Beacon Hill Road
from an article in the Halifax Evening Courier Saturday 14th August 1869
The new Southowram Road - The construction of the road from the neighbourhood of New-bank to Southowram, along the face of Beacon-hill, constitutes one of the most important works now in progress by the Corporation, and as it approaches completion, the undertaking has increased interest for the inhabitants of these portions of the town. The advantages the road will afford for traffic between Southowram and the populous locality across the Bridge, are apparent, and it will doubtless have considerable influence on the prosperity of the borough by opening out a direct communication where it was much needed. Although the work presented difficulties no ordinary character, the Corporation resolved to carry it out; the contract was let to Messrs. Chapman and Shaw for £8,200, and operations were commenced on the 16th December last year. The progress already made by the contractors is generally considered very satisfactory, and a visit to the Hill will render the scheme intelligible even to an unpractised eye. Commencing at Old-bank, and with a junction into Bradford-road, the new road will have a total length of 1,777 yards, and an available width of 30 feet.
Godley Branch Road
Throughout this extent the gradients vary, being from 1 in 82 to 1 in 15, but the heavy stone waggons from the various quarries will be able to be drawn along the way without difficulty. A footpath, neatly gravelled, and eight feet wide, will run the whole distance, and constitute agreeable promenade ; indeed, with the fine views of the town that are presented from this point, doubtless, it will be much frequented during the summer months. The main road, which runs in front of the Birdcage, is almost completed to Old Bank, where it is joined by the branch road, also in a forward state, commencing at Godley-lane bridge, and which has a gradient of 1 in 37. From here to near to Folly Hall, the cuttings have not yet been made, and some houses known as Prospect-place will have to be removed. Old bank will, of course, have to be much altered; it will be stopped as a cart road, arrangements for foot passengers being made by steps below the new road.
Above Folly Hall the work is being pushed on rapidly, and the ground having been thoroughly drained by the insertion of earthenware pipes, little difficulty is now experienced from water collecting in the hill. A thin bed of clay runs between the shale, and this occasionally slipping renders it necessary that the operations be carried on with much skill and care.
Here the retaining walls are of great depth and strength, and counter-forts reaching half way across the road, and the whole depth of the road, are inserted every 15 feet. In the hollow behind Folly Hall a large spoil bank is formed, which contains thousands of cubic yards of material which have been brought trucks by a tramway, from immediately below the beacon pan, where the road is cut through the hill.
The entire rise of the road is 244 feet, and in some places the retaining wall is about 30 feet high. Throughout the whole length of the road the retaining wall will be topped with a fence wall four and a half feet high; the upper side of the road will have a fence wall only the ground above being cut to a slope of 1 to 1, and behind the wall there will be catch-water gutter to carry off the water flowing down Beacon-hill side. Beyond Folly Hall the road is virtually laid out to Southowram, though there is some cutting yet to be done. Here the road has uniform gradient of 1 in 15, and will apparently afford ample accommodation for an immense traffic.
At the Southowram end a large quantity of stone had to be removed, and this was speedily run down the tramway and used in constructing the retaining walls. These walls rest upon a firmly set bed of hard shale, and no fears are entertained of any portion of the road slipping, the whole road not having in the slightest sunk during the recent rains. A clause in the contract of Messrs. Chapman and Shaw states that they have to maintain the road for nine months after completion, which, with the energy already displayed, will in all probability be within the time specified, namely, 18 months from the commencement of the work. At present the only drawback appears to be, that, having reached the terminus of the new road, the traffic will have to surmount the top portion of Southowram-bank which has a gradient of something like l in 6. The lowering of this hill would, therefore, effect considerable improvement, and in course of time such will, no doubt, be accomplished. Mr. Henry Ally baa charge of the works on the part of the Corporation.
Godley Road in the background and the Boneyard in the foreground
Colborn Hall and the path to the beacon is Green Lane. Beacon Hill Road runs on the left of the property.
One day in 1896, labourers quarrying stone around Coldwell Hill—on the north side of Southowram, overlooking the Shibden valley—made an unexpected and macabre discovery. Buried deep beneath the field, they uncovered a stone vault containing an unusually large coffin, and within, the well-preserved skeleton of an adult male with “an exceedingly good set of teeth on the upper jaw”. A plate on the coffin lid bore an inscription informing them that they had stumbled on the resting place of “Jonathan Walsh—Born 1741—Died February 11th 1823—Aged 82 years”.
