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.
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. There is also a 1597 reference (18th Jan) in the Manor Court Rolls, the earliest historical reference found so far.
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.
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.
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.
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
Greenwood’s 1818 Map includes Rooley Moor Road, download it here.
Fishwick’s History of the Parish of Rochdale, p91-2
There are plenty of early farming sites on and around Rooley Moor. Medieval records are also plentiful (from the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey) too and when combined with manorial records and other sources a detailed study of farming in the area will be possible.
But It’s moorland! How could you farm it?
If the soil, climate and farming techniques are right you can farm! Rooley Moor has been farmed since prehistoric times! poorer land was used for pasture.
Want to see the early fields?
Retrieved from Microsoft Bing, Copyright Microsoft You can see the stone walls of the recent fields overlaying the early fields (dark brown grass).There appear to be severaly early field systems overlaying each other at SD 855177. These fields are overlooked by the Bronze Age cairns on Bagden Hillocks, on the higher ground to the east of the fields, above Rooley Moor Road.
In a visit to Rooley Moor in 2010, Al Oswald of English Heritage thought these fields were likely to be the site of prehistoric settlement. The Fields are overlooked by the Bagden Hillocks cairns to the north east.
Old wall next to Ding Quarry
North of these early fields (an area called Clegg Ding) and nearer Ding Quarry there is a covering of peat but still the area was in use because a wall was built along the eastern edge Ding Clough, perhaps to stop sheep from going over the edge. There may be other features visible in the foreground of the picture too.
Birchen Holts (ruin) – Farmstead next to Rooley Moor OS grid reference: SD 847 173
Birchen Holts was reclaimed from waste and included five closes, in the 1626 Rochdale Manor Survey it was recorded as being 73 acres one rood and 20 perches in total. The annual rent was £7 and 6 shillings Note the sheltered site and the fields south of the Ding in the background. Birchen Holts by Stuart Davies SD 847173
Hades Hill cairn, NE of Whitworth, was first excavated in the 19th C. Finds from this excavation are in the museum at Touchstones, Rochdale. A second excavation took place in 1982, but was not fully published and the site was not backfilled.
Despite the involvement of Manchester University, a survey of Rooley Moor omitted to mention Hades Hill, though mentioning sites in Bury.
However a radiocarbon date has been published for Hades Hill in Barrowclough’s Prehistoric Lancashire.
Hades is slightly larger diameter,but similar in plan to Bagden Hillocks cairn,
The need to mark boundaries between landholdings has left an extensive variety of features in the SE Lancashire landscape: from moorland enclosures, boundary ditches to walls and banks.
The longest boundary and one of the earliest in SE Lancashire is the Nico ditch, also called Mickle Ditch. Read more about it here.
When I met an inspector from the former Ancient Monuments, based in London, he was surprised that parts of survived, a section was scheduled in the 1990s. You can see the ditch running the a golf course in Audenshaw.
Ditches were often refered to in Parish boundaries, for example “The White Ditch” near Knowl hill, near Rochdale , was mentioned in medieval records and manor surveys, such as the 1610 “Inquisition” of Rochdale parish summarised here.
Medieval Dyke in Didsbury, Manchester
In the 13th. Century a dyke was judged to have prevented access to common land, The Assize court rolls state the length of the dyke (40 perches, about 800 feet) and the date of its construction.
Dykes were evidently quite a common feature in the area around Manchester, the Assize Rolls also mentions a dyke in Urmston and one in Denton (near the Nico Ditch).
Tandle Hill was in Thornham township, Middleton parish.
Tandle Hill Park was a deer park and this bank may be associated with the deer park.
Alkrington was orinally in Prestwich Parish, though close to Middleton. This park also has banks associated with a deer park.
Sometimes streams and rivers were used as boundaries and ditches and banks were used to extend or subdivide natural boundaries.
The name Mersey, means boundary river according to Ekwall. While the Nico Ditch, which runs through Audenshaw near Manchester is a man-made boundary thought to date from the early medieval period.
