The History of Huddersfield and the Valleys of the Colne, the Holme and the Dearne (1906) - Chapter I

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Table of Contents for The History of Huddersfield and the Valleys of the Colne, the Holme and the Dearne (1898):


CHAPTER I.

Odersfelt — The source and course of the Colne — Of the Holme and Dearne — Natural Aspects — The Woods — Robin Hood and Kirklees — Place Names — Family Names — The Brigantes — Roman Altar — Celtic Evidences — Celtic Customs — Religion — The Druids — Rocking Stones — Celtic Land Tenure — Celtic Survivals in Speech — The Roman Settlement — Altar to Fortuna — Excavations at Slack — Picts — Scots — Danes — Saxons — Evidences of Local Saxon and Dane Settlements — Saxon Land Tenure — Introduction of Christianity — Paulinus — St. Guthlac.

AUTHORITIES :— Mayhall : Annals of Yorkshire ; Rhys : Celtic Britain ; Hughes : History of Meltham ; Morehouse : History of Kirkburton ; Sykes : History of Colne Valley ; Yorks. Topographical and Archaeological Journal ; Hulbert : Annals of the Church in Slaithwaite ; Lucan : Pharsalia ; Caesar : Commentaries ; Macdonnell : The Land Question ; Skeat : Etymological Dictionary ; Huddersfield Chronicle ; Bede : Ecclesiastical History ; Green : Short History of the English People.

Any person whom inclination has led or duty constrained to make himself acquainted with any considerable number of the published works, by various authors, purporting to be what are conveniently styled local, as distinguished from national, histories, cannot but have been impressed by a certain uniformity of method and treatment observable in those writings. The works referred to vary, no doubt, in many respects : in lucidity of style, in symmetry of arrangement, and in the degree of success attained in the effort to identify, in some measure, local records with the general life of the country at large ; for, after all, a nation, in some aspects, is but a congeries of localities. But it is a fact not without its significance that all, or well-nigh all, of the tomes consecrated to local history, however they may differ in the particulars I have indicated, agree in the prominence given to the genealogical records of manorial lords, especially if those territorial magnates are of noble family or alliance, and in the amplitude with which the annals of the various churches of the Established Faith are set forth. The writers of those contributions to the topographical literature of the country would seem to have been, with remarkable unanimity, imbued with the idea that the history of a town or district has been fully narrated when the story of its manorial lords has been set forth, and that enough has been said of the spiritual strivings of its people when the careers of its successive incumbents have been described. Under such treatment the history of a town becomes largely a magnified family tree, a long drawn-out threnody o'er departed greatness, or an amplified Church Calendar. The writer of these pages must plead guilty to having somewhat too slavishly, in previous essays of historical pretensions, followed too closely what he is now convinced were precedents better disregarded and examples it had been wiser to have shunned. And for this there was the less excuse, because, whatever may have been the case in other parts of the country, it will appear from what ensues in this history that the people of Huddersfield and of the valleys that there converge have been largely the makers of their own fortunes, and owe little of what prosperity and well-being they have achieved to the exertions of the owners of the soil; and that, however profound and far-reaching may have been the influence of the Anglican Church in the district with which this work is concerned, few of those competent to express an opinion upon the subject will gainsay the fact that other communions have exercised an influence not less extensive, and, one may hope, not less beneficial. The writer, therefore, holds himself justified if these pages be found to be little concerned with the births and marriages and deaths of those whose names figure in Debrett; if there be little in his narrative of heraldic pomp and blazonry and little to gratify the tastes of those who derive a curious pleasure in observing from afar the glories of the highly placed. The aim of the author is rather to trace the gradual evolution of the general people of the hills and vales endeared to him by a thousand tender associations from the rude beginnings faintly limned in the earliest records to that measure of social, political, economic, and religious fulness of life and achievement they now enjoy; a measure which, rich and generous though some may count it, seems but the seed and promise of a richer and fairer heritage in the future.

