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Weasel Hall

In the summer of 2016 when I was staying in Hebden Bridge my eye was constantly drawn to an imposing building on the North side of the river. I could see it from where I was staying and so finally one day I decided to find my way to see it up close. This is what I wrote in my blog about that day: ‘So a day without plans . .  . From my room I could see an imposing old hall across the valley, a little higher than my building so, around 11 a.m. (a lazy morning writing up my blog) I headed up New Road which climbed steeply until I came to the hall. Despite the intermittent downpours there was an amazing view from this elevated position and I could just seen the window of my room peeking out between the trees.’ Yesterday afternoon I was kicking my heels at home. Amazon had promised to deliver my new mattress topper on Tuesday and I’d basically not left the house as I waited its arrival  apart from a quick trip to buy milk on Wednesday afternoon. Now it was Thursday and  it had just arrived – yeah! Still feeling lethargic I browsed around my ancestry research and came across a reference to Weasel Hall. Abraham Crabtree, the paternal grandfather of  the husband of my 3rd cousin 2x removed (!!!)  had lived at that address from 1871-1891. I suddenly recalled   that the old hall I’d walked up to  was close to a railway tunnel called Weasel Tunnel. In fact I’d taken a photo of the sign because, in error,  Hebden had been spelt Hebron. So, just as the sun was setting, i.e. 3:30 p.m. I set off to see if the hall could possibly be Weasel hall.


3:30 in the afternoon and the moon is up!


View of Hebden Bridge from Weasel Hall

Unlike last year when I just took photos of the views of the valley  from the hall I wanted to know more so I knocked on the door. “You don’t know me but my ancestors used to live here several generations ago,” was my conversation starter. Within minutes I’d found that the current owner had been a pizza delivery man in Bolton (where I grew up). I’d found out online that the present Weasel Hall only dates from around 1840: “Constructed by the Manchester and Leeds Railway Co. c.1840 to replace Weasel Hall which was demolished in the construction of the railway line. Hammer-dressed stone, stone slate roof. 2 storeys. 3 cells each.” The current owner suggests that the ornate chimneys may have been salvaged from the earlier hall because they seem far too grand for a simple country hall. He’s lived there for 12 years and when I asked him who had renovated the place he mentioned a man called Barker who currently lives in a renovated farm near Stoodley Pike  – with no road access. I wondered if it was one of those lovely farms Sarah and I had passed on our way down from Stoodley Pike in the summer. The more I looked at Weasel Hall from different angles the more it reminded me of Lily Hall. In fact Lily Hall is directly across the valley from here, perched precariously on a steep hillside. The proportions of the buildings are almost the same. I seemed to recall Anne telling me that Mr Barker renovated Lily Hall. I checked up, and sure enough, the same person appears to have renovated both buildings around the same time. Wow! IMG_7189


Weasel Hall looks very much like Lily Hall


View from Weasel Hall’s deck. I could make out my apartment and the church where I have the  rehearsal for the carol service tomorrow night. 


Almost dark. Back at Hebble End


Stairs leading up to Weasel Hall (photo from summer 2016)

Remembrance Day

I was surprised to see sun when I opened the curtains this morning. I mist was hanging like a curtain over the valley, swishing this way and that – one minute obscuring Weasel Hall across the Calder Valley, and the next minute Weasel Hall was in full sunlight and Heptonstall was obscured by clouds. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get out on’t’tops and I jumped onto the first bus up to Blackshaw Head, 600ft above me. There was another reason I wanted to go up there for today was Remembrance Day and one of my ancestors, Giles Sunderland, who lived on that exposed moor and was killed during WWl is remembered on the memorial stone in the chapel’s cemetery.

By the time the bus reached the scattered village, however, there was a lot more low dense cloud than swirling mist and sunshine, and I knew that it wasn’t the morning for stunning photography that I had anticipated.

My watercolour of trees in the winter always reminds me of the WWl trench warfare

I stayed on the bus at the turnaround and alighted at the wonderfully named Slack Bottom. I peeked into the lane leading down to Lumb Bank, now a writers’ retreat that had been purchased by Ted Hughes. It wasn’t until I attended the last zoom meeting of Hebden Bridge History Society last week that I learned that Ted’s parents lived in Slack Bottom and it was there that Sylvia Plath visited them, thus leading to eventual burial in Heptonstall Cemetery, a long way from her birthplace in Massachusetts, where, as it happens, my own children were born.

As I emerged from the lane back onto the main road a car pulled up and it wasn’t until “Heather!” came through its window that I saw that it was one of the Heptonstall residents. I’d painted a watercolour of poppies for the poppy display in Heptonstall church and the lady had been responsible for coordinating it. I’d dropped it off at The Cross a couple of evenings ago and now she was explaining to me where it could be found.

However, when I arrived at the church the door was locked, it still being quite early. However, the Tea Room was already open and I called in for a couple of their delicious cakes to take home with me.

Approaching Heptonstall from Slack Bottom

Back down in Hebden I passed St James’s church where I’ve been in to practice the organ in readiness for the Remembrance service on Sunday. I hadn’t been in the building for two years let alone played any music there. A group of people had been putting up a display there, an enormous blanket of knitted poppies , a painted sheet of poppies and displays about the lives of local residents who had lost their lives in WWl. Three brothers were commemorated, and they were related to me. I’d already researched their story and found their memorial in the cemetery but today three balloons had been placed on the headstone. They are buried in Europe where they fell.

My watercolour of the poppy fields

Unhappy family differences, a drowning, death by chamber pot, ‘Irish Lawlessness at Widdop’ – and this is just Part One.

It all began with one man and his dog. The man, Edward, was a shepherd. I didn’t catch the name of his sheepdog but she was having a jolly old time swimming  around in an old bath tub in the sheep field as I chatted to her master. I was on Edge Lane, between Heptonstall and Colden, and had just arrived at Spink House where my ancestor Giles Sunderland was living in 1891. As I paused to take photos of the building Edward came into view. I thought perhaps he lived there, but no. He was just walking along the tack to his sheep field. We chatted for a while and as we parted he said, “If you are interested in history make sure you find out about Raistrick Greave.”

