Memories of Calderdale

Southowram's Quarries, Delves & Mines


Steven Beasley

Southowram, better known to older village residents and their forebears simply as Owram as though denying the existence of its northern neighbour Northowram. The real Owram – Southowram – was recorded in Domesday Book as Overe and considered Wasteas estIt is Waste. Hardly a true statement when one considers how much wealth has been generated from the very ground on which the hilltop village resides.

A walk within the former boundary along the myriad of footpaths, tracks and roads will reveal the extent of the plunder in the pursuance of wealth through stone and other commodities. Almost everywhere you go you are within yards of, or in sight of an old delph or quarry, or the high, crudely built, Judd walls that were thrown up to hold back the unwanted waste from the excavations.

Judd walls are in evidence throughout the village; in Pinnar Lane below Kitson's nurseries, in the field behind Withinfields School, significantly at the junction of Marsh Lane and Beacon Hill Road, along Long Lane, below Field House Farm on Marsh Delves Lane, down Ashday Lane and more strikingly along Cow Lane where a narrow path threads its way between two imposing and threatening walls.

Many delves were family run affairs and therefore lacked the investment to develop into anything more than a shallow hole in the ground from which the more inferior stone could be won. The richer seams of Elland Edge Flagstone – a superior quality Ashlar sandstone which takes its name from similar beds located at Lower Edge, Rastrick – were deeper in the ground, overlaid by shales and the lower quality sandstone some 60ft (Approx. 20 metres) or so below the surface. This required serious investment and greater quarrying skills to win this prized commodity. These larger quarries tended to be on the southern facing side of the hill, in such places as Ashday Lane where Grange Quarry and others were situated. More easterly of Ashday Lane were the massive operations carried out by Solomon Marshall & Sons, Freeman's, Oates and Thompson's where rich pickings were made. Stone from these deeper excavations was fine grained and highly desirable as a superior building stone, as valuable as Portland stone was from Dorset.

The coming of the Calder & Hebble canal in the latter part of the 1700s provided impetus for the Southowram stone trade. A wharf at Brookfoot gave access via the Humber to the North Sea, and lucrative markets in London and the continent – the streets of Hamburg were paved with Southowram stone. Freeman's were very entrepreneurial; making important improvements to the Calder and Hebble canal along Freeman's Cut and having a facility at Brookfoot Wharf where barges were loaded for passage to the Humber. In addition, they had an office and merchant's stone yard on the Thames to receive stone, not just from Southowram, but from Portland to serve the burgeoning London market. Here Southowram stone was used for important buildings, and the durable flagstone provided paving for the streets and places like Trafalgar Square, as well as the steps to the Albert Memorial.

Whilst Brookfoot Wharf is now no more than the wall of the canal with industrial properties covering former storage yards and loading stages, a walk in the woods will reveal stone tracks that led down from the quarries to the canal that allowed the stone to be conveyed on heavy, horse drawn carts to begin the journey to foreign parts. It would almost seem as though now there is more of Southowram in places like London and on the continent than is left in Southowram itself, so brisk was the trade with a high demand for this superior product.

Elland Edge Flag was a mellow fine-grained stone, strong and durable; the upper levels being suitable for paving and roofing slates. Slates were all hand struck and produced in a variety of sizes that all had names, such as Slim Jims, Fat Ladies, Jacks, Queens and Kings, which tiled the roofs of many buildings in the area and beyond.

Winning the stone from the quarry was a laborious task; having removed the overburden, the good quality stone would be exposed as a solid bed. Holes would be drilled into the slab (by hand until the 1930s) into which would be poured Black Powder (Gunpowder); or later, small sticks of gelignite. When initiated, this would cause the desired block of stone to become detached from the bed in readiness for it to be prised free with large crow bars (Gavelocks) and then lifted out of the quarry by crane to the surface where it would be worked into shape. To reduce a large block of stone down to a smaller required size would involve drilling a further series of holes along a line into which would be placed a number of Feathers (split metal tubes)  and into the Feathers would be placed a line of chisels (known as plugs). The chisels would then be struck, one by one, with a large hammer and the wedging action of the chisels being driven into the Feathers would expand them to initiate a crack line that would result in the block being split at the required point. From here the blocks would be taken to the Banker Masons to be worked by hand into the various products that the quarry specialised in.

Ringing the Gavelock – The gavelock or crow bar used in prising out the stone was often quite long and heavy and it was the tradition, whenever one of the workers was to get married, to suspend the gavelock in a balanced position from the hook of a crane and for the masons to strike it with their hammers to cause it to ring loudly, like a bell.

