Todmorden

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Todmorden is a market town and civil parish, within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, in West Yorkshire, England. It forms part of the Upper Calder Valley and has a total population of 14,941. It is located 17 miles from Manchester.

Todmorden town centre occupies the confluence of three steep-sided Pennine valleys, which constrict the shape of the town. Todmorden is surrounded by moorlands with occasional outcrops of gritstone sandblasted by winds.

The historic county boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire is marked by the River Calder and its tributary, the Walsden Water, which runs through the centre of the town. The administrative border was altered by the Local Government Act 1888 placing the whole of the town within the West Riding, whereby today all of Todmorden lies within West Yorkshire.

The town is served by Todmorden railway station and Walsden railway station.

The town’s name is subject to a variety of pronunciations. The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary lists /ˈtɒdmədən/ as the most common, and /ˈtɒdmɔːdən/ as a common alternative. Locally, some may also use a rhotic pronunciation, /ˈtɒdmərdən/. The traditional dialectal pronunciation is /tɔːmdɪn/, although to many people living in the town and surrounding area, the place is also called “Tod”.

The name Todmorden first appears in 1641. The town had earlier been called Tottemerden, Totmardene, Totmereden or Totmerden. The generally accepted meaning of the name is Totta’s boundary-valley, probably a reference to the valley running north-west from the town. Alternative suggestions have been proposed, such as the speculation “maybe fancifully” that the name derives from two words for death: tod and mor (as in mort), meaning “death-death-wood”, or that the name meant “marshy home of the fox”, from the Old English.

In 1898 Blackheath Barrow—a ring cairn monument situated above Cross Stone in Todmorden—was excavated and proved to be a site of “surpassing archaeological interest”, according to J. Lawton Russell, one of the men who carried out the excavation. Various Bronze Age items were discovered, including sepulchral urns, a human skull, teeth and hands.

Russell contended that Blackheath Barrow was primarily a religious site, specifically intended for the “performance of funeral rites”, as there was no evidence that it had been settled for domestic use. Of particular interest were the four cairns, positioned at the cardinal points of the compass, and it has been suggested that this indicates “a ritual evocation of the airts, or spirits of the four directions, with obvious correlates in relation to spirits in the land of the dead”.

The various finds from the 1898 dig are now housed in the Todmorden Library, on permanent display.

The earliest written record of the area is in the Domesday Book (1086). Settlement in Medieval Todmorden was dispersed. Most people living in scattered farms or in isolated hilltop agricultural settlements. Packhorse trails were marked by ancient stones of which many still survive.

For hundreds of years streams from the surrounding hills provided water for corn and fulling mills. Todmorden grew to relative prosperity by combining farming with the production of woollen textiles. Some Yeomen clothiers were able to build fine houses, a few of which still exist today. Increasingly, though, the area turned to cotton. The proximity of Manchester, as a source of material and trade, was undoubtedly a strong factor. Another was that the strong Pennine streams and rivers were able to power the machine looms. Improvements in textile machinery (by Kay, Hargreaves and Arkwright), along with the development of turnpike roads (1751–1781), helped to develop the new cotton industry and to increase the local population.

In 1801 most people still lived in the uplands; Todmorden itself could be considered as a mere village. During the years 1800–1845 great changes took place in the communications and transport of the town which were to have a crucial effect on promoting industrial growth. These included the building of: (1) better roads; (2) the Rochdale Canal (1804); and (3) the main line of the Manchester and Leeds Railway (1841), which became the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in 1847. This railway line incorporated the (then) longest tunnel in the world, the 2,885-yard Summit Tunnel. A second railway, from Todmorden to Burnley, opened as a single line in 1849, being doubled to meet demand in 1860. A short connecting line, from Stansfield Hall to Hall Royd, completed the “Todmorden Triangle” in 1862, thus enabling trains to travel in all three directions (Manchester, Leeds and Burnley) without reversing.

The Industrial Revolution caused a concentration of industry and settlement along the valley floor and a switch from woollens to cotton. One family in the area was particularly influential on the town; the Fielden family. They created a “dynasty” that changed the town forever by establishing several large mills, putting up assorted impressive buildings and bringing about social and educational change.

A double murder took place at Christ Church, Todmorden on 2 March 1868. The victims’ graves lie in the churchyard. Miles Weatherhill, a 23-year-old weaver from the town, was forbidden from seeing his housemaid sweetheart, Sarah Bell, by the Reverend Anthony John Plow. Armed with four pistols and an axe, Weatherhill took revenge first on the vicar and then on Jane Smith, another maid who had informed Plow of the secret meetings. Miss Smith died at the scene, while the vicar survived another week before succumbing to his injuries. Weatherhill also seriously injured the vicar’s wife. On 4 April 1868 Weatherhill became the last person to be publicly hanged in Manchester, at the New Bailey prison. Local legend has it that the face of a young woman is sometimes seen in the window of the vicarage, now in private ownership.

