Description:- A remarkable stretch of ancient highway surviving on the open moorland of the Blackstone Edge watershed, formerly connecting Rochdale to Ripponden and thence to Halifax or Elland. This particular section of the highway follows the route of the former Roman Road linking Manchester and Ilkley (Margary 720a) passing across open moorland. The route deviates from the present A58 at New Gate End Bridge on the Yorkshire side; the name, New Gate, clearly indicating that the course of the modern road is of later date. The route climbs steadily keeping close to Rag Sapling Clough on its south, the base of a medieval wayside cross survives close by at Slack Pit Hill SD 98554 18065 (Historic England reference 23384). At about SD 98451 17805, the clough turns more southward as the route strikes ahead towards the summit; here the outline of highway earthworks can be discerned comprising the remains of a cambered highway flanked by drainage ditches. The border with Greater Manchester is reached at around 1400 ft where the route is crossed by the Pennine Way (SD 97323 17062) before the road begins to descend at a much steeper gradient than on the Yorkshire side, as much as 1 in 4.5 in parts; along this stretch a considerable section of a stone surface has been exposed to reveal a central row of 3ft wide hollowed causey stones, with stone sets laid on either side to a width of about 7' 6" including kerb stones. The overall width is about 18 feet and the surface is cambered, the kerb stones supported by buttress stones buried beneath the soil. Some doubt exists about the paving, whether it is Roman, or laid in the era of packhorse routes some 1500 years later. The material is local millstone grit which is very durable. The channel shape of the central strip raises more doubts, was it for drainage, for steering or for braking? There is more certainty about the route. From Manchester (or Mancunium) an important road ran north east through Oldham, Cleckheaton, Leeds and Tadcaster to York (Eboracum). Another road passed through the sites of Rochdale, Littleborough, up Blackstone Edge, and then swung northward via Luddendenfoot on a direct course to Ilkley (Olicana). Part way down the west side descent, a short deviation to the main line existed in the form of a paved zig-zag, (approx. SD 9658 1700) perhaps intended to provide an easier route past one of the steepest sections. The route continues downwards until it reaches the present day metalled road at Lydgate (SD 96253 16802), the term gate, again indicating a medieval road or route.
History:-The significance of this route from an industrial standpoint lies, not in its co-incidence with an earlier Roman road, but in its importance to the wool textile trade during the medieval and early modern period. The large parish of Rochdale was a key centre of wool textile manufacture, and the value of the Blackstone Edge road was in providing a link to the major markets for woollen goods, initially in Elland, and later in Halifax, Wakefield and Leeds. Very strong trading links existed between the woollen manufacturers of the Rochdale area and those manufacturers and merchants who were based along the Ryburn valley, especially in Soyland and Sowerby. The importance of this route led to its early conversion to a turnpike by an act of 1735 brought about by the demand for an easier gradient more suited to wheeled transport. Further information regarding this route from Roman times onwards, and the later turnpikes, can be found by consulting the several works included in the bibliographical site references.
References:-Defoe, D. A tour through the whole island of Great Britain, Furnbank, P N and Owens, W R edited and abridged. Yale University Press, 1991, pp. 254-258. Kendall, H P. 'Blackstone Edge roads', Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society (THAS), 1909, pp. 109-119. Hoyle, J H. 'The Manchester-Ilkley Roman Road', THAS, 1916, pp. 177-229. Crump, W B. 'Ancient highways of the Parish of Halifax, 4 Early Map and Road Surveys', THAS, 1925, pp. 236-256. Haigh, D. 'Blue ball and baitings, Soyland: A tall story explained', THAS, New Series Vol. 2, 1994, pp. 15-25.
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Key Words :- roman road medieval highway packhorse track Address :- Rochdale Road, off, Ripponden, West Yorkshire, HX6 and OL15 Grid Ref :- SD 98802 18405 Co-ordinates :- Lat - 53.662129 , Long - -2.019604 Local Authority :- Calderdale Council Pre 1974 County :- Yorkshire - West Riding Site Condition :- Operational site, in use for original purpose Site Status :- Scheduled Ancient Monument SAM Listing No :- 1005819 Monument No :- 45973 Site Dates :- unknown -
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