The ancient town of Odersfelt had its small beginnings hard by the confluence, near King's Mill Lane, of two streams, the Colne and the Holme. Of the former of these one slender tributary, the Red Brook, springs near the foot of Pule Hill, hard by the Great Western Inn, and flowing into the Colne Valley, is joined at Blake Lea, in the parish of Marsden, by another stream, Marsh Haigh Brook, whose source is near what was once the Buck Inn at Buckstones. The united waters, coursing in a north-easterly direction, meet, at Snailhorn Bridge, near the Swan Inn, in Marsden, still another stream that descends the hills from Wessenden ; so that the river alike in its sources and its course may be traced by a succession of ancient hostels. The united waters, constituting the River Colne, joined, before their conflux with the sister stream, by many a brook or dyke, notably by the Golcar Brook at Crimble and the Longwood Brook at Milns- bridge, flow down a valley bounded on either side by undulating heights, whose rugged formation would seem to indicate an angry sea of lava chilled into adamantine rock ; on the left bank rise Buckstones, Dean, Laverock Hill, Dry Stroke, Uckhill, Cat Holes, Cop Hill, and Scapegoat Hill; on the right bank Wessenden, Acre Head, Scout, Shooter's Nab, Chain, Lingard's Wood, and Crosland Hill.

The rivers Holme and Dearne, rising on Harden Moss, and flowing for awhile in parallel courses, traverse the ancient Graveship of Holme. The Holme sweeps in rapid stream by Holmebridge, Hinchliffe Mill, Holmfirth, Thongsbridge, Honley, and Armitage Bridge ; the Dearne waters the pleasant pastures of Shelley, Shepley, and Kirkburton, and the course of the Holme and Dearne alike is to be traced by hills and dales richly wooded, and affording to the appreciative eye rare glimpses of sylvan beauty; the scenery less harsh and rugged than that which marks the course of the sister river Colne.

It is probable that Sherwood Forest, world-famous from the exploits of Robin Hood and his "merrie men," stretched in unbroken sweep to the district with which these pages are concerned. It is, of course, matter of ancient and familiar tradition that the popular outlaw found sanctuary in his last hours at Kirklees Priory, within an easy walk of Huddersfield, and there died and was buried, as witness the inscription on the stone that marks his grave :—

Hear underneath dis laitl stean
  Lay Robert, Earl of Huntington,
Ne'er arci'r ver as hie sa guid,
  An pipl kauld him Robin Hood ;
Sick utlauz az he an iz men
  Vill England nivre si agen.
  Obiit 24 Kal. Dekembris 1247[1]

On might cite many facts in proof of the wooded character of the district in bygone days. The lord of the manor of Saddleworth, in the twelfth century, gave tithe of his forest of Sadelworth to the mother church of St. Chad at Rochdale ; ancient charters speak of the "free chase of Holmfirth" ; old deeds of the lord's hunting- ground at Marsden and of Deanhead Chase, and the Dog Kennels hard by, where legend says the huntsman visiting the kennels in his nightdress was devoured by his own dogs. Not only on the moorside, but in the very heart of Huddersfield, at the right-hand corner of the top of King Street, as you face the east, the stumps of oak trees of great girth have been found deep embedded in the soil. It is probable that the forest giants that once spread their branches in these valleys perished in the great "Wasting of the North" by William the Conqueror, when it was said that king left nothing standing that could be destroyed and nothing alive that could be killed.

The streams that flowed through the green glades were clear, and quick with fish, the woods abounded in game for the hunter's shaft and snare. Many local names remain to remind us of the former character of the district now so populous, its natural beauties sacrificed to the insistent needs of man : Wooldale (Wolf-dale) — the last wolf in this neighbourhood is said to have fallen to the spear of John O' Gaunt, in the days of Edward III.[2] — Deer Hill, Doe Hill, Stag Hill, Wolf Stones, Fox Royd, Wild-boarley (Wilberlee), Brockholes, Badger Gate, Buck-stones, and many others the reader's memory will supply, are eloquent of the days when men subsisted by the chase. Nay, the very surnames most rife in the district are significant of its natural rural aspects in olden days. Surnames are a comparatively modern invention. Men, aforetime, were distinguished merely by their Christian or baptismal names, just as in Biblical days men and women were known merely as Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Rebecca, Sampson, Delilah, Joseph, Mary, and so forth. But as the population swelled, and there were many Johns and Williams in every hamlet, some further mark became necessary, and one device was to add to the baptismal name the name of a man's homestead or residence ; hence we get our Brooks (e.g., John-by-the-Brook), Cloughs, Ramsdens, Sugdens (sike-dene), Deans (a dean, dene, or den, was a hollow in the hills), Shaws, Haighs (Shaw and Haigh are old names for a wood), Sykeses (a syke is a rivulet), Thorpes (a hamlet), Balmforths (a baum-ford, or foaming stream), and others.