Hmm. . . A couple of days later, quite by chance I found a video of someone’s hike to the ruins of Raistrick Greave, a farmhouse in a very isolated spot way up on Heptonstall Moor above Widdop.  Its name reminded me of Greave farm where Gibson Butterworth was living in 1901 so I decided to do a bit more digging online. With 20 or more ‘hints’ on the Ancestry website, Gibson looked like a ‘person of interest.’

Until a couple of days ago Gibson Butterworth was just another name on my Nutton family tree, one of over 2000 names. I knew he and his sister Grace had been born at Weasel Hall, a building high on the hillside that dominates the view from my desk  where I write this.

Weasel hall from my window

 A few months ago I’d been given the handwritten account of the life of his father Ezra Butterworth, along with some wonderful photos from James Moss, someone on whose family had also married into the Butterworths.


The son of Ezra Butterworth and Mary, (nee Gibson) he was assigned his mother’s maiden name as his  forename, a very common occurrence in these parts. Indeed my dad’s middle name was Dean, in memory of a family surname.  Gibson was born in 1863, the same year that Cheetham House sewing factory in Hebden Bridge was built. I’d lived there for the first 18 months after my return to England, in an upper room where huge iron wheels from the pulleys that powered the machines still graced my ceiling.

According to the journal that Grace kept “Gibson was a great disappointment to Ezra. He was highly intelligent but perhaps in- herited too much of his mother’s temperament. He was educated first at Heptonstall Grammar school and later went as a boarder to a school at East Keswick. Though he wanted to be an engineer he never seemed to settle down. Ezra started him in the clothing business in Hebden Bridge but after two years he threw it over in disgust and became a wanderer. After forty years he retuned from New Zealand and settled in a cottage in Hebden Bridge. Even in his old age he was a very gifted speaker and would draw people to his cottage just to listen to him.He and Grace seemed to have been very close to one another but while Grace accepted her mother’s domination Gibson would not. So there grew a fierce hatred between Mother and Son which lasted as long as they lived.Maybe that was the cause of his differences with his father.

My painting of Grace from a photograph

Gibson was educated in Heptonstall grammar school, that fascinating building which first opened its doors in 1642, the year before that the town was directly involved in the Civil War, when the battle of Heptonstall took place in the remote hilltop community. The parliamentarians of Heptonstall did battle with the Royalists of Halifax. In 1871 Gibson was a young 8 year old,  living on Crown street (my current address) with his family. His dad, Ezra was a railway contractor held in quite esteem according to the written account of his life. “He was responsible for the laying and upkeep of many of the lines of the Lancs and Yorks Railway. He was a perfectionist and the train drivers always knew when they were on his lines, they were so smooth.” So recounted his daughter, Grace. I’ve been trying for 2 years to work out which  buildings various branches of my family lived on Crown Street, but to no avail. By 1881 Gibson’s family appear to have moved up in the world judging by the fact that they are now living at Oak Villa,a house built especially for the Butterworths and Ezra is a farmer with 9 acres. See my blog about Ezra.

Oak Villa, the home that Ezra had built

In 1890 his Ezra his wife, Mary,  and daughter Grace had moved to Hippins farm, which Ezra leased from Lord Savile’s estate. It was a 75 acre farm set high on the hill top above Todmorden . In the 1891 census Gibson is still at Oak Villa where he is living with his Uncle,  Thomas Butterworth, another plate layer for the railway and his wife Mary Ann. This in itself is perhaps insignificant but new paper reports fill in the back story of  a major rift in the family. Indeed, the newspaper article is entitled: Unhappy Family Differences – painful disclosures. Ezra had deleted Gibson from his will and so Gibson was claiming financial compensation by taking his mother and sister’s husband, Elias Barker, to court to claim what he believed was owing to him. The court decided on a nominal sum.

I’m so sorry I missed this, but I’d never heard of Hippins or my connection with its residents at that time.

Sharing Hippins farm  in 1891 was the Wolfenden family, John William Wolfenden, his wife Jane, and three young children, one of whom was named Isabella, aged 3, so born in 1888. There just HAD to be a connection, since Gibson had married an Isabella Wolfenden, born in 1857. It took me into the early hours of the next day before I’d cracked it. John William was Isabella’s brother. And just to complicate matters still further John William Wolfenden’s wife’s Jane was a Butterworth,  Jane  Butterworth, born in 1856! I guess the families living in the remote hilltop farms would gather together and mingle and perhaps meet their future spouses at stock sales and other farm related activities.

Two years after Ezra died 1898, a tragic death, caused by an injury sustained by falling onto his chamber pot in a drunken stupor,   Gibson married Isabella Wolfenden, a second marriage for the widowed bride. The marriage took place at Slack Chapel. The present building was constructed in 1879, replacing the earlier building of 1808 where the opening ceremony was attended by seven hundred people. More than a thousand were at the Dedication service on the following Sunday. 

Slack Baptist chapel

It’s no longer a chapel but when I’d visited it in the August 2017 it appeared that some building or renovation work was in progress. I’d even chatted to a man that came out of the building to find out what I was doing. But three years later the place looks in the same unfinished condition. In July 2015 a picnic was planned on Popples Common to discuss the building’s future. Plans for it to become a halfway house for those recovering from drug abuse were dropped after objections from local residents. I chatted to the current owner, Holly, as she tended the gravestones that make up her front garden. “You can’t live here if you have a nervous disposition” she quipped. So now let’s find out more about Gibson’s wife.

Current owner of the chapel tending the inhabitants of her rather unusual garden


 Isabella was from Paythorne, a picturesque village on the River Ribble, in the Forest of Bowland, and her dad, John, was an agricultural labourer. By the time Isabella was 10 years old the family had moved to Good Greave, a farm on Heptonstall Moor, a farm that has been in the Shackleton family for a long time. I mean, a really long time! In the 1604 survey out of 26 farmsteads in Wadsworth 14 were owned by Shackletons and the document specifically mentions 2 at Good Greave. There was a Richard ‘elder’ and Richard ‘younger’ at Good Greave in the Court Roll of 1603 and in documents of 1605 but not on the Savile tenants lists as ‘they’ had bought their farm in 1600.

