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Mid 19th century

The national context

The local context


  The Victorian era produced a steady decline of Widdop as a community. The growth of factories and mills in the valley bottoms at Todmorden, Hebden Bridge,Sowerby, Halifax etc. due to the increasing industrial expansion ''killed off'' the economic viability of hand-loom weavers in their scattered moorland farmsteads. This was due to the increasing industrial development of weaving and spinning machinery and the expansion of water, later steam, power. The industrial changes DID take time to develop, water powered mills were only being more fully established during the early 1800's, steam powered mills similarly only by the 1840's.

victorian mill
weaver on loom
power looms in mill

The  archives

Analysis of archives


     The starting point must be the CENSI information between 1841 to 1901.The census returns for 1841 and1851  reveal that the heads of households at Widdop were all 'farmers' but sons and daughters were still occupied on hand-looms as either worsted or cotton weavers, as a way of supplementing income. This ''dual'' economy on the moors mixing weaving with 'subsistence' farming had evolved over several centuries  but now with the decline of 'moorland weaving'' farming became dominant in the form of sheep farming. The number of 'households', accordingly, also gradually declined; there were---

                                                          8 in 1841,

                                                          5 in 1851,

                                                          3 in 1861,

                                                          4 in 1871

                                                          2 between 1881-1901

      with increasingly more 'uninhabited' buildings throughout the century.


   Farms often 'absorbed' neighbouring fields as adjacent 'farmsteads' became vacant and also increasingly utilised open moorland as their flocks of sheep expanded, thereby increasing overall acreage available to them; the archives record 4 'farmers' at 4 sites---


                               censi 1841-1901              1844 'sheep-walk'      1851 'sheep-walk'                    

Henry Parker            33/46 acres                      425 acres                   634 acres                                                                                                                      

John Helliwell            13/14 acres                       122 acres                   120 acres                                                                        

Joseph Shackleton          27 acres                       321 acres                   300 acres                                                                

Willm Shackleton            10 acres                       209 acres                          ?


     This more than compensated  for the farms losing some of their 'historical' fields and acreage in the bottom of the valley with the building of the reservoir by Halifax Water Board. A note exists amongst the Savile papers dated 25th April 1856 [Kirkless DDS/1/243] referring to the purchase of the Shackleton farm [Higher Houses]. An Act of Parliament in 1868 granted permission for the building of the reservoir to be carried out, the first sod being cut on 26th July 1871 and completion date in June 1878.


       The above 4 farms were disposed as ---


       Henry Parker                 LOWER HOUSES                 3 'buildings'    [1841-1871]

       John Helliwell                NEW LAITHE  HEY              1  building       [1841-1871]

       Joseph Shackleton        HIGHER HOUSES                3 'buildings'    [1841-1871]

       William Shackleton       PASTURES HOUSE              1  building       [1841-1851]


     The adjacent archives,''1834 MYERS MAP'' and''1851 OS MAP''[ permission by Halifax Library] show their disposition clearly as a dispersed settlement adjacent to the old packhorse road from Hebden Bridge to Colne/Burnley. There were two main 'clusters' at LOWER HOUSES and HIGHER HOUSES and the two individual buildings at NEW LAITHE HEY and PASTURES HOUSE all on the northern slopes.The adjacent  'archive',''MY BUILDINGS MAP 1'', seeks to explain and allocate which people lived where according to the censi order and other documents.


     All four were tenanted farms of the Savile Estate, the first three having 21 year leases, whereas Pastures House was 'freehold' having been originally bought from the Savile Estate by a William Wadsworth in 1657  [DDS/1/243] [confirmed by being put up for auction as ''freehold'' on 24th Sept. 1855 ] N.B. there's a separate section later on-- '' PASTURES HOUSE'']..


History of





     The period 1835-1870 was a time of many changes and subsequently strong feelings of 'agitation' amongst the ordinary people of Britain. There were public meetings, processions, petitions and rioting mobs, sometimes in thousands, demonstrating about issues like the Poor Law, the Peoples Act [Chartists], the Factory Acts and the Corn Laws. Many people in the Upper Calderdale area were actively involved in these demonstrations but how much the Widdop community was is difficult to determine.


     Certainly life for the weaver/farming community of Widdop must have been hard; corn prices were often high and too many bad harvests between 1836-1841 and 1845-1846. It was also a period of serious trade depression in which cloth prices were severely down since the end of the French wars , down from 9 shillings 'a piece' to 1 shilling in 1825.  Evidence exists [The House of Uttley by Eileen and John Huckle -Jade Pub.Ltd.—page 151] that the average life expectancy of the Uttley family, buried at Blake Dean and Slack cemeteries, directly correlated to the declining 'piece rate' for cloth;

                                  52 years between 1800-1809                                                                  

                                  39 years between 1810-1819                                                                

                                  12 years between  1820-1829                                                          

                                  8.3 years between 1830-1839          

                                  15 years between  1840-1849  


 Shackletons in ALL of Wadsworth had a life expectancy of approximately 40 years over 1813-1849 but between 1833-1838 it was only 23 years.                                            







cropping a cloth 'piece'


cropping shears

machines in a mill

Pastures House



   With Upper Calderdale being so remote, especially a settlement like Widdop, progress did take longer to affect the area. An approximate calculation for Upper Calderdale in 1835 various sources reveal that  35-40% of the workforce were still hand-loom workers. Even by 1851, more than half of the working population of Wadsworth were  hand-loom workers. The 1851 census statistics for Wadsworth show that 1061 houses had at least 1 hand-loom and 172 houses combined weaving and farming. By 1861, the new machinery and mills seriously dominated the traditional weavers; the number of hand-loom weavers  in Wadsworth fell by ¾; by 1871 there were barely any left. Gradually the children of weavers had little choice but to leave for employment at the mills in the towns thereby putting the population of the moorlands into serious decline.


     Those who DID remain on the moors had to diversify from their traditional subsistence farming  into sheep farming but it was only in the highest areas of moorland, like Widdop, that sheep farming, in LARGE numbers, took place. The Savile Estate sheep-walk lists [WYAS;Kirklees DDS/1/243] show numbers of sheep at Widdop as--


                                                         1851                     1856                                                                                    

Henry Parker                             400sheep            368sheep   [ on 634 acres]             John Helliwell                              60sheep             79sheep     [ on 120 acres]              Joseph Shackleton                     150sheep           190sheep     [ on 300 acres]

Widdop Reservoir - 1989 (2)
Widdop Reservoir - 1989 (3)

These photo's of Brian Howcroft's taken 1989 when the reservoir was drained, show Widdop valley as it might have looked pre-reservoir i.e. before 1870.

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