The Hunger Hills Mining Disaster of 1806

Wednesday 5th February 1806 began like any other day for George Crossley. The 23-year old collier from Idle went to work, as usual, at the coal mines on Hunger Hills in Horsforth.

He worked down a bell-pit, a primitive form of mine which had been used since mediaeval times. It consisted of a shaft leading vertically down to the coal seam. Miners then excavated outwards from the base of the shaft to create a pit which, in cross-section, looked like an inverted bell.

Men, and sometimes children, worked in horribly claustrophobic conditions up to 90 metres (300 feet) below ground in almost total darkness for hours at a time, with just the occasional rat for company. The work was monotonous and back-breaking. Above all else, however, it was dangerous.

Miners lived in constant fear of a roof collapse. The pits were not supported in any way. Each pit was excavated up to the point at which it was deemed unsafe to continue; it was then closed and another shaft created nearby. A day’s work was carried out against a backdrop of falling debris and the sound of the earth above shifting and creaking.

On 5 February 1806, George’s worst fears materialised. Without warning, the pit roof caved in, trapping George and two of his comrades deep underground. They were injured but not killed by the collapse. There was just enough air left to breathe but none of them knew how long it would last.

On the surface, a frantic rescue effort began. They could hear the muffled shouts of the men far below them but there were hundreds of tons of earth to shift to reach them. It was a race against time. They managed to bore a small hole to where their colleagues were trapped and dropped food down to them.

For the first few days of the rescue effort, they could still hear George and the others but then there was only silence. It was not until 12 days later that the would-be rescuers finally reached the collapsed pit. Tragically, all three men were dead and the community mourned their souls.

George was laid to rest in Calverley churchyard, where his grave can still be seen. The faded inscription reads:

In memory of George Crossley, of Idle, who unfortunately lost his life at the age of 23 years in a coal mine at Horsforth, by being shut up with a fall of earth on February 5th 1806, and remained underground 12 days. The expense of this stone and epitaph was paid by a voluntary subscription begun by Thomas Lloyd, Esq., and the Rev. Mr Shelley, of Horsforth.

Click here to read my previous story about how the coal at Hunger Hills was formed 300 million years ago.

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The Dripping Riots of Leeds, 1865

At the end of each shift, Eliza Stafford, a cook employed by Henry Chorley of 8 Park Square in Leeds, used to drain the dripping from her pans and sell it to a local dressmaker. She regarded it as a perk of the job.

When, in January 1865, the normally mild-mannered Chorley discovered what she had been doing, he was furious and reported her for theft. He was magistrate and, it is thought, pulled a few strings to have Eliza prosecuted and tried in private. Eliza’s supporters whipped up such public indignation that more than 12,000 people protested outside Leeds Town Hall during her trial. Although the crowd was raucous and threw snowballs, it was largely a peaceful protest. It was, however, unsuccessful and Eliza was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment in Armley Gaol.

On the day of her release a large crowd gathered outside the prison to celebrate and parade her through the city centre. Wishing to avoid the attention, however, Eliza had secretly agreed with the governor to be smuggled out of a private entrance and sent to her sister in Scarborough.

Denied their celebrations, the crowd descended on Park Square to protest outside Chorley’s home. The mood became ugly and stones were thrown at his house. A man was knocked to the ground and trampled on. He later died of his injuries.

The Chief Constable called for reinforcements from the Bradford Police force and the army at York. The Riot Act was read and, eventually, the crowd dispersed. One man was imprisoned and four others bound over to keep the peace.

All for the sake of two pounds of pilfered dripping, two people had gone to prison, one had died, tens of thousands had taken to the streets and the army had been called in. It was a rather shameful episode in Leeds’s history, from which no one emerged with any credit.

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Prehistoric Horsforth

Three hundred and fifty million years ago, Yorkshire lay at the Equator and the place we now call home was part of a vast river delta system called the Pennine Basin. Rivers washed particles of silicon and sand down from upland regions and dumped them here. Over millions of years, the sediment coalesced and hardened into the millstone grit and sandstone rocks which are so characteristic of our local landscape today.

