Rochdale’s Rooley Moor is a fairly recent name, from the 18th Century, when a Mr Rowley (corrupted later to Rooley) settled on what was to become the Old Moorcock Inn.  Rooley Moor was originally known as Shore Moor, an area that included minor names such as The Ding(e) and Bagden which dates back to medieval times.

Why go to Whalley Abbey?

The abbey owned  so much land in Spotland it even claimed the manorial rights. Over 100 Spotland charters that define Abbey land boundaries are recorded in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey. So, for example  if you wanted to travel north from Smallshaw  to the Abbey you would go via the route of Rooley Moor Road. Why go to the Abbey?  to take wool, the most valuable crop and Medieval England’s vital export. The Abbey was a major distribution centre for wool.

Spotland Township

Rooley Moor Road connects The north of Spotland with the Church and the market in the centre of Rochdale. So if you were in Boarsgeave or Cowpe the line of Rooley Moor Road leads to the Church and market at the centre of your parish. If you look at Greenwood’s 1818 map of Rooley Moor (see References) you don’t have much to choose from! unless you want to make a detour via Whitworth.


To the south is an area known as Catshaw and the road that ran north/south through it was Catley Lane, the original name of Rooley Moor Road. Before the 18th Century the area was known as Shore Moor. Catley Lane is mentioned frequently in the 1626 Rochdale Manor survey, there are three mentions of Catley Lane in the page shown here. CatleyLane203 There is also a 1597 reference (18th Jan) in the Manor Court Rolls, the earliest historical reference found so far. 1597MCRCatleyLane

1418 Reference in Fiswick


Route to the local market

With so many medieval sites close to the line of what was Catley Lane it is hard to believe there was no medieval track to connect them to the nearby medieval borough of Rochdale. This medieval borough (burgage plots are mentioned in the Manor Court Rolls) of Rochdale, was a market (1251) town which was important enough to have a castle.


The local topography would make an obvious southern route to Rochdale on the west of the steep valley of Healey Dell.

Most interesting of all?

Since there are major sites (English Heritage helped survey them) within a few hundred metres of Rooley Moor Road, medieval and earlier, which I discovered in 2010.

Prehistoric Origins?

There is plenty of evidence for prehistoric activity in the area.

Iron Age Defended Sites – Smallshaw and Lower Dunnishbooth

Two defended sites, one with a triple ditch and a medieval reference (which called it ancient 800 years ago!) are just to the east of Rooley Moor at Cutgate. There is plenty more archaeology to be surveyed there.

Bagden Hillocks/Old Moorcock

Look down from the ruins of the Moorcock rowards the west and you can see prehistoric fields and an enclosure.

Rooley Moor from Knowl Hill
Rooley Moor Viewed from Knowl Hill

Turn round and look east and you see a cairn a few meters away, at the north wall of what was the Moorcock.  A second cairn, Bagden Hillocks, lies a little further to the east.

Bagden Hillocks Cairn


With such a large number of farmsteads and Abbey land along the line of Catley Lane, a drove way for sheep and cattle would be a natural medieval route to the nearby market (1251) town of Rochdale and north to Whalley Abbey. The 1418  reference to Catcloghgate (early name for Catley Lane) appears to confirm a medieval date. While prehistoric sites in the area would probably have used a track on or near to the present line of the road.


See Manor Court records (Chapter XV) and medieval references to places in the area in: The History of the Parish of Rochdale in the County of Lancaster / by Henry Fishwick 1889 Download it here

1818 Map

Greenwood’s 1818 Map includes Rooley Moor Road, download it here.

Fishwick’s History of the Parish of Rochdale,  p91-2


3 thoughts on “How old is Rooley Moor Road?

