Cook's Study, Holme

Cook's Study is an area of moorland around 3 miles south of Holmfirth, close to Snailsden Reservoir, named after the first of three buildings that once stood on the hill.

Historically, the area was also used for peat digging and for stone quarrying.


The moorland at Snailsden was used for shooting game birds in the early 1800s and was owned at that time by the Duke of Leeds.[1]

The First Building

The date when the building that became known as "Cook's Study" — described as a "small building" and a "rude stone hut"[2] — was erected is unknown, but almost certainly prior to the 1820s. The spelling "Cooke's Study" also appears in historic documents.

A number of suggestions have been made over the decades as to why it was built or how it acquired its name, including:

  • a Holmfirth vicar named "Cook" built a property there as an isolated spiritual retreat
  • it was built for "an old divine, half mystic, half astronomer, with a taste also for natural history"[3] (likely a reference to the later towers)
  • it was built by (or named after) Captain James Cook

Noted local historian Philip Ahier dismissed all of these in the early 1940s and suggested instead that the most plausible explanation for its name was a local tradition that a "studious young man of the name of Cook who loved to take his book under his arm and walk up to the long straight road that led from his home until he came to the moors" and would sit in the shade of the building to read his book. Half-mockingly, locals dubbed the building (or possibly even just the hill) "Cook's Study".[4]

In an article published in the Huddersfield Examiner (18/Oct/1997), Meltham resident Edith Bray suggested that the person was Matthew Cook[5] (c.1734-1800) whose prayer book had been passed down through her family. Little is known of Matthew Cook, son of John Cook, who was baptised at 16 September 1734 at Almondbury and who married Betty Crosland in 1756, although the Holmfirth burial register states that he was of "Scarr-fold".

The land around Cook's Study was sold at auction in July 1829:[6]

LOT 127. Another Parcel of MOOR LAND, situated between and adjoining the Woodhead Turnpike Road and the Estate of John Spencer Stanhope, Esq. in Thurlstone, and bounded westward by the County of Chester, and eastward, by other parts of the Common and Old Inclosures, in the said Graveship, including the small Building, called "Cook's Study," containing 1472 Acres.

Ahier's assertion that the first building to be known as "Cook's Study" was built between 1828 and 1834 must be an error however, since the name was well-establihed by 1829. It seems that landowner John Spencer Stanhope of Cannon Hall took the opportunity to expand his estate and acquired the adjoining moorland at the auction.

The Second Building

The moorland had traditionally been used by locals to graze animals during the summer and to cut peat during the winter months. Spencer Stanhope, however, intended to use it for grouse shooting and reportedly built a "strong wire fence" to keep locals off the land. He also built a new combined gamekeeper's cottage and shooting lodge. From contemporary descriptions, it was a square two-storey building measuring 10 feet wide and 20 feet tall.

The tower was reportedly based on a design by Sir Francis Chantrey[7] and may have been known as "Chantrey Tower". However, no reference was found to that name during research.

In October 1840, human remains were found on the peat moss close to Cook's Study. Little more than a skeleton, it was identified as a red-haired woman whose body had been wrapped in cloth, which the peat preserved. Some of the attached clothing indicated she may have lain there for 60 or 70 years. Only the upper half of the skeleton was recovered. According to a slightly incredulous report in the Leeds Mercury, the men who found the body then exhibited it in the local area as a curiosity.[8]

In a rather unusual experiment, perhaps inspired by the preserved corpse, two men from Holmfirth "wrapped two joints of fresh mutton in a linen cloth" and then buried them "in the black heath on the moors, near Cook's Study" on 1 January 1847. They returned a year later and dug the joints up — according to the Leeds Times, "they were in an excellent state of preservation, and completely free from any nauseous smell."[9]

By 1847, the building had apparently fallen into ruins and was described by George S. Phillips in one of his series of "Walks Round Huddersfield": [10]

The moors are about two miles and a half beyond Holmfirth, and at the top of one of the mountains, on the moorlands, is a curious building, in ruins, which is called "Cook's Study." It is about ten feet square and twenty feet high, and was built by a clergyman, an incumbent, I believe, of Holmfirth, who used to go and read there. It is at present used by the shepherds of the moors as a shelter, and there is a spring of water close to it which is said to possess valuable medicinal properties.