This same rock has been quarried extensively in Horsforth and used in countless building projects throughout recorded history. Indeed, much of the stone used in the construction of Kirkstall Abbey and the older houses of Horsforth was formed in the Pennine Basin and extracted from local quarries.

By about 300 million BC, the landscape had been transformed into a tropical forest of primitive trees rising to 50 metres (164 feet) above swampy ground. When the trees died and fell, they rotted into peat in the swamps. As the peat became more and more compacted, over millions of years, it was transformed into coal. This is therefore known as the Carboniferous (literally “coal-bearing”) Period. This same coal was mined for centuries at Horsforth, particularly in the Hunger Hills area.

The Horsforth climate was obviously warmer than it is now but, at that time, the Earth rotated more quickly, meaning the days were shorter (by about 90 minutes). The faster spin of the planet would also have created stronger winds than we generally experience now.

This was so long ago that the dinosaurs had not yet appeared. Instead, the forests teemed with invertebrates and amphibians which grew to terrifying sizes in the oxygen-rich atmosphere: dragonflies the size of seagulls, giant cockroaches and scorpions as long as your arm. This was also the age of the penis worm, of which no description is necessary!

Occasionally, sea levels rose and flooded the region with seawater. The nearby Chevin and Great Dib Wood have yielded up fossils of marine creatures, such as trilobites which look a bit like prehistoric woodlice. Sharks’ teeth have also been found in the hills above Todmorden.

It is humbling to look closely at – and feel the texture of – the ancient rocks that surround us. Try it some time and you will see the tiny pieces of grit which were washed into the Pennine Basin all those hundreds of millions of years ago.

For all my posts about Horsforth and surrounding areas, click here.

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Is Tinshill BT Tower the highest point until Moscow?

My dad once told me that, if you travelled in a straight line from the top of Tinshill BT Tower to Moscow, you wouldn’t reach a higher point until you got there. But is it true?

Let’s release an imaginary crow from the top of the tower, flying straight and level to find out! How far will it get before it bumps into something?

According to Wikipedia, the top of the tower is 252.96m (830 feet) above sea level. So, this will be the cruising altitude of our crow.

Or feathered explorer flies due east through the Vale of York and crosses the Yorkshire coast between Filey and Flamborough. During that time, the ground only rises over 200m once.

The next 500 kms (300 miles) of the journey are over the North Sea before our crow reaches Denmark. Across Denmark and southern Sweden it flies, always more than 100m above the ground below.

Another 300km (185 mile) stretch over water (the Baltic Sea) takes our crow into Latvia where, again, the ground never rises to impede its progress.

As our intrepid corvid crosses the border into Russia, the landscape begins to get hillier but only occasionally does the ground pass the 200m mark until, at last, Red Square and the Kremlin are in sight and our crow can finally come to rest just to the east of the city at 255 metres (837 feet) – a journey of nearly 2,500 kms (1,550 miles)!!

So, it turns out that my dad was right!

I mapped the journey using Geocontext mapping tools (the red line is straight – it just appears curved because of the curvature of the Earth).

For more stories about Rawdon, Horsforth and surrounding areas, click here.


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Scottish raids on Calverley and Horsforth, May 1318

This article was first published in The Squeaker Magazine (click here to read the latest edition).

In 1314, Robert the Bruce’s Scots crushed the English army at the Battle of Bannockburn. As the English army fled, they were pursued south across the border by the Scots, raiding and plundering as they went, before returning home with the spoils. This set a pattern that would be repeated, with increasing organisation and regularity, for more than a decade.

Typically, the armed raiders would come on hobbies, which were small agile horses capable of covering 60 to 70 miles a day, ahead of camp followers whose job it was to sort the booty and transport it home. Each raid lasted approximately 40 days and followed a u-shaped route: they would invade down the eastern side of England, cross the Pennines along a river valley and head home via Lancashire and Cumbria. It was guerrilla warfare and its political objective was the recognition by England of Scottish independence.

