Deeply Vale in the Mists of Time

The passing of time often leaves little trace of what has gone before. The quiet course of Cheesden Brook is now mostly flanked by woods and moorland hills, but the valley actually has a significant industrial and cultural history. The overall importance of the general area will be explored here in the future, but for now we will look at the surprisingly famous Deeply Vale.

Remains of mill, Deeply Vale ('The Forgotten Valley')

The mills 
The Cheesden Valley was formed during the last Ice Age and visited by humans as far back as 4,000 years ago. For centuries the population in the valley was sparse and scattered. Some of the earliest recorded activity was when John Blackwall was granted the right to mine coal there by Queen Elizabeth I around 1580. By the 17th century there were small communities ('folds') in the valley with their own mines. These people got by with a combination of livestock husbandry and cottage industries such as weaving. Mills started to appear in Cheesden Valley during the 18th century, the first probably being the one erected at Kershaw Bridge in 1780 by Thomas Allanson. It was a fustian mill, producing thick, coarse cotton material.

Cheesden Brook and the lodges built along it provided a consistent head of water, enough to eventually power 15 mills along the length of its course. Operatives worked 60-70 hours per week and work was regulated by the flow of water. Between them these mills employed about 2,000 workers, and before long bustling communities emerged in what had once been a isolated area. One of these communities was Deeply Vale, where Daniel and Kay established a cotton-finishing mill in 1801. This was Cob House Nab Mill, which had adjoining cottages and was a printing works. It was two storeys high and by 1813 the premises included contained reservoirs, drying houses, dye houses, stables, a ‘colour-shop’, all on 30 acres of land.

Approach to Cob House Nab (© Copyright Liz Dawson)

This mill was washed away in 1828 after the brook was swollen by a storm, and while it was being rebuilt the new owner, Mr Earnshaw, fell into the gearing and was killed. Another mill was developed on Deeply Hill, a few hundred metres to the north, in 1834, and a few years later it was combined with the lower mill to become the Deeply Vale Printing Co. By 1846 the new mill had two printing machines and 100 handblock tables for making cloths with three, four of five different colours.

The Cheesden Brook mills survived for over half a century against the competition from their urban rivals. Many developed as cotton-waste spinners, and boomed during the Cotton Famine of the 1860s, which was a result of the American Civil War and caused many larger town mills to close. Deeply Hill had one of the heaviest concentrations of housing in the valley, with 32 cottages set in four rows. Children went to nearby Buckhurst School, which had opened in 1840.

Deeply Vale mills, 1840s.

The Deeply Vale works became a paper mill in 1870, but by that time the Cheesden mills were struggling again and by the end of the century they had all but vanished. Deeply Vale Mill was one of the last to go, the last being the nearby Washwheel Mill which closed in 1919. There was still some life in the valley, however, and the Deeply cottages remained in use until the 1950s, some of them used as holiday homes renting at 2s 6d per week, and the Buckhurst School was open until 1960, but eventually the mills crumbled away. The once-thriving communities are gone and what remains are the occasional remant of a wall or chimneys, and the weirs and the lodges favoured by local anglers. Deeply Vale, however, was to get a short-lived burst of fame in the 1970s.

Remains of Deeply Vale print works (© Copyright Liz Dawson)

('The Forgotten Valley')
The music
In the mid-1970s Rochdale was actually home to a large number of bohemian types, with an underground newspaper, communes and artists. A group of friends organised a free music festival in the natural amphitheatre of Deeply Vale in the summer of 1976, and about 300 people camped there for two days. The police presence was thin, as this was really no more than a group of people smoking marijuana in a field and not doing any harm. Among these was ‘The Convoy’, a group of New Age travellers who tended to stay on afterwards in their tepees, believing that the valley had ‘geographical karma’ because of alleged 'ley lines' converging on the festival site.

By 1979, however, the event had grown massively, and 20,000 stayed for six days to watch an unlikely mix of hippy, punk and New Wave music. It was by this time the biggest free festival in Britain, but 1979 proved to be the last festival at Deeply Vale. For some festival-goers the drug of choice became heroin and the mood changed as crime increased, with some late-stayers stealing cars in Bury before breaking them up in the valley. The local council became worried about drug problems and issues of land ownership and refused permission for the Deeply Vale site to be used for any more festivals. Two other ‘Deeply Vale’ festivals were held at different locations, and the last one in 1981 ended in a pitched battle on the moors between festival-goers and the police. There have been recent attempts to resurrect the festival, but as yet it has not happened. As any online search will show, the Deeply Vale shows have been recognised as some of the most important festivals in British rock festival history.
Views of Deeply Vale festivals (Craig Mitchell)

So although Deeply Vale has grown quiet over the years, the importance of both the industrial archaeology and the cultural history to be found there are more appreciated today than they have ever been before.

  • Owen Ashmore, Industrial Archaeology of North-West England, Manchester University Press, 1982. 
  • Cheesden Valley (website)
  • Cotton Times, 'Life in the Moorland Mills'.
  • Margaret Davies, 'A note on an early group of cotton mills', Geography, Vol. 29, No. 2, June 1944. 
  • Deeply Vale Festivals 
  • Hannah Haynes, Heywood, Chalford Publishing, 1997. 
  • The Independent, 'Digging Deeply Vale', 5 April 1996. 
  • Andy Marshall, 'Cheesden Valley Project'. (website)
  • AV Sandiford & TE Ashworth, The Forgotten Valley, Bury and District Local History Society, 1981.

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