The ruins appear to have been removed prior to 1850, as they are not marked on the Ordnance Survey's Yorkshire 272 sheet which was surveyed in 1850 and 1851. However, the hill upon which it stood is named "Cook's Study Hill".

Ahier asserts that it was a group of aggrieved locals — angered at no longer being able to use the land to graze animals — who had set fire to the building in the middle of the night, so that "it could no longer be used as a dwelling-house". However, this is seemingly at odds with Phillips' statement that the ruins were being used by shepherds and may instead be a reference to the fate of the third building.

In a 1851 article describing a horse-drawn gig ride to Greenfield, the writer gave the following verse:[11]

Like the watch-tower, built to brave the storm,
Cook's Study shown its graceful form,
      And all around surveys ;
No lovelier scenery spots out land,
Than charms the vision when we stand
      Upon its time-worn base.

In February 1851, a "daring gang of burglars" who had been terrorising the Holmfirth and Honley area were tracked down to an isolated house near Cook's Study by Superintendent Heaton. On searching the house, "such a mass of housebreaking implements were found as quite staggered the officer" along with some of the stolen property. Heaton eventually apprehended the leader of the gang, described as being "a daring fellow, who was six feet in height, and strongly built in proportion."[12]

The Third Building — Chantrey Tower

The third building to be erected on the site was named Chantrey Tower after its designer and was built in 1852.[13] This structure was twice the proportions of the previous two-storey building and measured 40 feet high with sides measuring 20 feet. A stone table above the door read, "Chantrey Tower, MDCCCLII". Despite being formally named, the tower was more commonly known as Cook's Study.

According to Ahier, Chantrey had visited the moorland with John Spencer Stanhope in 1828 and had drawn up sketches for a stone tower. As such, it seems likely that the previous building was a less ambitious attempt to construct a tower to Chantrey's designs.

Two articles from 1854 gave some further details as to the history of the building:[14]

The moors adjoining to, and surrounding the newly built ... "Chantrey Tower," better known by the name of "Cook's Study," and built by W. Stanhope, Esq., was the scene of a fashionable and select picnic party on Saturday last.

That noted place yclept [i.e. named] "Cook's Study" — because a person of that name used to repair here for the purpose of study, in an old building since taken down and rebuilt, but now designated "Chantrey Tower," has become a favourite resort for summer parties.

On the afternoon Thursday 7 October 1852, a quarryman named John Roberts (also known as "Strong John") found the body of 53-year-old itinerant medicine vendor George Senior, known as the "Nabsley Doctor", near Cook's Study. The Chronicle reported that Senior "had acquired an extensive celebrity on account of the many 'wonderful' cures he had performed."[15] In a slightly florid article, the newspaper went on to state that Senior "was out on a tour in the pursuit of his healing profession, when the grim personage, against whom he has exercised all his power, overtook and vanquished him."[16] The inquest into his death returned a verdict of "Died by the visitation of God."[17]

In November 1854, the Chronicle reported the following:[18]

Monster Potatoe. — On Monday last we were shown a quantity of splendid potatoes, part of a crop grown by Mr. Charles Crossley, innkeeper, in a field of his own on the mountainous ridge called "Cook's Study ;" one of which when put on the scales weighed 1½ lb.

In May 1855, Miss Hannah Littlewood of Glossop in Derbyshire was walking to Dunford Bridge "by way of Cook's Study" when her black silk velvet cape was torn off in high winds. On realising what had happened, she retraced her steps and came across a quarry with several workmen. When she enquired if any of them had seen her cape, "they replied they had not, and used very disgusting and abominable language". It later transpired the workmen had in fact found the cape and hidden it behind rocks, before passing it on to Martha Beever who attempted to get 30 shillings for it at Walker's pawnbrokers on the High Street, Huddersfield.[19]

