This is Castle Hill in Almondbury, Huddersfield. There has been a settlement on this site for 4,000 years. It was a univallette (single raised bank) hilltop fort constructed during the late Bronze and early iron age. Over the following centuries it became a multivallette fort with several raised banks and during the 12thcentury it became a ‘motte and bailey’ castle.
The ‘Victoria Tower’ monument that now adorns the site was opened by the Earl of Scarborough in 1899 and is the most conspicuous landmark in Huddersfield. Although often referred to as the Jubilee Tower to celebrate Queen Victoria’s jubilee celebrations, the correct name is the Victoria Tower.
Castle Hill’s flat top was a venue for several large political, religious and Chartist meetings. 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 and later a hotel were built on the site. Other pursuits recorded there included bare-knuckled prize fights, dogfights and cockfights. See Norky’s ramble ‘The Sport of Gentlemen’.
A time before health and safety
In 1899, the year the tower was opened, there was a tragic incident when Mr Edgar North decided to climb the 165 steps to the top of the viewing platform 106 feet (32.3 metres) above ground level to admire the view. As health and safety had not been invented yet, there was no safety rail; consequently, and of course unfortunately, Mr North fell to his death.
The inquest heard that Mr North had drunk five three penny specials at the Castle Hill hotel before his final adventure. A three-penny special consisted of two beers and three whiskies. It is unclear whether the beers were pints or half pints or even somewhere in between, but Mr North drank at least five pints of beer and 15 whiskies and the measures and strength of both would probably be stronger than our modern equivalent. What could possibly go wrong? And it did for Mr North. A safety rail was added soon after.
Defending from high ground – an advantage throughout history
Defending a position from high ground has always been an advantage. This is a view over Almondbury from the tower base and on a clear day at least 20 miles beyond.There’s a similar view all round Tower Hill. For over 4,000 years defenders have been able to look down to the low-lying landscape for potential ruffians,hell bent on doing mischief.
However, in 1940 another defensive structure was constructed at Stirley Knoll, just a stone’s throw away from Castle Hill. This time it was to defend against another group of ruffians in the shape of the German Luftwaffe, also hell bent on doing their own mischief, but on this occasion from the sky. It was manned by 294 Battery of the 96th Royal Artillery.
This is a small section of the Stirley Knoll site, with Castle Hill in the background. There are still concrete and brick structures almost in as good a condition as they were in 1940.The area housed two heavy QF (quick firing) 3.7-inch anti aircraft guns, an ammunition store with blast wall protection, a structure to house two Bofors or Oerlokon automatic smaller caliber guns, a workshop and barracks.
Almondbury – a cushy posting not on Hitler’s list!
It was eventually realised that Almondbury was not on Adolf’s list of areas for total destruction and in 1942 the soldiers of the 294 Battery of the 96th Royal Artillery, and all their equipment, were relocated to a more useful assignment. Whatever assignment it was, it can’t have been as cushy as this one, and my guess is that they would rather have been left alone todo their bit in protecting the good people of Almondbury.
Unless of course their ancestors included Achilles, Alexander the Great, Leonides of Sparta or Spartacus, then there would be something in their makeup that would cause them so much resentment and frustration thatthe only outlet they would have would be to wander down to the cesspits of Huddersfield, get drunk and pick a fight with the local lads.
On a good night they could drink a gallon of beer, have a good scrap, a fish supper, a mucky woman and still have change out of half a dollar (25p) What a night that was.
The notorious Vengeance weapons V-1 and V-2
These soldiers of the 294 artillery battery could easily have been reassigned to a dangerous but more worthwhile position of defending against another threat from the sky – one carried out by a group of German ruffians hellbent on doing mischief in 1944. Their very clever scientists and engineers at the Peenemünde Army Research Center had developed the Vergeltungswaffe, Vengeance weapon one and two, otherwise known as the V-1 missile and the V-2 rocket.
These weapons were launched from northern France and the Netherlands, with the first V-1 hitting Swanscombe in Kent on 13 June 1944. As the range of both V-1 and V-2 was limited, they were only able to target London, Antwerp and Liège, which of course was bad enough.
The V-1 had a simple pulsejet engine with an 850 kg warhead. It had a clever gyroscopic guidance system that aimed it towards a target and after a precalculated time it automatically aimed itself at the ground.This also caused it to shut off the fuel, giving it an eerie silence, particularly following the very noisy buzzing of the pulsejet engine. This sound was why it was given the ominous nicknames of ‘buzz bomb’ or ‘doodlebug’.
The V-1and V-2weapons were launched following the allied Normandy landings, when the Nazi war machine was becoming desperate. The V-2 rockets included very futuristic ground-breaking technology: it was the first ballistic missile and the first rocket to travel outside our immediate atmosphere. It had a one-ton warhead, and the rocket was fuelled by liquid ethanol and liquid oxygen. The ethanol alone took 30 tons of potatoes to produce enough for just one launch and 3,000 were launched between 1944 and 1945.
The V-2 rocket on the left was able to be launched from a secret location and quickly moved on to another site. The photo on the right is of a V-1, taken at LaCoupole museum in northern France. A fascinating place to visit – if you like that sort of thing, of course.
Deadly in more ways than one
Another very expensive and tragic aspect of this development was that slave labour and prisoners of war were used in the constructing of the underground facilities and the manufacture of the missiles themselves, and as described in the ramble ‘Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau’, many of the workers were beaten or were starved to death. As a result, four times more people died in the manufacture of the V-1 and V-2 weapons than were killed by them, but I suspect the Nazi regime even thought that was a bonus.
Some damage was done by the RAF to these launch sites and manufacturing facilities which of course meant a certain amount of disruption to the German war machine, but as the V-2 rocket launch sites were mobile, they were very difficult to target. As a result, the final V-2 struck Antwerp during the early hours of 27 of March 1945, a few hours after one had struck London – just six weeks before the German surrender on 8 May 1945. It was the ground forces who eventually overran the German held territories that put a stop to these rocket attacks from northern Europe.
As also hinted at in the Auschwitz-Birkenau ramble, many of the very clever German scientists and engineers from the Vergeltungswaffe project were employed by the allies after the war to invent more killing machines, though some went on to develop machines to get us to the moon, which I hope that we all agree is a much more worthwhile application of a very clever brain.