Such was the ferocity of the invaders that it is said that “from the faces of two or three Scots, one hundred English would flee” and there is evidence that refugees fled south in terror leaving whole villages deserted. As well as being brutal, however, the Scots were also enterprising and disciplined: they would spare entire communities if an acceptable bribe was paid.

The early raids were concentrated on Northumbria and Durham but penetrated further south each year until, in 1318, they reached the West Riding of Yorkshire. In May of that year, the marauding Scots crossed the River Wharfe west of Wetherby and pressed on into the Aire Valley. They came upon Calverley and ransacked the Church of St Wilfrid. Based on first-hand accounts of raids elsewhere, they would almost certainly have destroyed other properties in the village, setting light to wooden houses, before stealing cattle and grain and anything else of value. They may also have taken prisoners and ransomed them. Objects made of iron were particularly sought after; there was little natural iron in Scotland and it was needed for the manufacture of weapons and armour. What they could not carry with them they destroyed to further sap the will of the English to resist.

Having plundered all they could in Calverley, they swept back across the river and entered Horsforth where they attacked Den (or Dean) Grange, an ancient fortified manor house. Legend has it that they met with fierce resistance here and at Mosley Wood. It is assumed by many that modern-day Scotland Lane takes its name from this encounter but there may be a more prosaic explanation: the land may once have belonged to a Roger le Scot (“Scot’s Land”). Den Grange is now remembered in the names of several streets and dwellings in the Dean Lane/Scotland Lane area of Horsforth.

The Scots continued to lay a trail of destruction as they headed up the Aire Valley, including at Guiseley and Bingley, but they spared the churches at Keighley and Kildwick which were dedicated to St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. They departed the Aire Valley via Skipton and joined up with another raiding party in the Wharfe Valley before heading north again.

Although the Scots returned to the region the following year, the raids were mainly concentrated on the Wharfe Valley at places such as Weeton, Stainburn and Leathley. There was probably nothing of value left to plunder in Calverley and its surrounds.

Year upon year, the raids continued unabated. The English King, Edward II, was both too weak to defeat the Scots and too stubborn to agree terms. He was seemingly willing to sacrifice the North in his struggle with the Scots. It would not be until 1328, after Edward’s death, that a peace treaty was signed between England and Scotland which recognised Scottish independence. The treaty brought only a temporary pause in hostilities, however, before a more lasting peace was finally achieved in 1357.

The effects of the Scottish raids on Calverley were devastating. A subsequent valuation of St Wilfrid’s Church estate recorded that it was worth “nichil” (nothing) and that there was “hardly a goat’s grass”, suggesting the ruin of its farmland. There were also insufficient funds to pay the chaplain for some time afterwards. St Oswald’s Church in Guiseley saw its value reduced by 75% and the church estates at Adel, Harewood and Bingley also suffered huge losses.

It would take another four years before restoration work could begin on St Wilfrid’s, thanks in large part to the generosity of local landowner, John Cnollan, who donated land called Cnollangarth which appears to have escaped the ravages of the Scots (roughly where Upper Carr Lane now stands). A generation later, however, the Black Death swept the country and claimed the lives of two Calverley vicars in one year, as well as an unknowable number of their parishioners.

So, as we approach the 700th anniversary of the terrible events of May 1318 let’s spare a thought for our Airedale antecedents: the North of England in the fourteenth century was an unimaginably tough place to live.

For more stories on local history click here.

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When the Civil War came to Rawdon and Horsforth

This article first appeared in The Squeaker Magazine (click here for the latest edition).

On 23 January 1643, Sir Thomas Fairfax left Bradford at the head of a Parliamentarian force of approximately three thousand men. His objective was to seize Leeds from the Royalists garrisoned there under Sir William Savile. Although Fairfax was a military commander of some repute, most of his men were not seasoned veterans; in fact, many of them had been recruited or conscripted only the week before. The men of Bradford had, however, earned Fairfax’s respect with their valiant defence of the town against Royalist attacks the previous year.

