Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Further Up't Hill From West Vale

Wandering up the hill towards Hullen Edge, we came across a couple odd streets that got my genealogical pulse beating that little bit quicker. First there was Union Street. The "union" in such names could mean lots of things - trade unions or the union between England and Scotland, for example - but often it is a reference to the Parish Unions which were established to oversee the Poor Laws. Just around the corner, I realised we were walking up "Workhouse Lane”, and I immediately started looking for the local workhouse. I did find a suitably austere and institutionalised building which I became convinced must be the old Elland-Cum-Greetland Workhouse, but further research suggested that this was the former home of the local Catholic Primary School. I led my companions up every dead-ended lane and street, searching for the building to which several of our relatives will had been committed, but to no avail.

If you take a sharp left off Workhouse Lane you come to Feather Bed Lane! I realise that you could hardly make this up, and it sounds for the world like some Victorian allegory about hard work and enterprise; but it is true. If you ignore the temptations of the proffered feather bed and keep climbing up the hill you come to one of those splendid terraces, that West Yorkshire was so good at producing a hundred or more years ago. Solidly built in stone and set into a hillside, such developments seem to be planned by nobody and connected to nothing. Often there won't be a road to them, just a path, and small gardens will drop down the valley sides like an afterthought.

This particular terrace is called Woodside, and the houses must have views across the valley that make the hill climb almost worthwhile. But I still recall the words of my late father-in-law to his daughter many years ago when she was singing the praises of a similar house: "Nay lass, tha' couldn't push a pram up there!”

As the lanes and paths wind their way up the valley side you keep being presented with new vistas. Within yards - within moments - these can change from soot-encrusted terraces of Yorkshire stone to weed-framed mock-meadows that look as though they have escaped from a "Country File" calendar.

And occasionally you will get an overview which can dampen any trace of pointless nostalgia. The workhouse doesn't exist anymore, many of the houses you can see dotted throughout the landscape are new, bright, clean houses. And that mill down in the valley houses a smart restaurant and wine bar, not a gang of disease ridden children chained to looms.

And then there are the trees. There is a 1931 aerial image of West Vale in the "Britain From Above" series, and you need to search it for some time before you come across a tree. Now, the hillsides are lush with vegetation and trees help mask some of the worst legacies of our industrial past.

As you near the steepest part of the hill climb, some local wit has managed to manufacture a reasonably accurate road sign, and pinned it to a convenient lamp-post. It shows you the way to the end of the walk. "Up't hill" it says, just in case the muscles on the back of your legs are beginning to suspect you might have taken a wrong turning. And so you carry on until you have finished going up't hill from West Vale.


  1. Great stuff, Alan. "Often there won't be a road to them, just a path, and small gardens will drop down the valley sides like an afterthought." Nice.

    1. Thank you Martin. From such a fine wordsmith as yourself, that is praise indeed.

  2. You missed a photo of Compo, Clegg and Foggy.

  3. You were very close to the workhouse, it is actually on woodside view. I live in one of the properties that this was split into. I'd be happy to share some photos with you


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...