It was said that the stone was relatively easy to work as it came out of the quarry but if left for any length of time it would season or harden, becoming more difficult to work. Armies of blacksmiths kept the skilled masons supplied with sharp chisels to perform their craft. Unlike the softer white Portland stone or the honey coloured Bath stone that could be cut with a hand saw, Southowram stone was high in silica that blunted chisels and tools within hours, that required constant sharpening to enable the masons to perfect their work. It was only in the 1950s that Tungsten Carbide tipped tools revolutionised the mason's trade with chisels that would last many weeks before requiring re-sharpening, thus making all the blacksmiths redundant in the process. Marshalls had something like 24 blacksmiths prior to the introduction of tungsten carbide tipped tools.

Halifax Tool Co Ltd, a branch of S. Marshall & Sons Ltd began producing Tungsten tipped tools at their little factory in Briar Lane, initially for their quarry's own purpose and then eventually for national use. From humble beginnings, the Halifax Tool Co went on to become a major manufacturer and distributor of deep rock drilling machines that relied heavily on tungsten carbide tipped tools that completely revolutionised blast hole drilling in the quarry and open pit mining industries, not just in Britain and Ireland but across the world.

Whilst many delves and quarries have been filled in for a number of reasons, some still remain, leaving scars on the landscape, as does one at Pasture House and the more recent quarry at Sammy Lane (properly named Briar Lane). This latter one was a last grab at the diminishing stocks of premium Elland Edge Flagstone at Southowram – much of it exhausted through years of exploitation. The stone at Briar Lane was locked in the ground beneath the offices and workshops of the Marshall organisation. The main office was once a spacious and regal house not dissimilar from Hall Ings in West Lane (also owned by the Marshall group), built of local sandstone, standing solid with bay windows at each side of a porch and central doorway. But in spite of its appearance and value as office space, what lay beneath was far more valuable than bricks and mortar – the estimated value of the stone 60 feet below the surface was put at several millions of pounds and so the decision was taken to demolish the whole complex, offices, workshops, house and all. Unfortunately, this resulted in the gaping hole of a worked-out quarry, providing another scar on the landscape that interrupted the original route of a long established right of way. I am told that restoration is now taking place to landscape the site and give proper access to the footpath network.

I am hoping that no further development is planned on the Pasture House Farm, particularly on the strip of land that runs by the drive from the main road to the farm and alongside the church graveyard wall, as this is what is known as The Butts. In ancient times all men in England, above a certain age, were required to always have a long bow in their dwelling and to carry out regular archery practise in readiness of invasion and war. It was at The Butts that Southowram men practised their art on that long strip of land, which is an important part of the heritage of the village.

Some delves have blended into the landscape in a natural sort of way with nature taking over completely to obscure their existence. Others have been used for landfill; one in particular was used for confectionery waste. John Mackintosh & Sons Ltd of Halifax, sweet manufacturers of Quality Street fame, would send a truck of reject sweets each Wednesday in the early 1950s to dump its load in a redundant Delph, adjacent the undertaker's workshop of Llewelyn Bowen, in Law Lane, opposite the old Withinfields School. The truck would reverse to the rim of the old quarry and raise its back to tip the contents into the depths of the old workings. On its departure would be left a cascade of defaced confectionery in brightly coloured wrappers of blue, red, green, purple and gold with a conglomerate of chocolate oozing from within; discarded, having not quite made it to their intended destination on Quality Street.

At the time, there were a number of old army Nissen huts, left abandoned by the military after the war, which littered the field beyond the quarry (now a playing field) and then occupied by families of squatters. The kids from the old camp would know when the truck had set off on its journey back to the factory in Halifax and would scamper to the quarry and descend the slope of the tip to gather what they could from the detritus before the rats had chance to have their fill. We as children would be shocked at this event and would tell the kids from the huts not do what they were doing as it was so dangerous and that they could become ill – but our warnings fell on deaf ears; the chance to eat chocolate that was not normally within financial reach was greater than any fear of contracting some dreadful disease and to our astonishment they seemed to survive. This quarry with its contents of sweets now lies buried beneath a house beside the car park of the new medical centre.

Some old quarries west of Ashday Lane became convenient holes in which to dump reject products from the nearby concrete products factory. One such deep hole stands out in my memory with particular significance. When I was in my youth I used to help a local farmer and on one occasion we were bringing some cattle from land in West Lane down along the edge of the quarry to the farm at Cote Hill; the cows were walking in line along the path when one cow pushed against another, causing it to fall over the edge to its death 60 feet below. I can see it yet in my mind's eye; the movement of the cow against the other and the victim slipping slowly over the rim of the quarry to land with a dull thud on the bedrock below, then lying there motionless with lolling tongue.

The old quarries were a source of adventure to the lads in the village that brought us hours of fun and moments of potentially fatal danger. One lad had been playing on the edge of the slope of tipped rubbish at Grange Quarry one Saturday afternoon when he slipped and fell into the quarry that resulted in him being rushed to Halifax Infirmary for emergency treatment. Luckily, he survived but sustained serious scarring to his face that he would carry for life. This event was an eye opener for many of us and a deterrent against further adventures in these dangerous places.