Lowe Good Greave is directly below Upper Good Greave on this map that Ollie Robertshaw prepared for me. He also has ancestors who lived in Lily Hall and gave a presentation to the Heptonstall history society.

A more remote spot on the moorland is hard to find. Indeed, it took me a while to be able to pinpoint the exact location of Good Greave on a map. I enlisted the help of various Facebook pages and although I had several responses it was still proving difficult to find the location so Greave and Good Greave, both of which are now in ruins, with nothing but ill-defined tracks through the peat bog. One photo purporting to be of Good Greave  shows  a stone doorway and lintel, all that survives of this remote farm.

All that remains of Greave

 Isabella was one of 5 children and the oldest daughter. Her 3 younger siblings had been born in Barnoldswick. Up on the moors living next door, if such it can be called, at Greave, was Thomas Shackleton, a farmer aged 28 , living with his widowed aunt, Jane Uttley aged 67, a retired farmer, and  his sister Sarah Ann and two servants. On December 14, 1873 the 16 year old Isabella married the 31 year old Thomas Shackleton at Halifax minster and Isabella moved to Greave to live with her new husband .

Isabella and Thomas Shackleton

Questions floated around in my head. Where did the Shackletons buy food? Would Isabella have had another woman to help her in childbirth? They were 4 miles from Heptonstall amidst some of the most barren and windswept places in Yorkshire. But the Shackletons appeared to flourish.10 months after their wedding James was born, to be followed by 6 more children, approximately every 2 years. Two died within their first year and one, James, the firstborn when he was 7.

Entitled: Isabella, son ad grandson


But what happened to  Isabella’s father after his daughter married and moved out? Some time between Isabella’s marriage in 1873 and the 1881 census John Wolfenden had taken over as landlord of the Ridge inn on Widdop Road, now known as the Pack Horse. It claims to be the highest and most isolated pub in the Upper Calder Valley and in January 2004, the pub won the National Civic Pride gold standard award, as the most scenic pub in Britain, beating 200 other pubs.

Pack Horse Inn during lockdown – June 2020

From the Hebden Bridge Newsletter, 29 July, 1881

“IRISH LAWLESSNESS AT WIDDOP. EXTRAORDINARY SCENES. on Wednesday last a report spread rapidly throughout the district that in an Irish affray at Ridge, Alcomden one or more lives had been sacrificed , and in Hebden Bridge particularly the rumour caused some uneasiness and dismay. Happily, as it turned out  there was no fatality, but conduct of a most extraordinary character took place at the place named, which, but for the discreet conduct of the police, might readily have led to serious and possibly fatal consequences. It appears from all we can gather, that on the afternoon of the preceding day, two young Irish mowers, John Devine and Patrick Fox, went to the Pack Horse lnn, Ridge, now kept by Mr. Wolfenden, (Isabella’s dad) and them began is create a disturbance. An Englishmen who was present managed to overcome them, and into the bargain gave them ” a good hiding” (to use a local expression).

The Ridge – 1610.

Next morning  the two returned to the inn along with a number of their fellow-countrymen, and it is presumed they came hoping to find the Englishman and to have  their revenge upon  him for his victory of the previous day. He was not there, however, and the gang at once began to abuse and insult the landlord and his family. Eventually they turned Mr. and Mrs. Wolfenden, and their daughters, (these would be Mary Ellen, 13, and Annie Jane, 9) out of the house and having become for the time masters of the situation, made use of their opportunity to feast and be merry at the expense of someone else. They helped themselves it is said, to the estables which were in the house, also to the beer, spirits and cigars, and to give greater variety to their enjoyment began to break glasses, windows etc. During these orgies one of the men, as we are informed,  took off all his clothes except the fragments of a shirt which he was wearing, and in that condition went outside and exposed himself to the female members of Mr Wolfenden’s household. Fox and Devine were the ringleaders in the affair, and as soon as the attendance of the police could be obtained – which was not until afternoon as the inn is about 5 miles from Hebden Bridge, (on horseback) these two were given into the custody of P.C.s Shaw and Slee who had been sent to the scene. The charges on which they were taken into custody were for refusing to quit and willful damage. The prisoners were handcuffed together and conducted towards Hebden Bridge by the officers followed for a time at a distance by seven men who had taken part in the affair. (So the procession begins the 5 mile trek back to Hebden police station).

The view from the Pack Horse Inn. This was the ‘motorway’ of its day

At Blakedean the officers and their prisoners were overtaken and the gang began to threaten the officers what they would do if they did not liberate the two prisoners.

Blakedean bridge where the officers and prisoners were overtaken – in the middle of nowhere!

There was some struggling and shoving about and one of the men took up a top-stone from a wall (I see the wall on the photo) and threatened to knock P.C Shaw’s brains out if he did not loose the handcuffs and set Devine and Fox free. Seeing, at last, that they would be overpowered and that there was no chance to land their prisoners safely at Hebden Bridge, the officers let the prisoners go, but carefully noted the direction which the gang took with a view of following them when they had obtained further assistance. Shaw and Slee made haste to Hebden Bridge while the gang made in the direction of Colden. About quarter to six P.C’s Shaw and Slee along with P. C Eastwood, P.C’s Norton and Taylor and two civilians set off to try to find the men. At Popples, Heptonstall, the officers separated into two companies, Slee going in one direction and Shaw with the other.