  1. 1. The East Lancashire area was originally under control of the de Lacy family in the 12th- 14th century, who held it directly from the Crown.
    2. The de Lacys were patrons of Stanlawe Abbey to whom they gave the running of Rochdale Church.
    3. The de Lacys gave the stewardship of Brandwood, on the banks of the Irwell, to the Monks of Stanlawe in 1200 A.D.
    ( Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey, leaf 409: see translation in Newbigging’s History of the Forest of Rossendale, second edition, 1893, page 45.)
    4. Brandwood was pasture land developed for cattle rearing and hay production, not sheep.
    (Tupling’s Economic History of Rossendale, 1927, Johnson Reprint Company edition, 1965,page 5)
    5. The produce was taken back to Rochdale across the moor by wheeled wagons, available to a monastic set-up and later more monied transporters as opposed to the sledge runners used more generally in this area even until the 19th century. Hence the name Rooley – from the French ‘roule’ , wheel.
    6. Until 1296 this land remained under the jurisdiction of Stanlawe, and The parish of Rochdake. It was only after that, when the de Lacys moved the monks to Whalley and they founded a new Abbey there, that they took over the Parish of Whalley whose boundary met Rochdale’s at the River Irwell, that Whalley came into the reckoning.
    7. The monks who settled at Whalley continued to develop their land on both sides of the river as ‘vaccaries’ , i.e. cow pastures. Sheep keeping was limited by law (Tupling p.11).
    During the middle ages, it was English fleece that was in demand on the continent, not the finished fabric.
    8. Too complex to explain here, but after the demise of the de Lacys in the 1320s, Rochdale’s relationship with Whalley weakened and by the mid
    1400s mainly due to easier trade routes, it established commercial connections with Yorkshire. The land was now held directly by the Crown.
    9. During the Wars of the Roses, and the weakness of the Crown administration, the Monasteries gained more control over the land. They saw the importance of the woollen trade and began to encourage the keeping of sheep rather than cattle.
    10. The early 16th century saw two major game-changers: in 1507 Henry VII wound up the old Forest Laws which had restricted settlement, and in 1537 Henry VIII dissolved the Monasteries. The land was now available for ordinary people to lease and do with what they would – as wool was the country’s staple trade, this was the route down which most people
    went. By this time ready made cloth as opposed to fleece production, was the growing trade giving rise to the domestic textile industry.
    11. Rochdale had a flourishing woollen market and finishing mills (fulling) by the mid 1500s. Whalley never became a centre for wool. Hence all roads led to Rochdale, and it was in this direction that Rooley Moor became the main link to market for miles around, roads leading from Whalley via Padiham, Burnley via Bacup and Blackburn via Haslingden to Rochdale. Rooley Moor Road was the main route, as, despite the steep climb out of Rossendale through Brandwood, Rooley provided a shallow, wagon and cart usable gradient all the way down into Rochdale, exactly as it had done years earlier. (See Yates Map of 1786, and others of that period, which all show Rooley as the main road.) This is when the famous Moorcock Inn would have had its origins.
    12. It was only when the Turnpike roads finally opened up the valleys that the roads we know today which cut out the steep climb through Brandwood came generally into use for the large loads being moved about as the Industrial Revolution evolved.
    13. There were some shallow coal pits on the moor which were exploited for the growing steam powered factories in the early 1800s, and probably because of the machinery used there being in situ, quarrying developed as the demand for stone came from the newly growing towns. Once again the shallow easy access from and to Rochdale played a part in transport. The coming of the railway to Rossendale in the 1840s meant that some pressure was taken off Rooley Moor Road by inclined truck ways from the hills direct to the sidings.
    14. In the 1860s Cotton Famine Rooley was still in general use – as well as the industrial need, it was still a shorter route to Rochdale for horse and foot traffic than going round the valley Turnpikes. Also, parts of Rossendale were still in the Parish of Spotland and it was their way to church. Hence when the need arose to employ those thown out of work, surfacing the road with the readily available stone was a good option. No one envisaged then that the evolution of the tram and the private motor car would render the road almost totally redundant.
    15. The formation of the Boroughs and their independent services of transport, along with the Peel Act which allowed for new church parishes to serve newly populated areas, left Rooley Moor Road to its last lease of life, as a recreational venue. For a time it was the quarrymen’s playground, races, fights and rough sports taking place, attracting crowds to the spectacle, but as entertainment became more sophisticated and quarrying more regulated this too died out.
    16. Quarrying itself has since been discontinued and the Moor left to the hardy walkers and recreational horse riders. It is still a very evocative place with remains of industrial activity, drunken gatherings and the ghosts of its original users clearly in evidence to those tuned in enough to see it. This is an area with a long and fascinating history and whilst legend and names of individual characters connected with it do play a part, its actual origins, as a major cart road dating back to the 1200s, must not be blurred by details, nor, worse still, blighted by landscape and sould destroying wind turbines.

    1. Thanks for your comments<
      Yes, It is a great area with a rich history, see my blog about the Ding. I am sure that sheep and cattle have been grazing in the area since prehistoric times. (cairns and prehistoric fields are clearly visible on and around Rooley Moor. The Domesday Book entry for Rochdale and the Norman castle hint that Rochdale was a small trading centre before the Conquest. Indeed Rochdale was probably some sort of Scandinavian enclave, see my blog on the Ding.
      There is evidence for the wool trade in Rochdale in Medieval times and I am sure, as you point out, that the reforms of Henry VIII accelerated the development of the local economy and of course local wool production.
      Of particular interest in this respect are the 16th. C. entries in the Coucher Book and the 17th C. Manor surveys of Rochdale, Mention of the area as Shore Moor confirms that Rooley Moor was known as Shore Moor, but there was another in the East of Rochdale, of course. Mr Rowley's house can be seen on early maps of the area. This 18th C. origin for a name is not unique and can also be seen in Simister, Prestwich, a corruption of Somister, after Mr Somister.

      I have not found any references that support your origin for Rooley Moor.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s