(at the very bottom of the page you’ll find a small selection of incredible images of Castle Hill from Fran Wilson Photography)
Good people of Huddersfield, let me introduce you to a contrived debate that I have often had with myself. The Hill vs The Tower. This little debate is not entirely conceived in my brain and is born out of a couple of minor, understandable (if you’re a child) mistakes. Some people refer to the tower that sits on the hill as a castle. It is not a castle, it is a tower. The other, more of a semantic issue and again understandable – but slightly irritating – is some people’s habit of referring to said tower as Castle Hill. No, it is a tower and is it called Victoria Tower or Jubilee Tower and it sits on a hill. So, I am here to put my foot down and talk about castles, hills and towers, drawing a little distinction between our ancient hill and its youthful folly.
Castle Hill, our town’s ever-present magnificent natural landmark is called as such because it was once home to a castle. Shocking, I know. But, the castle has been gone for over 600 years, since around the late thirteenth century. What stands in its place is but a modern-day monument to the former ruler of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, Queen Victoria. Built in 1897 to commemorate the monarch’s diamond jubilee, this tower has become a symbol of our town. And that is fine, perhaps a testament to the builders of Huddersfield who stamped their mark on the town through the nineteenth century (Marsden & Caveney, 2019). Or, more likely, a testament to a beloved Queen for the Loyalist amongst us and a symbol of a tyrant to the Republicans.
The tower is a wonderfully erect L-shape that once stood a thousand feet above sea level. A square layout, adorned with a mix of single-light rectangle windows and an inaccessible balcony and turret, Jubilee Tower’s beauty lies not in fanciful designs and patterns, but in its simplicity (Turner, 2001). A simple design ripe for a company logo or two. Now, I am a fan of the tower, and it has many facets that intrigue me both structurally and historically, but here today I am more about historical identity. While I acknowledge these may be entirely subjective considerations based on personal experience, I feel that those mistakes mentioned in the introduction offer the tower extra credence while taking away from the historical significance of the hill.
Castle Hill, the bumpy shelf itself, is made up of Carboniferous Lower Coal Measure rocks formed some 350 million years ago, making it pretty old (West Yorkshire Geology Trust, 2006). The earliest evidence of activity on the hill is from the Late Neolithic period some 4000 years ago (Marsden & Caveney, 2019). Evidence aside, this massive form has graced the eyes of humans since people first populated the land. A symbol of protection for those that may have dwelled in the hill’s iron age forts, and a symbol of power for those in the medieval castle, a last major outpost of the former realm, The Honour of Pontefract. With the castle purported to have been demolished by the end of the fourteenth century, the hill had a few hundred years where no activity is recorded (Pattern, 2020). As the villages and towns around the area expanded and changed with time, the hill, and its distinctive shape remained much the same. Whether travelling from the ancient roads from Saddleworth or Ainley the site of Castle Hill is almost certainly a symbol of home to the millions of inhabitants that have lived about the hill for countless years.
The addition of The Temperance Hotel to the summit of Castle Hill in 1811 is an indicator that those inactive centuries were probably not entirely void of activity if it were thought necessary to build a refreshment’s room. It was in the eighteenth century that we see the only buildings of [reputable] note constructed on the summit of the hill. A bit of farmland was eked out, along with another hotel being erected in 1854 (Pattern, 2021). While the tower has a simple quality, this inn, designed by William Wallin, had a remarkable simplicity. More castle-like than the present tower, it is with sadness that I confess I would much rather the hill be facing off against what was, until fairly recently, a contestant for best structure in the West Riding, Castle Hill Hotel. But it is not, as, in 2007, this brilliant piece of architecture unceremoniously disappeared. A story in itself. However, the hill remains.
In 1897, over a millennium since people first popped up in the area, Victoria Tower was built (Turner, 2001). Now, before going on, I will reiterate that I do like and appreciate this simple folly that is now synonymous with the town of Huddersfield. But, unlike say Longwood Tower, with its rugged ingenuity, Jubilee Tower hardly feels like a symbol of the people of the valleys. But, to me personally, the hill itself does. Now that is no reason to desecrate, denigrate or god forbid pull it down the tower prematurely, it can still be very much appreciated. Still, it is a reason [for me] to consider the cultural significance of the hill and its structural occupants over the centuries.
In the 1920s an ominous crack appeared on the tower and was subsequently repaired. Then, during World War Two, serious thought was given to demolishing the tower as it was seen as a viable target for the German Luftwaffe (Ahier, 1946). The folly survived this consideration, alongside minor damage it had received from a German bomb that had struck Hall Bower in 1942. Derelict for near ten years after the wars, the tower, not the hill, remained out of use until 1969 when it received some structural fortification. In 1960, due to safety concerns, six feet of the tower was taken from its once accessible turret (Pattern, 2020b).
While Castle Hill has been present throughout human history the young folly has seen its existence threaten in the lifetimes of some of our faithful readers. I draw attention to this as for many centuries after Victoria Tower has gone, the hill will remain.
It was not until the twentieth century that archaeologist truly turned their interest to the hill, but due to funding, world wars and red tape action has been limited. The hill undoubtedly contains many more historical points of interest under its soil and it is my hope that more effort is made to discover them. Still, there is plenty of time to do so as the hill is going nowhere.
In concluding I am going to say I am an absolute advocate for the ancient hill, I believe its enduring significance as the heart of the surrounding valleys is something that connects the people in the area throughout the ages. However, while this article might seem like a case for hill over the tower, I am going to close with my strongest argument for the folly. In the future, when Victoria Tower no longer graces the skyline of Huddersfield, people might look back on this period and its unique monument as, perhaps, The Time of the Tower. And that my friends, is a chapter of local history I am proud to be part of.
Ahier, P. (1946). Story of Castle Hill Huddersfield throughout the centuries: Bc 200-ad 1945. The Advertiser Press Limited.
Marsden, C., & Caveney, A. (2019). Huddersfield in 50 buildings. Amberley Publishing.
Pattern, D. (2020a). Castle Hill, Almondbury – Huddersfield Exposed: Exploring the History of the Huddersfield Area. Huddersfield.exposed. https://huddersfield.exposed/wiki/Castle_Hill,_Almondbury
Pattern, D. (2020b). Victoria Tower, Castle Hill, Almondbury – Huddersfield Exposed: Exploring the History of the Huddersfield Area. Huddersfield.exposed. https://huddersfield.exposed/wiki/Victoria_Tower,_Castle_Hill,_Almondbury
Pattern, D. (2021). Castle Hill Hotel, Almondbury – Huddersfield Exposed: Exploring the History of the Huddersfield Area. Huddersfield.exposed. https://huddersfield.exposed/wiki/Castle_Hill_Hotel,_Almondbury
Turner, J. (2001). VICTORIA TOWER, Kirklees – 1210385 | Historic England. Historicengland.org.uk. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1210385
West Yorkshire Geology Trust. (2006). Castle Hill: Local Geological Site – Huddersfield Geology Group. Huddersfield Geology. http://www.huddersfieldgeology.org.uk/features/castle-hill-local-geological-site/