Popples Common – June, 2020

Shaw’s section went first to Longtail beerhouse, (this is on Edge lane and is now terraced cottages) tolerably confident of finding some of the men there, but were disappointed. They learnt however, that some of the men had passed the house previously going towards Colden. The officers then made in that direction and at Old Smithy or Hudson Lane met 4 of the party including Devine and Fox. The other two were Samuel Easterbrook and Thomas Castle and were apprehended on a charge of assisting to procure the rescue of Fox and Devine. Castle made an attempt to escape but was run down and caught. The four men were handcuffed together and led off to the  police station at Hebden Bridge. Their arrival created unusual attention as at that time rumours of a murder having been committed were still current. some of the prisoners were bruised and disfigured about their faces and all acted with considerable bravado as they marched through the streets. One of them, it is said, was the ringleader in a row which took place at Bridge-gate on Sunday week. The rest of the gang were not captured. The 4 prisoners were brought up yesterday morning at West riding Court, Halifax before Capt Rothwell and Dr Alexander. Devine and Fox pleaded guilty to a charge of being drunk and disorderly on the previous day.  . .The men were strangers. They had left their native country being afraid of the Coersion Act. (an act of parliament which allowed the internment without trial for anyone suspected of involvement with the Land War, whereby tenant farmers would gain a fair rent and fixity of tenure) .Fox had left Ireland 8 years before, and Devine 5 years before. The bench imposed upon each prisoner a penalty of 10s and 14s 2d costs with the alternative of 14 days in prison. Easterbrook and Castle were ordered to pay one pound and 14s 2d costs or go to Wakefield for one month with hard labour.”

June 15, 1883 DEAD body found in Widdop reservoir – Queer feelings in Hebden Bridge.

Widdop reservoir, Sept 2018

The water bailiff found a dead body floating in Widdop reservoir. The body belonged to a man aged around 55 and his coat, cap and scarf had been neatly laid on the bank. Judging from the fragments of newspaper in his coat pocket it was surmised that the dead man had come from Burnley, and that he had been taking a wash when he fell, possibly seized with a fit, rather than having deliberately taken his own life, because, the inquest reasoned, he would not have place his clothes so neatly. A boat was taken onto the reservoir and the dead man was taken by cart to the Pack Horse, Widdop to await identification and inquest.

Some Folk in Hebden Bridge immediately began to revert to using well water believing that their running water would have been contaminated by the body, which, judging by its condition, had been in the water for a considerable time. Other stories abounded included people imagining they had seen” bits of toe nails” coming down their pipes. The inquest took place at the house of Mr John Wolfenden at the Packhorse Inn, Ridge. The jurymen viewed the body and then listened to the evidence. By chance  a friend of the deceased’s wife saw a newspaper article about the discovery of a body in Widdop reservoir. He knew that his friend’s husband, Mrs William Whitehead had been missing from home and so they made arrangements to come to hebden Bridge. Apparently they missed the train and had to take a pony trap over the hills from Burnley and arrived at the police station in hebden bridge just as the police officer was returning from The Pack Horse with the clothing recovered at the scene. Mrs Whitehead immedaitely identified them as belonging to her husband. He had been missing from home for three weeks and “had been in a desponding state of mind for some time. Five years before he had attempted suicide by cutting his throat.” An open verdict was returned. After the inquest  what must have been a very badly deteriorated  body was placed in a coffin and transported to Heptonstall for burial but due to some misunderstanding no grave had been prepared for the burial. “The man in charge of the hearse was in a bit of a quandary but eventually he was allowed to deposit his freight in the church porch.’ From where the deceased’s wife collected it around midnight, placed it in a hearse and took it to Burnley at 7:30 the following morning.

 Isabella’s father, John Wolfenden, died at the Pack Horse Inn Widdop on January 27, 1886 .

Four years later on May 16, 1890 Isabella’s husband, Thomas,  died at the age of 58. He was buried at Blakedean Chapel the following day, which seems rather unusual.  The headstone now lies prostrate on the grass. I visited the spot on June  15, 2020, two days after a tremendous thunderstorm in which there was a reported tornado only a couple of miles from this very spot.  

At the graveside, June 2020

At first I couldn’t find the grave but at last I saw a grave stone holding water and could read that this was the family grave  where Thomas and his sons, John, James, Robert Kay and Richard William Foster were laid to rest. What a wonderfully tranquil place. I tried to figure out where the chapel had been. It was built in 1820 as an offshoot of Slack Baptist chapel. All that remains now is the Sunday School which was used as a scouting retreat after the church closed in 1959. My mind raced. Where did the people come from to worship here? Because of the lie of the land being so steep the gallery was accessed by steps from the road above. At the time of her husband’s death Isabelle’s youngest child was 8 months old and now, at the age of just  32 she was  already a  widow. The census of the following year shows Isabella as the head of household and a farmer. Her oldest son, Richard, aged 14 is the ‘farmer’s assistant.’ Her other children are aged 6, 3, 1 other children and her 52 year old sister-in -law is an assistant housekeeper and another Shackleton lady relative, aged 50, is ‘living here own means.’  Both these ladies had both been born at Good Greave.

Isabella – I think she look absolutely lovely here

It took 10 years for Isabella to remarry, and that’s when she becomes part of my family’s story marrying Gibson Butterworth at Slack Chapel on March 27, 1900. Isabella was nine years older than Gibson. How did they meet? OK. It took my a couple of hours to figure it out but Glory Be! I figured out how they met! In 1891 when Ezra Butterworth, Gibson’s dad was living at Hippins he was sharing the large house with John William Wolfenden who, it transpires was none other than Isabelle’s brother.

By the 1911 census the family are living in Nelson – just over Hepstonstall Moor from Good Greave, and Gibson is a  . .  .builder of canal boats. Wow. That was unexpected! From the middle of a moor in one of the most remote parts of England and he becomes a canal boat builder. This is so funny. Yesterday I was in Heptonstall and I was taking another look at the sign in a back street that’s falling apart. It says Boats for Rent. An ‘old timer’ saw me looking and I struck up a conversation. “Boats for hire? Heptonstall is on top of a hill! Where could you sail a boat?” I asked. “Well now. There are reservoirs around here, Gorple, Widdop, Walshaw,” came his response.

Old sign in the back streets of Heptonstall – boats for hire!

