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History Group Study Day report: Power and Potability

Thursday, 11 September 2014

South Pennines History Group Day School held at the Birchcliffe Centre on Saturday 6 September

It had to be raining of course. The local history enthusiasts were gathered Upstairs@The Birchcliffe for the seventh annual day school to hear from several expert speakers about how water has contributed to the landscape and society of our Pennine communities, and the weather obligingly provided a storm.

Study Day report, Power and Potability

Archaeologist Dave Weldrake explored the social significance of wells, ranging from myths and magical stories, through the seemingly more rational fashion for spas and the strictly utilitarian provision of domestic water.  Many of the legends attached to wells seem to go back no further than a fashion for folklore in the nineteenth century, with little documentary or archaeological evidence to link them to earlier times.

There was perhaps an element of magic in the belief in the healing powers of water which led to the fashion for plunge baths and spa resorts. Water for utilitarian purposes undoubtedly shaped the landscape, with hilltop settlements clustering around the lines of springs and wells, pumps and troughs still to be seen in the landscape.

Water as a source of power in the Calder Valley was the theme of Justine Wyatt's talk, from the earliest corn and fulling mills of the 14th century to the provision of power for the textile industry and today's alternative technologies. The complex engineering involved in exploiting this great natural resource is a reminder of how important water was to the industrial development of the South Pennines, and the landscape still carries the evidence of this spectacular growth.

Victor Khadem looked at the significance of water in Medieval times. He referred to place-name and other evidence that suggested water was associated with the supernatural, but also showed how the sophisticated exploitation of water was not an invention of the industrial revolution, with streams channelled and diverted to serve some Saddleworth settlements back in the 12th century.

The larger more centralised populations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century required water on a grander scale. Norman Redhead of the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service looked at the impact of the network of reservoirs built in the hills surrounding Oldham. High rainfall and deep cloughs made the construction of reservoirs in this area very attractive. The resulting dramatic changes to the landscape included the disappearance and depopulation of the upland hamlets, diverted roads and the magnificent engineering excellence of the structures built by gangs of imported 'navvy' labour.

The life of the navvies was explored more closely by Ann Kilbey, who told the story of 'Dawson City' at Heptonstall where the navvies who built Walshaw Dean reservoirs were housed. These men led a nomadic existence, but Dawson City provided them with homes for their families, a school and even a small hospital. Eventually, the men moved on, leaving the landscape changed forever. The evocative photographs of men and machines bring to life an extraordinary era in the ambitious exploitation of this ordinary natural resource.

'Power in the Landscape' by Justine Wyatt and 'City in the Hills' by Ann Kilbey and Corinne McDonald are available locally.

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

Local History website

Previously, on the HebWeb

Whose land is it anyway? How parliamentary enclosure shaped the landscape of the Calder Valley: speaker, Sheila Graham. Read more (6 April 2014)

Yorkshire Life between the Wars: speaker, Ian Dewhirst. Read more (20 March 2014)

Industrialisation and the Calder Valley: Communities in a unique landscape - Talk by Dr Stephen Caunce Read more (3 March 2014)

Quarrying in Calderdale: George Bowers gave a talk on the history of stone quarries in our local area. Read more (15 Feb)

Calder Valley Buildings of the Seventeenth Century: the craftsmen and their patrons Read more (27 Jan)See Small Ads (12 March)

Some thoughts on historic buildings and their repairs by Alan Gardner

Anne Kirker tells of Sam Hill of Making Place, Soyland Read more (22 Dec)

Local History Talk: A Postcard from Sunny Bunce's, a local destination that became known as the playground of the north. Read more

Withens Reservoir, the subject of the latest Local History Talk, was part of a fascinating story . . . not so much Cragg Vale's reservoir as the property of distant Morley. Read more (19 Nov)

Local History talk on Witchcraft in the Upper Calder Valley: As make-believe witches come knocking on our doors John Billingsley, folklorist and author of many books on the subject, told members of the Local History Society that to our ancestors witchcraft was very real indeed. More info (27 Oct)

Local History talk on Mytholmroyd's Moderna: Joan Laprell spoke to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society where she recalled the village within a village that was the Moderna Blanket Factory in Mytholmroyd, where she worked for ten years. More info (12 Oct)

Local History talk on maps: The first meeting of the new season of lectures for the Hebden Bridge Local History Society was launched by Tony Morris speaking about the history of maps and map-making as well as cartographic crime. More info (30 Sept)

Bridge Mill: History on our doorstep. Justine Wyatt, with the support of the mill's current owner David Fletcher, has uncovered more of the story of the building, and gave a fascinating talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. Read more (3 April)

Working from home in 1825; Working from home is not a new concept, Malcolm Heywood told members of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. William Greenwood's described his several different occupations. Read more (20 March)

The Grave of Robin Hood: mysterious goings-on in Calderdale. Kai Roberts told the local history society about Robin Hood in Calderdale and especially the monument known as Robin Hood’s Grave. Read more (11 March)

Todmorden Weavers and the Great War. Alan Fowler, former lecturer in Economic and Social History, told a meeting of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society that the local Weavers’ Association had 4000 members at its peak. Read more (19 Feb)

Our Railway Station in the 19th century. David Taylor told a meeting of the Local History Society about how the early railway developed in Hebden Bridge. Read more (28 Jan)

Untold Stories: A glimpse into the lives of local people - Tony Wright has for the past ten years been collecting personal life stories on film and audio tape. Read more (18 Jan)

City in the Hills - Corinne McDonald and Ann Kilbey told a meeting of the Local History Society of Dawson City, the building of the Walshaw Dean Reservoirs and the publication of a new book. Read more (16 Dec)

Lament for the Mills - Robert Cockcroft, poet and academic told of his childhood spent close to mills owned and operated by his grandfather, John Cockcroft and his father, Keith. Read more (2 Dec)

How much thought do you give to a war memorial? - Mike Edwards told a meeting of the Local History Society, war memorials can be found in many forms and in unusual places. Read more (17 Nov)

Clubhouses: self help and co-operation - A small row of houses in Old Town, called Clubhouses, encapsulates some of the history and spirit of the Calder Valley explains Julie Cockburn. (30 October 2012)

Small Town Saturday Night - The story of a love affair with rock 'n roll at its peak in the 1950s and 60s from speaker Trevor Simpson.

The world of Cornelius Ashworth, speaker Alan Petford, Local History talk of 10 October 2012

Hebden Bridge Local History Society

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