The most direct route to Leeds was blocked. The Royalists controlled the bridge over the River Aire at Kirkstall and had sabotaged it. Fairfax had divided his forces into two: one detachment, under Captain Mildmay, went downriver to Hunslet; meanwhile, Fairfax led the remainder upstream and crossed the river at Apperley Bridge. The seventeenth-century crossing still stands just upstream of the more modern bridge which now carries the A658 over the Aire.

From there, it was an arduous slog up Apperley Lane. At that time, it was little more than a dirt track which had been turned into a quagmire of cloying mud and blackened water by the winter rains. It would not become a maintained turnpike road until the next century. At the top of the hill, they passed beneath Buckstone Rock, from which dissenting sermons were regularly preached and which is now the site of Rawdon Golf Club’s clubhouse. They entered Rawdon along West Lane (modern-day Rawdon Drive) and Over Lane before progressing down Town Street.

West Lane marked the boundary of the estate of Sir Francis Layton, the Lord of the Manor of Rawdon. Layton was Charles I’s Yeoman of the Jewel House and a staunch Royalist. At the outbreak of war, he had helped raised money for the King at York, via an intermediary.

Having acquired and enclosed most of the land in Rawdon and its surrounds, Layton was an unpopular and divisive figure and the object of much local civil disobedience. Indeed, some locals petitioned Fairfax to tear down Layton’s fences and property and another wished that “the King’s men’s meat would turn to poison.” Doubtless many residents came out to cheer the troops as they passed. However, despite passing Layton Hall, Fairfax appears to have left it unmolested – he was clearly a man in a hurry.

The Parliamentarians proceeded to Horsforth along the route of modern-day Brownberrie Lane, Westbrook Lane, Lee Lane and Broadgate Lane. Here too, they are likely to have been warmly welcomed by the locals after a Royalist army stationed in Horsforth earlier in the winter had plundered the area for food, leaving residents destitute.

The Parliamentarians crossed Oil Mill Beck via a ford over which the bridge now stands at the junction of Low Lane and Hawksworth Road and pushed on up Butcher Hill. The final leg of the journey took them down Spen Lane and Burley Road to their muster point on Woodhouse Moor. From there, Fairfax despatched a trumpeter to Savile to demand his surrender of the town. Savile, who had fortified a position in the town centre from St John’s Church to Leeds Bridge, haughtily refused.

A three-hour battle then ensued after Fairfax’s forces attacked Savile’s fortifications at two points during a snowstorm: Boar Lane and St John’s Church. Meanwhile, Mildmay launched a simultaneous assault from his position south of the river. Savile’s men were overwhelmed and fled the town to the south, several of them drowning as they tried to swim across the River Aire. Fairfax took 460 prisoners but later released almost all of them on their promise not to take up arms again. Approximately 40 men were killed in the fighting.

The rival armies clashed twice more near Leeds later that year (at Seacroft Moor and Adwalton Moor) before the Parliamentarians secured the north of England at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. This victory paved the way to Charles I’s ultimate defeat and surrender. Whilst being transported as a prisoner from Newcastle to London, Charles was held overnight in The Red Hall, Leeds on 9 February 1647. Legend has it that a local woman offered to swap places with the King so that he could escape disguised in her clothes. He declined her offer. The Red Hall no longer exists (part of it was incorporated in the old Schofield’s department store but destroyed in the 1960s) but Charles’s stay is commemorated by the name of the nearby King Charles Street.

After the war, Sir Francis Layton, in common with other prominent Royalists, was fined and imprisoned for his support of the King but his fortunes were revived after the monarchy was restored in 1660 and he was reinstated to his old office of Yeoman of the Jewel House. The name Layton will be familiar to modern-day Rawdon residents: Layton Hall still stands, albeit divided into separate homes, and the name Layton is remembered in the names of several streets nearby. St Peter’s Church was commissioned by Layton and completed by his son, Henry, after his death in 1661.

