was also constructed as a boundary marker, in a grander style befitting the status of the Wentworth Woodhouse estate.

The Needle's Eye, from the south east

The Needle’s Eye, from the south east

The fact that the structure is topped by an urn, rather than the more accustomary pyramidion, could possibly indicate that it was built as a memorial. If the pyramid dates from before 1730, it could be a memorial to Lewis Watson (1655-1724), the MP for Canterbury and confusingly, the third Baron and first Earl of Rockingham.

One other odd feature, which could possibly reveal some of the pyramid’s history, is that on the eastern side there are what appear to be a number of musket ball holes. It has been suggested that these could be the result of an incident of execution by firing squad (possibly of Jacobite rebels). How much truth there is in this I am not sure, as some of the holes look too big to have been caused by musket shot, while others are way above where you would expect fire concentrated on the heart to be. A few similar marks can also be seen on the western face too.

Although the past of this wonderful folly is rather murky, on a stormy evening, with the wind whisking the tree branches, it is easy to imagine the sound of approaching hooves and the rattle of a coach along the ridge. And if another folk tale is to be believed, the possibility of coming face to face with the local padfoot that inhabits the quiet lanes around here, adds a further air of apprehension to this lonely hillside.

 

*Another story for another day!