I recently wrote about an iconic landmark near Huddersfield aptly named ‘Castle Hill’, because it’s a castle on a hill. There is another landmark in our neighbouring village of Longwood also aptly named Longwood Tower. This is where the comparison ends. Castle Hill tower is 106 feet tall, professionally designed and built, whereas Longwood Tower is, to say the least, more modest.
A local tradition of nicknames
To keep with the local tradition of giving people and places nicknames, many villages around Huddersfield gave their own holiday fotnit (two weeks) its own peculiar nickname. The name Honley Feast is still heard around Huddersfield to this day. More obscure names were Kirkheaton Rant, Almondbury Rush, and, not to be left out, Longwood’s holiday fotnit was known as Longwood Thump.
The origins of these names have been lost in history, but a clue may be found in the name Honley feast. Food, drink, song and dance were celebrated during these holiday periods and the name ‘feast’ would fit in. It could be that the good people of Kirkheaton couldn’t sing and so their tunes sounded more like a ‘rant’, and perhaps Almondbury had to ‘rush’ their festivities between others. One can only guess as to the origins of Longwood’s ‘thump’; perhaps it was associated with the dreaded drink.
The construction of Longwood Tower
The reasons behind the construction of Longwood Tower have mostly drifted into folklore. Some suggest it had something to do with Queen Victoria, but the dates don’t coincide with a normally recognisable celebration. Another speculation was that it was to some way honour the victory of the Crimean war of 1853–56, and though those dates don’t fit either, constructing a beacon following this war to warn of impending invasion has been offered as a reason.
However, a date that does fit is to honour the local hero Richard Oastler 1789–1861 who was an outspoken opponent of child labour. In my humble opinion, the most likely, albeit less exciting, explanation is that the local workforce were just trying to show off their trade and to keep active while they were unemployed.
A landowner by the name of William Shaw gave permission to local unemployed men to build this curiosity from stone sourced in the adjacent quarry under the supervision of a Longwood stonemason named George Hellawell. George must have been very proud of his efforts as his initials G.H. are carved above the 1861 date stone.
It is a 29-foot-tall dry-stone tower, like a giant cairn, in the area officially named Nabb End. Luckily, the local workers found other employment before it got any taller; given the howling winter gales that rush down our Colne Valley, I’m sure it would have fallen over many years ago if they had kept going. Still, it’s been there for over 160 years so what do I know!
It was tidied up by Kirklees Council in 2008 with re-enforcement – a handrail and a flatter viewing area at the top (got to have health and safety tha’nose).
A poetic celebration of Longwood Tower
George Collier from our neighbouring village of Milnsbridge wrote this poem to celebrate the opening in 1861:
On Longwood Edge there stands a Tower,
that end near Quarmby Clough,
and if you stand out by the church,
you’ll see it plain enough.
This Tower was built by men and boys
of Longwood, that is true,
and if you want the height of it
it’s twenty-nine feet two.
So come my lads and lasses gay,
come, and join the throng,
we’ll have a spree this Longwood Thump
in eighteen sixty-one.
The Longwood Sing
A small natural depression in the shadow of the tower was where in 1873 a small amphitheatre was constructed, which is where the annual Longwood Sing takes place. Brass bands, choir singers, and enthusiastic supporters gather during the Longwood thump to sing hymns and songs usually including Handel’s Messiah which is a very popular and proud local favourite. Our very own Huddersfield-born prime minister, Harold Wilson, paid a visit in 1973, during his time as leader of the opposition.
‘Sings’ had been a tradition in villages around Huddersfield for 100 years or more. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of likeminded enthusiasts would gather to sing many of the traditional classical and religious pieces of the time. Longwood Sing seems to be the only one to have survived in its original form.
The Longwood Sing was an early pioneer of fund raising, in 1869 financial support was given to a local music lover by the name of Samuel Shaw who had become ill, and in 1896 the sing raised funds for the Huddersfield Infirmary which was at that time funded by public donations. It was hoped that surrounding communities and organisations would follow their lead. Longwood Sing has continued to raise funds for good causes ever since.
Loose stones – the local ruffians’ weapon of choice
Before the tower was tidied up in 2008, the local ruffians of Longwood had a habit of rolling or throwing the loose stones from the tower down the hillside (a more impressive effect would no doubt have been from the top I’ll be bound). I know this to be true first hand.
Me and my three regular school mates John, Malcolm and t’uther John got into a bit of a scuffle with a couple of locals lads who quickly saw the quality of opposition that they were up against and ran off, soon to reappear with a dozen of their mates who began to throw the aforesaid loose tower stones and rocks in our direction.
We of course became concerned with the continued weakening of our beloved tower and thought it prudent to leave as quickly as possible. We ran down the hillside, followed by a hail of masonry, most of which was deflected by the trees that we were sheltering behind. Luckily I was only hit on the head, so no permanent damage was done.
The view from Lockwood Tower: a whole life laid out
I have spent many a happy time as man and boy around Longwood Tower. We can see it from our bedroom window and it has been a permanent landmark all our lives. One of the reasons why we love it so much may be because it is unfinished, half-baked and naff, but it’s ours.
If I stand on the top of the tower looking over the parapet and face south and west, almost the whole of my life is laid out like a canvas before me. I can see the Colne Valley meandering off into the distance from Milnsbridge to Slaithwaite and beyond; my first childhood homes of Scapegoat Hill and Bolster Moor are a mile to the west; my first job as an apprentice carding engineer and our first two homes after our marriage were in Milnsbridge only half a mile to the south; and our home for the past 35 years is but a stone’s throw away in Golcar.
Maybe even one of the stones that bounced off my head.