How Green Was My Valley

Carr Wood, undated. (Hudson)
Heywood is, to paraphrase the old football cliché, a town of two halves. The town centre was described in 1855 by Edwin Waugh as looking ‘like a great funeral on its way from Bury to Rochdale… The very dwelling houses look as though they worked in factories.’ Harsh words perhaps, but the physical beauty of Heywood has always been in the meadows, wooded valleys and heathered moors that surround it and persist to this day.

Sitting as it does on the edge of the great expanse of western Pennine moorland, Heywood was considered to be a ‘country manufacturing town’ in the 19th century. The wooded valleys to the north, stretching back from the Roch to the upland hills, were a regular source of inspiration to Victorian writers who explored the many nooks and crannies there. This was a world apart from the noise, grime and pollution of the mills in the town below. It also seemed to be a time apart, as some of the isolated rural inhabitants still clung to the ways and beliefs of earlier centuries.

Cotton-town Wordsworths such as Waugh would write wandering, poetic accounts of their rambles over Ashworth and Birtle and Bamford, some of which are long-winded but still contain evocative passages that give the reader a strong sense of what it was like to be in that quiet, isolated and even mysterious countryside back then.

James Butterworth, writing in 1829, had noted that ‘The Roche flows to the north of this place, through a rich, romantic, and truly beautiful vale, adorned with several neat mansions…’, while in the 1830s his son Edwin wrote of Naden Brook, ‘the scenery of the valley through which this rivulet flows is pleasingly romantic, from the agreeable diversity of cliffs, pastures, woods, and streams…’

