HORSEPASTURE (South Ramsden)



With grateful thanks to Marjorie Gabbott for her help and contribution to this story, and for taking us on the long trek to visit the ruins of the farm


sketch of how Horsepasture may have looked,

by Marjorie Gabbott

This hill top farm was on the extreme corner of cultivated land in Walsden, set high on the western moorland and surrounded by hills. The nearest neighbours were at White Slack and MIDDLE RAMSDEN Farms, and just like these neighbours, Horsepasture lies in ruins today. There are only sheep for company and access is difficult. The ruins indicate this was a much larger than normal hill top dwelling, built on a slope.
The first known mention of such a farm is thought to be in 1612, when Nicholas Fielden purchased a messuage and 40 acres of land known as Horsham, with an annual value of £13.5s.8d. It is believed this was Horsepasture.
The area is known generally as Ramsden, and in later times Horsepasture was known variously as Back Ramsden or South Ramsden. There is no mention of it in the Todmorden Parish Registers before 1783, although it is recorded that a family headed by an Edmund Taylor lived there in the mid 1700's.

Cranberry Dam in the distance

By the time Edmund arrived at Horsepasture, the cellar would have been over 50 years old. The entrance is outside the house through a stone arch and built into the hillside. In here they would have stored meat, milk, beer and anything else that needed to be kept cool.
Edmund and his wife had a large family, mainly girls. With such a family in this remote part of the township it is natural that there would have been a small home industry there, where wool would be acquired, prepared, spun and woven, and then sold to the merchants to supplement any income from the farm.
The girls, at least 7 of them, regularly attended St. Mary's church and are stated to have followed their father in single file over the rough and awkward pathways, over the fields and stone causeways down to NORTH RAMSDEN Farm, up the path to THORNSGREESE, across Inchfield Pasture to NAZE, down the rugged almost vertical path to Gauxholme, and along the valley to Todmorden.
It should be noted that this journey of several miles over rugged hills and moorland would take a few hours and be unthinkable to most of us modern folk - bearing in mind they had to get home again! The girls all wore red cloaks and took the opportunity to attract the menfolk, as this would be the only day they left the isolated farm where they lived. They clearly succeeded as they all went on to marry.
By 1794 the farm had two tenants, suggesting there were at least two cottages or homesteads at the farm. The annual land tax was 14s.2d. Samuel Baron was one of these tenants. He moved across the fields from neighbouring Whiteslack Farm about 1786. His brothers James, Edmund and Thomas were all farmers and landowners in the vicinity.
Samuel died at Horsepasture in 1799, leaving a will that can be read from the link below. His widow and children remained at Horsepasture, and daughter Sarah was married from there in 1800. She and her husband, James Hollows, continued at the farm for a few years before moving to the adjacent township of Wuerdle & Wardle. Sarah's sister Mary, married to Richard Hollows, also remained at the farm for a few years.
The other tenant in 1794 was a man by the name of Jackson. Several Jacksons pop up at Horsepasture over the coming years. Brothers John and Thomas with their wives farmed there together in the first quarter of the 1800's along with John's wife's sister and her husband John Heyworth. As these three families overlapped each other, it is presumed there were three cottages at the time.

In 1816, John Heyworth and his family worked as handloom weavers at the farm. He is recorded in the accounts book for SMITHYHOLME MILL as one of their home weavers. On 26th September that year he returned finished pieces of cloth to the mill and was paid 14 shillings for his work.

The next known occupier was John Highley, otherwise known as Hiley i' th' Horsepasture. He was a long-time farmer at Horsepasture and was still there with his family in 1841. He was a grandson of the wealthy JOHN HAIGH OF PASTURESIDE, and received what must have been a welcome legacy of £100 from his grandfather in 1831.

