Centre of the Industrial Revolution
The Colne Valley was the centre of the Industrial Revolution in Yorkshire. The land and its inhabitants have “enjoyed” a colourful, often turbulent, history having passed from landowner to landowner down the centuries. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal follows the River Colne along the length of the valley and is, itself, followed along the north side of the valley by the main Leeds to Manchester railway line; while the old main road between Leeds and Oldham follows the south side of the valley (the bulk of the Yorkshire – Lancashire traffic now passes along the M62 Motorway). A journey along road, rail or canal affords tremendous views of the hillsides and villages as you work your way up the valley to the rail and canal tunnels at Standedge above Marsden.
D’you know, before my time out (if you’ve been with me from the start you’ll know that I went off for five years to “see something of the world” before finding myself back in Yorkshire – click here to satisfy your curiosity about me) I had never been to the Colne Valley – although it was right here on my doorstep! Now that I live in one of its villages I think it’s a great place to be. And I’m sure you’ll love it too!
Luddites and Industrial Revolution…
The villages grew up along the valley floor, around the mills that were being built to take advantage of the plentiful flow of water to drive the newly invented machinery. The mills in the Colne Valley were at the forefront of the rapidly developing Industrial Revolution. You’ve no doubt heard of the Luddites and their attempts to destroy the newly introduced machinery.
Were they justified?
Of course, in those days there were no social security or sickness payments. So, if a man was thrown out of work, he and his family would be reduced to abject poverty and likely starved – a pretty clear incentive to try and protect your livelihood! Harsh measures were introduced by the Prime Minister of the time, Lord Liverpool, culminating in a mass trial at York in 1813. This resulted in executions and transportation of many of the Luddites.
Constant improvements to the transport systems through the Colne Valley were essential. Ever increasing quantities of raw materials were needed to fuel the insatiable appetite for finished products. More and more people toiled for long hours to keep all manner of goods on the move. The need to satisfy huge appetites and quench searing thirsts saw the creation of numerous wayside inns. One such establishment thrives to this day. Located on top of the Pennines, on the main A62 road, The Great Western Inn has been a welcome sight for travellers since 1836. Built above the Standedge Tunnel, its purpose was to provide refreshment for boatmen as they carried goods over the hill from Marsden before reloading at Diggle for the onward journey into Lancashire and beyond.
Nowadays you’ll find the Colne Valley, once away from its lively villages, a peaceful haven with many places of natural beauty.
You can walk – or cycle – the entire length of the valley easiest by using the canal towpath (the track along the edge of the canal, once trodden by heavy horses as they towed barges laden with mill products). The distance from Huddersfield to the Standedge Tunnel at the head of the valley is just eight miles. Perhaps you could walk one way and take the train or bus the other? Cafes and restaurants in the villages along the way are friendly places to grab a bite to eat. For a fuller description of the Colne Valley Walk, Click Here…
Some of the villages have quirky stories of folklore that are kept alive today by local festivals.
Marsden, at the head of the Colne Valley, is a thriving community with cafes, pubs, mills and churches. You might recognise some of its picturesque streets. They have been used as film sets for both the long running TV comedy “Last Of The Summer Wine” and the TV drama series “Where The Heart Is”.
You may hear Marsden being called Bellas Town by the locals. Why? You may ask yourself! Well, it seems it was so named after a rather notorious man of the cloth. In 1779, he was entrusted with the spiritual well-being of the inhabitants of Marsden. Being somewhat lax in his religious duties, the Rev. Lancelot Bellas was more often to be found in the tap room of the local pub than in the church of his care.
Should you be around these parts in late April you may be lucky enough to join in the celebrations of Marsden Cuckoo Day. Around this time the cuckoos arrive – signifying the start of spring and summer. The folks of Marsden determined that in order to prolong these fairer seasons they would build a wall around the cuckoo – to prevent it flying away. Sadly the cuckoo still flew away. However, it was decided the wall was just too low and next year they would add an extra layer of bricks to the wall! Any excuse for a celebration!
Slaithwaite, the next village down the Colne Valley is not to be outdone in the folk story stakes. Its good people celebrate the Festival of the Moonrakers. Village legend has it that in the early 1800s much smuggling was carried out along the canal. The smugglers were caught by the excise men trying to gather up their contraband with long rakes.
“Can’t you see officer!” they explain. “Surely you can see the moon has fallen into the water. We’re trying to rescue it!”
Slaithwaite has its share of mills and houses a very industrious community.