Gloucester Bill and Mrs Wolfe return to Castleshaw after a century

Posted: 5.10.11

Actors Dan Carey and Lisa Allen have worked with pupils from Delph School to bring the story of the navvies who built the reservoirs in the valley back to life. The pupils discovered the story of toil and hardship behind what we now see as a tranquil ‘beauty spot’ as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Watershed Landscape Project.

Pennine Prospects working with Rochdale and Oldham Councils was awarded just under £1.9million by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to bring the story of these uplands to life. The project, funded under the HLF’s Landscape Partnership Scheme (LPS), will work with schools in the towns and cities that are around the South Pennines as well support landscape restoration, access and heritage projects in the area.

Dan explained: “I play the role of Gloucester Bill, an itinerant navvy, one of a forgotten army of navvies. On average three men lost their lives each day – that is a higher death rate, than that of the soldiers who fought at the battle of Waterloo. Bill’s time at Castleshaw is well documented; historical papers note that he was involved in a bare knuckle fight with ‘Yorkshire Tommy’ during the Whit weekend of 1889.”

Lisa plays the role of Mrs Joseph Wolfe, a strong woman who kept lodging houses for 20 navvies in Low Bank including Yorkshire Tommy and Gloucester Bill. ‘Respectable’ Victorians viewed the navvies as degenerate whilst others such as Mrs Wolfe and Mrs Elizabeth Garnett recognised the importance of the work they were doing and supported this hard working community by founding the Christian Excavators Union in 1875. Mrs Garnett also helped promote the work of the Navvy Mission Society at Castleshaw. This was a national organisation, set up to help disseminate news, advice, religious support, and bring social entertainment to communities that were sometimes present in an area for several years at a time.

It is now hoped the piece will be brought to life for a more public performance over the autumn.

Look out for events on the Watershed Landscape website or call 01422 847612.

Photograph: Dan Carey and Lisa Allen, two professional actors bring to life the story of the navvies who built the reservoirs at Castleshaw with pupils from Delph School.

Yorkshire Water United Utilities Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council National Farmers Union
South Pennines Association Lancashire County Council Pennine Heritage Kirklees Council Calderdale Council
Bradford District Council Northern Rail Natural England Environment Agency The National Trust