Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Ruination of Wycoller

by Annie Whitehead

In a hidden valley, about three miles from Colne in Lancashire, lies the village of Wycoller. It was abandoned in the late 20th century, but the story of its decline began many centuries earlier.

In order to visit the village, you have to leave your car in the car park and walk down a steep path. Even before you arrive in the village, there are clues to its history and the reason for its former prosperity.

These vaccary stones can be found in fields all around the village and are reminders of when the village of Wycoller was one of five local vaccaries, specialising in cattle rearing. In the early 14th century most of the village was involved in some capacity, including the building of cattle folds and felling timber for alterations to shippons, and there are records to show that the payment for building a house for heifers was 2s 6d.

The Tudor Aisled Barn
The Tudor age saw the village grow richer still from the textile trade, as sheep began to replace cattle. The inhabitants combined farming with the preparation of wool, spinning, weaving, and the manufacture of clothing. A field above the village still bears the name Tenter Field, a reference to the practice of stretching cloth out on tenterhooks while it dried.

The population increased, because of the weaving work. At one point in the late 18th century, 78% of the heads of households were weavers. Such was the success of the village that there were three hatters resident in Wycoller.

Above: the medieval pack-horse bridge with, below, the signs of centuries of traffic.

But the boom could not last; handloom weavers were no match for the mills in nearby Trawden, Winewall, and Colne. Between 1820 and 1871 the population fell from around 350 to 107, and those who remained were mostly farmers.

Then, in 1890, the Colne Water Corporation announced plans to flood the village to make a reservoir. The buildings were not under threat, but nearly 200 acres of prime farmland were bought up by the Corporation. Underground water reserves were discovered and the work never went ahead, but it was too late. Wycoller became but a ghostly shadow in the valley, with buildings becoming derelict.

The main attraction in the village is the ruin of Wycoller Hall. This building seems to serve as a symbol of the history of the village. Where once it was a splendid 16th century manor house, with a magnificent fireplace, it is now a ruin, open to the elements since the late 19th century when the roof was taken off and sold. Originally owned by the Hartley family, the hall was extended in the late 18th century by its last owner, Squire Cunliffe.

A drawing showing how the fireplace would have been used 

A keen gambler, Cunliffe also borrowed money against Wycoller Hall to fund the building work. He died - heavily in debt - in 1818. The property passed to his nephew Charles Cunliffe Owen, but Charles could not afford to pay off the debts and the estate was divided up among the creditors. The hall passed to a distant relative, and then to the Rev. John Roberts Oldham. The latter arranged for large parts of the stonework to be sold off to build the cotton mill at Trawden.

Wycoller is situated between Pendle and Haworth. Links with the latter are well-documented: Wycoller Hall was frequently visited by Charlotte Bronte and it was the inspiration for Ferndean Manor in Jane Eyre.

No such established link exists between Wycoller and Pendle, but as my companion remarked on the day we visited, it is not hard to imagine that many pedlars passed through, in the times of prosperity. Is it possible that this one passed through Wycoller at some point?

From the confession of 'Pendle Witch' Alison Device, 30th March 1612 (as recorded by Thomas Potts in Discovery of Witches, 1613): 'At which time she met with a peddler on the high-way, called Colne-field, near unto Colne: and she demanded of the said peddler to buy some pins of him; but the said peddler sturdily answered that he would not loose his pack; and so she parting with him: presently there appeared to her the black dog, which appeared unto her as before: which black dog spoke unto her in English, saying "what wouldst you have me to do unto yonder man?" Alice asked the dog what it could do and it told her it could lame the man, who, before he was gone 'forty roodes (300 yards) further, he fell down lame.'

The clapper bridge, above, has various names, which sum up the history of Wycoller: hints of a much earlier age are contained in the name Druids' Bridge, it was also known as the Hall Bridge, because it is the nearest of Wycoller's seven bridges to the hall, and it has been referred to as the Weavers' Bridge, because of the generations of handloom weavers who used it to cross the river.

There is one, final, poignant note about this once thriving village. Just like the pack-horse bridge, the clapper bridge had a deep groove where the stone had been worn down by the journeys back and forth of the clog-wearing weavers. But in 1910 the groove was chiselled smooth by a local farmer, after his daughter had a fatal accident on the bridge.

Wycoller repays a visit. The tiny, peaceful hamlet contains within it many visual hints of a rich and varied history. Inhabited once more, nevertheless it retains a silence that respects its past and allows the visitor to sit, contemplate, and listen for the ghosts of a once lively hub of industry and trade.
For a look 'behind the scenes' pop over to my blog HERE.

[This is an Editors' Choice post, and was originally published on 26th September 2015]


Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016 and has been awarded an indieBRAG medallion. Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, which tells the story of politics, intrigeu, deceit and murderAelfhere in the time of King Edgar, is available now. She has recently contributed to 1066 Turned Upside Down, an anthology of short stories in which nine authors re-imagine the events of 1066 and ask 'What If'.
Annie's Author Page
Alvar the Kingmaker
To Be A Queen
Annie's Website
Annie's Blog
1066 Turned Upside Down


  1. Thanks for sharing. It sounds, and looks, a fascinating place to visit.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Linda. Yes, it is a fascinating place - peaceful, but somehow forlorn,

  2. Fascinating how the ruin hall indeed looks like a post fire Thornfield. Very moving about the farmer smoothing the stone after his daughter's passing. Thank you for posting!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anne. Yes, there was so much to ponder, even though the place is so tiny - history dating from the middle ages right up to the Bronte era and beyond. I'm not sure where else you could find such a lot encapsulated in such a small area.

    2. My ancestors were handloom weavers in Wycollar in the 18th century but moved to Trawden and Winewall in the first quarter of the 19th century, to find work in the cotton mills there. They stayed in the Colne area, and I remember many visits to Wycollar as a child when we were visiting my mother's aunts and uncles near there. Their name was Waddington, a very common name in that area!

    3. Thanks Paula - how fascinating to hear about your ancestors; it's lovely to hear about a tangible link to the past :)

  3. Very interesting - I need to explore that part of England further.

  4. Thanks Stephanie; I think you would enjoy it. Whilst it is a sad place to investigate, there is also a peace and a sense of time slowing down when you are there. I had a very relaxing day there, doing very little, yet absorbing the atmosphere :)

  5. As a Cunliffe Owen, my wife and I visited Wycollar in 2003 in search of some of my heritage. I loved the village and was stunned as I stood in the ruin of Wycollar Hall. It was amazing to stand on the steps that some of my ancestors used. Thank you for your magnificent description of a very beautiful place,

    1. Thank you so much - I'm really glad you enjoyed the article.


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