As we chatted further it turned out that he knew the dentist that had his office in my living room – Donaldson was his name. That’s the second person I’ve met who remembers my apartment being a dentist’s office. The first was a lady in her 90’s at the Mytholmroyd Community Christmas in 2018. This man in Heptonstall was proud to tell me he is in his 80s. Gibson appears to be a boat builder and working for his son-in-law, Thomas Whitaker from Barnoldswick who is an employer of canal boat builders. How interesting! Isabella died at Moor Lodge, Oakworth near Keighley but is buried at Blakedean. Today it’s a country retreat and from 2003 to 2015 it held international sheepdog trials raising almost 30,000 pounds for the air ambulance.

Entitled: Isabella and Wolfenden family?

After Isabella died  Gibson had planned to emigrated to New Zealand. He boarded the ship called the Shropshire at Liverpool, part of the Federal Line. He was 56 and planned to be a farm hand and was bound for Auckland. 25th Feb 1921. However, he arrived back in England, at London from Wellington 30 Nov 1922 on the Corinthic, part of the Shaw, Savill and Albion Company Ltd. He is 57 describes himself as  a carpenter.

Of Dale House and Higgin House – and the Butterworths

Ezra Butterworth

Two days ago I was thrilled to find a blog which mentioned Scammerton, Pry  and Erringden Grange farms, all farms that had been lived in at various times by one or more of my ancestors. me the writer records chatting to the current farmers. Not only that but the blog was really well written and was obviously the work of someone who is inspired and enthralled by the landscape of this area as much as I am. As I read further I found that to my amazement he visited the ruins of one farm, Dale, even having a picnic in what had once been the living room and when he got back home he went on Ancestry and found out who was living there in 1851: my ancestor, Thomas Butterworth! Now I’d had a few excursions onto this hillside, primarily to look at Winters, a tiny settlement where one of my ancestors had kept a beerhouse, and I knew from old maps where Dale was located, but it wasn’t clear how to get there. Although paths are marked on old maps I have no idea how steep they are, whether they are still in use, whether I need to climb stiles, or walls, or whether they consist of vertical stairways. )

So today off I went armed with current maps, old maps – and a picnic. When I boarded the bus to Blackshaw head the driver asked, “Do you live there? We’re not taking walkers, you know.” Well, no, I didn’t know that, and I’m still not sure that’s the official line, but I was one of two passengers on the bus so it was hardly crowded.

I headed off down Marsh Lane, knowing that led down to Winters and once in the little hamlet I found a diagonal track going steeply towards Dale – in fact, it was so steep and slippery with dry sandy soil that I did a few Heather specials – sitting down and sliding down the path on my rear end. The view across the valley was lovely and for the first time I notice the bulge of Erringden  Moor between me and Stoodley Pike. It almost looked like a glacial drumlin. I knew from the map that this path was only about half a mile but its steepness made it seem much longer. I was too scared of losing my footing and dropping my phone to take photos of the path but I saw a tiny building on my left that I recognized from the Charlestown history site. It appears to be an outside loo with a stream running through it.

This building pictured above is referred to as the Cludgie (name for a toilet), but we are unsure what its original use was. The person on the photo was known as ‘owd Betsy who lived in the cottages.

And then suddenly another path crossed me hugging the contour of the hill and there was Dale – within an arm’s distance. The outside walls of the farm was about 3 ft high and the fireplace and some stone shelving was pretty intact. I welcomed a sit down on the wall after taking photos and was just contemplating setting up my phone for a distanced selfie when someone appeared on the path.

I asked her which was the least steep road back down into the valley and she told me about a set of steps that go all the way down after crossing a little wooden bridge. She seemed in no hurry and so I told her of my reason for visiting the site, how I’d found a blog about it. “Oh, that’s probably Paul’s” she responded. She lives in the valley and had great knowledge about local history resources. She even took my photo and emailed it to me so I didn’t have to bother with the distanced selfie!

Bridge over Dale clough

Finishing my picnic I followed her directions and crossed the wooden bridge over Dale Clough and the stairs awaited me.

At the top of the stairs was another ruined building, Higgin House and I stopped to take a couple of photos but it was impossible to step within its walls because it’s completely overgrown by large trees. Then I tackled the steps. From looking at contour maps it would seem that they ran vertically for almost 500 ft, but fortunately for much of the time there was either a wall, or an iron railing to steady myself.

The way down

As I eventually reached level ground I found myself at Knott Hall which I’d ‘discovered’ a few weeks ago from another path. I followed Oakville Road, avoiding the main road and retracing my steps from 2 days ago. I knew that a row of terraced houses here once housed a non-alcoholic brewery in the cellar. It was owned by Billy Holt’s father. I’d reread Billy Holt’s autobiography during the lockdown. He had once lived at Hawdon Hall and the current owners of that place that given me the book as a birthday present last year. Small world! I’d wondered which house had been the brewery. At that moment a lady came from round the back of the cottages so I asked her if she knew the answer to my question. She pointed to a separate cottage and told me that the beer cellar had now been filled it. It was the house that I’d taken a photo of and sent to my daughters a little while ago because there’s a trampoline on the garage roof!

Billy Holt’s dad’s brewery ( with trampoline)

Of Thomas Butterworth

The first time I can locate Thomas with any degree of certainty is when he married Alice Jackson at Heptonstall church  on October 20, 1811. They are both from Stansfield. There is a possibility that Thomas was baptized 6 June 1792 at Warley. I selected ‘that’ Thomas because his father was Ezra, and Thomas named one of his sons Ezra. In 1813 the first of their 7 or possibly 8 children was born, a daughter, Charlotte. 6 of the children were baptised at Myrtle Grove chapel on the same day, June 25, 1837. This meant that Charlotte was 24 when she was baptized, Richard 20, Sarah 17, Abrahma 15, Thomas 13 and Ezra 10. William was born in 1841 after a 10 year gap – strange. Last autumn when the leaves fell I noticed for the first time a cemetery close to the road to Todmorden and a few days later I overheard a conversation in which someone else was remarking on the fact that they’d never noticed the cemetery before.  Apparently this is all that remains of Myrtle Grove chapel, Eastwood. From the Charlestown history site: By the early 1800s, with the coming of industrialisation, the population was moving from the tops into the valley bottom. Discussions about moving the chapel began in about 1805 and local gentry settled endowments for the new chapel to be built. The new chapel opened in the summer of 1807 was called Myrtle Grove and stood on the site that later became Eastwood Railway station. It had a capacity of 500 people.