Throughout the first decade of the 20th century, the population of the Borough of Todmorden remained constant. The ten-yearly UK census returns show figures of 25,418 in 1901 and 25,404 in 1911. Like the rest of the Upper Calder Valley, Todmorden’s economy experienced a slow decline from around the end of the First World War onwards, accelerating after the Second World War until around the late 1970s. During this period there was a painful restructuring of the local economy with the closure of mills and the demise of heavy industry.

On 1 January 1907, Todmorden Corporation became only the second municipality in the British Isles to operate a motor bus service. By the end of that year, the fleet had expanded to five double-deck vehicles: two by Critchley-Norris, two by Lancashire Steam (predecessor of Leyland Motors) and one by Ryknield. In 1931, the service became jointly operated by the Corporation and the LMS railway under the name “Todmorden Joint Omnibus Committee”. At its maximum size in the 1940s and 1950s, the undertaking operated 40 vehicles over 50 route miles through the rugged South Pennine terrain.

Until 1938, the town was served by no fewer than six railway stations: Todmorden, Stansfield Hall, Cornholme, Portsmouth, Walsden and Eastwood. With the exception of Todmorden station, all six closed during the middle third of the 20th century, though Walsden station reopened on 10 September 1990 on a site a few yards north of the original 1845 station. In December 1984 a goods train carrying petrol derailed in the Summit Tunnel between Todmorden and Littleborough causing what is still considered as one of the biggest underground fires in transport history.

In 1980, Todmorden found itself at the centre of a celebrated murder enquiry. On June 11 of that year police were called to J.W.Parker’s coal yard in Todmorden after the discovery of a body, subsequently identified as 56-year-old Zigmund Adamski from Tingley, near Wakefield. The former coal miner had not been seen since setting out on a local shopping trip five days earlier. Although still wearing a suit, his shirt, watch and wallet were missing. A post mortem established that he died of a heart attack earlier that day, and discovered burns on his neck, shoulders, and back of his head. These appeared to have been dressed by a green ointment, which toxicology tests were unable to identify. Adamski’s case has never been solved, no suspect was ever arrested, and in a television documentary the coroner, James Turnbull, described it as “one of the most puzzling cases I’ve come across in 25 years”. Among the explanations to gain currency was that Adamski was the victim of extraterrestrial abduction. After intense media interest, the Todmorden police force were forbidden from talking further to the press about the case.

Todmorden has a complex geo-administrative history. It lies along the historic county boundary of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Until the boundary reformation by the Local Government Act 1888, the Lancashire-Yorkshire boundary ran through the centre of Todmorden, following the River Calder to the north-west and the Walsden Water for less than a mile to the south before turning south-eastwards across Langfield Common. The Town Hall, which was presented to Todmorden by the Fielden family and opened in 1875, straddles the Walsden Water; thus, from 1875 to 1888 it was possible to dance in the Town Hall ballroom, forward and back, across two counties of England.

Following the Local Government Act 1894, the Todmorden Local Board became an Urban District Council, comprising the wards of Todmorden, Walsden, Langfield and Stansfield. At the same time, Todmorden Rural District Council, comprising the parishes of Blackshaw, Erringden, Heptonstall and Wadsworth, came into being. Two years later, on 2 June 1896, the town was granted a Charter of Incorporation and the area covered by the Urban District Council became a Municipal Borough. The number of wards was increased from four to six: Central, Walsden, Langfield, Stansfield, Stoodley and Cornholme. Todmorden Rural District was later renamed Hepton Rural District. Since the local government reforms of 1974, Todmorden has been administered as part of the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, within the Metropolitan county of West Yorkshire. At the local government level, Todmorden, the town, is almost entirely within Todmorden ward although the eastern portion of the town toward Eastwood shares some of adjoining Calder ward with Hebden Bridge.

Medieval Todmorden had consisted of the townships of Langfield and Stansfield in Yorkshire, and Todmorden/Walsden section of the greater township of Hundersfield in the Ancient Parish of Rochdale, Lancashire. The township of Todmorden and Walsden was created in 1801 by the union of the older villages of Todmorden and Walsden.

Heavy industry is now part of Todmorden’s history, not its present. The industrial chimneys have largely gone and the remaining mills have mostly been converted for other purposes. The town’s industrial base is much reduced (at one time Todmorden had the largest weaving shed in the world). There has been a great deal of regeneration activity and Todmorden is now increasingly a commuter town for people working in Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and smaller towns. Todmorden also services the local rural area and attracts visitors through its market (indoor and outdoor), various events, heritage and the local Pennine countryside. Changing work patterns may have influenced the fact that the town was the first rural telephone exchange in Britain to be broadband-enabled through public demand. Rising house prices over recent years are a particular problem as there is limited land available in the valley for building affordable housing. It has for centuries been considered the safest accessible route directly across the Pennines.

