The Snake Road (A57)

Snake PassMost people imagine that the Snake Pass, crossing the moors between Sheffield and Glossop, is so-called from its wiggly nature.  In fact it is named after the knotted snake that until 1923 adorned the entrance to the Snake Inn, owned, like the land around, by the Duke of Devonshire, owner of Chatsworth, whose family emblem it was.

The Snake Road was a brand new road built in 1818: it aimed to provide a faster route to the west coast for the growing town of Sheffield (for exports to America), and a more direct one than the more northerly route via the Woodhead Pass or the more southerly one via the Winnats Pass and Chapel-en-le-Frith.  From Glossop existing turnpikes then had good connections to Liverpool.  That the few hours saved were insignificant considering the weeks taken to cross the Atlantic did not seem to occur to the new road's promoters or financial backers, the Dukes of Devonshire and Norfolk.

Nor did they seem to have considered several other factors which all contributed to the road never making any money:

  • Potential users were put off by the bleak, treeless and totally unpopulated terrain through which the road passed: they tended to stick to the routes (and inns) they knew;
  • There was no passenger traffic;
  • Bad weather was off-putting, and in winter snow could close the road for days, weeks or even months at a time;
  • There were landslips, and maintenance costs were high.

The final blow was the arrival of the railway, faster, cheaper and more efficient, in 1845, and the turnpike trust closed in 1875, leaving the dukes with a loss of £70,000.  The road was not tarred until the 1930s, and closure was even contemplated in the 1970s.  But it survived and, despite still being regularly closed by snow, is popular today with leisure traffic.

Six milestones survive on the Yorkshire section of the road.  Two are the original ones (being in the former County Borough of Sheffield), and four are the Brayshaw & Booth replacements erected by the West Riding County Council in the 1890s.  Five more of the original milestones still stand on the Derbyshire side, but slowing down to spot them, still less stopping to photograph them, is not recommended unless you're on a bike. 

There are several other features of interest, albeit mainly in Derbyshire.  On the county boundary just north of the road, between Moscar Lodge and Moscar Cross Farm, is an old guide-stoop, with directions to Bradfield, Sheffield, Hathersage and Hope.  Nearby, another one, very ravaged, stands on an old packhorse track about 200 m south-west of Moscar House Farm with directions to Penistone, Sheffield and Hope.  Some boundary stones may also be found by the Sheffield Country Walk leading south from the road.

A mile or so beyond the county boundary is Cutthroat Bridge.  This was originally on the afore-mentioned pack-horse track, rebuilt for the Mortimer Road in the 1770s, and again in 1819 for the new road, but widened in 1973.  It was named after a gruesome murder in, some say, 1635.

The next major feature is Ladybower Reservoir, constructed in the 1940s, and drowning the small settlement of Ashopton, which had developed following the construction of the road.

Just two of the nine original toll-houses survive on the road: one, much altered, at the Snake Inn; the other, the only one west of the summit, at Woodcock Road, Glossop.

Source: talk by Howard Smith to the Milestone Society, October 2016, and his book The Story of the Snake Road and the Sheffield to Glossop Turnpike Trail (published by the author, 2014)

RWH/April 2017