Above the village of Longwood, just outside Huddersfield, there stands what can only be described as a strange stump of a building. This is the Longwood Tower, built by local men without formal design or architect, in time for the intriguingly-named Longwood Thump of 1861.
The Thump was the name given to the local holiday celebration, and the name is peculiar to Longwood. Nearby Kirkheaton had its annual Rant, and Almondbury a Rush, whilst Honley was a little more transparent with its Feast. At each games were played, picnics were eaten, and the ale flowed. In 1861, when the Longwood Tower (also known as the Nab End Tower) was built, there was considerable hardship in the area with many men out of work ‘during the manufacturing distress’. The unemployed men used their time to build ‘the conspicuous tower’ with the permission of the landowner, William Shaw of Botham Hall, and using stone from the adjacent quarry.
‘A Novel Erection’, ran the headline in the local paper, the Huddersfield Examiner, in August 1861. From the start the building was considered a ‘curious affair’, with its great mass of dry stones, but it formed the centrepiece of the Thump with feasting and fireworks lasting several days. The rustic date stone of 1861 is accompanied by the initials G.H. for George Hellawell, a stonemason who lived in the village and supervised the building. George Collier of Milnsbridge wrote lines to celebrate the opening:
On Longwood Edge there stands a Tower,
that end near Quarmby Clough,
and if you stand out by the church,
you’ll see it plain enough.
This Tower was built by men and boys
of Longwood, that is true,
and if you want the height of it
it’s twenty-nine feet two.
So come my lads and lasses gay,
come, and join the throng,
we’ll have a spree this Longwood Thump
in eighteen sixty-one.
The tower provided a backdrop to cricket matches between local teams, including the Lumb Challenge Cup of 1889 where ‘the mighty Armitage Bridge crumbled to small pieces, and fell a ruined wreck in sight of the mythical structure of Longwood Tower’. The Athletic News reporter joked that the victors, Cliffe End, had the edge because the ‘Bridgers’ were unused to the altitude of the ground and were exhausted by the walk up the steep slope.
In 1895 the Shaw family gave the tower and the surrounding land to the people of Huddersfield as a recreation ground. Three years later they paid for the already deteriorating tower (throwing the loose stones down the hill was apparently a favourite pastime) to be consolidated, but payment was accompanied with the proviso that it was then the sole responsibility of the town council.
The Longwood Thump had always involved music, and as well as Brass Bands there were choral performances, called ‘sings’. Longwood’s pioneering role in the development of this local tradition, led to their annual event becoming known as ‘the Mother of all Sings’. A hollow just below the tower was developed as an outdoor concert hall, although crowds overflowed across the whole hilltop: crowds were estimated at 5,000 at the 1893 event when Handel’s Messiah was among the works performed.
At a time when fundraising for the National Health Service has been very much in the news, thanks to the efforts of Captain Sir Tom Moore and others, it is worth remembering the days when there was no free healthcare, and charity was often the only hope. The Longwood Sing of 1869 was in aid of Samuel Shaw, an elderly music-lover who was sick. In 1896 the Sing raised funds for the Huddersfield Infirmary, and the organisers expressed a hope that surrounding districts would follow their lead. As the programme above illustrates, the sings have continued to raise funds for good causes.
It’s doubtful if the builders of 1861 expected their tower to be standing more than 150 years later, or thought that a British Prime Minister would one day climb up to their tower for the annual Sing, as Huddersfield-born Harold Wilson did in 1973*. In 2008 the Longwood Tower was restored by Kirklees Council at a cost of £200,000. Bullen Conservation inserted specialist anchors, or ties, to hold the building together and prevent collapse. It remains a popular spot, and long may the singing continue.
* Technically a former and future Prime Minster: Wilson had been PM 1964-70, and would return to office the year after his visit, serving as PM in 1974-76.