This was a large amount in those days and would have set him up for many years. By about 1843 John and his wife Betty left for a new life in a neighbouring township and the tenancy was taken over by a branch of the Law family headed by Robert Law, known as Old Bob i' th' Horsepasture, whose family remained there until beyond 1901.
Old Bob was the eldest son of Thomas and Betty Law of Height Top Farm Todmorden. He married Mary Greenwood in 1830 at St. Chad's Parish Church in Rochdale. The first years of their marriage were spent at Height Top with Roberts' parents. Robert and Mary's first seven children were born at Height Top with the last three born at Horse Pasture.
All the children survived infancy with the exception of their 5th child named Esther who died in 1839 at the age of 8 weeks and was buried at St. Mary's Todmorden. From family stories regarding Abraham (1850-1911) who was the youngest member of the family, the children were well nourished and grew tall and strong. As an adult Abraham was commonly known as "Big Abe" as he stood well over six foot, and was solidly built with a strong constitution.
The exception to this was William (1848-1865) who was the second youngest child, he died at the age of 18 and his death certificate states he died from "haemorrhage of the chest - not certified" this suggests that William died from Phthisis otherwise known as Tuberculosis. No Coroners inquest was held which suggests death by natural causes rather than an accident or suspicious circumstances. It is well documented from the time that along with the other late stage symptoms of Tuberculosis i.e. red swollen eyes, pale skin, thin and emaciated appearance and coughing of blood, that death was inevitable and almost always from a massive haemorrhage from the lungs. This theory is of course speculation but is put forward as the most likely explanation. As there was no inquest the circumstances cannot be verified.
Robert would have farmed livestock; mainly sheep that could wander and feed on the open moor land, but possibly cattle too. If any crops were grown these would likely have been cereals, oats and barley and probably a small vegetable garden to feed the family.

Robert died aged 71 years in 1869 in tragic circumstances; his death certificate records the cause of death as "injuries received in and upon his spine and other parts of his body from accidentally falling from a certain footpath in Ramsden Wood from walking against a broken branch of a tree over hanging such footpath, lived one day".

The Rochdale Observer of Saturday 29th May 1869 reported the Coroner's inquest under the headline:


An inquest was held on Thursday, at the Waggon and Horses, near Walsden, before Mr. T. fferrand Dearden, Coroner, on the body of Robert Law, a farmer, aged 71, residing near that place, and who met his death under circumstances as under. It would seem from the evidence that on Saturday night last, deceased had been to visit one of his daughters who resided in Ramsden Wood. He returned home between ten and eleven o'clock, being accompanied by another married daughter and her husband, who walked a short distance behind him. He was walking fast on the footpath, and having gone some 400 or 500 yards from his daughter's house, he fell against the branch of an old oak tree, which had been broken and overhung the footpath, near the drain which supplied Ramsden Wood Foot Mill, at a place called Ladder. Deceased fell over the embankment, a distance of about two yards. Assistance having been obtained, deceased, who said he was hurt, was carried home. Deceased was put to bed and the next day Dr Schofield of Todmorden was called in. He died, however, on Sunday evening, at about 11 o'clock, from what was described by Dr Schofield as injury to the spine near the neck. It appears he was both a tall and heavy man. The jury having heard the evidence, from which the above facts are gathered, returned a verdict of accidental death.

It is very likely the married daughter living in Ramsden Wood that Robert had been visiting on the night of his accident was his eldest daughter Ann who was married to James Wood. The couple and their several children were living at Ramsden Wood at the time of the 1871 census.

Robert's eldest son, Thomas, took over at the farm with his wife Elizabeth. His brother Reuben and mother Mary lived with them. The family was still there in 1881, although by 1891 Thomas and his family were living in Castleton, Mary had died, and Reuben had disappeared. A family from Haslingden were in occupation at Horsepasture.

the remains of a large fireplace


However, by 1901 Reuben had materialised again and the Laws were back at Horsepasture. Robert junior died there in 1902. The farm was still standing in 1938 and is shown on the OS map of that year as South Ramsden.


Horsepasture links: