Denshaw: a brief history

A brief history of Denshaw by John Kirkbride

The old days
Beyond the village of Delph and situated pretty much on the edge of the moors is the outpost of Denshaw.

I use the word outpost only because when viewed on a map it’s the most remote of Saddleworth’s villages. In reality it’s very easy to get to (assuming it’s not the middle of winter) involving a fairly straight run across the unsurprisingly named Denshaw Road.

Because it sits on the A672, a lot of drivers pass through Denshaw en route to the M62 and exotic destinations like Leeds. I’m guessing many don’t give it a second glance, but that’s probably because they’re unaware of the long and intriguing history.

In fact, it’s fitting that Denshaw is part of the main artery to the motorway as the village originally formed around the junction of five major roads. But it goes back a lot further than that.

It’s well known the Romans were active in the Saddleworth area – the fort at Castleshaw is quite a big clue – but in Denshaw evidence has been found of Stone Age and Bronze Age occupation.

Denshaw By Stephen Lovett

While digging a trench for a water pipe on Wall Green in 1932, workmen found a palstave (your new word for today) which is a type of Bronze Age axe. Other ancient tools were found on Denshaw Moor, which is one reason why proposals for a wind farm there were rejected in 2006.

The name itself is derived from the language of Old Norse, which means there was probably a settlement here at the time of the Danelaw in around the 11th century. What all this tells us is that, despite the challenging winters and the fairly remote location, people have been living in Denshaw for an awfully long time.

During the Industrial Revolution many of the area’s towns and villages developed rapidly as cotton and other textile mills sprang up like mushrooms. But for reasons that proper historians could no doubt explain, the mills never came to Denshaw – a twist of fate that has allowed it to retain much of its rural village feel.

A mill did appear in the early 1790s at Denshaw Vale, and though believed originally to have been a woollen mill, it soon became better known for its calico printing. It’s documented that by 1871 there were 68 men, 11 women and 15 boys employed there, so clearly it played a key role in Denshaw’s local economy and growth.

Just so you know, Denshaw was originally a part of Delph, but became an ecclesiastical parish in its own right in 1864.

By Rosie Littlewood

A village community
Having retained its rural village demeanour, by the 20th century Denshaw had pretty much everything that a small countryside community might need.

There was a Co-op from 1857 (though I believe that closed in the 1960s). The Post Office right on the junction continued to provide the basic necessities along with as many stamps as you liked, and providing more or less everything else was the imposing Junction Inn across the road. Sadly the Post Office closed when that venerable institution decided that such local amenities were no longer needed, but happily the Junction Inn is still going strong.

Depending on which source you believe, the Junction was built sometime between 1795 and 1807 – although it’s possible they were simply slow tradesmen and it took them 12 years to build it. It was originally erected as a posting house where horses could be rested or rented, serving the Oldham to Ripponden turnpike road (now the A672) which opened in 1798.

It’s been considerably renovated in recent years, and now serves a function that’s the modern equivalent of the one it was built for. In 2019 one online reviewer described it as “the village pub everyone wishes they could have on their doorstep”.

Other pubs within the environs of Denshaw include the Printers Arms, (an obvious reference to Denshaw’s calico printing days), The Oddfellows, and a little way up the road, The Rams Head. The once popular Golden Fleece closed in 2011.

The Rams Head Inn is the oldest and highest, having originally been built in the 1500s at an elevation of 1,212ft above sea level.

By Tony Wallace

The Printers Arms dates from around 1717 and was initially christened the Coach & Horses.

The Oddfellows Lodge is a relative newcomer to the village, having been built in 1818.

Today, all of them are renowned locally for their welcoming atmosphere and good food.

Whit Friday in Denshaw
If you didn’t know Denshaw was in Saddleworth, you would if you went there on Whit Friday (as long as it wasn’t this year or last year).

Denshaw is understandably proud of its Whit Friday band contest, having attracted 25 bands to its very first event in 1993. The contest has blossomed since then, and when not kyboshed by Covid, the village regularly enjoys 50 bands or more on the day.

The contest committee has no idea which bands will turn up to the Denshaw event, but a wide range have attended in the past, including championship bands, youth bands and ensembles from all over Europe. Judging takes place ‘blind’ from within the Oddfellows Club, and the event is always well supported by the locals.

Rock-rolling in Denshaw
It may surprise you to learn that alongside its band contest, Denshaw is also renowned locally for its rock-rolling, cow-shooting and sheep-hurling. It surprised a lot of people to be fair, not least the residents of Denshaw when they read about it on Wikipedia in 2008.

According to the online encyclopaedia the population of Denshaw – which it claimed was just four – is obese, starved of sun and suffering from a lingering parasitic roundworm infection.

The entry read: “Due to the complex hill formations surrounding the village, sunlight is only visible for four hours a day, some say a contributory factor in the local population’s health problems such as obesity and severe malnurishment (sic).

“There has not been much tourism in Denshaw since the Ascariasis epidemic in 1998 which left most of the village seriously ill. The effects are still being felt today, especially by the residents of Dumfries Drive where the epidemic was felt worst.”

According to local media at the time, the residents of Dumfries Drive were entirely unaware of this unpleasant affliction they were apparently suffering from. Indeed, it was all complete poppycock, presumably perpetrated by someone with a grudge against Denshaw or a rather rum sense of humour (or possibly both). Nevertheless, the story appeared on the BBC’s regional evening news and was picked up by numerous news agencies around the world.

