Saturday, July 31, 2010

West Yorkshire In Ten Squares : Square 4 - West Wood, Calverley

This project attempts to provide a flavour of what is typical in my home county of West Yorkshire by focusing on ten randomly selected squares from throughout the County. Each of the 500 square metre areas has been chosen by a random number generator and here I explore each of them in images and words.

It is Week 4 and, as the random number machine picks my square, I suspect a certain rhythm is emerging : mills, moors, water, woods. It's the rhythm of West Yorkshire itself, a rhythm that seamlessly blends nature and industry. The random number generator has come up with West Wood in Calverley, a patch of woodland that straddles the modern-day border between Leeds and Bradford. The map shows a square with a good many tree symbols, a couple of roads or tracks and a small stream : what more could any explorer ask for?

The square in question is half a mile west of Calverley : one of those small  West Yorkshire settlements that are almost a history of the county in themselves. Anglo-Saxon in origin, the village name derives from the Old English word "calfra" meaning "a clearing used for calves". The village followed that well-trodden West Yorkshire path : an agricultural community that, in the eighteenth century, began to cultivate a woolen textile industry, which was, in turn, replaced by a twentieth century commuter community serving the needs of Leeds and Bradford. So, a typical piece of West Yorkshire and a piece that would throw up a number of fascinating connections.

The square is dominated by West Wood which, to the great fortune of everyone concerned, is owned by the Woodland Trust. Visitors are therefore free to wonder up and down the paths and explore the frequent outcrops of millstone grit. Even on the bright day of my visit it can be a dark place, but it is never foreboding : there is always some light breaking through the densest trees, always the call of a blackbird or a wood pigeon to cut through the silence. It is a place of great beauty and peace, a place thousands of people travelling down the busy A657 must pass every day without knowing of its existence. A place waiting to be discovered by anyone with time on their hands - and a convenient random number machine.

The map square is dissected by two drives which fan out from their common meeting point with Carr Road - Clara Drive and Eleanor Drive. I was keen to discover the origin of these drives that sounded like a cast list from a Jane Austen novel, and what I discovered showed serendipity was alive and well and with me on my odyssey. The manor of Calverley was originally the property of Sir Walter Calverley (who, in order to spread confusion, was also known as Sir Walter Blackett) but in 1754 it was sold to the Thornhill family. The Thornhill family seat was at Fixby Hall, some fifteen miles away and, by one of those strange chances that make life interesting, within a few hundred yards of where I am writing this now. In 1786, Thomas Thornhill married Eleanor Lynne and for a wedding present he built her a Orangery at Fixby Hall. They had a daughter who they named Clara who eventually inherited Fixby Hall. Later she became a great friend of Charles Dickens and it is said that fictional Haversham Hall in Great Expectation was modeled on the house she  owned in Northamptonshire.

In the early nineteenth century, Thornhill had a plan to make money out of his Calverley estate. He would lay out two grand drives through the woods and sell building plots to the wealthy mill-owners of Bradford. He set out the drives, named them after his wife and his daughter, but only ever managed to sell a couple of plots of land. In the intervening two hundred years, Clara Drive has picked up a sprinkling of houses, but Eleanor Drive remains gloriously unpaved, gloriously wooded, and gloriously quiet.

As you wonder through the woods you keep coming across strange remnants of attempted colonization. An arch will span nothing, a set of fine stone stairs will lead nowhere. Somehow it all adds to the fascination of the place. 

During the Second World War the woods were used for training troops for the D Day landings. In the 1950s there was even a firework factory located somewhere deep in the woods but that tragically fell victim to an explosion. It is almost as if the woods will oppose any attempt to  take them over : to organise them, classify them, civilise them. I have no arguments with that, it is what woods should do.

When you get to the edge of the woods, the fields reappear reminding you that you are but a few yards away from normality. At the far side of the field is the main road, and houses and shops and all the comings and goings, all the doings and findings, the gettings and makings that are West Yorkshire.

To read the other installments of this series follow these links :



  1. I must say Alan, I do enjoy these history lessons. And glad to see the Wood hasn't fallen to developement. Maybe some hidden protectors? One is left to wonder as they wander upon th' paths, wot?

    Good week-end for a walk-about in th' wood :)

  2. Wow! This is definitely my kind of place - woods with paths to walk. I love that last shot, with the stone arch covered in ivy. Yep, definitely my kind of place!

  3. I really think you should try to get a publisher interested in 'West Yorkshire in Ten Squares'. You might have to expand beyond ten, but there's a fascinating book in waiting here.

    Thoroughly enjoyable, as were the previous three episodes.

  4. But... Alan has turned up on my Facebook in an article at (www) pressdisplay(dot)com.... and seems to have been talking to somebody?

    Jolly nice article... but when/how did that happen,and why's it on facebook - I'm confused!

  5. How wonderful that the Woodland Trust helps to preserve this area. That arched stone passageway is enchanting.

  6. Edwin : The interview you refer to was a feature on the series which appeared in today's Yorkshire Post. I am trying to work out how to put a link to it on the blog, until I manage it there is a link from my Facebook profile.

  7. Another fascinating glimpse into the local area. I live nearer to Calverley than you but I didn't know these woods existed. I must have an expedition to them sometime.

  8. I think the most beautiful thing about english woodland (well much of European woodland to be honest) is the fact that its small, navigable, isolated yet accessible. Loved the walk through your woods today. Hard to believe my eyes! Congratulations on the press article too . . you're becoming quite famous it seems.

  9. What a fascinating sets of posts! Excellent and a great read. Keep it going!

  10. really a great read for this montanan.

    i'll be back for more.

  11. Anonymous1:05 PM

    Congratulations on your great tallents and energy (journalistic at any rate)having been recognised. To attract a wider and more adult publication, a sympathetic but suitably racey article on the "fallen women of Brighouse" might do the job. Mark.

  12. I love the arch that spans nothing. I want one in my yard, actually.

    And I simply had to stop and read the YP article. That's awesome! I've yet to make it into a newspaper. Ah, well.

  13. Entrancing, nostalgic, historic, Calverley Woods has to be one of the most magical places in Yorkshire. I spent most of my young life 'playing' all over the woods, in those days, foxes, Squirrels, Hedgehogs and even a Badger kept me busy, later, the German/Italian POW's, The Army pre D-Day followed by DP's, (Displaced Persons from Europe) many Polish men were so taken up by the place, they stayed and married English Girls from the beautiful Calverley Village.
    Your descriptives make me realise what I so miss, your writing style is wonderful Alan,evocative, yet accurate, your TEN SQUARES would make a great Documentary.
    Thank you. Kind regards, Terry Offord (Born Calverley, 1937).


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