If Leeds in the English Civil War is of interest, I have also written a piece on the subsequent Battle of Adwalton Moor (click here to read).

For more stories on Rawdon and the surrounding area click here.


Sir Thomas Fairfax

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What place names tell us about the past

As a crossword fan and former student of ancient languages, I am fascinated by place names and what they can tell us about local history. Once you know how to decipher the clues, you can unlock secrets of a past which predates recorded history. The study of place names is called toponymy and this is a quick toponym tour of the area around my home village of Rawdon.

Before the arrival of the Romans, indigenous Brits spoke a form of Celtic which is closely related to modern Welsh. Vestiges of this ancient language survive in the names of many rivers, mountains and hills. To Yorkshire eyes and ears, the most obvious example is Pen y Ghent, a fell in the Dales which is a linguistic cousin of Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons.

Closer to home, we have The Chevin which takes its name from the Celtic word cefn, meaning ridge. A quick look at a map of Wales will reveal many place names which contain cefn, or derivatives of it. The Aire comes from a Celtic word meaning strong river, which is also the origin of the Ure.

Although there is little evidence of Roman settlement in our vicinity, Latin influences can be seen in places which were associated with ancient sites of worship. The Celtic word egles, from the Latin ecclesia (meaning church), survives in Eccleshill and, until relatively recently, Eccles Grass Head at the top of Hunger Hills in Horsforth (click here for more information about the toponymy of Horsforth).

From about the 6th century AD onwards, Anglo-Saxons began to colonise the region from the east. Their language is now most commonly referred to as Old English and it had an enormous influence on the toponymy of our region.

When the Anglo-Saxons first arrived, our part of the Aire Valley was heavily wooded and they began to clear areas of woodland for farming and settlements. They called these clearances leahs and the evidence of their steady progress up the valley is evident from a map: Armley, Wortley, Farnley, Bramley, Rodley, Farsley, Calverley, Apperley, Guiseley etc.

Whilst the -ley suffix tells us that the place used to be an Anglo-Saxon clearance, the prefixes also tell us more about each one, such as:

Wortley – vegetable clearing

Farsley – furze clearing

Calverley – calf clearing

We can also tell something of the types of trees in the ancient woodlands, from Esholt (the place in the ash trees) and Apperley (later Apperley Bridge), meaning apple tree clearance.

The Anglo-Saxons used several different words to denote different types of high ground. The suffix -don or -dun (from which we get the modern word ‘down’) is found in Yeadon (steep hill) and Rawdon (red hill, although not everyone agrees on this). The Billing (in Rawdon) derives from an Old English word meaning a round hill. The word hill itself comes from the Old English ‘hyll’ as in Hunger (from hangra, meaning barren) Hills.

Some places were named after prominent, but long-forgotten, local people of the time, such as Gislic’s leah (Guiseley), Pudoc’s island (Pudsey) and Cwics’s hyrcg, meaning strip of land (Cookridge).

The coming of the Vikings from the ninth century added further linguistic colour (although the impact was felt more to the east of our region). The region we now think of as Yorkshire was divided into three thridings (ridings) and subdivided into wapentakes. The settlements on the north side of the Aire were assigned to the wapentake of Skyrack and those on the south side to the wapentake of Morley.

Wapentake literally means ‘take your weapons’ in Old Norse and was therefore originally used as a way of raising local militia. The wapentake of Skyrack met beneath a scir ac (Old English for shire oak) in the leah of Hedda’s people (Headingley). Those familiar with the public houses of Headingley will know exactly where this was!

The Vikings also gave us Tyndr’s Hyll (Tinshill). Again, however, nothing is known of the toponymous Tyndr.

This brief introduction has only scratched at the surface but the next time you are out driving think of each road sign as a signpost to the past and know that there are stories there to be unlocked.

For more stories on this area click here.

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