Hall is brimming with stories

Hall is brimming with stories

Local historian Mike Popplewell takes readers on another journey into the history of North Kirklees...

This column has suggested, in the past months, a number of people and places that could have been deserving of a mention on the Spen Valley Fame Trail - without directly challenging any omissions.

However, it seems incredulous to me that Birstall's Oakwell Hall was not considered a prominent enough site to warrant a mention.

Now a Kirklees Council-run tourist spot, listed as Oakwell Hall and Country Park, it also functions as an education centre.

The park is a prime dog-walking area and even had coal mining there at one time.

The Hall was built as a manor house in 1583, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and is still furnished and functioning as a living museum dedicated to the Batt family.

The layout of the house, on Nutter Lane in Birstall, is a re-creation of the Batt family home in the late 17th century but its inhabitants would certainly have experienced some disruption 50 years earlier during the Civil War.

As Royalists the Batts found the Hall a useful assembly point for the supporters of Charles I, and it was right on the path to Adwalton where the Royalists and the Parliamentarians fought a battle in 1643.

It must have been galling for the defeated, and depleted, Parliamentarian army as they trudged down Warrens Lane and past such a grand house on the way to Mirfield once the Adwalton hostilities were over.

The Parliamentarian soldiers, many drawn from amongst the yeomanry of Birstall, Batley, Heckmondwike and the like, began to drift away to their homes during the retreat from Adwalton and were never to fight again.

The area was a hotbed of non-conformity and it was the otherwise peaceful chapel-goers who went to war to defend their religious rights on behalf of Cromwell's army, but following this defeat they returned to their homes and churches.

Oakwell Hall is only a short walk down the hill from where Charlotte Bronte's friend Mary Taylor lived, at the Red House, and she became fascinated by the place.

So much so that she introduced her readers to the Hall under the guise of 'Fieldhead' in her novel 'Shirley'.

In turn the novel has been immortalised by the naming of council housing developments in the area after 'Fieldhead' and 'Shirley'.

Of course no self-respecting 16th century building would be complete without  its resident ghost, and in that respect Oakwell Hall is consistent with the likes of Bradford's 17th century Bolling Hall and it was even featured on TV's 'Most Haunted' programme in July 2015.

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