The earliest inhabitants of these wild and mountainous regions with whom history acquaints us, were a Celtic race, akin to those descendants of our British ancestors who still people Wales and Cornwall — the Brigantes, a name derived by Mr. Rhys[3] from the stem brigant, meaning noble, free, unconquered ; and that the people of these regions have ever been "kittle cattle to shoe," or, in other words, being hard to brand with the seal of submission or subjection, their political, religious, and social records abundantly establish.

The most decisive proof of the occupation of this district by the Brigantes is to be found in the Roman altar discovered in September, 1896, in Longwood, and which the curious may see in Greenhead Park, whither it has been transferred. The altar bears the inscription :—

DEO
S. BRIGANT.
ET N. AUG.
T.AUR. QUINTUS.
D. D. P. ET. SS.

Abbreviations which, probably would represent : Deo Sancto Brigantum et Numini Augusti, Titus Aurelius, Quintus, decreto Decurionum, Posuit et Suscoptum Solvit ; or, in our own tongue : "To the Holy God of the Brigantes and to the divinity of the Emperor, Titus Aurelius Quintus, by decree of the Decurions, has placed [this altar] and [so] fulfilled his vow [or undertaking]." Under what circumstances the vow was made and what it was we can but conjecture. Titus Aurelius was probably a Roman lieutenant in command of the fourth cohort of the Breuci, Pannonian (Hungarian) auxiliaries pressed into the service of the Imperial City and stationed in Slack in Outlane during the time of the Roman occupancy of Briton, of which more hereafter. It is possible that the altar may have been dedicated to the war-god of the Brigantes with some idea of placating that warlike tribe, or perchance in grateful memory of supposed assistance from that minor diety, in the same spirit that, centuries later, moved Walter de Laci to erect the Parish Church of Huddersfield in fulfilment of a vow made by him when in deadly peril from a morass that lay between that town and Halifax.

Various implements and parts of weapons supposed to be Celtic have at various times been discovered in the vicinity of Huddersfield ; at Cupwith Hill, under a bed of peat, varying from three to nine feet in depth, knives of white and black flint, scrapers of the same material, supposed to have been used in the dressing of the skins of animals, of which the aborigines made themselves rude garments, arrow-points, and spear or javelin heads, all of flint. The reader will scarce need to be reminded that weapons of flint preceded those made of iron. British celts or battle-axes of stone have also been unearthed near Buckstones, near the entrance gates of Woodsome Hall, at Pike Law, above Meal Hill, at High Flatts, at Stone Folds, and at Marsh Hill, in the township of Denby.[4] A Celtic kestvaen, or place of interment, was discovered by Dr. Walker, near Blackmoorfoot,[5] and in August, 1896, three Celtic vases, or urns, containing incinerated human remains, on Pule Hill.[6] According to Julius Caesar, who, in the year B.C. 55, made a descent upon our island, but whose observations were necessarily somewhat hasty and superficial, these Celtic forbears of ours must, some two thousand years ago, have been little advanced in civilization. At a time so little remote from our own, when Rome and Greece had already given to the world masterpieces of art and literature, our own country, if Caesar is to be relied upon, was sunk in savagery and superstition. " From Caesar we learn that the natives were entirely ignorant of, or disdained or found no need to practise, the commonest agricultural arts. They cultivated no cereals. They grazed their cattle upon the pastures, and their herds of swine doubtless found succulent nourishment in the acorns that fell from the spreading oak. Milk and flesh and fish were their diet. They dwelt in huts of simple structure, whose earth- floors were doubtless strewed with reeds or heather. The smoke of their fires escaped through a hole in the roof, or by the doorway. They lay upon the skins of the animals they had slain in the chase, and these skins, too, were their clothes by day. This in the rigour of winter time. In the summer this dress was disregarded, and the lithe and sinewy Britons strode their native heath encumbered by no clothing beyond that exacted by modesty, if by that. They wore the hair long flowing on their stalwart shoulders, but disdained the beard. They appear to have had no marriage ceremony, and one man might have many wives, captive often of his bow and spear." Indeed, Caesar asserts that a man might have ten or twelve wives, and that parents and brothers owned their wives in common. "Their priests were the Druids" — a name derived from the Greek drus, an oak, upon which grew the sacred mistletoe, our use of which at Christmas-time is a Druidic survival — "and there were fearsome sacrifices to the gods. The Druids concerned themselves about divine affairs, looked after public and private sacrifices, and interpreted omens. They gave judgment in all public and private disputes ; if any crime had been committed, any murder done, had there been any quarrel about an inheritance or boundaries, they determined it, they fixed the rewards and penalties. If any individual or State proved recalcitrant, the punishment was interdiction from the religious ceremonies. This punishment was hardest of all. A man under this ban was held as impious and criminal. All shunned him ; no one went near him or spoke to him ; he was as though smitten of the plague ; he was outside the pale of the law ; every consideration was denied him.[7] The Druids usually did not engage in the wars ; they did not pay taxes; they enjoyed immunity from military service. Many disciples flocked to them. Parents sent their children to them. Their teaching was oral, their lessons conveyed in verses that took many years to learn by heart. It was a sin to commit these to writing. This was their cardinal doctrine : that the souls of men did not perish with the body, but were transmitted to others."