Types of Boundary
Banks and ditches were used to define the border between parish townships, like the one shown below between the townships of Great and Little Heaton, in Prestwich parish west of Bowlee.
Here is an old grass covered wall between Naden Head and Naden Dean, it even has a tree growing on it.
There were several preaching crosses in towns and by trackways, here is an amazing example.
The Ultimate “Portable” Antiquity
Until I reported its existence in 2001 this cross, at Doffcocker near Bolton, was not on the Sites and Monuments Record. The cross is currently in the grounds of the Catholic Church in Doffcocker, having been moved from its previous location, where it was used as a bridge over a stream. So this really is one of the largest antiquities to have been moved around in the area and it shows how incomplete the records have been.
Mystery Ditch – Man Road Ditch
You can see it clearly even from aerial photographs, it’s big, but what was it for? How old is it? Why has it not been recorded or protected? Man Road Ditch – even the name is a mystery.
Where is it?
It runs NNW from Knowl Hill, it was not for drainage, because of the profile of the ditch (more details will be added about this).
Few areas in Lancashire offer so much of interest to the archaeologist and medieval historian as Whitworth.
Why? Quite simply, little recent archaeological research has been done, and that which has been undertaken has failed to record visible monuments, such as Naden Head and the associated archaeology as well as newly discovered sites in south Whitworth (prehistoric and medieval).
The 1982 Manchester University excavation at the prehistoric cairn at Hades Hill was never published.
The medieval documentation for the area is striking: nearly 100 charters relating to Whitworth alone are recorded in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey.
A more detailed survey and study of Whitworth’s archaeology and medieval documentation is certain to reveal much of interest.
With high mesolithic site desity and a large number of medieval sites documeneted one wonders about the archaeology of the area between these epochs.
No systematic archaeological survey of Whitworth has been undertaken, so many sites remain to be discovered and recorded.
Many mesolithic sites have been recorded in the Rochdale area, and the density of sites indicates that the area was used by hunter-gatherer communities at this time. In fact the density of sites is one of the highest in Europe. Mesolithic flints were found at Hades Hill, for example (see Littleborough Museum Worksheet 87). The site also has a Bronze Age cairn and may indicate continuity of use from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age.
Few Neolithic sites in the area have been researched recently. Known prehistoric sites left few extensive earthworks or stone alignments/settings. It is possible that sites used wood constructions that are no longer evident, or were destroyed, or robbed for stone, by later generations.
Bronze Age sites can still be seen in the Whitworth area, though after around 3,000 years we can expect some damage. The main sites are burials, evident at Bagden and Hades Hill which are of a similar form and size.
Other sites exist in the area on Rooley Moor and east of Whitworth too, and more work is needed to confirm the nature and age of these sites. How these sites relate to local finds from the Bronze Age has not been researched yet. With detailed survey, the number of surface finds and sites will, no doubt, increase. The fact that the climate was at its best in the Bronze Age perhaps explains why this prehistoric period has the largest number of sites compared to other prehistoric epochs, such as the Iron Age.
Barrow discovered in south Whitworth! more news soon!
Finds from the Iron Age are rare in this area, however this does not mean that the area was unoccupied. Many of the sites are probably obscured, or have been destroyed by later settlements. Surviving Celtic place-names in the area may indicate good locations to look for archaeologicayl evidence. Lake Kor, now lost, is one possible site. It is recorded in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey as being near Prickshaw.
A site with a triple ditch, discovered in 2010 ma well be iron age in date with later use, such a site would normally have been identified many years earlier as is the case for an adjacent with a clearly visible bank. Both areas are mentioned in medieval documents.
Roman coin hoards have been found in the Rochdale area. How these relate to any settlements is unknown, as is the relationship to forts at Manchester and Castleshaw, for example.
The first reference to the Rochdale area is in the Domesday Book. It would appear that Rochdale had some autonomy and appears to have been administered by an Anglo-Scandinavia thegn, Gamel, based in Calderdale. The large area of Rochdale parish and the reference to Rochdale as a “wapentake”, a Scandinavian term for a county sub-district supports this hypothesis. Additionally, the recording of Scandinavian names such as “Dolfinus of Healey” in medieval charters, and Scandinavian place-names such as Sike and Ding (a meeting place for local administration), indicates Scandinavian settlement in the area.