Leo Hartley Grindon, a Manchester-based educator and botanist, included the area in his 1882 book Country Rambles, and Manchester Walks and Wild Flowers.
‘Bamford Wood is a cluster of leafy dells or dingles, reached, in the first instance, by going to Heywood, the rather tedious and uninteresting streets of which have to be pursued till we come to ‘Simpson Clough.’ The dells are disposed in the form of a V, the upper extremities again forked, and feathering away until at last they merge into fields. Down every dell comes a stream, rushing over large stones, the various waters all meeting eventually in the angle of the V, and soon afterwards swelling the river Roche, which in turn flows into the Irwell not far from Radcliffe.  
The various portions have all their distinctive names, ‘Dobb-wood,’ upon the left, holds ‘Cheeseden-brook.’ Beyond this we have Windy-cliff-wood, Carr-wood and Jowkin-wood; while upon the right are Ashworth-wood and Bamford-wood, emphatically so called. The stream descending the latter is Norden-water. Exact routes through these pretty glades it is impossible to prescribe, so much must depend upon personal taste and leisure. The extent, the beauty, and the wildness, require in truth many visits to be appreciated. There is more than one round natural lawn in the curves of the stream, where the silence has often been broken by picnics and music. Most parts may be trodden dry-shod, but it is well always to reckon upon four or five miles and a few adventures. All ladies who go the entire circuit deserve to be commended as Bamford heroines. 
Not to leave the way altogether undescribed, the best mode of procedure upon arrival at Simpson Clough is perhaps, soon after entering, to ascend the path among the trees upon the left, then into some fields and to the edge of a precipice, from which a view is obtained of a considerable portion of the wood, where an idea may be formed of the route it may be pleasantest now to follow. No part is uninteresting; the question is simply where to begin. Compared with the warm glades of Cheshire, Bamford Wood is upon the average quite a fortnight later in escaping from winter. Spring’s ‘curled darlings’ have already stepped into the green parlours of the Bollin valley, while up here a leaf is scarcely open; even the palm-willow, elsewhere always ready for the earliest April bee, is cautious and dilatory. The most interesting plant of the wood is the Rubus saxatilis, which, though found nowhere else in the neighbourhood of Manchester, is abundant near Coal-bank Bridge, but very seldom flowers. On some of the cliffs, at a tantalizing height, just out of reach of the longest arm, grows that beautiful sylvan shrub the Tutsan, Hypericum Androsæmum. The sides of the glen are in most parts lofty and steep, clothed with trees, and often decorated with little waterfalls, while the bed of the stream itself is so rugged that the wood after much rain is filled with the sound of its hindered efforts to escape. On emerging from the wood, at the upper extremity, or furthest from Simpson Clough, there is a fine walk over Ashworth Moor to Bury, from which place also it may be approached.’
Edwin Waugh also had an expert eye for nature and loved to reference the bushes and shrubs, flowers, herbs, animals and insects in his writings, as with this passage about Bamford Road from his 1855 Lancashire Sketches:
‘The high-road from the town of Heywood, northward, goes close by the front gates of Heywood Hall. This road was formerly lined by a thick grove of trees, reaching nearly from the edge of the village to the gates, and called ‘Th' Lung Nursery.’ This grove so shut out the view, and overhung each side of the way, that the walk between looked very lonely after dark; and country folk, who had been loitering late over their ale, in Heywood, began, when they reach ‘Th' Lung Nursery,’ to toot about from side to side, with timid glances, and stare with fear at every fitful rustle of the trees… 
