Whitworth is a thriving town, population approximately 7,800, which is situated in the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire, in the North West of England. Whitworth is nestled in the foothills of the Pennines, between the towns of Bacup to the north and Rochdale to the south.
Whitworth sits right on the tip of the Lancashire boundary, bordering Greater Manchester to the south (Rochdale), with West Yorkshire just over the easterly hills in Todmorden.
The township of Whitworth embraces the entire length of the Whitworth Valley, covering an area of around seven square miles. It is a long, thin village, consisting of the communities of Healey, Whitworth, Facit and Shawforth, all of which are linked by the A671, part of the great turnpike road built in the 18th century to link Manchester to Skipton.
Today, Whitworth boasts four primary schools and one secondary school, six active churches and has a thriving local community. Located in the south of the town is Rossendale's only designated nature reserve, the beautiful Healey Dell.
The early history of Whitworth is shrouded in the midst of time, and exact dates are difficult to pin down. At the very earliest period, Whitworth was at the edge of the famed and extensive Forest of Rossendale, which covered 22,000 acres and reached a point somewhere near Bacup. Flint arrows, stone hammers and spearheads found in the area point to the existence of Neolithic man who roamed the bleak open moors. The Goidelic Celts occupied the Pennine Hills, where wolves were encountered as late as the 13th century. Saxons fought off the marauding Danes and Scots, and a decisive battle was fought at Broadclough, north of Bacup.
In those early years, Whitworth came within the parish of Rochdale which, although vast, was itself a part of the Hundred of Salford, one of the main divisions into which the County Palatine was divided in Norman times. The Abbot of Whalley Abbey held much of the land in this area. Saxton's map of Lancashire of 1577 marks Whitworth, setting it between neat pyramid-like hills on either hand. Facit is of rather newer origin. The first settlement was in the 13th century and the name apparently meant "Bright Flowery Slope" in reference to the hillside all around.
The 16th century saw the gradual destruction of the Forest of Rossendale and the extension of sheep farming, the growth of weaving and eventually the first industry in the area. Industrialisation, however, remained a 'household' affair through the 18th century, and the settlements of Whitworth, Facit and Shawforth remained villages. Impetus was given to the development of the area through the construction, during the middle of the century, of a turnpike road through the Valley. It ran from Manchester via Rochdale and Whitworth to Bacup and then on to Burnley, Colne and Skipton. It was one of the few such roads in East Lancashire and provided a ready means of conveying local goods to Manchester and Yorkshire. The road was of vital importance in Whitworth's industrial expansion and with it, the settlements in the township thus began to grow.
200 years ago, Whitworth House, located in the Whitworth Square conservation area, was the home of the Whitworth Doctors. They were bone setters who attracted famous patients from far and wide, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.
By the 19th century, quarrying and coal mining were the chief industries although the manufacture of yarn remained important. The latter end of the 19th century saw a great deal of development, including the opening in 1881 of a rail link between Bacup and Rochdale - passenger services on the railway stopped in 1947. Two reservoirs, at Cowm and Spring Mill, were completed in 1877 and 1887 to augment Rochdale's water supplies. In 1910, a tram service was introduced by Rochdale Corporation, first to Whitworth and later extended to Bacup; buses replaced these in 1932. The first public electricity supply and electric street lighting were installed in 1923. The population of Whitworth reached its peak of 9,574 in 1901, following which the recession in industry in the 1930s and the effects of World War II saw it decline. The first post war Census in 1951 declared a population of 7,442, which declined further to 7,031 by 1961. Since then, however, the figure has risen to its present total of around 7,800.
Despite the decline in population, Whitworth in this century has seen improvements in the living conditions of its people and in the amenities provided. Old housing, a relic of the 'bad days' of the cotton boom, has been replaced, modernised or renovated in both the public and private sector. Civic buildings have been erected and parks and open spaces provided. In April 1976, an area in and surrounding Healey Dell at the south end of the Valley became legally designated as a statutory local Nature Reserve, the only one in Rossendale.
The Whitworth crest
In October 1874, the Whitworth Local Board (precursor to the Urban District Council) was set up with 12 elected members. One of the members was Mr James Henry Scholfield, of North View, Whitworth. The Crest of his Coat of Arms depicted a bull, and it was this which by tacit agreement was used on the Board’s and later the District Council’s stationery. The encirclement was added to contain the Town’s name. In 1937, to commemorate the Coronation of King George VI, Mr Frank Holt, a former Chairman of the Urban District Council, offered to donate a gold Chain of Office, together with a pendant Badge. The badge was to include the crest, and so to regularise its use the Council decided to write to Rev James Ralph Scholfield, the son of Mr J.H. Scholfield and vicar for a number of years at St Bartholomew’s Church, to obtain his permission. Mr J. R. Scholfield wrote back to confirm that “it certainly is the Scholfield crest”, and that although “I have no idea as to how the crest was given for use by the Council,” nevertheless, “I think the gold chain a splendid idea, ... I shall be proud to think that you have given our crest a place upon it.” The Chain and Badge was presented to the Council in May 1937 and cost Mr. Holt £105. The Whitworth crest depicts a bull's head 'erased and gorged', meaning that the head was dragged from the body, gorged meaning "with collar".