Members of the Holmfirth Temperance Society held a picnic at Hill Top Farm, near Cook's Study, in August 1855. Unfortunately, the Chronicle reported that their "various amusements" were "abruptly terminated by the intrusion of a number of 'hobbledehoys'."[20]

In April 1860, whilst the gamekeeper residing in the tower was away, it was burgled and a "considerable quantity of silver plate" was taken. Perhaps to cover their tracks, the thieves then set a fire which gutted the building:[21]

Great surprise and indignation was manifested throughout the Holmfirth district last Monday, when it became know that some person or persons, yet unknown, had set fire to the far-famed shooting box, known as "Cook's Study." This noted structure stands on the summit of the Yorkshire hills, a few miles southward of Holmfirth, and is the resort of multitudes in the summer season, shooters, pic-nic parties, health and pleasure seekers. It is in the occupation of Messrs. Brook, Nelson, and other shooting gentlemen, as a head-quarters in the shooting season. Some years ago, it was re-built, and made into a neat and comfortable dwelling for a keeper, with a stone tower above, from which there is an almost unlimited view of the country all round. Mr. Webster, gamekeeper, resided at it at the present time. He was absent on Sunday night, and in his absence some miscreants, who must have known that he was away, set fire to the place. It seems that their ingress was no easy task, as an iron crow-bar, seven or eight stone in weight, was found, with which they had wrenched the iron bars from the windows. The habitable part was completely gutted, beds, furniture, the flooring of the upper rooms, in fact everything that was combustible. The whole of the damage done is estimated at £200. One report states that a considerable quantity of silver plate was kept at the place, which is not now forthcoming ; hence a motive for the marauders. The police are on the qui vive, and it is hoped they will succeed in bringing the villains to justice.

Ahier suggests that the culprits were poachers who were taking revenge on the gamekeeper. The fire damaged the walls of the tower, which were then "strong buttressed" to stop them collapsing. Despite the damage, the ground floor of the tower continued to be used as a residence for the gamekeeper and for entertaining shooting parties.

On the afternoon of Wednesday 17 September 1862, 22-year-old Robert Turner, son of farmer Jonas Turner of Hazelbead Farm near Penistone, was riding on the moorland near Cook's Study when his horse stumbled in boggy ground. Turner was thrown off and the horse rolled on top of him, pushing him face-down into the wet ground where he drowned.[22]

Published in 1867, Murray's Handbook for Travellers in Yorkshire rather disdainfully noted that "the tower on the hill is 'Cook's Study,' a modern building of no interest."[23]

The 1871 Census lists gamekeeper Samuel Haigh (aged 59) and his wife Amelia (68) residing at Cook's Study, although this entry may be referring to a house which was built just to the southeast of the tower and is marked on the 1890s O.S. map.

Snailsden Reservoir was constructed nearby in the mid-1870s by the Dewsbury and Heckmondwike United Waterworks, with a new access road built to the reservoir from the "corner of the building known as Cook's Study or Chantry Tower."[24]

Cook's Study was listed as uninhabited in the 1881 Census.

Labourer Thomas Battye of Damhouse was working in a quarry near Cook's Study in September 1890 when he fell seven feet and broke his hip bone.[25]

The 1891 Census lists Cook's Study tower as being uninhabited, although gamekeeper Thomas Hirst (aged 26) is living nearby at Snailsden with his wife Sarah Ann (36)[26] and a son from her first marriage, Foster (10).[27]

In their account of the opening of Victoria Tower in 1899, the Chronicle described the many landmarks that could be seen from the tower, including Cook's Study — "surely you will find it amid the solitude of the moors, a fitting habitat for a philosopher, a theologian, or a recluse."[28]

By 1901, gamekeeper Thomas Hirst (aged 36) was residing at Cook's Study, along with his wife Sarah Ann (46) and their daughter Edith Marian (4)[29]. A decade later, widow Sarah Ann was still living there with 14-year-old Edith Marian — Thomas having likely died in 1910.