Although the history of Calderdale is not exactly short of colourful characters, few seem quite so Dickensian as Jonathan Walsh, who once owned the now-demolished Coldwell Hill and Lower Dove House farms at Southowram. A landowner, money-lender and textile manufacturer, Walsh was notorious in the district for his eccentricity, meanness and temper. Caroline Walker, resident at Walterclough Hall during his later years, bluntly refers to him in her diaries as “an old usurer” and “extremely importunate”.
Walsh indulged in frequent bouts of litigation against his neighbours, and was believed to spend at least a hundred pounds a year pursuit of this passion, a considerable sum at that time. It was said that he would “rather spend a pound for law than a penny for ale”. He was also known to ride around the area on a mule, bearing a whip which would be used on anybody who displeased him, whilst his speech was so uncouth and haranguing that Dr. Henry Coulthurst, the esteemed Vicar of Halifax from 1790 to 1817, used to hide if he saw the man coming. The clergy were apparently a favourite target for Walsh’s ire.
Perhaps his animosity towards organised religion accounted for his unusual mode of burial. Rather than choosing to be interred in consecrated ground, he left instructions that he should be laid to rest on his own property. Thus, after his death at a house on Horton Street in Halifax, the pall-bearers set out at midnight, carrying Walsh’s coffin back to his home at Southowram. As he had been a man of some considerable stature—well over six foot tall, by all accounts—it cannot have been an easy task to haul that burden up Beacon Hill, some years before the construction of the Godley Cutting.
Walsh’s inhumation was conducted by candlelight at four o’ clock in the morning, and in further defiance of religious convention, he’d directed that he be buried with his head to the east. The spot he had chosen was in the corner of a field near where Pump Lane meets the ancient holloway variously known as Dark Lane, Magna Via or Wakefield Gate, still a well-used route into Halifax at the time. His wife had previously been buried in the same field; however, Mr. Walsh had also given instructions that he was to be planted in the opposite corner!
The reason Walsh had selected for his grave a spot so close to the former highway seems typical of his perverse character. In 1924 (whilst wondering whether Walsh’s biography had been related to Emily Brontë in 1837 when she taught at Law Hill School nearby), the venerable Halifax historian T.W. Hanson noted: “The old packhorse road passed through his land, and Walsh was provoked many times because the weavers and others would trespass over his fields instead of keeping to the road. Tradition says he was buried close to the road so that his ghost might haunt the travellers”.
Sadly, no sightings of Jonathan Walsh’s irate revenant have been recorded, but it seems inevitable that for some time after his interment, the superstitious locals will have regarded the area with dread, especially as the grave was on unconsecrated ground. For instance, Philip Ahier mentions that during the Nineteenth Century, a stretch of woodland near Kirkburton was avoided by locals, who feared they would meet the ghost of a woman who had received an unconsecrated burial there. Perhaps it was not just the construction of the Godley Cutting which caused Wakefield Gate to fall into disuse…
However, it seems that the local folk Jonathan Walsh so despised had the last laugh. Although Walsh’s land originally passed to his grandson, it was eventually absorbed into the Shibden Hall estate and then leased to the quarrying company, Maude & Dyson. Following the discovery of Walsh’s mortal remains in 1896, the enterprising firm saw no need to respect the dead and instead, placed the bones on public display, charging the public two pence each to inspect them. Over the following days, thousands of people visited the grisly attraction, until finally the skeleton was “kicked to pieces by drunkards”.
The actual beacon has been replaced at various times: 1615, 1745, and 28th May 1856. A replica stands there today.
In the 18th century, the bodies of executed men – including those of the Coiners – were suspended in chains at the top of the hill as a warning and a moral lesson for the local populace. A skull which was used in Hamlet and other productions at the Theatre Royal was that of one such murderer who had been hung in chains on Beacon Hill.
The Beacon is still lit for special occasions, celebrations and jubilees.
A very early view from Beacon Hill
See our Railways and Cable Car page
moved to beacon house in 1951. I attended brighouse girls grammar
school. My name then was Judith Hanson. My dad was John, my mother was Dorothy. We lived there at the time of the coronation. I remember the
bonfire being built around the beacon and the excitement waiting for
it to be lit. Times were tough then. No electricity, no mains sewerage. I didnt appreciate the history of the house at the time but now I would be interested in any info out there or anyone who remembers my
family. Thank you by Judith Barnes (southampton)
return to Southowram Blog Page 4
advance to Southowram Blog Page 6