This Scandinavian settlement is important in understanding the number of medieval charters relating to Whitworth in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey. Rather than being dominated by a single feudal landowner, several Whitworth freeholders were able to grant land to the Abbey. Perhaps Scandinavian settlement in the area led to several freemen owning farmsteads in the area, some places such as Bagden and Harsenden may well have been occupied before their mention in 13th-Century charters.
Whitworth has an exceptional number of medieval charters for a village, perhaps ten times more than would normally be the case for an English village.
Whitworth people mentioned in the Coucher Book of Whalley (12th and 13th C.) They range from “Agnes” to “Wiilmus”. Whitworth was “Whitword” in medieval times.
This can perhaps be explained by “sokemen” freemen who owed minor service to their lord and could sell and exchange land, which could be inherited by their children. In the 1626 Manor Survey of Rochdale a Mr Chadwick, who held land “”in sokeage” the south of Whitworth. Ownership of land would have given sokemen more incentive to develop and improve their land.
When the 16th-Century records of Whitworth farmsteads in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey are combined with fieldwork and the translation of medieval documentation, it should be possible to plot many of the settlements and boundaries mentioned in charters.
A detailed chronology of land transfers in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey can be found in C. D. King’s thesis of 1991.
King, C. D . – The Whalley Coucher book and the dialectal phonology of Lancashire and Cheshire 1175-1350 . – University of St Andrews PHD Thesis, 1991 (Unpublished).
This thesis is now available for free download by individuals via the British Library’s EThOS service http://ethos.bl.uk
Economic ties with Whalley Abbey ranged from wool to iron-working. Farmsteads with small cultivation plots combined with communal pasture for sheep and cattle, would have been the characteristic settlement pattern. The highest land would have been for grazing in the Summer. Surprisingly if the land was south facing and of reasonable quality it could be used for farming up to 400 m OD. Some fields were just used for hay although a type of field system dating back to prehistoric field systems was used in Rochdale.
You can still see extensive signs of earlier field systems and boundaries East of Hamer Hill and down through, Withens, Bagden, Bartle Cowm and Meadows for example. These places and land boundaries are often mentioned in medieval cgarters from The Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey.
There are place-name and documentary evidence for vaccaries (medieval cattle ranch) in the area, one rural site has recently been identified,
By the 16th-Century, local freeholders worked together to build a local chapel in Whitworth.
Bagden and other farms, their associated boundary ditches, and old cultivation can still be seen to the west of Whitworth. Mention of a medieval bridge, corn and fulling mills and iron smelting indicates many opportunities for future archaeological research.
The 1600s saw an expansion in stone building in the Whitworth area, at Cock Hall and Smallshaw, for example. The manor surveys of 1610 and 1626 give many detailed accounts of settlements in the area.
Coal mining was also recorded in the 1626 Manor Survey – it became increasingly important as timber supplies were depleted. Wool and textiles were becoming increasingly important in the area by the 16th-Century, cutlery production (at Cutler Green) was another local economic activity, as was quarrying.
Archaeologists and historians have overlooked Whitworth and the Rochdale area. The lack of research has led people to conclude that the area was sparsely populated. However, 16th-Century moorland assarts (area enclosed for cultivation and farming), like that at Birchen Holts, would appear to show that marginal land was being used as population levels were recovering from the ravages of the Plague and land was in short supply. Settlement patterns in Whitworth mainly comprised single farmsteads, many of which are still farms today, and earlier boundaries and cultivation can still be seen.
Medieval Whitworth Places
Here is a list of Whitworth places mentioned around 800 years ago, there are so many and quite a few have gone from the map.
With so much to discover and research, Whitworth’s past will keep future generations occupied for some time to come!
Specific references to Whitworth can also be found in the Lancashire Assize Rolls, See Lancashire Assize Rolls: 4 John – 13 Edward I (pp. 393-439) here.