A curious event occurred in August 1921 when the body of 74-year-old grocer Will Sandford of Hillhouses, near Holmfirth, was found on the side of the road leading up to Cartworth Moor and Cook's Study. Reportedly, the old man was in a sitting position when found in the fog by the sheepdog of local farmer Eli Roberts of Elysium Farm. There were no marks of injury or any signs of a struggle. Sandford had been out walking with his son Harry, who was nowhere to be found and was soon reported missing by his sister, Alice. At the inquest, Dr. Edward Trotter stated that Will Sandford had a diseased heart most likely died of a heart attack and a verdict of "Death from natural causes" was returned.[30]

The search for Harry Sandford continued, with a growing assumption that he had committed suicide, perhaps out of mistaken belief he had caused his father's death — Harry had been suffering from depression having recently lost his job, and the two men had been seen arguing that day. The Yorkshire Post reported that there was a local superstition that a drowned man will rise to the surface on the ninth day and a watch was been set on the nearby Snailsden Reservoir. On cue, "a dark object rose to the surface" and P.C. Smart, a local constable, swam out to retrieve the body.[31] The jury at the inquest were of the opinion that the sudden death of his father "threw the young man off his balance" and they returned a verdict of "Suicide by drowning."[32]

Final Years

Photographs likely taken in the 1910s appear to show the tower uninhabited and with large cracks running up the exterior, and this may have led to rumours that the tower was haunted.[33]

An article from 1919 recorded a visit by the Yorkshire Geographical Society to the area and noted that the tower was now little more than "a landmark."[34]

In April 1928, the Yorkshire Evening Post lamented that the tower, "which stands on the moors above Holmfirth, near the Yorkshire and Cheshire boundary, has wintered badly, and is fast falling to pieces. Only immediate attention can save this landmark, which is visible for many miles."[35]

A description of a walk to Hades in Wooldale that appeared in the Leeds Mercury (30/May/1930) gave the following details:

A Crumbling Landmark — Just ahead lay the pathetic figure of Cook's Study, a familiar landmark for many generations. [...] Its glory is now almost departed, and the storms which beat incessantly on this ragged spur of moorland have battered it to the ground. It is now little but a crumbling ruin, and its value as a landmark is almost gone.

The Spencer Stanhope family took the decision to demolish the tower in 1934 due to the risk the ruins posed to the site-seers. The Stanhope's then rebuilt the tower's arch in their garden at Cannon Hall.[36] In a letter published in the Huddersfield Examiner the following year, Mr. Spencer Stanhope wrote:

First of all let me state very definitely that it has not been demolished to extend a quarry. It was only after I had made a careful inspection of the building and had decided that it was a real danger to the public, who, in spite of warning notices, persisted at the risk of life and limb in climbing to the top of this crumbling ruin, that I regretfully gave orders for its demolition, rather than indulge in a sentiment which might be the cause of a serious accident. There is little doubt that the "Chantrey Tower" would be standing today had not the building been set on fire. The damage done by this act of vandalism was so extensive that for many years it has been apparent that the tower could not withstand for long the batterings of the gales and storms which sweep across the Pennines unless it was rebuilt almost entirely. The cost of such an undertaking was prohibitive in these days of high taxation. Thus the glories of the past have to give place to the practical requirements of our times.

During the Second World War, a shortage of coal resulted in an appeal launched by Arthur Brook for the people of Holmfirth to go up to Cook's Study to collect peat to burn instead of coal.[37]

According to Hazel Wheeler, the hill was used as an ARP post[38] during the war.[39]

By the 1960s, all that remained of Chantrey Tower was a small pile of stones.[40]

The hill continues to be known as Cook's Study, with Cook's Study Slack situated to the northeast and Cook's Study Moss to the west.

