Spotland's 1000th birthday
Date published: 22 October 2010
There is a strong case for celebrating today, (Friday 22 October 2010) as a landmark date for Spotland.
Historians suggest that this precise date 1000 years ago marked the death of Wifric Spot – a candidate for the person who gave their name to our area.
1000 years ago the name “Rochdale” was unknown. Our area was just inside the boundary under the legal and administrative influence of the “Danelaw”.
It can be argued that the Victorians created a rather romanticised tale of Rochdale's turbulant history at the end of the first millennium. The clues (and perhaps some Victorian red herrings) can be found in our wonderful local studies library at Touchstones: Published accounts in the 1860s claim a viking battle axe or “sparth” was found whilst excavations were made for the gasworks. The 19th century development of the Sparth area became littered with “viking” references notably Dane Mill and Killdane Street that alludes to a mythical battle by anglo-saxons against the viking hoards at the foot of “Castle Hill”. The reality of ancient Scandinavian influence in Rochdale may be a little less bloodthirsty but nevertheless involves a rich heritage of our area's early history.
Modern historians tend to use the name “Viking” less when referring to the emerging complex history of these peoples. The term Viking is derived from the Norse for pirate. The reality is that although earlier Scandinavian visitors to our shore did indeed plunder and pillage, the 2 centuries before the Norman conquest saw substantial settlement in our locale. This can still be identified in references and local place names such as Danes Wood and names ending in terms such as “rake”, “gate”, “holt” and “holme”. Nordic remnants can also be heard in the vocabulary and sentence structure of Rochdale's Lancashire dialect.
Wilfric Spot did not have a particularly close link with our area. It appears he was exceedingly wealthy including the holding of lands between “the Ribble and the Mersey” before Lancashire was created. The nobleman was buried at the cloister of Burton. His will made monies available for the foundation of Burton Abbey who traditionally marked its benefactor's death every 22 October.
It could be argued that Wilfric Spot's land pre-dates Rochdale. There are mysterious references to “Old Town” in Victorian maps of the valley just south of the Turner Brother Asbestos factory site. The name “Rochdale” does not appear in the Domesday book collated after the Norman Conquest, instead the name “Recedham” appears. There is no reference to any local castle – something that probably wouldn't have been missed in the definitive document of the conquering administration's tax records. There is no mention of a substantial church in 11th century Recedham. However, in about 1180 Adam de Spotland made monies available for the founding of St Chad's “in the vale of the Spod”.
Spotland was once a vast area covering about 15 square miles, extending to the vale of Whitworth and bordering the forest of Rossendale. Various local government boundary changes have left the mere rump that now forms Spotland Ward. However, an old term for the area has recently gain more widespread use. For decades the name “Spodden Valley” has described the geographic path of the River Spodden from the foothills of the Pennines down through Healey Dell Nature Reserve and into Rochdale Town Centre at Mitchell Hey were it meets the River Roch.
An amateur colour film of the valley was made in 1968 can be viewed at the North West Film Archive but the term has had international prominence as a result of the ”Save Spodden Valley” campaign formed after the destruction of woodland at the former Turner Brothers Asbestos factory site in 2004.
Whilst the “Save Spodden Valley” campaign challenges the controversial planning application to build over 600 homes and a children's nursery on the site of what was the world's first, then largest, asbestos textile factory, they state their efforts to promote the Spodden Valley in a positive light must be their lasting legacy.
Campaign co-ordinator Jason Addy puts the history of the Spotland and the Spodden Valley into perspective: “Asbestos was once marketed as an magical fibre that could not be destroyed. Unfortunately we now know it is a deadly material and that many thousands of tonnes of asbestos fibre contaminate our valley. 1000 years is a short time for a mineral that can cause cancer. We must ensure that the people of Rochdale are kept permanently safe from the dangers of the asbestos that remains in the Spodden Valley. We firmly believe that the former asbestos factory site is not suitable for housing. Instead we maintain that the site must be permanently capped and sealed so that it can be used for woodland and amenity. This would be the cheapest and safest solution but not the most profitable. Given the products and decisions made in old Turner Brothers Asbestos site have caused so much damage to human health, surely people must now be put before profit.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a amenity for future generations around Spotland. A safe, green valley for wildlife as recreation and a “green lung” for Rochdale. What a wonderful legacy that could be for the next 1000 years.”
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