Ashday Rutway

Calderdale is rightfully proud of its heritage based on Wool. The fortunes of Halifax did well out of this very product.

However, another much more earthly and now almost forgotten industry that existed in the lower Calderdale area; namely, paving slabs made from natural sandstone. These were known as Elland flags, the name echoing the area where the prized first-grade product was found and mined. The best streets of London were paved with Southwarm Elland Flags, which were considered the premier product of the type.

Not a lot is made of Elland flags in Calderdale, even within the museum, it is eclipsed totally by the afore mentioned fixation of the wool industry.

However, a recent discovery therefore makes this a blatant omission in the history of this area and goes to some extent top explain how vast qualities of these slabs were transported to London and other places. This is coupled together with fortunes of the Calder & Hebble Canal, which through research appears to have risen from financial dire straights to 5% dividend in 1771 and to 10% capped limit in 1825

As owners of a tract of land in Elland were aware, after the big deluge of Boxing Day 2016, some wagon way slabs made an appearance. These had been seen before, however, the significance was not realised until the extent of the rails were exposed.

This wagon way, which does not appear on even the first OS map and not in the deeds to the estate, therefore has history unknown. It was clearly constructed to high standard and included infilling the river Crumm ravine to cross it. Speculation is that a later mentioned small holding has its roots in the stables and blacksmiths etc to service horses for the level sections, this seems highly plausible.

The wagon way is somewhat unique for while most early forms of wagon way used wooden or metal topped rails fastened to stones in the ground; this one has the rails actually made out of stone. In this example a deep groove was cut into the massive blocks of stone, so normal unflanged cartwheels were able to run in a groove, thus giving rise to the name Rut Way. The gauge although somewhat variable, appears to be the same as the Haytor Granite tramway in Devon, that is about 1.3 m, although the Devon example is of different construction. Such is the differential in height between the wagon way start and the canal, more than 1 kilometre, that at least 2 inclines must have been used. The remains of the brake house have been identified for the suspected shorter upper incline. As no documentation exists, if built to serve the canal opening and considering the surprising fortunes of this undertaking, the date is put around 1770. Its life probably was quite short as/ when 'the best' was worked out in real terms, although the canal records describe the trade from the area as 'inexhaustible'..

At the time Lord Savile was the land owner. It highly likely that he did not operate the system, but only took money in the form of a lease with a levy per ton (970 kg).

Investigations have revealed an earlier pack horse way, probably used before the canal arrived and demand forced the construction of this wagon way. A bell type pit is indicated on the old maps and this way may well have serviced that.

Recent electricity supply works has made it possible to conform the route of this rut way towards the Calder & Hebble navigation. Beneath the present surface of the road was found the stone rails in a perfect state of preservation. In fact, just like when they ceased being used. Thus, the conviction that this wagon way was built to serve the Canal is therefore reinforced, by reason of this orientation.

The excavation revealing the rails has had to be reinstated, however, at least the existence and continuation of this early form of transport, down hill towards the canal has been proved and photographs were taken. This was hand dug so as not damage the find.

So maybe Yorkshire has a very early example of a national treasure in a wagon way, still in good condition (albeit mostly under a road!) and it illustrates the length and expense that somebody went to in order to transport heavy Elland flags between the mines and the canal.

This land went on to be mined a second time, on this occasion for fireclay an industry albeit without the mining locally, is still carried on in the area. This mining in itself was an extensive industry, filled with intrigue and is still plaguing an Electricity Supergrid Tower due to the slow collapse of the galleries beneath it.

So woolly backs, eat your heart out! It might even be one-up on the Devonites, who like to claim their tramway in unique.

Although a section of the wagon way is on a public right of way, other sections are on Private Land. The owners of this ask for this to be respected

See Nab Hill Waggonway

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 11:09 / 28th May 2021 / 7082

Page Ref: MMA177

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