Not content with just digging the place up; the demand for quality stone was so high that quarrymen took to mining the stone. The overlying material, or overburden, that covers the premium quality stone is inferior, a mixture of laminated bands of sandstone, fit only for crazy paving; and shales that are fit for nothing. This overlying band of material could extend to 60 feet or so in depth that effectively locked in the good stone. Where it was possible to remove this overburden and dump it on conveniently adjacent land to contain it within Judd walls then that is what the quarrymen would do and afterwards the tipped material could be overlain with soil to return the land to agricultural use. But in some cases, this was not possible and removing vast quantities of overburden before mechanised methods was not an easy option, so they mined the stone. Southowram is littered with old mine shafts left over from this period. Around Marsh Lane were several; two others were in fields between Law Farm and Marsh Farm, another in an old quarry on the Twinge and a further one, capped off with a large slab of stone (still evident), just over the wall by the bus stop at the junction of Law Lane and Fairfax Crescent.

And there were others, now lost to memory but marked on old maps, such as ones in the fields on the south side of West Lane beyond the turning to the concrete works. Here were extensive mining operations, faithfully recorded, in colour, on mining maps that are now in the possession of Marshall's Group. They show where shafts were sunk and the labyrinth of tunnels that extended to a considerable extent beneath the fields. The method used was the Pillar & Stall system, whereby roads would be driven into the rock, from the bottom of the shafts, in grid pattern, leaving pillars of stone to support the roof. The stone extracted from the roadways would be taken, via the shafts, to the surface for processing. Operations to the west were curtailed by a fault that roughly ran north to south in which the level of the rock on one side of the fault had slipped below the level on the opposite side thereby denying access to the stone without adopting serious mining principles. The presence of these old workings halted any advancement westwards of the concrete plant due to the risk of subsidence.

In the base of an old quarry, where the cricket field is now situated were open tunnels that extended beneath the quarry face that avoided the need to drive shafts from the surface in order to win the stone. These became perfect homes for foxes and an attraction for young lads, for those who dare, to explore such dangerous places.

In addition to open pit quarrying and sub-surface mining for stone, Southowram held a bounty of other valuable materials much lower below the surface that attracted the attention of other developers, namely clay and coal. The whole of Southowram sits on beds of this stuff – or did! Several mines, some vertical shaft mines and others, Day Holes or inclined adits, were driven beneath the ground around the skirt of the huge mound on which Southowram sits to extract the valuable deposits.

Using my own personal knowledge and working in a clockwise direction around the hill, we start our journey at the north end of Beacon Hill (which at one time, I am informed, was known as Gled Cliff – or clay cliff) where Oates and Green mined clay for sanitary wear – the urinals that they produced proudly displayed the roundel that showed the name of Oates & Green Halifax – it was almost with pride that one used these facilities when in foreign parts of the country.

Having acquired money from her partner and lover Ann Walker, Ann Lister of Shibden Hall lost no time in exploiting the valuable deposits of coal beneath her land on the northern slope of Beacon Hill at Walker Pit where a Victorian style ventilation shaft is still evident by the side of the ventilation shaft for the railway beneath.

At Sunny Vale on the Southowram side of the Red Beck was Allen's brick yard where a Day Hole burrowed deep down under the hill gaining access to the fine fireclay beds. The clay products were fired in round kilns in the yard. The kilns were very distinctive, brick built, possibly 25 to 30 feet in diameter, with domed tops like the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul; there were a number of arched entrances arranged around the circular structure which were temporarily bricked up during the firing of the clay products inside – a small aperture was left at the base of each arched entrance to fire the kiln and to allow air to pass into the kiln to draw the fire to its required intensity. A public footpath from Walterclough Lane led directly through the kiln yard and passed within feet of the raging hot kilns that gave off a throat stunning acrid discharge.

From the yard, a narrow-gauge railway ran along the middle of the access road and up to Hipperholme station yard, over which wagons were drawn by means of an endless cable that ran on rollers, spaced at intervals between the rails all the way along the route. The engine that moved the cable was situated in a building within the brickyard. Health and Safety regulations of today would not stand for moving cables running unguarded along a road with public access and nor would they have been too excited about having a public footpath pass in close proximity to structures that emitted such intense heat and obnoxious fumes.

Some years ago, whilst sitting on the sloping ground directly above Allen's brickyard, I found numerous clay tobacco pipe bowls protruding from the shaley ground that appeared, from the intricate design patterns on them, to be quite old. I was not sure if mining had been carried out (before Allen's began their intensive operations) to produce clay pipes or if the workers from the brickyard had taken their smoking breaks on the hillside and had accidentally broken their fragile pipes and left the remnants there. From the quantity to be found, I rather go for the first option.