Further Reading


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Notes and References

  1. Notices stating that trespassers would be "prosecuted with the utmost rigour" were published in newspapers between 1808 and 1812, e.g. Manchester Mercury (21/Aug/1810) and Leeds Mercury (26/Sep/1812).
  2. The latter description appears in Lippincott's Magazine of Literature, Science and Education (volume 4) from 1869.
  3. Country Life (volume 16, 1904).
  4. The Legends and Traditions of Huddersfield and Its District (1940s) by Philip Ahier, part 4.
  5. Also spelt "Cooke".
  6. "Sales" in York Herald (04/Jul/1829). The Leeds Intelligencer (23/Jul/1829) included the same notice, but gave the spelling as "Cooke's Study".
  7. Wikipedia: Francis Leggatt Chantrey.
  8. "Holmfirth: Discovery of Human Remains" in Leeds Mercury (17/Oct/1840).
  9. "Holmfirth: Singular Method of Preserving Meat" in Leeds Times (08/Jan/1848).
  10. "Walks Round Huddersfield" in Bradford & Wakefield Observer (30/Dec/1847).
  11. "A Journey to 'Bill's o'Jacks' (Greenfield), or, The Top of 'Alderman' by an Inhabitant of Holmfirth" in Huddersfield Chronicle (26/Jul/1851).
  12. "Detection of a Gang of Burglars Near Huddersfield" in Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (15/Feb/1851).
  13. As noted above, the previous tower may also have shared this name.
  14. "Holmfirth: Picnic Party" in Huddersfield Chronicle (10/Jun/1854) and "Holmfirth: Picnics" in Huddersfield Chronicle (15/July/1854).
  15. Despite being such a celebrity, I could find no other references to him in contemporary newspapers.
  16. "Holmfirth: Sudden Death" in Huddersfield Chronicle (09/Oct/1852).
  17. "Holmfirth: Inquest" in Huddersfield Chronicle (16/Oct/1852).
  18. "Holmfirth: Monster Potatoe" in Huddersfield Chronicle (04/Nov/1854).
  19. "Holmfirth: Stealing a Silk Velvet Cape" in Huddersfield Chronicle (09/Jun/1855).
  20. A "hobbledehoy" being a clumsy teenager. "Holmfirth: Picnic" in Huddersfield Chronicle (18/Aug/1855).
  21. "Fire at Cook's Study" in Huddersfield Chronicle (14/Apr/1860).
  22. "Holmfirth: Fatal Accident" in Huddersfield Chronicle (20/Sep/1862).
  23. Handbook for Travellers in Yorkshire (1867), route 43, page 465.
  24. "Notices of Application to Parliament" in Yorkshire Post (29/Nov/1875).
  25. "Holmfirth: Accident" in Huddersfield Chronicle (06/Sep/1890).
  26. Born Sarah Ann Crossley in 1854. She first married farmer and gamekeeper James Sedgwick in 1879, but he died in May 1890. Within a year, she married Thomas Hirst.
  27. Possibly Snailsden is a reference to the separate house seen in some of the photographs and postcards of Cook's Study.
  28. "Victoria Tower" in Huddersfield Chronicle (01/Jul/1899).
  29. Born 1896 and baptised 15 November at St. John the Baptist, Penistone. Married 1919 to James Henry Massey. Died 1927 aged 31.
  30. "Holmfirth Mystery: Father's Death Explained, The Son Still Missing" in Yorkshire Post' (16/Aug/1921).
  31. "The Holmfirth Mystery: Missing Man's Body Found" in Yorkshire Post (22/Aug/1921) and "The Ninth Day: Holmfirth Development of Moor Mystery" in Sheffield Independent (22/Aug/1921).
  32. "The End of the Holmfirth Mystery" in Yorkshire Post (23/Aug/1921) and "Half-Witted and Frightened: Father's Collapse Prompts Son's Suicide" in Hull Daily Mail (23/Aug/1921).
  33. The Guardian: Country Diary
  34. "Yorkshire Geographical Society" in Yorkshire Post (28/Jul/1919).
  35. "Cook's Study: A Yorkshire Landmark in Danger" in Yorkshire Evening Post (13/Apr/1928).
  36. See
  37. "Holmfirth People Asked to Burn Peat" in Yorkshire Post (20/Apr/1943).
  38. Wikipedia: Air Raid Precautions
  39. Huddersfield in Old Photographs: A Second Selection (1990) edited by Hazel Wheeler, page 29.
  40. See, for example, this photograph on Kirklees Image Archives.