ALTHOUGH its origins are agricultural and, in common with the surrounding villages go back to eighth century settlements, Skelmanthorpe owes its fortunes mainly to the making of textiles which came to dominate so much of West Yorkshire.
The village history has its fair share of local colour from radical political activism to dark warnings about ‘Shat ear ‘ole biters’.
The trail starts and ends in the village centre and takes in ancient trackways, old woodland and stream courses and provides several places to stop and admire attractive landscapes and historical features. Stout footwear is advisable.
Starting point: The village car park behind the Council Offices, Commercial Road. Next door to the Council Office is the current Co-operative store. ‘The Co-operative’ was one of several Friendly Societies which flourished in the village and Skelmanthorpe Co-operative Society actually pre-dates the Rochdale Pioneers, commonly thought of as the founders of the movement.
Walk up New Street and take the public footpath on the right. Pass the bowling green on your right and exit into Radcliffe Street.
As you walk along Radcliffe Street, note the white house down the steps on the right where the Skelmanthorpe Chartist Flag was woven in 1819. The Chartist Movement had its origins in political discontent in the period following the Battle of Waterloo and the Reform Acts and ended with the development of the Co-operative movement and the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.
From the church, return to Radcliffe Street then proceed to cross Cumberworth Road into ‘the triangle’ car park. The Field family was extremely successful and went on to control all three of the main textile mills in the village at Greenside, Elm and Tentercroft.
Crossing Huddersfield Road, turn left and then right onto Wood Street. As you turn the next corner, note Salt Pie house on the right.
It is thought that pie is a corruption of the word pile and that this is a place where salt, brought by pack horses from Cheshire, would be stock piled for local distribution. Salt would have been in particular demand in Skelmanthorpe not only for preserving foodstuffs but for use in textile dyeing.
Follow Wood Street, and then turn left when you reach Station Road and next left onto Strike Lane. The cottages on your left as you enter Strike Lane are weavers’ cottages built in 1822 with money from the Golden Fleece Friendly Society.
Walk down the lane to the bridge over the old Clayton West branch line, now the Kirklees Light Railway. The branch line carried coal and passengers to Shepley Junction where it joined the Huddersfield-Sheffield main line.
From the bridge you can view the hillside towards Emley Moor Mast across the site of the former coke ovens (now buried under spoil). Coal from Emley Moor colliery was brought down the hill by underground tramway to be screened, washed and dispatched by road and rail from Skelmanthorpe sidings. Along with the coal came most of the spoil which was tipped in two large heaps either side of Baildon Dike.
Further on, Strike Lane turns right into ‘Quaker Gate’. Follow this over Baildon Dike, and then turn right at Baildon Place. Quaker Gate was so named because of a Quaker family who lived at Baildon Farm.
Follow the lane between the former pit stacks until you exit onto Park Lane. Turn left and then next right into Blacker Lane. If you wish to shorten the walk, turn right and then left into Saville Road and back into the village.
Where Baildon Dike meets Station Road, it becomes Park Gate Dike and Station Road becomes Park Lane. This area, known as Park Gate, was the parish boundary between Emley and Skelmanthorpe and the entrance to Emley Park which is part of the Savile Estate. As you walk along Blacker Lane you can get good views back into the village.
Before reaching the farm, turn right and follow the path down the field side. Over the next stile, the path bends round to the right and crosses the bridge over Park Gate Dike. At the top of the far bank bear left into Blacker Woods.
Blacker Woods is listed as semi natural ancient woodland, which is a site where records show a continuous woodland cover since they began in the 1600s.
Leave the wood and keep going straight ahead. Through the next wall, turn right and walk up the field side to the stile and railway underpass, then up the lane and turn right onto Pilling Lane.
The field opposite, as you enter onto Pilling Lane, was formerly a recreation ground created in 1930 to serve both Skelmanthorpe and Scissett.
Continue to follow Pilling Lane back into the village. Looking back towards the wood, you get good views of the railway line. As elsewhere, the building of the railway brought an influx of navigationals or ‘navvies’ into the area and with them came occasional bouts of unrest and riotous behaviour.
From Station Road in Skelmanthorpe, the railway runs into a deep cutting and tunnel and local labour was taken on to break or ‘shatter’ rocks and work on the excavations. These unskilled labourers were referred to as ‘Shatterers’ and it is probably from this that Skelmanthorpe acquired its local name of Shat.
There are conflicting views on the origins of the ‘ear biting’ tag – possibly from a fight with navvies or on the local rugby field. There have been several recorded incidents over the years which earned locals the somewhat threatening nickname of Shat ear ’ole biters.
Leave Pilling Lane past the Methodist Church and come into Elm Street, then take a left onto Queen Street. On the left is a row of old weavers’ cottages. From the top of Queen Street, turn right onto Commercial Road and return to the starting point.