Lucan, in the Pharsalia, thus apostrophised the Druids :

You teach that souls, eased of their mortal load,
Nor with grim Pluto make their dark abode,
Nor wander in pale troops along the silent flood,
But in new regions cast, resume their reign,
Content to govern earthly forms again.
Thus death is nothing but the middle line
Betwixt what lives, will come, and what has been.
Happy the people by your charms possessed !
Nor fate, nor fears disturb their peaceful breast :
On certain dangers unconcerned they run,
And meet with pleasure what they would not shun ;
Defy death's slighted power, and bravely scorn
To spare a life that will so soon return.

The Druids were greatly concerned in the study of the stars and the motions of the heavenly bodies, studying the magnitude of the world and of countries, the nature of things, and the immortality and power of the gods. As for sacrifices, they conceived the lives of criminals to be peculiarly acceptable to the gods, and these they burned alive, so also the captives of the sword, holding that only by a life for a life could the immortals be placated. They worshipped particularly the god Wodin, whom Caesar identified with the Roman Mercury. They worshipped also Apollo and Minerva, the patron deities of the medical art, of science and literature, and Jupiter, the king of all the gods, the god of gods.

The "Rocking" or "Rugging" Stones were supposed to have served as Druid altars. Of these one, up to the year 1827 or 1828, was preserved at Brow Grains, between West Nab and Deer Hill ; another was at Scapegoat Hill, in Golcar.

Of recent years students of sociology and economics have been increasingly interested in the question of ancient land tenures. The formulation of the doctrine that the ownership, as apart and distinguished from the occupancy or usufruct of land, should not be suffered to vest in private individuals; the advocacy of land nationalization by one considerable and growing political party; the tendency among the younger and more earnest members of one of the old historic parties to appropriate that principle piecemeal if they cannot frankly avow it; the urgency given to the question by the depopulation of the agricultural districts and the appalling congestion of urban centres, with the inevitable rise in ground values and residential rents ; all these factors lend to historic enquiries into the tenures that in various ages and under various conditions have prevailed in this country a more than antiquarian interest. It will not be less profitable than instructive to devote an adequate part of these pages to an account of the tenures of the land in this district under the Celts, the Saxons, and the Normans, and to an attempt to show how the general masses of the people have, through ignorance, through supineness, or through weakness, suffered their communal rights to pass into private hands.

As to the form of land tenure among the Celtic residents of this district, and generally throughout Britain in distant times, I recommend to the student who would wish to acquaint himself fully with the subject the careful perusal of Mr. John Macdonnell's treatise on the Land Question.[8] I must content myself with slight extracts from that excellent work.

