Dumb Steeple, Cooper Bridge

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  • location: Wakefield Road, Cooper Bridge
  • status: still exists
  • category: misc feature

Discovering Old Huddersfield

Extract from Discovering Old Huddersfield (1993-2002) by Gordon & Enid Minter:

About 183m. (200 yds.) beyond the railway bridge, near to the junction of three very busy roads, stands the obelisk know by the strange name, Dumb Steeple". It was moved to its present location from its original position at the centre of the road junction when it became a hindrance to the flow of modern traffic. The strangest thing of all about Dumb Steeple is that nothing is known of its origin or history although there is general agreement that the present edifice is an eighteenth century replacement of an earlier stone or timber pillar.

Lack of ascertainable evidence has never, will never and should never stop informed speculation and there are several rival theories concerning Dumb Steeple, the most fanciful of which is that the original pillar was a relic of the primitive worship of Phallus. A Mr. Henry Speight who put forward this theory remarks that the Dumb Steeple, near Kirklees Park, is a comparatively late erection that commemorates Phallic worship!

A more favoured idea, first recorded by Charles Hobkirk in 1859, is that the original edifice was a sanctuary cross connected with nearby Kirklees Priory. The medieval custom of sanctuary, associated with religious establishments, offered safe refuge to law breakers for forty days during which time if they confessed their guilt they would be allowed to go unmolested into exile. Hobkirk's idea, which found favour with the other local historians, was that the Dumb Steeple, originally known as the Doom or Doomed Steeple marked one of the boundaries of sanctuary for "doomed" persons.

Another suggestion connecting Kirklees Priory with the Dumb Steeple comes from Taylor Dyson in his book The History of Huddersfield. He points out that there are many instances of steeples built within the precincts of monastic premises but away from the main buildings. The name, Dyson suggests, could have arisen because the steeple had no bell and was, therefore, dumb.

Later writers, including Philip Ahier, disagree with the sanctuary theory. Kirklees Priory was, in fact, a small and not very rich nunnery. Ahier, says, "Such privileges (as sanctuary) were usually granted to Abbeys, Monasteries and kindred male institutions." He also points out that there is no reference in the charters of Kirklees Priory to the precincts of the priory ever having been used for that purpose.

Ahier's own theory discounts any connection between the Priory and the obelisk. He believes that, "the original pillar may have been erected to define the limits of several townships and parishes which converge in its vicinity viz., Mirfield, Clifton and Hartshead." If it was a boundary post then the name 'Dumb Steeple' might be a corruption of "Domini Stapulus" meaning lord's post, the pillar set up on the boundary of his estates by a feudal lord.

Yet another theory has been presented by members of the Mirfield Civic Society who recently set up the blue tablet on the wall behind the obelisk. This says that the Dumb Steeple was "built around the 1760s and may have replaced an earlier structure that stood as a guide post to the Cowford." Going off at a slight tangent, it is interesting that the name "Stapleford", found in several parts of England, means 'ford marked by posts' from the Old English words "stapol" (pillar of wood or stone) and "ford" (river crossing). Places so named would have had either a dangerous ford where the crossing needed to be marked or a ford that needed to be pointed out because its position was not obvious from the road. This idea, then, accounts for the "steeple" element in the name but if it is correct we have to question why "Cowford" never became "Stapleford". Perhaps the answer lies in the distance between the stapol and the ford.

A final point needs to be made. In 1719 John Warburton, an eminent surveyor and map maker, surveyed in some detail the roads in these parts but he makes no mention of the Dumb Steeple, nor is it shown on Jefferey's map of 1772. Of course, the most likely explanation is that the usually meticulous map makers merely overlooked the obelisk. On the other hand, it could mean that the present structure was not erected before 1772 and did not replace an earlier one.

In the end, we must say that whatever its history, whatever its purpose, whatever its age the Dumb Steeple is well named for so far as facts go, as opposed to theories, all is silence.

Historic England Listing

  • Grade II
  • first listed 12 January 1967
  • listing entry number 1184400
The Dumb Steeple. Obelisk. Probably late C.18. Square stone column in 3 reducing stages, surmounted by large ball finial. The upper stage has a recess on 2 opposing faces, possibly for plaque. In April 1812, 150 Luddites met here for their abortive attack on Cartwright's Mill at Rawfolds, Liversedge. Known as 'Dumb' because no bells were ever hung there. Recently moved slightly for road alterations.


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Dumb Steeple, Cooper Bridge


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This page was last modified on 18 January 2018 and has been edited by Dave Pattern.

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