Just for the record, although the incident briefly put Denshaw on the global map, the Wikipedia page in question was quickly amended and ‘locked’ against further misuse.

Denshaw Youth Club
Back in the 1970s (and possibly 80s) Denshaw had its very own youth club, which for quite a few years was run by my mum. (Apologies if these personal references are getting irritating, but it is what it is). This wasn’t a purpose-built venue with modern facilities; in fact, as far as I can remember it was situated over the old Co-op, and looked more like a wartime village hall than a state-of-the-art youth centre.

By Paul Davies
But despite it being a large bare room with a high vaulted ceiling and freezing cold in the winter, my mum and the kids made a go of it, tarting it up as best they could. Ultimately, it was a safe place where the youngsters could hang out and buy cheap snacks and drinks, and it was certainly better than lurking about in bus shelters.

My mother also tried to encourage them to get involved in local events and amateur dramatics, and I’d like to think there may be a few people out there around my age who remember her, hopefully in a nice way. In other words, if she ever barred you, please don’t hold it against me.

Denshaw today
Residents of Denshaw have grown over recent years (I don’t mean in an obese way, but in numbers) due to new housing developments in the area. And to cope with the increase in population, the village now has its own purpose-built village hall with the facilities to cater for all kinds of events.

There are different sized meeting rooms for . . . well, meetings, a fully equipped kitchen (for kitchening) and a large assembly hall with a stage, making it a welcome addition to Saddleworth’s enviable list of function and entertainment venues. (Great place for a youth club. Just sayin’).

By Gary Fitton

There are also some excellent walking routes in and around Denshaw, where wayfarers can explore the nearby reservoirs and the dramatic landscape. They’re probably more fun when it’s not blowing a gale or snowing, but to be fair, you could say that about most of Saddleworth’s walks.

At the end of the day, Denshaw is still a close-knit community, and a place with a fascinating heritage that stretches back into antiquity. Would that sense of community still be there if the cotton and woollen mills had arrived during the Industrial Revolution? Who knows.

I’d like to think the residents of Denshaw are proud to be a part of Saddleworth, and Saddleworth should certainly be proud to have Denshaw as a member of its family of villages.

So join me, if you will, and let’s raise a glass to the four sun-starved residents of Denshaw. (Hope the roundworm clears up soon).

12 Replies to “Denshaw: a brief history”

  1. Cheap jokes aside; that was a pleasant and interesting if slightly whimsical and irreverent article, with some fine photographs of the moors which until recently I used to walk regularly.

    Like many people living in Oldham. I’ve enjoyed the Saddleworth countryside for most of my life.

  2. Not many people know this, but Denshaw features in an episode of the famous Goon Show written by Eric Sykes – he used to help out when Spike Milligan was ill.

    You’ll find the script here:

    And this is Denshaw’s Goon claim to fame:

    “The Yorkshire Yehti, part two, three days later, or part three, two days later, I really couldn’t care less. Ned Seagoon was fighting his way through the terrible blizzard of ’55 from Denshaw across the Yorkshire Moors. The drifts were 15 feet high and snow was expected.”

  3. Good, informative article. Lively written and definitely puts a smile on the face. Well done.

  4. A very enjoyable article, having been brought up in Denshaw ,it invoked many pleasant memories not least of the authors mother Enid a lovely lady and of Denshaw youth club . Thanks John for a great piece

    1. Enid was a lovely lady, we first met when we were in hospital at the same time. My son attended the youth club in Denshaw.

  5. dear john, thank you for your history, of denshaw, the only thing i may correct you on was the youth club, that was open in about 1961 i use to go also, also we used to go into the oldfellows, to play snooker, upstires , the landlord told us to hide our beer in the cupboard, if the police call, and lock the door, i was only 14 years old,

  6. Interesting article, lived in denshaw from the early 50s to mid 70s, brought up in the small cottage next to the old Post office , and attended the school that was literally 100 yards away both me and my twin brother have great memories of wild winters and hot summers playing in the Brook the led to slackcote Mill and down to delph used to go on long walks up by reservoirs and castleshaw. There was a boys club in denshaw Vale in the fifties, (now a private house) , rember the great flood of the sixties, where a Bailey Bridge was build near the black horse .regarding the whit Friday contest, it was me and three other mates idea in 1993 , keep up the good work on denshaw. Regards

    1. I think we live in the house that house in Denshaw Vale that used to be the boys club in the fifties. Do you have any more information about it or the club? It’s all very interesting, isn’t it?
      Kind regards

  7. My uncle George Baxter and his wife Margaret ran the post office in the 1960’s to the early seventies. I remember going to see the construction of the M62 to marvel at the giant earth moving equipment. If memory serves me right there was a armed robbery at the post office but cannot remember much more.

  8. Thank you John!!!
    I have fond memories of your mum and the youth club!
    I left Denshaw in 1982 and moved to Canada but my mum Olive Dunne was always very active in the village. We sadly lost her Septmeber 30th 2020..she was 95 years old and still the same old Mrs Dunne as the villagers knew her….

  9. Thanks John
    I too was brought up in Denshaw and remember Enid well, thanks for the reference to the Golden Fleece, it was my dad Charlie Hill that made it popular in the early seventies, shame it’s closed down, I stumbled across this article as I was trying to find out the name of the other pub between the junction and the printers, sure it was the black something, ?? If anyone knows
    Fond memories, Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be ?

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