Mortimer Road

 

Look at a street map of Penistone, and you will notice the road south out of the town is called Mortimer Road. Nothing remarkable about that, you might think, until you notice that it continues to be called Mortimer Road for many miles, crossing the A616 and meandering on through mainly empty countryside until it reaches the A57 (Sheffield to Glossop road).

It was the idea of, and named after, Hans Winthrop Mortimer (1734-1807), Lord of the Manor of Bamford who also owned property in Essex and London, where there is a Mortimer Street on the family’s ancestral lands. His road, turnpiked in the 1770s, continued through Bamford to Grindleford in north Derbyshire, following roughly the line of an old packhorse track known as Halifax Gate – used for the transport of wool and finished goods to and from the textile districts of the West Riding. At each end it connected with other turnpikes, providing, in theory, a convenient and direct link between the two districts.

Sadly it was not a success: there was never enough traffic for such a sparsely-inhabited and inhospitable moorland area, and the road’s steep inclines would have been another off-putting factor – even though diversions had been introduced to ease the steepest parts of the original packhorse route. And so today the road remains a delightful drive out on a sunny afternoon with an attractive country inn at Strines, bilberries galore in season, and some interesting roadside features for the milestone enthusiast:

Approximately 2 miles south of Penistone the road crosses, by Cranberry Farm (a former inn), an old saltway (with some interesting milestones), and just under 200 yards beyond this, at the top of a steep slope down to the river (the Little Don), is a take-off stone (grid ref approx SE 2460 0065). An extra horse was required wherever the gradient of a hill was steeper than 1:9 to help pull vehicles up it; at the take-off stone the horse was to be unhitched and taken back down the hill.

At the bottom of the hill Mortimer Road crosses the present A616 at Midhopestones. Formerly the Langsett, Wadsley and Sheffield Turnpike this road connected at the Flouch with the old saltway, later turnpiked, connecting Barnsley and Manchester. An interesting old milestone survives at Midhopestones, on what was an earlier line of the Sheffield road before Underbank Reservoir was built in the early 20th century: go into the grounds (this may be trespassing) of a derelict building at the crossroads, and beyond it is another derelict building; the milestone is by the entrance to this, showing mileages to Sheffield (11), Manchester (28), Huddersfield (13) and Holmfirth (8).

After Midhopestones Mortimer Road now goes through a long stretch of beautiful, unpopulated countryside, crossing several valleys with steep descents and climbs – and some lovely views. With only moorland to the right (west) and a few roads leading down eastwards towards various villages (Bolsterstone, Ewden and Bradfield).

At one of these stands an old guide-stoop, dated 1740 (so before the turnpike was built), showing directions and distances to Penistone (25), Sheffield (9), Hope (9) and Bradfield (2). These distances are rather curious: Penistone is about 6 statute miles and Hope 12 from this point (the traditional local miles would have been less): perhaps the surveyor was not terribly bothered about accuracy.  There is some debate whether the R on the stone stands for Right or Road.


These guide-stoops were erected at cross-roads on moorlands and other areas “where intelligence is difficult to be had” in the 18th century on the orders of the County Justices, and there are several in the Bradfield parish area.

Although there are no surviving milestones on the road there is one more stone of interest just before the Strines Inn.  This is a second take-off stone; the Mortimer Road take-off stones are two of only four or five known anywhere in the country.

Just over a mile beyond the inn the road enters Derbyshire; there are a number of boundary stones following the line of this north-westwards over the moor.

Source: Howard Smith: Mortimer Road: the turnpike that failed (1981).

RWH/ updated April 2017

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