The village of Marsden, on the edge of the Pennine moors in West Yorkshire, has two attractive packhorse bridges: one in the centre, by the church; the other a noted beauty spot at Eastergate, a mile or so up the River Colne.
From the latter a track, the old packhorse road, climbs steeply uphill towards Buckstones on the present A640, and continued to Rochdale. Surviving documents show that this long, straggling path was much used by local carriers in the 18th century, and maintained by the Marsden-in-Huddersfield Township.
By the late 19th century, however, with the decline of the trade to Rochdale and the development of other forms of transport, the old packhorse route had become little used and had fallen into neglect. This suited, and played into the hands of, the Lord of the Manor, who resented the effect that passing traffic had on his grouse and was hoping to close the moors. His gamekeepers were instructed to deter members of the public and threaten “trespassers” with prosecution.
In 1906 the local Urban District Council, continuing the role of the township highways surveyor, carried out repairs, and matters came to a head. The Lord of the Manor, Sir Joseph Radcliffe, sued the Council claiming there was no right of way over the moor.
The case was held at Leeds in April 1908. The Council produced 33 elderly witnesses (the oldest was 92) who recalled using the track as children – ie before the important date of 1835. The judge concluded that the Lord of the Manor had failed to prove that there was no right of way, but also that the Council had exceeded their rights in the improvements they had carried out. Accordingly the costs of the case were split between the plaintiff and the defendants.
Among the improvements were 9 stones, carved with the words “P H ROAD”, set up at intervals along the track – a number of which still survive. These were described by the judge as a “technical trespass”, but did no harm, and might actually help walkers to stick to the path.
Sources: LB Whitehead: Bygone Marsden (c 1942); www.marsdenhistory.co.uk/misc/ph_road_trial.html RWH / January 2012.