The congregation again declined from about 1820. In 1838 the railway petitioned to include the site of the Chapel and it was purchased by the railway company in the following year. A view of the Eastwood population at this time but there’s no source given:

“It must not be imagined from what has been written so far, that the inhabitants of Eastwood were all upright and honest citizens. there were evildoers in those days as there are now, and laws against theft or damage to property were much more drastic. Tradition has it that representatives of the village were sent as convicts to Australia. Stealing was by no means uncommon and occasionally cloth was taken from the handlooms. Hand weaving persisted for a long time after the coming of the power loom, and the weavers sometimes took precautions against theft by tying the warp ends to their feet before retiring for the night……The less reputable amongst the population indulged in such sports as cock fighting, rabbit coursing, clog fights or wrestling for wagers. The Non Conformists on the other hand, still strongly under the influence of puritan tradition, looked askance at such pleasures and regarded them as enticements of the Devil”. A new chapel was built and opened in 1840 so it would have been at the old chapel that Thomas and Alice had their children baptized.

Description: yrtle Grove

(from the Charlestown history site).

Another snippet  which amused me was this: A few years ago one of the group was taking stuff to the tip at Eastwood and saw a small wooden model in a skip. She rescued it and later we discovered that it was of Eastwood Chapel. The three photos below show the level of detail on the model. Who made it, when or why, we don’t know.

The model of Myrtle Grove chapel

Back to Thomas and his growing family. In 1841 the Butterworths were one of four families living at Higgin House, and Thomas is a worsted weaver. Yesterday, after I’d left the ruins of Dale I passed another ruin and took a photo of the place. This turns out to be Higgin House! It’s perched directly at the top of that steep flight of stairs. According to the Charlestown site it was once part of the Horsfall estate. (Leave that for a rainy day!) I wonder if the ‘sled road’ mentioned below was the steep stepped path I walked down yesterday:

The Rebuilding of Underbank House
The building of the New House that replaced the Great House at Underbank. John Lister Horsfall’s account book records the pulling down and building of the present day Underbank house (short of the Thomson’s modifications of course). The following is a summary.

First a sled road was made to allow stone to be pulled from Castle Hill to Underbank. Work began on March 10 and finished on March 20, 1834. This stone was used for “fronting” and for rebuilding some field walls. The road was then brought across the Higgin house and the Orchard field. This required 5 people and another to cut trees and cost 2 pounds, 18 shillings and 6 pence.

1851 find the Butterworth at Dale and by 1861 Thomas and Alice, both woolen weaver have moved to Underbank and their son, Ezra, has taken on the role of head of household, a plate layer for the railway line and a widower at the age of 33. However, there was less than 6 months between his first wife Sarah  Horsfall. (Higgin House was part of the Horsfall’s estate!)  dying and his marriage to Mary Gibson, daughter of the innkeeper of the Bull Inn, Hebden Bridge, who hanged himself in this slaughter house – see other postings in my blog). According to the handwritten account of Ezra’s life Sarah died in childbirth. “At some time he married, but, unfortunately his wife was a kleptomaniac, and was always taking home things she did not need and had not paid for. While this was a great worry to Ezra, it did not raise the problems at that time, in such a small community as Hebden Bridge then was, as it would today. Ezra just returned the goods to the under- standing shopkeepers and that was the end of the matter. She died early in married life on the birth of her first child. Ezra then met and married Mary Gibson.
She was also born on a small farm called Winters at Eastwood on 5th September 1830. She was the fourth child and first daughter and always said she was unwanted as her mother disliked girls. However other daughters were born and they were accepted. Mary ran away from home when she was eight years old to her grandmother who kept a coaching inn in Bridge Lanes, The Bull. She spent a happy childhood there and had many tales to tell of people who frequented the inn.
She was a good teller of tales and one which made a great impression on us was of the young woman who was poor and sold things from door to door. On being asked why she was doing this she said, “When I was young a well-to-do old man wanted to marry me but I loved a young man who was poor. We married but soon he died.” She added “But many’s the time I’ve rued that day for the old man’s brass ‘ud a bought a new pony.”
It was this grandmother who when Mary was young, once pointed to the smoke of a house chimney and said solemnly “Mary, whenever there’s a neck there’s trouble.”

As a young girl she was apprenticed to Molly Day, a dressmaker. where she learned to sew most beautifully making voluminous dresses of the time entirely by hand.
She and Ezra must always have known one another though it was not until June 1860 that they were married. Her brothers had warned her of Ezra’s drinking habits like many others associated with the railways in their early days. It was his great weakness.

They started married life at Weasel Hall, which is still there and can be seen on the hill- side from the main street in Hebden Bridge. (In fact that is the very view that I currently have as I sit at my desk in my living room). There on the 29th January Grace was born and two years later Gibson.”

My painting of Grace – from a photo

Thomas died at the grand old age of 75  in 1868 and he’s buried at St James’s in Hebden Bridge (where I sometime play the organ for services)  but I’ve been unable to find him on the burial plot map.

P.S – Crazy fact from the Charlestown history site that I found while researching this page :
The Rochdale canal at Charlestown was crossed by an iron bridge which by 1934 was showing serious signs of wear. In 1939 track subsidence made it necessary for the bridge to be replaced. The job was given to Dorman Long who also built Sydney Harbour Bridge. What?????

