I first located a defended iron age enclosure in 2010, a couple of years later I found a Medieval Latin reference (800 years old) to the site, which called it “ancient” even then.

When I looked at an old OS map there was a Festhigh wood next to the site. The area is one of steep cloughs (ravines) next to Healey Dell. There is a single bank in the adjacent promontory too!

Festhigh Wood (West of Healey Hall Colliery)

Then I remembered a local Fest place-name,  Fester Clough, also next to a steep river valley, coincidence?

The significance is in the first element of the name, “fest”. It could be derived from the Old Welsh ffest, in Morgan’s Place-Names of Wales it means:

The name, therefore, implies a district possessing fortified places

Both sites are naturally defensive sites and by rivers. Fester Clough is a promontary that only needed a single bank and ditch to complete the defences. It may have been plowed away, but take a look at an old ÓS map here:

Fester Clough

Could there more iron age sites in Rochdale? I think so there is a promontory site in Bury called Castlesteads, overlooking the River Irwell at SD 79691299.


This site is scheduled but the site at Smallshaw is better preserved and has a medieval reference too! So why is it not scheduled? it was visited by English Heritage in 2010, it is on the HER.


The place-names of Wales, Thomas Morgan, 1912

Ordnance Survey Welsh origins of place names in Britain






Ir was a Ding thing

August 25, 2015

Pun intended! see this site, for an explanation.

My research into the Ding area and the associated history led to the discovery of many archaeological sites and a vast body of unexplored medieval documents.

Rochdale was obviously an important medieval centre in medieval times, it had a castle.  Rochdale (1251) had an early market charter too, six years earlier than Lavenham and fifty years before Manchester.

I suspect there may have been a small urban centre and maybe a market at the rime of Domesday. The Domesday Book mention of Rochdale’s legal status and not interfering with trade hint at this.

To be continued….

One of the earliest references in England to women drawing rush carts was in Rochdale, in 1618. This was not an isolated case, in 1859 the Smallbridge cart was “…partly manned by women and girls – 42 females helping to drag the cart”.

Based on an article from ‘The Morris Ring’  here.

I wonder if there are any earlier references to Rush carts and similar festivities in Rochdale? Annual fairs were held in Rochdale from the the 13thC, read more here. Read the rest of this entry »

Confirmed Discovery

After finding two adjacent defended sites (visited in 2010 by English Heritage) I felt optimistic about the area’s heritage. A nearby third defended site would normally be cause for celebration. Additional earthworks and place-name evidence indicate this is much more than a single defended site, While isolated “Celtic” place-names exist in Rochdale, little evidence of settlements have been found, until now.

Promomtary Sites

These promontary sites appear to have parallels in other ares of Rochdale, what happened to the area after the end of Roman Britain?.Was Rochdale a late Celtic enclave (7th C.) and did the area survive as the large parish of Rochdale?, Rochdale was originally controlled from Yorkshire by Gamel to the Domesday Book indicating a connection with Northumbria rather than Mercia, as was the case with Manchester (see entry in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle here). Further investigation of aerial views of the area will hopefully throw some light on the Iron Age in Rochdale.

Under Construction.

Rochdale had an early castle;  an early market (1251), it was mentioned in some detail in the Domesday Book, but why was there no manor house?

There appears to have been no manor-house in Rochdale, the house so called, a red-brick building of no architectural distinction, on the north side of the river opposite the town hall, being rightly styled the Orchard.  This house was described as a new building in 1702, and was the residence of the Deardens before they purchased the manor.

‘The parish of Rochdale’, A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 5 (1911), pp. 187-201. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=53027 Date accessed: 15 May 2014

We have manor court records, but no manor. Spotland had one, claimed by a member of the Holt family after they bought the land from the Crown. The Crown got the Spotland land after the demise of Whalley Abbey, which had also claimed Spotland manorial rights, because they owned so much land in Spotland. Whalley Abbey held a yearly Spotland manor court at a place called “Overland”. In 1543 the site of Thomas Holt’s Manor of Spotland was Naden Head.

So why no manor house of Rochdale? The first clues are in the Domesday Book, Rochdale’s thegn was a man called Gamel, who probably was based…in Eland Yorkshire! He has been identified as a major landowner before the conquest with several estates, including Rochdale. Interestingly Rochdale’s legal status is mentioned and apart from 6 exceptions Rochdale had legal autonomy. No where else in what was to become Salford Hundred had this status, not even Salford or Manchester, Bury did not get a mention by the way. But further west there is mention of similar legal status. Which parish was that? it was not a parish, it was The Wapentake of West Derby. A wapentake was the Scandinavian equivalent of a Hundred (a division of a county) and was made up of parishes.

