The land bounded by Huddersfield Road, Far Bank and Near Bank in Shelley is called “The Bridle”. It was originally known as “The Bridle Field” and is owned by Shelley Educational Foundation. The public footpath which crosses it from Far Bank opposite the Village Hall to Near Bank is an old bridle path, a path used by people riding horses or leading a horse by a bridle. It has nothing to do with brides!
Near the point where the Bridle meets Near Bank, a lane leads off into the fields below the Garden Centre, known as Horsecroft Lane suggesting that these two could have been parts of an old packhorse route. Long before Turnpike roads came into being in the 17th century packhorse routes were used to carry goods from one place to another where the terrain was too steep for horses to pull carts.
For hundreds of years in England following the feudal system, arable land had been divided up into narrow strips in an open field system with no walls. All villagers had a share in the land. The remaining land was common land where villagers could forage, graze their animals, hunt and collect firewood.
Over centuries rearing sheep became very profitable and most farmers kept some. The Black Death in 1349 decimated the human population and there were not enough people left to till the land. So even more sheep were reared. Stone walls were built to contain them. By 1750 almost 50% of farm land was enclosed. In 1801 the Inclosure (old spelling) Act was passed enabling all remaining farmland to be enclosed as well as some common land, provided three quarters of the people in the village were in favour. Wealthier farmers bought land from poorer farmers and others having lost their foraging rights on the common land, left the countryside to earn their living in towns in the emerging industrial Revolution.
The Shelley Inclosure Act of 1803 was passed by the required majority and blocks of land were consolidated and it is recorded that “In 1807, some parcels of land were to be allocated to 4 ladies of the manor of Shelley until such time as a school could be built on one of these plots at Townend Hill......” The other plots were the Bridle field, and land at Long Moor. The latter, being in the valley, generated the highest income. Very soon sufficient money had been raised to provide a salary for a schoolmaster and the first schoolhouse was built in 1808. The Shelley Village Hall building incorporates the original schoolmaster’s house.
Rents received from the letting of the steep sided Bridle field was poor and even in 1904 it was only £3 pa. Money was allowed to accrue and was used for maintaining the fences and wall around the field.
During World War 2 the Bridle field was let out for poultry rearing, the poultry houses being located on the flatter area at the bottom of the field.
The Bridle owes its steep side to the effect of glaciation. During the Ice Age, a succession of glaciers moved down the valley. The sheer force of extremely thick, slowly moving ice down the valley over time cut through the hillside creating a cliff, exposing a complex system of varieties of rock including coal, laid down in the Carboniferous period over 300 million years ago. As the last glacier retreated, springs formed along the exposed cliff face, loosening the layers of rock and rendering it very unstable. This occurred 12,000 years ago, recent in geological time! Evidence of this is clearly evident today as slumping occurs regularly after heavy rain.
The area is roughly divided into two parts, woodland and rough grassland. Over time the woodland is overtaking the grassland. The Shelley Conservation Group has in recent years planted trees and wild flowers on the Bridle which have attracted a variety of butterflies and migrating birds. It is a haven for conservationists and an idyllic final section of the Shelley Welly Walk.
Written by Malcolm MacDonald