This road was then, also, flanked on each side by a broad, sprawling thorn-edge, overgrown with wild mint, thyme, and nettles; and with thistles, brambles, stunted hazles, and wild rose bushes; with wandering honeysuckles weaving about through the whole. It was full of irregular dinges, and ‘hare-gates,’ and holes, from which clods had been riven; and perforated by winding, mysterious tunnels and runs, where the mole, the weasel, the field-mouse, and the hedge-hog wandered at will. Among the thorns at the top, there was many an erratic, scratchy, half-made breach, evidently the result of the frequent incursions of country herbalists, hunters, bird-nesters, and other restless roamers of the woods and fields. It was one of those rich, old-fashioned hedges which country lads delight in; where they could creep to and fro, in a perfect revel of freedom and fun, among the brushwood and prickles, with no other impediment than a wholesome scratching; and where they could fight and tumble about gloriously among nettles, and mint, mugwort, docks, thistles, sorrel, ‘Robin-run-i' th'-hedge,’ and a multitude of other wild herbs and flowers… rough and free as so many snod-backed young modiwarps, ripping and tearing, and soiling their ‘good clooas’ as the country mothers used to call them, by tumbling among the dry, fine soil of the hedge-side, and then rolling slap into the wet ditch at the bottom, among ‘cuckoo-spit,’ and ‘ frog-rud,’ and all sorts of green pool-slush; to the inexpressible dismay of sundry communities of limber-tailed ‘Bull-Jones,’ and other little necromantic fry that inhabit such like stagnant moistures. Some looked for nests, and some for nuts, while others went rustling up the trees on climaxing adventures, trying the strength of many a bough; and all were blithe and free as the birds among the leaves, until the twilight shades began to fall. 
But, when dusky evening began to steal over the fading scene, and the songs of the birds, and all the sounds of day began to die upon the ear - when the droning beetle, and the weird bat began to flit about; and busy crowds of midges danced above the road, in mazy eddies, and spiral columns… then the superstitious teachings of their infancy began to play about the mind; and, mustering their traps, the lads turned their feet homeward, tired, hungry, scratched, dirty, and pleased; bearing away with them - in addition to sundry griping feeds of unripe dogberry, which they had eaten from the hedge-sides - great store of hazle-nuts, and earth-nuts; hips and haws; little whistles, made of the tough bark of the wicken-tree; slips of the wild rose-bush, stuck in their caps and button-holes; yellow ‘skedlocks,’ and whip-lashes made of plaited rushes; and sometimes, also, stung-up eyes and swollen cheeks, the painful trophies of desperate encounters with the warlike inhabitants of ‘wasp-nests,’ unexpectedly dropped on, in the course of their rural frolic. 
The road home was beguiled with clod-battles, ‘Frog-Leap,’ and ‘Bob Stone,’ finishing with ‘Trinel’ and ‘High Cockolorum,’ as they drew near their quarters. * The old hedge and the nursery have been cleared away, and now the fertile meadows lie open to the view, upon each side of the road…’
Waugh and his friend also walked along the banks of the Roch from what is now Queen’s Park towards Hooley Clough:
‘Descending from the pleasant eminence, upon the northern edge of which Heywood Hall is situated, and which was probably the first inhabited settlement hereabouts, at a time when the ground now covered by the manufacturing town hard by was a tract of woods and thickets, wild swards, turf moss, and swamps - we walked westward, along the edge of the Roch, towards the manufacturing hamlet of Hooley Clough. This beautiful valley, by the water-side, is a very serene spot, and has a sylvan and well-cultivated appearance. The quiet river winds round the old pastures of the hall, which slope down to the water from the well shaded summit upon which it stands. The opposite heights are clad with well-conditioned woods and plantations; and Crimble Hall looks forth prominently from the lawns and gardens upon the summit… It was dinner time when we reached the stone bridge at Hooley Clough; so we turned up the road towards home, for the walk had sharpened our appetite.’
A young man relaxes by the stream, Ashworth Valley. Undated. (Hudson)