Crazy coincidence: 2 days after writing about my trip to Dale I received a message about the website that took me to Dale – from the Heptonstall Historical Society of which I am a member:

I’m going to carry on sharing items of online interest that have come my way for the lockdown period. Let’s start with an absolutely gorgeous website of photographs and writing about our local landscape and its history put together by Paul Knights. Enjoy:

On the trail of Joshua Gibson . . .

all within a walk from my apartment

Joshua and Sally’s grave, Heptonstall
Location of their grave in the old cemetery at Heptonstall
I’m related to Joshua by an ancestor who lived in Lily Hall. By chance the car has my initials!
Looking across to yesterday’s walk to Stoodley Pike. I could pick out my route quite clearly. i can see Weasel Hall and Old Chamber where other ancestors lived
Taking in the view
Steps at the back of The Bull inn where the slaughterhouse was. The wall was raised so that boys couldn’t see over
First bluebell of the season

Update: May 28

Today I saw a message on my blog dated May 2nd. It was from Kate Lycett saying that it was nice to chat this morning and let’s connect again. It took me a few minutes to figure this out. Kate Lycett is a wonderful artist who lives in Hebden Bridge. A visit to her gallery in Heart Gallery is always high on my list to take my visitors to, and last summer I’d been to her open studio and bought a note book, the cover of which was a lovely painting of Staithes. I’d asked Kate to sign the notebook and when Anna came to visit in August and we spent a few days in Staithes I gave her the notebook and we found the exact spot from where Kate had done her painting. so why had she posted on my blog a couple of weeks ago? And then it dawned on me. At the beginning of May I’d been walking past the former Bull inn where Joshua had been the landlord when I saw that the door was being refurbished. A lady was working on it and so I paused to ask if I was correct in thinking that this had been The Bull. It had, and under normal circumstances she would have invited me in when I told her that one of my ancestor had lived there. I invited her to look at the posting on my blog about Joshua. And so the response I noticed today was from Kate, who I hadn’t recognised in my chat to her at her door. This means that I’ve actually been into The Bull, since this was where her open studio was, up the steep steps, behind the building and so I hadn’t realised it was the back of the Bull. Interestingly Kate had moved there when she was pregnant with twins, who I had met at the open studio. I’d also attended a fascinating lecture she had presented to the local history society about Lost Houses of the South Pennines. It’s coincidences like this that make me feel at home in this community.

Happy Easter

This post is my Happy Easter greeting to family and friends

Spencer Lane

So it’s been two weeks now that I’ve been confined to walks that I can do directly from my living room. As the days have gone by I’ve found that this valley supplies enough new vistas and previously unexplored areas to keep me busy. It’s a wonderful feeling to explore a new footpath, see the town from a new angle, or notice a sign or building that I’ve passed many times but not noticed before. In the past people stayed more within the vicinity of their home, and it’s often seemed strange that people sometimes lived their whole life, never stepping out of a 10 mile radius of their homes. But during this last 2 weeks as I’ve explored I’m coming to understand that idea much more.  And if I find myself on a path, looking at a view, passing a house where one of my ancestors lived, however distant a relation they might have been, I arrived home excited and eager to find out more about what I’ve just seen.

Take yesterday.  I’d spent a couple of days downloading and transcribing newspaper articles, around 20 of them, mentioning one of my distant ancestors Stansfield Gibson – “quite the lad.” I’d been working on that in the morning and by lunchtime the fine weather on this Good Friday beckoned. I thought of the times when, as a young teen, living at Windermere Street my family had got up early, walked to the Tramways pub and boarded a bus to some distant place. I think these were excursions from my dad’s fishing club but I remember going as far as Symonds Yat in the Wye valley. I recalled these trips on always on Good Fridays and Easter Mondays.

Crow Nest House

At the beginning of the lockdown I discovered a trail, new to me, that runs from behind Hebden Bridge railway station, following close to the railway track towards Mytholmroyd and leading to the bridge on Carr Lane. It felt magical. I felt as if I was the first person to discover this trail. At first I thought the track only led to a large imposing victorian house that is right up against the railway lines and which acts as my cue to alert me to get ready to get off the train when I’m coming in from the Halifax direction. But then, one afternoon, quite by chance I noticed a small yellow arrow on a post indicating ‘footpath.’ So off I trundled. The house, Crow Nest house is an imposing edifice. There’s something spooky about it.

Crow Nest

It reminds me of Fall of the House of Usher or the house in Debussy’s Pelleas and Melisande or Henry James’s Turn of the Screw. Most days since this first discovery I’ve taken this walk. I’ve seen 20 nappies on the line many of the days, I’ve witnessed someone giving instructions of camera usage over the garden fence at the requisite 2 metre distance. I’ve noticed the ‘Beware, cocker spaniel at large’ sign on the garden gate, and a man chopping logs.

(Update, Oct 7. Reading ‘A Century of Change’ tells me that the house once belonged to the manager of the Hebden Bridge gass works). The path passes through the bottom of Crow Nest Wood. To my right a steep bank  is covered in trees whose varied barks fascinated me and lead to me take photos just of tree bark.

I peered into a hole in a tree stump and was delighted to see a dim world filled with toadstools – for the little people, no doubt.

Occasional traces of man’s intrusion on this natural landscape bring half hidden pipe lines and broken fences. Two steep brick walls career down this hillside, one of them covered in now faded graffiti. To my left there’s a big boggy area running the entire length of the path. I think this suggests that the railway track is laid on a man made embankment. Occasional trains pass by within 30 ft of me: one passenger, maybe two on board what would normally be standing room only services between Leeds, Manchester and Preston.

At my side of the boggy land is the remnants of a wooden fence, created, I think from old railway sleepers. I wonder, idly,  if it would be silly to give some of my favourite trees names. I seem to be getting to know them intimately. One afternoon sees me taking photos of trees that resemble other things – a goose in flight, or maybe it’s a pterodactyl, Siamese twins, and intimate human body parts! I post a photo of a tree knocking down a wall onto Facebook and I immediately get a response from someone saying that it looks like a man with his hand in the air – so obviously I’m not alone in seeing ‘other things’ in these tree parts.

Flying pterodactyl?

After a couple of days just walking along the track and back the same way I venture onto Carr Lane and find Carr Lane farm, obviously a working farm, and to my right a large grand newish house with beautifully laid out garden and conservatory.

