Denby Dale - a call for help to solve the problem of land ownership

There's a call for help to solve the problem of land ownership in a village still best known for its giant pies Words and photographs by Bill Hearld

It’s difficult to write about Denby Dale without mentioning its giant, world-famous pies. But this charming West Yorkshire village has so much more going for it than tonnes of pastry and filling. And it has a mystery that so far, no-one has managed to solve.

Denby Dale sits in the Dearne Valley and is unusually flat for that area of Yorkshire, making it ideal for hiking or cycling and it is a convenient stepping-off point for the neighbouring Peak District National Park. It has adapted well to the decline of its former industrial heritage.

Once, the village had various factories and mills and provided the textile industry with raw materials, coal, and transportation. The silk used for the Queen Mother’s wedding dress was made at the Springfield Mill. Today, that mill houses a small shopping mall, an intriguing rabbit-warren Aladdin’s Cave of various shops and businesses. It is also home to an artists’ workshop where local artist and sculptor Jamie Frost runs almost daily classes for adults and youngsters, teaching drawing, painting, carving and sculpture.

 Tucked away in Springfield Mill is the Denby Dale Centre, originally a Methodist Church charity set up to combat rural isolation. Its meeting room has regular events including a reading group, advice sessions, table games and crafts. ‘When we first started we found there was a great deal more need than we had realised,’ said chairwoman Jeanette Lodge. ‘We have grown a lot since then.’ With the help of grants and fundraising, the centre now operates a small fleet of minibuses which provide a door-to-door, service for people of all ages who find it difficult to use ordinary public transport.

Denby Dale does have an industrial park, despite the loss of its traditional industries, and a surprising number of small businesses for a village of around 2,000 people. There are shops, delis, caf�s, bistros, florists and one bookshop – The Orchard Bookshop where I found local author and historian Chris Heath signing copies of his latest book The Denby Dale Pies – Ten Giants 1788 to 2000 (Warncliffe, �14.99).

Obviously it’s about those pies, full of fascinating facts and previously unpublished photographs of the culinary monsters. It is his ninth book on the area.

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The village has only one surviving pub after some recent closures, but has managed to hold onto its post office, railway station and library – but only just. Kirklees Council has identified Denby Dale Library as one of seven in its district suitable for being run by volunteer community groups.

The council is inviting interested groups and individuals to have their say with a six-week consultation process at each library. Dozens of campaigners have protested against the proposal now a petition has been launched to oppose the plan.

Having more success is the tiny railway station high above the village and beside the mammoth, stone-built viaduct which spans the Dearne Valley, carrying the rail line between Sheffield and Huddersfield. The station is well used by villagers for shopping and commuting and operates regular services on the scenic Penistone Line. The only structure to dwarf the viaduct is the Emley TV mast, said to be the tallest self-supporting structure in Britain, which casts its 330-metre shadow over the valley.

The village is home to a group of enthusiasts who enjoy worldwide communication. Denby Dale Amateur Radio Society is this year celebrating its 40th anniversary. Amateur radio is all about the skill and fascination of communicating with operators throughout the world, enthusiasts from all age groups, income levels and nationalities. They form a worldwide community of licensed operators using the airwaves to communicate with each other using voice, Morse code, data and even pictures.

The thriving club won the regional heat of the Radio Society of Great Britain “Club of the Year” competition in 2011 and regularly operates special event stations at local community events. Society press officer Richard Blandford said: ‘More than six million operators are involved worldwide enjoying the diverse aspects of the hobby; making lifelong friends over the air and experimenting with the latest technologies.’

Denby Dale Parish Council’s new and dynamic chairman Michael Watson reckons it is a great village in which to live and raise a family. ‘I think it is up and coming,’ he said. ‘We have a good mix of young and elderly, we have a thriving primary school and community. We’ve not had much housing development but there is plenty of room for the village to grow.’

Michael can be seen riding around the dale on his 650cc Honda motor bike. He commutes to work in Leeds on it and at weekends the whole family take a ride out, because his wife, Gill, has a Peugeot scooter and they each carry one of their two boys on the pillion seats.

Oh, that mystery I mentioned earlier…it seems there’s a plot of land the size of a football field near the end of the viaduct which has lain dormant for decades and no-one knows who owns it. The parish council, which has designs on it for some community use, recently put out a plea for information on its ownership in the parish newsletter but there was no response. ‘Somebody must own it but we just cannot find out who,’ said Michael Watson. Anyone got a clue?

Getting there: Denby Dale is on the A636, only a few miles from the M1 and M62. Regular bus services and frequent trains to Huddersfield and Sheffield.

Where to park: There is plenty of on and off-street parking around the village.

What to do: There are several hiking and cycling trails close to the Peak District National Park.

The print version of this article appeared in the June 2012  issue of Yorkshire Life 

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