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Whitworth is a small town and civil parish within the Borough of Rossendale in Lancashire, England. It is set amongst the foothills of the Pennines, between the towns of Bacup, to the north, and Rochdale, to the south. It has a population of 7,263.

The territory of Whitworth spans the entire length of the Whitworth Valley, an area of 7 square miles (18.1 km2). It consists of the areas of Healey, Broadley, Whitworth, Facit and Shawforth that are linked by the A671 road, part of the great turnpike built in the 18th century, together with a number of smaller hamlets now subsumed into the main areas of Whitworth itself. There are several such hamlets now making up parts of Whitworth, such as Cowm Top which was removed to make way for Cowm Reservoir, now a water ski recreation centre, and Hades which lies at the foot of Hades Hill together with others that have been absorbed by the nearby towns, such as Prickshaw which is now a part of Rochdale.

Whitworth is twinned with Kandel, Germany.

The early history of Whitworth is unclear; exact dates are difficult to pin down. At the very earliest period, Whitworth was at the edge of the famed and extensive Forest of Rossendale, which covered 22,000 acres (89 km²) and reached a point somewhere near Bacup. Flint arrows, stone hammers and spearheads found in the area point to the existence of Neolithic man who roamed the bleak open moors. The Goidelic Celts occupied the Pennine Hills, where wolves were encountered as late as the 13th century. Saxons fought off the marauding Danes and Scots and a decisive battle was fought at Broadclough, north of Bacup. Known in the 13th century as “Whiteworth”, and from the Old English meaning “white enclosure” Whitworth has a substantial history, notably the Whitworth Doctors who occupied Whitworth House, a property still in existence in Whitworth Square.

In those early years, Whitworth came within the ancient parish of Rochdale which, although vast, was itself a part of the hundred of Salford, one of the main divisions into which the historic county boundaries of Lancashire were divided during Norman times. The Abbot of Whalley Abbey held much of the land in this area. Saxton’s Map of Lancashire of 1577 does mark Whitworth, setting it between neat pyramid-like hills on either hand. Facit is of rather newer origin. The first settlement was in the 13th century and the name apparently meant “Bright Flowery Slope” in reference to the hillside all around.

The 16th century saw the gradual destruction of the Forest of Rossendale and the extension of sheep farming, the growth of weaving and eventually the first industry in the area. Industrialisation, however, remained a “household” affair through the 18th century and the settlements of Whitworth, Facit and Shawforth remained villages. Impetus was given to the development of the area through the construction, during the middle of the century, of a turnpike road through the valley. It ran from Manchester via Rochdale and Whitworth to Bacup and then on to Burnley, Colne and Skipton. It was one of the few such roads in East Lancashire and provided a ready means of conveying local goods to Manchester and Yorkshire. The road was of vital importance in Whitworth’s industrial expansion and with it, the settlements in the township thus began to grow. By the 19th century, quarrying and coal mining were the chief industries although the manufacture of yarn remained important.

Towards the end of the 19th century a great deal of development was visible including the opening in 1881 of a rail link between Bacup and Rochdale. Passenger services on the railway stopped in 1947. Two reservoirs, at Cowm and Spring Mill, were completed in 1877 and 1887 to augment Rochdale’s water supplies. In 1910, a tram service was introduced by Rochdale Corporation, first to Whitworth and later extended to Bacup. Buses replaced these in 1932. The first public electricity supply and electric street lighting were both installed in 1923. The population of Whitworth reached its peak of 9,574 in 1901 following which the recession in industry in the 1930s and the effects of World War II saw it decline. The first post war census in 1951 declared a population of 7,442 which declined further to 7,031 by 1961. Since then, however, the figure has risen to its present total of around 7,263.

Despite the decline in population, Whitworth in this century has seen improvements in the living conditions of its people and in the amenities provided. Old housing, a relic of the “bad days” of the cotton boom, has been replaced, modernised or renovated in both the public and private sector. Civic buildings have been erected and parks and open spaces provided. In April 1976, an area in and surrounding Healey Dell, at the south end of the valley became legally designated as a statutory local nature reserve, the only one in Rossendale.

A prominent feature of Healey Dell is the railway viaduct which stands 150 feet above the River Spodden. Built from local quarried stone, it has 8 arches, each of 30 ft span. The first part of this railway line was completed in Facit in 1870. The main function of the line was to transport stone from local quarries. The railway also ferried people to and from the area and during the latter half of the 19th century there were approximately 20 mills between Healey and Shawforth employing around 4,000 people.

Local government services in Whitworth are provided by three local authorities; Lancashire County Council, Rossendale Borough Council and Whitworth Town Council.

Whitworth Town Council was formed in 1974 following the Local Government Act 1972, as part of the terms of successor parishes. Prior to this date, Whitworth formed the Whitworth Urban District which was the administrative unit of the valley but was abolished following the reorganisation.

The history of local government in Whitworth began in 1874. The latter end of that century, as has previously been mentioned, saw a great deal of local development. As a result, a local board was set up in 1874 to administer Whitworth. Further independence arrived towards the end of the century with the creation of the Parish of Whitworth, one of nineteen new parishes carved out of the original vast Rochdale Parish. Complete independence came in June 1894 when an urban district council replaced the Local Board. The first meeting was held on 3 January 1895 and the first chairman was William Ernest Whitworth. With this, Whitworth had become ecclesiastically and administratively autonomous from its neighbour. However, in 1974 when Whitworth Urban District was abolished and Whitworth was absorbed into the newly created Rossendale Borough. This was an error as Whitworth should have become part of the Borough of Rochdale, in Greater Manchester which surrounds it on 3 sides.

The urban district council did much to shake off the legacy of the 19th century and Whitworth became as progressive a place, for its size, as any in Lancashire. For example, in four days, 325 officials travelled to Whitworth, then one of Lancashire’s smallest local authorities, to inspect the unique housing development at Leavengreave.

Today the town council consists of twelve elected members and a part-time town clerk. Its mission statement is “To improve the quality of life for the community of Whitworth”. The town council acts as a pressure group upholding the rights and values of Whitworth, a sounding board for local opinion and a centre for promoting the town’s historical, cultural and social identity.

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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