Tales along the Packhorse Way
Hebden Bridge History Society meeting report.
Speaker: John Billingsley
Monday, 18 January 2016
As they crossed the Pennines between Burnley and Halifax the old Packhorse men were guided on their way by the Packhorse Litany, and John Billingsley used the old rhyme to take his audience at the Hebden Bridge Local History Society on a journey across the hills. John is the author of six books on local folklore, and has collected many of the tales told about the places passed along the Long Causeway, this 'bleak and comfortless road.'
Burnley for ready money,
Mereclough nooa trust,
Yo tekken a peep at Stirperden,
But Ca'at Kebs yo must.
BlackshawYed for travellers,
An Heptonstall for trust,
Hepton Brig for landladies,
And Midgely on the Moor.
Luddenden's a warm shop,
Roylehead's varry cold,
And if yo go to Halifax
Yo mun bi varry bold.
Many of the stories seem to feature encounters with the devil or his creatures, with ghosts, love, sex and murder also contributing to the entertainment.
Burnley might have been the place for 'ready money' but also had a story of St Peter's pigs, who wrecked work on the new church by moving materials to a new site – whether their message was 'from God or something else' the church was built in the spot they preferred. The devil also made an appearance as Striker, a huge black dog with red eyes, who could terrify travellers in Lancashire, but was himself scared off by Yorkshire folk! Making the climb from Mereclough you might hear of deals with the devil, or the romantic story of Maiden Cross, where the ghost of a young woman whose lover was lost in the Civil War would wait for him to return.
Stiperden was border country between Lancashire and Yorkshire, and borders were also believed to be the threshold to a third dimension. This superstition led to the heads of beasts which had died of sickness being taken here in the hope that the disease would be carried away. Kebs was the familiar name of the Sportsman's Arms which had its own ghost lady in a long dress. Ghost stories persist, and sightings of Blackshaw Head's ghost dog walker, known as Ernest, have been reported right up to modern times.
Hebden Bridge's landladies offered a night's rest for the travellers, as well as an opportunity for fighting between the lads of Halifax and Heptonstall who would traditionally meet for a rumble at the foot of the Buttress, close to the bridge where the Roundheads and Cavaliers clashed.
More stories arise from the moorland landscape of Midgley: the suicide buried without rites who refused to rest in peace, and the milk maid who lost her way on the moors and died near the stoop which was then named Churn Milk Joan. Luddenden offered hospitality at the Lord Nelson, famous both for being the first lending library and for being Bramwell Bronte's local.
Fear of Halifax was probably justified, as the home of the Gibbet. Lack of a qualified hangman meant that the town got permission to use its own guillotine to execute those who offended. It was argued that having valuable cloth stretched out in the tenter fields made Halifax merchants particularly susceptible to theft, and a deterrent was necessary. Inevitably there are gruesome stories, one recorded by Daniel Defoe, of what happened when the head went flying off.
We can all appreciate a good gory story on a cold winter's night, especially when told with such vitality and humour. We might dismiss them as a just 'little bit Yorkshire', but as John pointed out, these stories form part of our folk culture and history, and many have roots of truth.
The next meeting of Hebden Bridge Local History Society at the Methodist Church Hebden Bridge will be on Wednesday 27th January, starting at 7.30. Peter Jeffery will tell the story of the restoration of the unique Cornholme Organ. All welcome. Please see website for details of other talks.
With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report
Previously, on the HebWeb
Vanishing for the Vote with speaker Jill Liddington (17 Dec 2015)
Widdop and the Shackletons with speaker John Shackleton(1 Dec 2015)
The History of Calrec: part 2 with speaker Stephen Jagger(19 Nov 2015)
What's in a Name: with speakers Keith Stansfield and Barbara Atack. An insight into local dialects and surnames of the Calder Valley. (9 Nov 2015)
The Lost Kingdom of Elmet (1 Nov 2015)
When Oxford University Came to Hebden Bridge (29 Oct 2015)
The dam that isn't and the great floating plug of the Colden (1 April 2015)
Gruelling Experiences - in the workhouse (16 March 2015)
Pre-History on our hill tops (9 March 2015)
Growing up in Sowerby (16 February 2015)
Patterns in the Landscape: the evolution of settlement and enclosure in the Upper Calder Valley (5 February 2015)
Wakefield Court Rolls for Family History: Sylvia Thomas (18 Jan 2015)
Happy Birthday Stoodley Pike: by Nick Wilding (16 Dec 2014)
Wills, Inventories and Economic Activity in the Parish of Halifax at the end of the 17th Century: Alan Petford (30 Nov 2014)
Local History Society Archive explored - Following the 65th AGM, members of Hebden Bridge Local History Society were treated to a sample of some of the treasures to be found in the Society's archive. (19 Nov 2014)
Views from two communities on the outbreak of war in 1914 - Mike Crawford, Wolfgang Hombach and Nick Wilding (27 Oct 2014)
The Listed Buildings of the Hebden Bridge area with Peter Thornborrow. (14 Oct 2014)
Valley of a Hundred Chapels by Amy Binns (29 Sept 2014)
History Group Study Day report: Power and Potability (11 Sept 2014)
Whose land is it anyway? How parliamentary enclosure shaped the landscape of the Calder Valley: speaker, Sheila Graham. Read more (6 April 2014)
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
More history reports in the HebWeb History Section