"What were the oldest forms of property in Britain there is little evidence. Caesar says that the majority of those who lived in the interior did not sow corn. Probably the land, so far as it was cultivated at all, was parcelled out in much the same way in which we find it among various Celtic tribes. We therefore turn to them. In Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland there existed, even in historical times, a form of communism. The Highland clan or sept owned the strath or glen wherein it dwelt. No man held his land in perpetuity, to be disposed of as he might dictate. When a clansman died, his allotment might be divided. The chief was only the officer of the clan ; his post was not necessarily hereditary... The Highlander could not be taught the justice of the feudal idea of property, which connected everyone with some lord. It long remained to the Celt 'hateful and scarcely comprehensible.' "

It would be hard to determine with any degree of assurance to what extent we of this day are indebted to our Celtic forerunners. Are the people of Huddersfield and its environs more Celt than Saxon, more Saxon than Celt ? A hasty pronouncement would probably be wrong. At first blush one would be inclined to say that the great facilities for moving from one location to another have destroyed all racial distinctions. I am not so sure of this. It must not be forgotten that those facilities are of very recent date. It takes more than fifty years to obliterate, even to obscure, the characteristic impress of centuries. I am, for many reasons, disposed to think that there is a strong Celtic strain surviving in the people of this district. One consideration of great weight is that the Saxon settler, of whom more hereafter, would find little to allure him in this comparatively harsh and uninviting region. The Angle was of pastoral habits. He was much more likely to be drawn to the fat meads of the midlands and the south, which assured him of rich grazing for his herds and plenteous crops to reward his husbandry. The dispossessed Celt was welcome to find refuge in the hills and caves. Again, the genius of the people of Huddersfield and the converging valleys is more akin to that of the lively Celt than to that of the phlegmatic Saxon. There is something bovine about your true agriculturist that is lacking in the artizans of the West Riding. Pre-eminence in textile arts in which the toilers of our district excel requires no slight measure of manual dexterity and mental resourcefulness. Your true son of the soil is long and heavy of limb, broad of back, slow of thought, deliberate of speech. His eye is the eye of meditation rather than of observation. But your lad of the Valley of the Colne or the Holme or the Dearne is quick of eye and thought, rather too quick, of speech. He has the ready adaptability to change which characterises the Celt. He is emotional, and the poetry within him finds vent in his attachment to music, vocal and instrumental. There will be occasion later to record the distinction gained in the melodious arts by sons and daughters of this district.

The common speech of our people—not the laboured utterances of the platform and the pulpit or the writings of men whose diction has been influenced, not wholly for the better, by academic training, but the everyday tongue of the mill, the streets, and the mart, reveals the survival of a surprisingly large number of words of Celtic origin. I append a list, not I think an exhaustive one, of words in general use that suffice to show that, despite Saxon settler, Danish freebooter, and Norman Conqueror, our Celtic tongue bewrayeth us :—[9]

Babe, bad, bald, bannock, bard, barrow, basket, bat, bauble, bicker, block, bludgeon.
Cackle, cog, coil, combe, cradle, crag, crease, crock, croft, crone, cub, cudgel, curd, cut.
Dad, dagger, dandriff, darn, dirk, dock, docket, down, drab, drudge, dudgeon, dun, dune.
Ernest.
Fun.
Gag, glen, glib, goggle-eyed, gown, griddle, grounds, gull, gun, gyves.
Hassock.
Ingle.
Jannock, jug, job, jog.
Kail, kibe (a chilblain), kick, knack, knave, knick-knack, kob, knock, knoll, knob, knuckle.
Lad, lag, lass, lawn, loop, lubber.
Mattock, merry, mirth, mug.
Nap, nape, noggin, nook.
Pack, pang, pat, peak, pert, pet, pick, pie, piggin, pike, pitch, plod, pock, pod, poke, pony, pool, posset, pother, potter, poor, pout, prong, prop, prowl (?), prick, pricker, pudding (?), puddle, pug, put.
Quaff, quibble, quip, quirk.
Racket, riband, rub.
Shog, skein, skip, slab, slough, snag, spate, spill, stab.
Tack, tether, twig.
Welt, wheal.
And indirectly : Clutter, crowd, flannel, flimsey, flummery, hawk, maggot.