Carr Lane farm

I have a shufti at what lies beyond and find that I’m in open countryside, above the treeline but with another layer of hills above me. I watch a shepherd on the opposite hill gathering his flock with the help of his sheepdog. I can see the brick houses of Mytholmroyd to my left. In the early days in this area all settlements and  buildings were situated on the hilltops, where everyone lived, raising sheep and spinning and weaving, taking their woven cloth to the Cloth halls, such as the one in Heptonstall, and the Piece hall in Halifax, via packhorse routes. The only time anyone came into the valley was to cross the rivers, because the Calder Valley was one big marsh, unsavoury and unhealthy. When the industrial revolution was born the mills had to be built in the valleys because all the mills were powered by water. This led to the building of houses for the mill workers being built in the valleys. In the post-war years brick built housing estates were created creating, in many cases a link between the hilltop communities and the valley floor terraces. These brick houses in Mytholmroyd are perfect examples.

The next day I followed the path above Carr Lane farm, a lovely bridleway with extensive views to my left and woodland to my right. A stone wall ran along the edge of the path and had been ‘attacked’ by several of the trees lining the path. The trees always won. In front of me was the tiny hamlet of Wood Top. Now I’d visited Wood Top a couple of times before. The first time I’d got the name mixed up with Wood End. I’d an ancestor who had lived at Wood End but I’d gone to Wood Top by mistake. But, once there one of the current residents had shown me round, pointing out the raised area that had once been the mill pond.  Wood Top was an old hand-loom weaving hamlet; by the late nineteenth century, it produced fustian – hard-wearing cotton material. Its inhabitants included the Saltonstall family; John was a fustian dyer, and one of his daughters, Lavena, a fustian clothing machinist, later became the best known of the local suffragettes. The  house, built in the mid C17 with an added early C19 cottage and barn now converted to form a dwelling is a Grade 11 listed building.

Wood Top

Today I watched a herd of goats enjoying  their breakfast, served in a big basket. The baby kids were clambering up the slope and jumping over the wall, and I realized that their breakfast was being served on top of the former mill pond. From Woodtop there are two choices, one being down the road suitable for cars, and I took that one day, finding myself at the top of the brick walls mentioned earlier, or the footpath that leads behind Fairfield, so I took that another day, leading me past the former Catholic church, now apartments, that my ‘naughty, naughty’ ancestor Willie Wrigley designed. (See Willie Wrigley post).

Goats having breakfast on the site of the old mill pond

Yesterday, getting to Wood Top was my only intention, but the weather was lovely and I couldn’t resist extending my walk, this time up the second set of hills to Old Chamber. I’d only ever been to this area once before and that was on a hike down from Stoodley Pike in Sept 2018 when I’d stopped at the Honesty Box – a little hut where walkers can stop in, make themselves a drink, buy some homemade cake, and put a coin or two in the honesty box.  But the Honesty Box is just past the tiny hamlet of Old Chamber so I hadn’t seen the rest of the settlement. This time I was coming up to it, up a very steep path with beautiful sets. If it hadn’t have been for a couple a long way  in front of me who looked a lot older than me I probably wouldn’t have attempted it, but it was too lovely to miss.

Spencer Lane

Another couple with two small children were coming down. They had stopped to let the two little girls play in the ‘sand pit’ by the side of the road  –  which was actually the grit for icy weather. “It’s not as nice as the sand in our sand box at home” the little girl volunteered.

Approaching Old Chamber with its guardians

I could see a massive rounded arch atop a derelict barn at the top of the hill and, with my love of all things ruined, I increased my pace. Though the barn was surrounded by a wire fence I could see the old fireplaces, reminding me of the barn in our field at Affetside where I grew up. Perhaps that’s why I have a ‘thing’ about old buildings.

This got me thinking of a very early memory I have of my dad and some other guy removing the roof from our ruined barn one very hot day and my dad getting terribly burned by the sun. They were taking the roof off so that it wouldn’t collapse on me when I played in there. It had a huge stone fireplace too –  and a date stone of 1842 (?) . At Old Chamber there were huge rotted wooden sliding doors into another barn, this time a brick one, and from the sound of it there  was possibly some lambing in progress. Across from the barn a dead baby lamb was lying on the grass. I passed a water trough covered in moss where the only colour was a couple of plant pots hanging on the side, bursting with colour.

Water trough

Delightful. I saw several signs advertising Bed and Breakfast and a couple were sitting in the garden drinking an afternoon glass of wine overlooking what must be one of the best views in the valley. Old Chamber is on a level with Heptonstall, which you can see across the Calder Valley. I must find out more about this settlement – and how it got its name. I came to ‘The Lodge’ and as I was taking a photo of the date stone above the porch, 1642, a man approached me from the next cottage where he’d been sitting on a bench. “If yer think that’s impressive, wait til I show you t’ door.” And he came around the pulled the door to. “But that’s not old,” I said, gazing at what looked to me a new very solid looking carved  door. “Cost three thousand pounds  did that door,’” he said. “It’s brand new.” “They wanted to put new winders int’ back, an awl, but they weren’t allowed t’put 9 glasses in. ‘T council towd ‘en they couldn’t. ‘ad t’ be 4 an’ 4.” I did wonder how they’d got planning permission to renovate ‘the lodge’ with the new stones.

I continued on my way, taking ‘New Road’ according to my map. This proved to be a cart track, with the cobbles mostly worn away and it was slippery with loose stones but I took my time.

View over to Heptonstall from Old Chamber

I was shown the way by two butterflies who kept fluttering in front of me and landing on dandelions. The previous night I’d attended a Camera club online lecture about Macrophotography by Tony North. His close ups of insects were amazing and he described how he would get down on his stomach so as not to frighten the butterflies. So I gave it a go!

When I came to the mast of the TV transmitter I realized that I was now directly opposite my apartment. For a few weeks I’d been wondering if there was access to the top of the hill directly in front of my living room window and now here I was – without trying! I followed the steep road down and suddenly found myself at Weasel Hall where, in December 2017 I’d gone to explore since one of my ancestors had lived there:

Weasel Hall

I reached the canal, crossed the river by a rarely used bridge and found myself an Easter bonnet. What do you think?