Todmorden has a very busy nightlife, for a small town. The nightlife includes many pubs and a club, each offering their own unique part to a nightlife. Pubs in the town centre include The Duke of York, The Wellington, The Royal George, The Golden Lion, The White Heart (Wetherspoons) and The Polished Knob, known for live bands and music. There is also KISS Bar open till 2am, Bramsche Bar open till 1am and the Venue nightclub open till 5am on a Friday and Saturday.

Todmorden has several attractions, the foremost being a large town hall that dominates the centre of the town. Todmorden is situated alongside the Pennine Way, Pennine Bridleway, Mary Towneley Loop and Calderdale Way and is popular for outdoor activities such as walking, fell running, mountain biking and bouldering. Its attractions include many canal and locks, a park containing a sports centre, an outdoor skateboard park, tennis courts, a golf course, an aquarium/reptile house and a cricket ground. There are also many wooded areas around the town and a variety of cafés and restaurants.

Its indoor and outdoor markets sell a wide range of locally produced food. The Hippodrome Theatre shows films as well as putting on live performances. The town also contains a small toy and model museum, a library and a tourist information centre, along with many independent retailers. Annual events include a carnival, agricultural show, beer festival, music festival and the traditional Easter Pace Egg plays.

Todmorden has the look of a Victorian mill town and has some notable buildings including Dobroyd Castle (completed in 1869), now used as a residential activity centre for schoolchildren; the Edwardian Hippodrome Theatre; an imposing Greek Revival town hall (built 1866–1875) that dominates the centre of town; the Grade I listed Todmorden Unitarian Church (built 1865–1869); and the 120 ft Stoodley Pike monument (built 1814 and rebuilt in 1854) atop the hill of the same name.

Dobroyd Castle, the Town Hall and the Unitarian church were all built at the behest of John Fielden and his sons and designed by John Gibson, who had been a member of Charles Barry’s team at the Houses of Parliament.

The town hall in Todmorden straddles the Walsden Water, a tributary of the River Calder, and was situated in both Lancashire and Yorkshire until the administrative county boundary was moved on 1 January 1888. Designed by John Gibson of Westminster, this imposing building has a northern end which is semi-circular. One interesting external feature of the town hall is the pediment. The fine carved stonework has two central female figures on a pedestal. The left-hand one represents Lancashire (cotton spinning and weaving industries) and the right-hand one Yorkshire (engineering and agriculture).

Centre Vale Park in Todmorden is the setting for several pieces of local art, including tree carvings by the sculptor John Adamson. Also in the park are the reconstructed remains of Centre Vale Mansion, next to Todmorden War Memorial in the Garden of Remembrance, and nearby there is a sculpture of a dog. This was sculpted by local sculptor David Wynne in 2005, and was cast in steel at the local Todmorden foundry Weir Minerals. It was donated to the park by the sculptor and the foundry, but installation was delayed for several years due to the extensive flood alleviation works. In 2011, the dog was featured on an episode of Derren Brown’s The Experiments. Brown spread a rumor that the dog was lucky; it then gained a reputation for bringing luck to anyone that touched it.

Older buildings include two 18th-century pubs; Todmorden Old Hall, a Grade II* listed manor house (Elizabethan) in the centre of town and currently in use as a restaurant; and St. Mary’s Church which dates from 1476.

Stoodley Pike Monument—a 121 ft-high tower standing at the summit of 1,300 ft Stoodley Pike—dominates Todmorden’s moors, and is a well-known landmark on the Pennine Way.

Todmorden has been used as a filming location for the 1980s BBC TV police drama Juliet Bravo, Territorial Army series All Quiet on the Preston Front, parts of The League of Gentlemen, BBC TV miniseries Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the award-winning BBC1 series Life on Mars and a film adaptation of the novel My Summer of Love.

Todmorden featured in a TV show about haunted buildings. The programme included a closed surgery in which Harold Shipman worked for a number of years, as well as the town hall (haunted by a grey lady), and Odd Fellows Hall (known as Baxters bar), which is haunted by a builder who died in the construction of the building in 1811.

In February 2010, Todmorden featured in the BBC Radio 4 programme “Costing the Earth: The New Diggers”. Members of a guerrilla gardening group spoke about reclaiming unused land for growing vegetables, how this helps the local community and how it can be a driver for change. Todmorden received a visit from Prince Charles who came to support Mary Clear’s Incredible Edible Todmorden project. This featured on BBC Yorkshire. Todmorden received a grant for the support of bees and bee keeping in summer of 2011.

Todmorden’s local newspaper is the Todmorden News owned by Johnston Press. Singletrack Magazine, a national mountain biking magazine, is based in Todmorden.

Todmorden’s twin towns are Roncq (France) and Bramsche (Germany).

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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