Allusion has already been made to the invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar, B.C. 55. It does not come within the scope of this work to dwell upon the incidents of the Roman subjugation of this country. It is highly improbable that the conquerors had much to do with this neighbourhood beyond making through it a road connecting York and Manchester and establishing on that road a station for a small garrison to keep the highway and possibly collect the imposts. So far back as 1736 a Roman altar, dedicated to the goddess Fortune, had been discovered at Slack, in Outlane, amongst the ruins of a building manifestly composed of Roman bricks, many of which are yet to be seen in the common fence walls of that neighbourhood. The inscription on the altar ran : "Fortunae Sacrum Caius Antonius Modestus, Centurio, Legionis Sextae Victricis, Posuit et votum solvit, lubens merito : ' Sacred to the goddess FORTUNE, Caius Antonius Modestus, Centurion of the victorious Sixth Legion, has placed [this altar] and [so] fulfilled his vow, rejoicing with good reason.' " One has only to let the imagination revel for a brief while, and one sees in the minds's eye the bleak mountainous district of Slack, a region of gloomy solitude traversed only by sheep runs, and on its fringe the great road along which at long intervals marched the Roman legions or sped the chariots of some haughty proconsul and his train. And at Slack, solitary in the solitude, the small camp with its handful of soldiers and their centurions, keeping watch and ward over a population widely scattered in the woods and caves, a people of strange, barbarous speech, fierce-eyed, and bitterly resentful of the foreign yoke ; widely scattered, but apt in the dark November nights to steal through the forests to an appointed spot and swift and unexpected as an eagle from its heights to burst upon the soldiers in their camp and put to sword and flame. Was it for victory on some such night attack that Caius the Centurion, roused in mid night by the din of onslaught, grasping buckler and short-sword, and rushing to rally his men, vowed the altar to the goddess who proved so kind.

More than a century after the discovery of the altar to Fortune, the Rev. J. K. Walker, of Dean Head, in Slack, discovered there the remains of a Roman hypocaust, or arched chamber, in which a fire might be kindled for the purpose of heating the room above it, and evidently used in connection with a set of Roman baths. The Romans of those days, if not godly, were at least cleanly.

In October, 1865, the Huddersfield Archaeological and Topographical Society, an association formed in 1863, for "the preservation and illustration of the ancient monuments, history, and customs of our ancestors, also to collate and transcribe ancient charters, deeds, and documents, with the ulterior view of employing them as material for a compilation of the history and topography of this locality," made extensive explorations at Slack. The excavations, which involved an expense of over £1,000, revealed the foundations of a large building, with external walls 68ft. long by 56ft. wide and 2ft. thick ; of another floor, resting on pillars, 25ft. by 20ft.; of the floor of a bath, 15ft. by 8ft. The bricks and tiles used in the construction were excellent, and had been made with great skill and care, and on some of them were found stamped the letters and figures COH. IIII, BRE, probably meaning the fourth cohort of that legion (of the Breuci) whom I have mentioned as garrisoning this district. The remains found at Slack point to the existence there of the baths attached to what we should now call the barracks.

The discovery excited both interest and debate in achaeological circles, reviving the ancient and still unsettled controversy as to the site of the Roman settlement, Cambodunum, fixed by Camden (Britannia) at Almond- bury, a conjecture not now adopted by antiquarians of authority. The secretary of the local Association, the Rev. George Lloyd, in a paper read before that body shortly after the discovery, indulged in a not unwarranted, if somewhat exaggerated, strain of gratulation. "The excavations (at Slack) now hold a prominent part in the transactions of our Association and has (sic) become a work of interest for all England. If the Huddersfield Archaeological and Topographical Association were now to wind up its affairs and dissolve, it has left a name, through that one work, which will never cease to reflect a high honour upon our exertions. Our once local society has got a wide-world fame, and is found enrolled in the historic records of our day."[10]

In addition to the traces of buildings several Roman coins were found ; two silver denarii and many bronze pieces. The denarii are of the reigns of Vespasian (A.D. 70-79) and Nerva (A.D. 96-98), and the period covered by the coins is from the year of our Lord 71 to 114, and they had probably been the property of the soldiers who came to Britain with Hadrian. Whilst on this subject omission should not be made of a discovery of Roman coins made by a labourer in a field in Thurstonland, and some of which are described by Mr. Morehouse in a work from which I shall have frequent occasions to quote, and to which I must refer the reader desirous of more detailed information.