Waugh’s love of walking in the wider area to the north of Heywood was plainly evident in a passage he wrote in the mid-1850s about ‘A Ramble From Bury to Rochdale’, in which he set off across Birtle one chilly evening:
‘When one gets fairly into the country it is fine walking by a clear starlight, when the air is touched with frost, and the ground hard under the foot. I enjoyed all this still more on that old road, which is always rising some knoll, or descending into some quiet little clough, where all is so still that one can hear the waters sing among the fields and stunted woods off the wayside. The wind was blowing fresh and keen across Knoll Hill and the heathery wastes of Ashworth and Rooley Moors, those wild heights which divide the vale of the Roch from the Forest of Rossendale. I stood and looked upon the blue heavens, ‘fretted with golden fire,’ and around me upon this impressive night-scene, so finely still and solemn, the effect deepened by the meanings of the wind among the trees. My mind reverted to the crowded city, and I thought to myself - this is rather different to Market-street, in Manchester, on a Tuesday forenoon, about the time of ‘high change,’ as I listened to the clear ‘Wo-up!’ of a solitary carter to his horse on the top of the opposite knoll, and heard the latch of a cottage-door lifted, and saw the light from the inside glint forth into the trees below for an instant. It was a homely glimpse, which contrasted beautifully with the sombre grandeur of the night. The cottage door closed again, the fireside picture was gone, and I was alone on the silent road, with the clear stars looking down.'
A ’Miss E. Foster’ wrote about her travels in the countryside in the 1890s:
‘Turning into a foot road… we come to Simpson Clough Bridge, crossing which, and turning to the right, we are in Ashworth Road. The first object here are the flannel works of Thomas Oram and Son. A few years since the large weaving shed, which furnished employment for many of the people of the neighbourhood, was burnt down and has not been rebuilt. The workpeople have left the place to seek employment elsewhere. On the same side of the road is the Naden Brook and the reservoir, which from many a standpoint has the appearance of a small lake embedded in woods. A little further along the road we come to the bridge over the Cheesden Brook. The scenery here is very fine. 
Before us is the road to Ashworth Chapel and Chapel House, at which food for both body and mind may be obtained. From the chapel yard a very extensive view is obtained, ranging for many miles in almost every direction. It is a pleasant but an uphill walk from Simpson Clough to Ashworth Chapel, and on a summer’s Sunday evening many walk that way, some to the chapel, though the Chapel House is not entirely neglected.
The Old Hall at Ashworth, the residence of the vicar, is a remnant of the olden time. It was a hall before the cotton and woollen manufacture of the district had laid the substratum of prosperity upon which the more expensive and imposing halls in the neighbourhood have been raised. On the right hand a few yards below the bridge the Cheesden Brook mixes its water with the Naden, and pour their united streams into the Roach some three or four hundred yards below. On the eastern side of the Naden rise lofty and precipitous banks, well clothed with trees, upon which, one hundred and fifty feet above the stream, stands in solemn and lonely grandeur the empty hall of a branch of one of the Fentons, the only occupant being the caretaker at the hall, and the crows in the adjoining woods, whose noisy cawing and hoarse croaking are the only sounds breaking the solemn stillness which has made a home at Bamford Hall…  
There is a beautiful walk up the dell, through which the Naden pours its waters, to the bridge above Ashworth Mill and from thence on to Coal Bank and Blackpits. There are few more romantic walks than this in the neighbourhood. The botanist and the geologist may find food for thought and reflection. The high wooded heights on the Bamford side of the stream continue all the way to Ashworth Mill. The Naden Brook receives a flow of a million gallons a day, as settled by Parliament, from impounded water of the Heywood Waterworks.# Beside the large amount of compensation water several small streams fall into it by way of Rainshore and the Old House Brook at Coal Bank before it is increased in volume by the water of the Cheesden at Simpson Clough. 
A few hundred yards up the latter stream and upon its left bank is the playground now known as Ashworth Valley, to which, in the summer holiday season, hundreds of people of all ages and of both sexes find their way, or have it found for them, to spend a pleasant afternoon. We meet parents and nurses trundling their little ones to spend a few hours in breathing the fresh air and enjoying a freedom in play they cannot get at home. It is a pleasant and retired spot, almost surrounded by rocky heights and by a brawling brook. Many of the surrounding towns and villages send occasional contingents of merryhearted children to swell the throng that meet in this pleasant place. Long trains of carts and wagons, gaily decked, wend their way through Heywood, filled with joyous children overflowing with light-heartedness and mirth, and others of riper years seek here a few hours’ enjoyment. Coming and returning, they make our streets ring with their gladsome voices and their earnest attempts at the music of song.  
It is regrettable to find that among the many who come to enjoy themselves are some, far too many, imbued with the spirit of vandalism, who mar by the exercise of their too selfish nature, the beauty of the valley. Many of the beautiful ferns with which it was decorated have been pulled and broken and carried away, and many of the lower branches of the trees have been denuded of their foliage. The public who are admitted to the valley should do their best to protect the ferns and the trees by which it is adorned.
Nature has done much to adorn the place which at some former period she had by an upheaval thrown into confusion. The romantic valleys have become conduits for receiving and pouring the waters drained from the uplands of Knowl Hill and Rooley into Naden Brook, and are then passed into the River Roach. Another way to Simpson Clough and Ashworth Valley is by a road leading from the highway at Top-o-th-Wood which passes the ancient looking farmhouse of Gristlehurst, said to be the site of the old hall of the Holts, a family that held large possessions in this neighbourhood so far back as the time of our seventh Henry.’
This area continues to attract visitors today, although not resulting in the verbose prose of the Victorian-era writers and botanists. Those writers, however, do show us that locals have long appreciated the natural beauty and sense of peace to be found in the valleys.


* This would appear to be a range of children’s games. ‘High Cockolorum’ refers to ‘high jinks’, or ‘skip and a jump’.
# From the Naden Reservoirs.

  • James Butterworth, A historical and topographical description of the town and parish of Bury, 1829.
  • Leo H. Grindon, Country Rambles, and Manchester Walks and Wild Flowers, Manchester: Palmer and Howe, 1882, pp.160-162.
  • Heywood Advertiser, 14 December 1906.
  • John Hudson, Heywood in Old Photographs, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 1894.
  • Edwin Waugh, Sketches of Lancashire Life and Localities, 1857.F.E. Weiss, ‘Leopold Hartley Grindon, 1818-1904’, North Western Naturalist, 31 March 1930, vol.5, pp.16-22.