Castle Hill, Huddersfield
Taken and adapted from Rumsby, J. 'A Castle Well Guarded: the archaeology and history of Castle Hill, Almondbury'
Castle Hill is a Scheduled Ancient Monument situated on a hilltop overlooking Huddersfield, in the Metropolitan Borough of Kirklees. It has been settled for at least 4,000 years. Experts regard it as one of Yorkshire's most important early Iron Age hill forts. The summit of Castle Hill is by far the most conspicuous landmark in Huddersfield. The Hill has been a place of recreation for hundreds of years and the easily discernible remains of past occupation have made it a subject for legend, speculation and scientific study. It can be located on UK Maps grid reference SE152140.
The hill owes its shape to an outlying cap of hard Grenoside sandstone, which has protected the softer stone beneath from erosion. The slopes below Castle Hill are formed from alternating deposits of shale and harder sandstones and form a series of slopes and benches. Five coal seams lie within the shales of the lower slopes some of which have been extensively worked along the hillside, by adits and shafts. Workings are visible in several places on the hillsides and there is also evidence of old quarries, now infilled.
The first people to set eyes on Castle Hill were probably hunters and gatherers of the Mesolithic age, camping amongst the forests which at that time covered the land. In the Neolithic and Bronze Age, there appears to have been widespread travel or trade along the river valleys connecting the Yorkshire Wolds, the Peak District and the Mersey and Ribble estuaries. This is shown by various characteristic types of stone and bronze tools in a place far from their points of origin. The hillfort was constructed in the early Iron Age, around 555BC taking up the whole hilltop. Modifications were made around AD43 to improve the defences, probably in response to the new threat from the Roman Empire.
Excavations on part of the hillfort in 1970 demonstrated that Castle Hill had at some stage suffered from a severe episode of burning. Vitrified forts such as Castle Hill are rarely found in England, and are more usual in Scotland.
The banks and ditches that remain are not those left by the Iron Age people. They are much more the result of recutting and other alterations carried out during the Middle Ages, and then modified by centuries of erosion. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, Almondbury became part of the territory known as the Honour of Pontefract, which was held by the de Laci family. It was they who established a small Castle on the hill. The castle is mentioned in a charter of King Stephen to Henry de Laci of about 1142 to 1154, and archaeological excavation has provided a wooden stake, radiocarbon-dated to the late 1140s, and a coin of about 1160. It can be assumed that the castle was complete and occupied by the 1140s.
In the early 14th century there was an attempt to found a town on the hill. It was laid out in the lower bailey, and possibly elsewhere on the hill. Aerial photography revealed a central roadway flanked by regularly laid-out plots. The town was probably abandoned by the 1340s, although memory of it may have lingered, since the map of Almondbury drawn up in 1634 marks the hill as the site of a town. After the end of the Middle Ages, Castle Hill remained uninhabited until the early 19th century. Its prominent position made it an ideal site for a warning beacon, as part of a network of such beacons on other prominent hills all over the country, spreading out in lines from the coast.
Castle Hill’s flat top was a useful venue for large political, religious and other meetings. Chartist rallies were held on the hill at least four times, in 1843 and 1848. During the great weavers’ strike of 1883 a rally of between two and three thousand people braved bitter weather to listen to speeches by union leaders. A tavern to cater for pleasure-seekers was first built on the hill in about 1810-11. A bowling green was formerly situated to the south of the hotel. Other pursuits are recorded at Castle Hill included bare-knuckled prize fights, dogfights and cockfights.
By 1897 Queen Victoria had reigned over the British Empire for sixty years, longer than any other monarch. A permanent memorial of this event was planned in the form of a tower perched on the hill overlooking the town of Huddersfield. Despite some difficulty raising the money required, the tower was opened by the Earl of Scarborough on 24 June 1899. Although often referred to as the Jubilee Tower, the correct name is the Victoria Tower. Designed by Isaac Jones of London, it was built by the firm of Ben Graham and Sons of Folly Hall, using stone from Crosland Hill. It cost £3,298, and was 106 feet (32.3 m) high, which, added to the height of the hill itself, made the top 1,000 feet (305 m) above sea level.
During the Second World War it was suggested that the Tower should be pulled down, to prevent it from being used as a navigation aid by German bombers. A few bombs were dropped near the Tower in 1940 and 1941, but were probably just randomly jettisoned.
There was an anti-aircraft battery near the south-east end of the hill and a range finder is located at the north side of the outer bailey, the remains of which may be seen, and pieces of High explosive shell casings are occasionally picked up in the adjacent fields. These are often incorrectly referred to as shrapnel, which contained machined ball bearings around an explosive charge set to project them at a given altitude, or on impact.
Today the hill retains the remnants of all these past uses, and is a popular site for local people and tourists. Overhead electricity cables were replaced below ground (2006) to enable kite users to make use of the hilltop winds.
The Castle Hill Pub
A company, owned by two brothers - Mick and Barry Thandi - known as the Thandi Partnership bought the Pub adjacent to the Victoria Tower, which was a Free house, on land leased from Kirklees Borough Council, and applied for planning permission to renovate it. The planning approval required some of the original walls to be retained, the original dimensions to be kept and the cellars to be kept with no increase in the overall size of the building. Local stone was also required to be used in keeping with the farm buildings and housing in the area.
During the rebuilding the brothers totally demolished the pub, dug out and increased the size of the cellars, the height of the roofline and the plan dimensions of the original building. These were noted in Huddersfield Civic Society Newsletter 2004, page 8. Concerned local residents objected and after several ignored warnings, by the building inspectors, the local council halted the building work. Eventually, after 3 years and a lengthy court battle, the pub was fully demolished, the cellars were filled in with the building rubble and the area covered. The steel girders used in the construction were cleared from the site by an outside contractor.
Subsequent plans submitted by the brothers to rebuild the pub have been rejected by the council as they did not comply with the requirements previously specified to them. The matter remains unresolved, though the Thandi brothers have made further applications to rebuild on the site.
- Stonepages.com website
- West Yorkshire Geology Trust website
- Muir, Richard (1997). The Yorkshire countryside : a landscape history. Edinburgh: Keele Univ. Press. p. 69. ISBN 9781853311987.
- Harding, D.W. (2012). Iron age hillforts in Britain and beyond (1st ed. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 67. ISBN 9780199695249.
- Huddersfield Examiner, See item 13 (23 January 2006)
- Huddersfield Civic Society newsletter 2004 - pdf document
- Huddersfield Examiner - Thandi Brothers new attempt to build at Castle Hill (5 December 2011)
- Thandi Brothers Submit new Castle Hill pub application (5 July 2012)
- Huddersfield Civic Society
- West Yorkshire Geology Trust
- Hudderfield Geology Group
- Conservation management plan
- Proposed landscape improvement plan
- Gallery of images from and of Castle Hill