Was Rochdale a wapentake?

But Rochdale was not a wapentake, was it? It is quite big for a single parish though, could it have been a wapentake at the time of Domesday? Gamel was an Anglo-Scandinavian in Yorkshire which had many wapentakes. However there is a reference to Rochdale being a wapentake, in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey:

Wapentake of Rochdale

Coucher Book of Whalley III 684

So perhaps Rochdale was made of a few parishes put together to make a wapentake (Rochdale had four townships, one Spotland, is bigger than most English parishes), which eventually became part of Salford Hundred, Lancashire.

Wapentakes usually had a meeting place where people gathered to sort disputes or assemble for a military campaign (wapentake means taking or showing of weapons). These places were often on neutral land rather than private land, not necessarily in a town centre. The name for these places was a Thing or Ting or in dialect forms in the UK Ding as in Dingwall in Scotland. West Derby had Thingwall and Rochdale…? had Ding or Dinge (located on Rooley Moor). The name is cited by Fishwick as dating back to medieval times. This interpretation of the place-name has been seen as likely by Dr Paul Cavill of Nottingham University (personal communication. Read more about the Ding place-name here. It is interesting to note the 17th C references to “The Dinge” rather than Dinge.

Scandinavian names

To add weight to the wapentake idea, Rochdale has many Scandinavian place-name elements such as Holme, Slack, Booth, Beck and Kirk. We also find classic Norwegian first names, such as Dolfin de Healey (see this History of Spotland) in the 13th. Century. These names appear to indicate Scandinavian settlement, recently a Scandinavian style stone fragment was found in Milnrow too.


Certainly from the time of Domesday to the time of de Lacy the overlords of Rochdale did not live in Rochdale. In fact there were other Rochdale landowners, such as the Elands (descendants of Gamel) who did not live in Rochdale either.

The townships of Rochdale (which also included Saddleworth) could have been put together to form a Wapentake and they formed one of the many estates of the Gamel mentioned in the Domesday Book.

So that is probably why there never was a Rochdale Manor House,  it was not originally a single manor in the traditional sense. Medieval Rochdale had plenty of other buildings of interest, but that is another story.


Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey, Chetham Society

Fishwick’s History of the Parish of Rochdale

The parish of Rochdale’, A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 5 (1911), pp. 187-201

A fellow student at university once said “archaeological distribution maps are more about where archaeologists have been working rather than actual sites”, this is particularly true of Rochdale.


Even in 2007 two cairns, just on Rooley Moor remained unrecorded, and that was after an archaeological survey. After intervention from two MPs and a councillor an English Heritage archaeologist confirmed the existence of the sites. Two extra dots for the distribution map, but there are more sites, more obvious than these that still have to be visited. I have no doubt that other areas of Rochdale have prehistoric sites yet to be officially recognized, a thorough survey of the area has yet to be undertaken.

Bronze Age

Certainly Bronze Age sites are more common than the current literature suggests. Now with the discovery of a site that looks Iron Age and was described as old 800 years ago! A nearby site might be prehistoric in origin too.

So don’t think of Rochdale as a wasteland in prehistoric times, the climate was better in the Bronze Age than it is now. With more surveying we will find more sites, but maybe many of the sites were less obtrusive and quickly decayed into the soil, leaving little trace, apart from the occasional find and a ditch or a bank and some patterns on aerial photos.

More soon..

Well Documented

May 27, 2010

Medieval Rochdale is well documented compared to most of the places in Salford Hundred.

Entries in the Domesday book would appear to indicate that Rochdale was an administrative centre, since legal autonomy is mentioned, with six exceptions. The overlord of Rochdale, Gamel,was mentioned in the Domesday book, unlike the rest of his peers.

Rochadale had a Norman castle, indicating the strategic importance of Rochdale.

There are plans to uncover a medieval bridge in the centre of Rochdale.

Hundreds of Rochdale charters are preserved in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey. In addition hundreds of deeds and charters, most unpublished and untranslated, survive in national and regional collections (such as Chethams Library).

