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Bakestone-Making: An Old Pennine Craft

Lilian W. M. Hirst

Oldham Weekly Chronicle 23rd November 1963

AMONG the one-time important stone industries associated with life on the Pennine moorlands - particularly in the Saddleworth area - was the ancient bakestone industry. Quite a lot has been written about this ancient craft which flourished for so long beside the Hull Brook just above Delph, but I have
recently come across several references to it which I have not  previously seen in print.

The earliest of these is the deed between Arthur Assheton and Roger Gartside in 1543, when, after purchasing Friarmere from the Crown (after Henry VIII had taken it from Roche Abbey), Arthur Assheton
sold half of it to Roger Gartside. It is from this division deed that the two valleys of Denshaw and Castleshaw date their separate existence.

Under this deed of Division are listed several tenants, and of those tenants five had the right to mine for bakestones on payment of an annual rent. The tenants and their rents were:

Henry Whythedde, Delfe, XVI .. . ... ls. 4d.
William Gartside, Denshaw, IIII .. .... 4d.
John Gartside, IIII..................... .4d.
Richard Gartside, Denshaw, IIII .. .. .. 4d.
Henry Gartside, Denshaw, IIII........... 4d.
                                                           2s. 8d.

The same deed mentions also that " whereas in parcell of the ground in the said territory of Hiilbrighthope -- there be two Backstone Pitts, whereof one is called the New Pytt and the other is called the Old Pytt."

The interesting thing about this deed is the fact that both these pits (which were beside the river, one near where the Coalyard now stands,  at the junction of the two brooks, and the other higher up Hull Brook,
near where Hull Mill now stand) were in that part of the district  which Arthur Assheton retained. But as you will see from the list, four of the "Bakstonmen" were Gartsides, so the solution was that they made an agreement to rent the right to get bakestones on Arthur Assheton's ground, and a deed was drawn up to cover this.

It seems from the list, "Henry Whythedde of Delfe" had as many shares in the business as all the Gartsides together. I wonder if the Gartsides were brothers and had inherited their father's interest in the business,
and shared it equally between them?

The Schofield family, who were the last owners of the "Bakestone Pit" and who are still remembered by many people, seemed to have entered the industry about the end of the l6th century, when they into the
story, after Robert Holt of Ashworth, married "Agnes, daughter of  Roger Gartside," and eventually sold the shares which came to her from her family, to the Schofields.

In 1733 we see how the Whitehead family sold their share of the industry, for there are two entries in the diary of Mr. John Hobson that give us a glimpse of that sale;

"October 8th.,1733: Went to Delf in Friarmere, in the parish of Saddleworth, to view an estate there, which was to be sold belonging  to Robert Whitehead, about £70 per annum, for which he asketh £1,800.
I offered him £1,400. It is there that all the havercake backstones are got out of a quarry, the only one I ever heard of in England. The mine lies on the side of a hill, and is about eight yards thick, and about three yards of earth to clear on it."

"November 2lst 1733:
At Saddleworth, bought Robert Whitehead's estate for £1,580; several people there making interest for Sir Rowland Winn and Mr.Turner, others making interest for Sir John Stapleton's son."

It seems strange today to think that almost the entire village of Delph was once sold for such a comparatively small sum (less than the price of a house today) and  that a hundred years before that the Whitehead family had bought the property for £200:

Another fact that I have not seen mentioned before, was that there was once an inn in Delph called the Bakestone Inn, apparently it stood near the present White Lion at the end of Denshaw Road, and its landlord was at one time  John Schofield (probably a member of the bake-stone family?)

Ammon Wrigley tells us that the sign board had a rhyme in praise of the Bakestone Men painted on it. The rhyme ran as follows:

These bakestone makers are brave men,
They take a pot here now and then;
Be not in haste, come in and taste
With these ingenious gentlemen;
For it is the axe, the pick, the shave,
That make the bakestone look so brave.

One of the rights exercised by the bakestone maker was  "the right to follow the stone: ' This meant that if the seam of stone went over the boundary into the next field, the bakestone maker could claim the right to work in that field until the seam was "worked out"

This right was included in the original agreement in the days of Arthur Assheton and Roger Gartside;
with the proviso that "it was not lawful to make a new pit until the old one was worked out," although it was worded rather differently.

'That neither of the said parties nor the Heyres (heirs) of any of them, shall or may have, occupy or use, at any one time, any more Backstone Pytts but one Pytt a pese in the ground aforesaid,  and shall get Backstones therein and not elsewhere in the said  ground so long as backstones may, or can, be gotten in the same.'

And it is also agreed;-
"That either of the said parties, their Heyres and assigns, shall and may have and occupy sufficient wayes, gates and passages, to and from the said pytts as heretofore have been used and accustomed."

Ammon Wrigley tells us that the owner of that "peaceable possession and seisin, "a bakestone right, was regarded by his neighbours as a kind of aristocrat, a person of consequence and high authority. The making of bakestones is purely a handicraft, as primitive and free from mechanical appliances as it was in the 16th century. When a large piece of rock is dislodged, it is known as a "fleewing," even though it might weigh several hundredweights. The "fly wing" is lifted up on to the back of one of the men and carried up the steep bank out o the pit. "In all weathers the men work in the open. When exposed to atmospheric influences the bakestone rock proves to be of a very perishable character, and the face of a quarry quickly assumes a rotten, crumbling appearance. This is the reason the stones are fashioned near the brook,
for when not actually in hand they must be kept immersed  in water until they have been fired, which is the concluding  process.

Ammon Wrigley goes on to tell us about the method of selling the bakestones, when the maker hawked them from door to door, chiefly in the industrial areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire.
"He would place his hands round his mouth and shout 'Havercake Bakestones' with all his lung power." But I think there must have been other methods of selling them, too, for I read in a letter in the Chronicle some months ago that, "In the Survey of the Manor of Manchester 1320, for every horse-load of bakestones brought to the market, the seller was charged the toll of a halfpenny, "and if they were Sold at the market in early days, the custom would probably persist. I wonder if any of your readers know?

I would like to give one more quotation, again from Ammon Wrigley:

'Bakestones are not made to any mathematical rule, but entirely by ` rack 'o th' ee,' yet they invariably fit the oven, they seem to have some magical power, which enables them to expand or contract to the size required.'

The "havercake" originally made on these bakestones was a kind of oatcake, usually about a quarter of an inch thick, and was an acceptable alternative to the everlasting "meal parritch" which was a staple
article of diet in bad times, and which sometimes became very dull indeed.

Later, of course, "Bakstone Mowfins" became the most usual, and very enjoyable product of these most useful stones.