The Roman occupation of Britain ceased some four hundred and seventy years after the first landing of Julius Caesar B.C. 55. The Imperial City was stormed by the Goths, and the legions scattered throughout the known world were withdrawn for home defence, the garrisons in this country among the rest. Their withdrawal was the signal for the inroads of neighbouring peoples, who had probably cast longing eyes upon the fat pastures of our land, but had been held back by the Roman legions. The Picts and Scots from the north and west swarmed down upon the hapless Celts, who, in reliance on the Roman power, seem to have lost their pristine virtues, and "bore down all before them, like men mowing ripe corn." The men of the race of Cymbeline and of Boadicea sent piteous entreaties for help to Rome,[11] promising perpetual subjection ; but Rome was herself sore beset, and could only counsel the Britons to "handle their weapons like men and undertake themselves the charge of engaging their enemies, who would not prove too powerful for them, unless they were deterred by cowardice." In despair, the British turned for help to the Angles, dwellers in the district now called Sleswick, in the heart of the peninsula which parts the Baltic from the Northern Seas, then a wild waste of heather and sand, girt along the coast with sunless woodland, broken here and there by meadows which crept down to the marshes and the sea.[12] One can understand how alluring to such people must have been the rich lands of southern, western, and midland England ; but no such temptation assail them to adventure large settlements in the grim and forbidding defiles of the Pennine Range, and the aborigines of this district were probably little molested, so long as they accepted submissively the rule of the new invaders ; though it is clear from many of our place names that Saxon thanes had erected their homesteads in our midst. The old rhyme says :—

In Ford, in Ham, in Ley, in Ton
The most of English surnames run.

and to these must be added burgh, worth, hurst, stead, and others. Thus we have Almond-burgh, Far-town, Dal-ton, Deigh-ton, Nether-ton, Flock-ton, Farn-ley, Brad-ley, Lind-ley, Shel-ley, Shep-ley, Hon-ley, and the lands in the valley of the Holme are largely in the graveship of Holme, graff being the Saxon name of the lord's steward. Saddleworth and Cumberworth derive their names from the Saxon weorthig, a small enclosure.

The Saxons, as every schoolboy knows, were far from being undisturbed in their enjoyment of the country they had won by the sword. They had to fight to keep, and they did not always win when they fought, being glad to buy peace by permitting their assailants to settle in the land. The Danes, who found easy entry into the eastern shores by way of the Humber and the Trent, established themselves in considerable numbers in parts of Yorkshire ; and place names beginning with Kirk (Dan., a church) or ending in by (Dan., a village), in thwaite (Dan., a clearing), in garde (Dan., an enclosure), in thong (Dan., a camp), give sufficient evidence that the sea-rovers founded homes in these parts: Kirk-heaton, Kirk- burton, Fix-by, Quarm-by, Slai-thwaite, Lin-thwaite, Lin-gards, Upper-thong, Nether-thong, Thongs-bridge, Skelman-thorpe, and others that will suggest themselves to the reader.

The system of land tenure prevailing in this district under the Saxons resembled in its main feature that obtaining under the Celts they dispossessed. I quote again from the book of Mr. John Macdonnell : "In the fifth and subsequent centuries there came to England Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, bringing with them their institutions and customs. Describing the Germans of his time, Caesar distinctly states that they did not know fixed property in land; each year there was a redistribution of it among the sept (clan). In his Germania, Tacitus, describing the same people two centuries later, mentions that the soil was at intervals — perhaps no longer annually — divided, a device probably employed to assure equality of value in portions. To England, then, came these Jutes, Saxons, and Angles, and, settling there, they formed, we are told, the pagus, or mark. Among the chief and his followers, or comrades, were parcelled out portions of the soil, to be held in absolute ownership, and known as the edel or allodial land. On the outskirt of the mark, lay the waste, belonging to the community and undivided ... Over this folcland or people's land, no man had more than possessory rights. He could not freely devise his interest. It did not descend to his heirs." We shall see in a later chapter that in Huddersfield and the valleys contiguous there were immense stretches of common land ; and it will be interesting to observe how the rights of the general people have been filched by private greed.

Whatever the views of the reader may be as to the theology, as distinguished from the ethics, of the Christian faith, he will scarcely be prepared to question the statement that the Christian Church has greatly influenced, it would scarce be an exaggeration to claim, shaped and moulded the beliefs and the character, and consequently the actions and destiny, of the people of the district. The Apostle of Northern England was Paulinus, described by one who baptised him in the River Trent as "tall of stature, a little stooping, his hair black, his visage meagre, his nose slender and aquiline, his aspect both venerable and majestic." Paulinus urged the claims of the new religion before the Council of Edwin, King of the land north of the Humber, and thereon a debate ensued (A.D. 627). Coifi, the high-priest of the old cult, being asked by the King to give his opinion, spoke with more than priestly frankness : "I verily declare to you that the religion which we have hitherto professed has, as far as I can learn, no virtue in it. For none of your people has applied himself more diligently to the worship of our gods than I ; and yet there are many who receive greater favours from you, and are more preferred than I, and are more prosperous in all their undertakings. Now if the gods were good for anything they would rather forward me, who have been more careful to serve them. It remains, therefore, that if upon examination you find these new doctrines, which are now preached to us, better and more efficacious, we immediately receive them without delay." One is inclined to wonder whether Paulinus had promised Coifi a bishopric. The reasoning of another who took part in the debate took a more spiritual and worthier turn. "The present life of man, O King, seems to me in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in the winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad. The sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within is safe from the winter storm ; but after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are entirely ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains anything more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed."