Further down the valley towards Brookfoot was Walterclough Pit, which was owned by Brookes Ltd of Lightcliffe, who made a variety of brick and concrete products and chemicals at their vast works between Hipperholme and Hove Edge. The mine was a vertical pit from which coal and clay were extracted and hauled to the surface by means of a pit-head hoist. Materials were transferred from the mine to the works by an overhead endless cableway that carried tipping buckets, which automatically discharged their contents on arrival at the works, before returning to the mine empty. A stone built structure was sited along Sutcliffe Wood Lane on which stood a pylon that enabled the cableway buckets to lift clear of the rim of the valley before entering the works.

At some point a cableway also ran from the mine to a point below Barker Royd at Cross Platts, known locally as Pier Head. Here were the remains of a stone built structure – like a pier that jutted out into the valley where the head gear would be. The cableway possibly carried coal for the mill's boiler at Barker Royd and for the gas that they produced for local properties in the area. The Malt Shovel and adjoin properties relied on gas from the mill before supplies were made available from Halifax Gas Works.

At some point in the 1920s a new boiler was installed at Walterclough Pit which was lowered down the steep decline from Pier Head to the pit by traction engines that controlled the descent; the walls in the fields down the route were breached to allow the boiler to pass through and evidence of this event was clearly to be seen many years later in the re-built walls that differed from the adjoining sections.

Opposite the Casa Hotel at Brookfoot, formerly known as the Grove Inn, is the remains of an adit that was intended to provide access to clays within the hillside that seemed to come to nothing but nevertheless another attempt to undermine the mound of Southowram.

Further along the road beyond Cromwell Bottom was another adit below Far Binns, where the Ashday Fireclay Works mined clay and at Ash Grove, further towards Elland, W.T Knowles & Sons drove yet another adit deep into the hillside to extract clay for their sanitary wear – pipes, gulley pots and the like, which were fired in similar kilns to the ones at Allen's brickyard at Hipperholme. W.T. Knowles is the only company still operating in Southowram producing clay based products.

At Park Gate was yet another mine and a little distance, round to the north brings us to Siddal Top Mine. Samuel Wilkinson & Sons had extensive brick making facilities at Blackley and Tag Lock at Elland and their last venture at securing raw materials was Siddal Top Mine at Rosemary Lane, Siddal. Here they drove an adit deep into the hillside eastwards beneath West Lane where the miners encountered two difficulties that contributed to the closure of the mine – namely water and a fault (possibly the same fault that had been encountered by the stone miners in West Lane, only at a lower level).

Further around the skirt of the hill at Cinder Hills, Siddal was where John Morton mined clay and coal for the manufacture of brick and clay based products. Morton's had a series of kilns to fire the products that sometimes brought tragedy to unsuspecting individuals. On cold winter nights, people of no fixed abode who lived rough would seek the sanctuary of a nice warm kiln that had recently been emptied of its fired products but which still contained its heat within the thick walls and floor. Tragedy would strike when they would be overcome with carbon monoxide fumes that would cause them to die in their sleep, only to be found by the workers arriving at work the next day. It was a regular thing to see headlines in the Halifax Courier Man found dead in brick kiln.

Swan Bank Colliery at the bottom of Trooper Lane worked between 1790 and 1875 and it must have yielded clay as well as coal since there was a brickyard at the site.

Some existing names of places give an indication of the former activities in the village, such as Coal Pit Lane, Pit House Farm, High Field Pit Farm and Upper and Lower Clay Royd etc.

Pubs played an important role for the quarry workers and miners, who having developed a serious thirst in carrying out their labours could quench it at one of the many pubs that were around the village. Some of these now gone but not entirely forgotten; at Bank Top the Manor House Inn and along the road, the Cock and Bottle; the Who Could A Thowt It at the junction of Whitley lane and Walterclough Lane; and in the village proper – the Pack Horse, the Shoulder of Mutton and the Jubilee in New Street; lower down below the church was the Malt Shovel and at Brookfoot Hill was the Delver's Arms at the top and the Neptune at the bottom. And of course, there were numerous watering holes around the perimeter of the hill where they could slake the dust.

I thought that the oddly named pub the Who Could A Thowt It was unique to Southowram but some years ago I stopped off at village near Saltash and to my surprise, found a pub there with a similar name. With the highest point around 260 metres ASL, or so, at Bank Top, and with the next highest ground directly to the east – possibly the Ural Mountains in Russia (the reason for the bad winters we used to get before Global Warming) - don't be surprised if one day this lofty view is diminished and its height reduced, should Southowram suddenly sink into the ground due to all the past under-mining activities!

© Malcolm Bull 2024
Revised 17:58 / 8th April 2024 / 26634

Page Ref: M_38

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