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Coordinates: 53°40′23″N 2°20′49″W / 53.673°N 2.347°W / 53.673; -2.347 The Alden Valley is a small valley in the South Pennines, west of Helmshore in Rossendale, Lancashire, England. In 1840 it was home to about 20 farms; largely cattle rearing, although most inhabitants were also involved with the production of textiles. Now it is dominated by sheep grazing, with 3 working farms and a number of smallholdings.[1]

Looking down on Alden Valley from Stake Lane, close to Robin Hoods Well

At the end of the eighteenth century small water-powered mills appeared in the valley. Midge Hole Mill dated from 1794, and the original Sunnybank Mill from 1798. By the 1830s there was a small bleach works at the head of the valley (Alden Old Mill), Clough Mill near Sunnybank, and Higher and Lower Alden Mill. The Higher Alden Mill was the first dedicated cotton mill, immediately below the present-day Alden Farm. These small mills were to disappear by the second half of the nineteenth century, as the large mills of Turner and Porritt and others and associated housing grew up in Helmshore around the turnpikes and railway. The outlying mills in Alden were no longer practical, and the valley reverted to farming. The relative tranquility of Alden Valley provided a suitable place for William John Porritt to build a house for himself, sufficiently distant from his own mills and the associated poverty. Porritt bought up most of the farmhouses in the valley, making his family the largest landowner. The Porritts were great tree-planters and planted most of the wooded areas seen today in the lower valley.[1]

To the north and north-west is Musbury Tor, to the south-west is Wet Moss, to the west is Musden Head Moor and Burnt hill, to the south is Bull Hill and the Holcombe rifle ranges, to the south-east is Beetle hill. The Valley is picturesque, with associated sites of interest:


Etymology of nameEdit

It has been suggested the name Alden seems to derive from Old English ælf ('elf') + denu ('valley'), thus meaning 'elf-valley'.[2] Although the Old English root alor (Alder tree) seems an equally likely element.[3]

Ellen Strange MemorialEdit

A story is told of the murder of a young woman by her lover on the footpath to Edgeworth above and to the south side of Alden Valley. Above Robin Hoods well, the site is marked by an old cairn, and a carved stone erected by Horse and Bamboo Theatre at a special performance in 1978. The story was also commemorated by a Victorian ballad written by John Fawcett Skelton. The memorial is not in the valley itself but on a neighbouring hill.

Deer ParkEdit

In 1304-5 the Earl of Lincoln nominated a large area of land - 1,713 acres (6.93 km2) - from Grane to Alden Valley a hunting park. £22 10s was paid to carpenters...for felling timber and making a paling in part of the park. This was a hunting area which fell into disuse over the next few hundred years, although the boundary earthworks can still be clearly seen between Alden Reservoir and Fall Bank. By 1480 no park-keepers were employed, and in 1507 parcels of the land that made up the Park were rented out. The site of the original manor house was believed by the historian Thomas Hayhurst to be where Great House Farm cottages are backing onto Musbury Tor, although this is disputed.[1]

Tor Side HouseEdit

Surrounded by trees south of Musbury Tor. This was built by Joseph Porritt for his own occupation. From 1949 until 1982 it housed the offices of Great House Experimental Farm.

Sunnybank Mill (site of)Edit

The estate built in the late 1990s above Wood Bank in Helmshore is the site of Sunny Bank Mill, built by Joseph Porritt at the end of the nineteenth century on the site of his smaller and older mills. For a time it had the longest loom in the world and was one of the world's largest producers of industrial felt (mainly for papermaking). His quarries in the Alden Valley provided stone for his buildings in St Annes on Sea. In the 1970s the mill was sold to developers and was eventually demolished in 1977, including the chimney which had been one of Helmshore's dominant landmarks. There is still the base of a wall of one of the mill buildings in the woods close by, and a large cutting into the hillside. These are some of the only remnants of the mill to survive.

Robin Hoods WellEdit

On Stake Lane, the moor road south from Dowry Head, is a well associated with the legend of Robin Hood. Legend has it, a depression in a stone above a spring there was where Robin Hood put his foot while stopping for a drink. The road is believed to be a Pilgrims Route to Whalley Abbey, and it could be that the well was a resting place on that route. There was an annual Robin Hood festival celebrated in Bury until 1810. The route today is a popular recreation site for walkers and cyclists alike.

A view from near the top of Robin Hood's Well. Pendle Hill is just visible in the background.

Township of PilkingtonEdit

Deep into Alden Valley, on the north side of the brook, can be found the ruins of 'Alden Old Mill' - an old bleach works built by Robert 'Rough Robin' Pilkington. Still known as the Township of Pilkington the ruins of his farm can be found above the ruined mill. He enclosed common land and would not pay his rates and was therefore refused poor relief during the depression in the 1820s.



  1. ^ a b c Musbury and Alden, 700 years of life and landscape; John Simpson; 2008 Helmshore Local History Society; ISBN 978-0-906881-19-4
  2. ^ Alaric Hall, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity, Anglo-Saxon Studies, 8 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2007), p. 65.
  3. ^ Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names, A.D.Mills, 1991

External linksEdit

  • British Film Institute Amateur footage of the Alden Valley and hay-making at the Great House Experimental Farm (1960).