It is certain that Paulinus preached at Dewsbury, and there an ancient cross declares :

Hie Paulinus praedicavit et celebravit :

here Paulinus preached and celebrated mass ; and at Dewsbury was founded the mother church of this district, the vicar of the Parish Church of Huddersfield and other churches of this district paying dues to the Vicar of Dewsbury. It is probable that missionaries from Dewsbury pervaded the country round, and it is supposed that where no sacred edifice stood a cross marked the spot at which the priest was wont to minister. Crossland may derive its name from such a circumstance. Canon Hulbert, in the Annals of the Church in Slaithwaite, records that a cross formerly stood at Woodhouse on the east of Huddersfield, and still another at Deanhead in Scammonden, at Cruthill, or Cruxhill — Crosshill — on the site of the existing chapel there.

If there is any reliance to be placed on the conjectures of antiquaries, and I confess I always regard with no little suspicion the surmises of that most imaginative class of writers, Golcar owes its name to the fact that Guthlac, a Saxon saint, preached there. It must be conceded that the village we now term Golcar has been in old records called Gouthalaghscarthes, Guthlagescar, a scar, being defined in the dictionary as "(1) a naked, detached rock ; (2) a cliff, a precipitous bank, a bare and broken place on the side of a hill or mountain" ; clearly a volcanic scar on the face of a hill. It is locally claimed that the bold prominence at the head of Scarr Lane, overlooking the Valley of the Colne, is the spot from which St. Guthlac declared the faith to be heathen. He lived in the latter part of the seventh and the earlier of the eighth centuries (673-714), the scion of a noble family of Mid-Anglia. In his youth, when he is described as "fair-haired, quickwitted, gentle, and refined," he followed the profession of arms, but, divinely called, he entered the priesthood, abjured strong drink, and "traversed the wildest parts of England preaching the faith, penetrating dense forests, crossing dangerous fords and morasses and trackless mountain heights, his life in constant danger from beasts of prey, and the wild aborigines then peopling the midlands and the north." His dress was of the skins of animals ; his food barley bread and water, and that but once a day. Such was Guthlac's reputation for sanctity that in his life the great of all parts of the country undertook toilsome pilgrimage to the little hermitage to which he retired in later life, deeming themselves well rewarded by a touch of his saintly hand, and a blessing from his hallowed lips.


Continue to Chapter II...

Notes and References

  1. The date is obviously incorrect if it be true, as seems likely, that Robin Hood lived in the reign of Edward II. (1307 to 1327)
  2. Mayhall's "Annals of Yorkshire."
  3. See his "Celtic Britain."
  4. Yorks. Top. and Arch. Journal, IX., 255 and 329 ; Sykes, Hist., Colne Valley
  5. Hughes : History of Meltham.
  6. Sykes : History of the Colne Valley, 15.
  7. The historical student will note the parallel in this to the condition of England under the Bull of Excommunication in the reign of John ; and in a lesser degree to that of Ireland under the Boycott of the Land League.
  8. The Land Question : John Macdonnell. Macmillan & Co., 1873.
  9. See Skeat's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, p. 751.
  10. Quoted in Article "History of the Excavations at Slack." "Huddersfield Chronicle," June 26, 1909.
  11. "To Aetius, thrice Consul, the groans of the Britons : the barbarians drive us to the sea, the sea drives us back to the barbarians : between these we are exposed to two sorts of death ; we are either slain or drowned." — Bede's "Ecclesiastical History," p. 24.
  12. Green : "Short History of the English People."


The History of Huddersfield and the Valleys of the Colne, the Holme and the Dearne (1906) - Chapter I

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