Despite all this evidence for medieval Rochdale little archaeological research has been undertaken in the centre of Rochdale. Burgage plots and their rents are recorded in The ‘Two Compoti’ of Henry de Lacy here, Yet recent articles in the CBA for the NW have not included Rochdale in the list of medieval boroughs in the region.

While the Chethams Society published transcribed deeds and charters as long ago as the 19th Century, they have remained little researched and have been missed from modern desk based surveys of the area. In contrast the History of the Parish of Rochdale by Fishwick, documents many medieval references to the Rochdale area.

I will create a post dedicated to the medieval documentation for Rochdale, but it will take some time!

Meanwhile, follow this link for medieval documentation for Salford Hundred, which includes Rochdale.

The History of the Parish of Rochdale by Henry Fishwick

Although from 1889 it contains information that has still not been covered by more recent studies, such as archaeological surveys. Sites like Naden Head Manor are covered in Fishwick as well as the many medieval references to Rochdale and their sources. Just looking in the index will show you how much these surveys have omitted.


Fishwick’s History of the Parish of Rochdale is available online, courtesy of Touchstones, download it here.

Under construction…

Histories available on-line UNDER CONSTRUCTION…!

Victoria County History of Lancashire – Rochdale

History of the Parish of Rochdale, Fishwick, H.

Two “compoti” of the Lancashire and Cheshire manors of Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincoln, XXIV. and XXXIII. Edward I. (1884) available here.

The “compoti” are important for records of burgages in medieval Rochdale, showing that Rochdale was indeed a borough.

Medieval Court Records

Feet of Fines – Final Concords for Lancashire (in four parts 1189-1558)

Search  here


The Raines manuscripts, held by Chetham’s are essential for Rochdale research, they have now been scanned and are available on CD here.

Medieval Charters, Deeds and Wills

A large number of medieval deeds and charters have neither been transcribed (making sense of Medieval Handwriting) or translated (from the Medieval Latin).

  • Bodleian Library – including Byron Family Material
  • British Library
  • Chester – Wills
  • Chethams Library
  • Greater Manchester Records Office
  • Lancashire Records Office
  • Manchester Central Library

Journals, Historical Society Proceedings

Touchstones Library – journal articles, original copies of research and hand lists relating to Medieval Rochdale


Chethams Library has extensive antiquarian works as well as original deeds and charters (see above).

The Chetham Society (not to be confused with the excellent library) has published many books and articles relating to medieval Rochdale.

See Also

This link about Rochdale’s history here.



June 21, 2009

Rochdale was recorded as Recedham in the Domesday Book, the first recorded reference to Rochdale.

Rochdale’s legal privileges were mentioned, the only case in the area that was to be known as Salford Hundred, attests to the importance of Rochdale. The Norman castle also shows the strategic importance of Rochdale. There may well have been a market in Rochdale at the time of the Domesday book,  since the exceptions to Rochdale’s legal autonomy include interfering with trade (hainfare).

Gamel was the thegn of Rochdale and he survived after the Conquest, although with reduced lands. Gamel is thought to have lived in Elland an the fact that Ellands were later holders of lands in Rochdale would appear to confirm this.

Tenure typical of the Danelaw is found in Rochdale, with references to land held in sokage being mentioned in Spotland (1626 Manor Survey of Rochdale).  Sokemen, could buy and sell land and leave it as an inheritance.

The medieval court of Rochdale, which was a sarjeancy (gift from the King) probably had “sokemen” as jurors, which was common  in the Danelaw.

It is interesting to compare the Domesday references to West Derby Hundred and Rochdale, the legal references are similar and both places had an early Norman castle. While West Derby was a hundred but Rochdale was eventually a parish, but interestingly it is called a “wapentake” in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey, but there was never a manor house in Rochdale. Compare this with Manchester, also a large parish which had a large centrally located manor house (it is still there at Chethams Long Millgate). Middleton, a parish to the south of Rochdale also had a centrally located  manor house as did Bury.

Why did Rochdale have no Manor House?

One reason may have been that several manors may have been joined to form an administrative area under Gamel’s control, which was administrated from Gamel’s base at Elland, in Yorkshire. These large houses, such as at Chadwick, Castleton, Inchfield, Schofield, Stubley and Todmorden were the size of manor houses at the time of the Hearth Tax.

Further reading

David Roffe’s Domesday page

British History Online, The Parish of Rochdale

Did Rochdale have a “Thing site” ?

Under construction…