Th' Old Dame of Knowltop


John Scholfield, second son of James and Susan of CALFLEE, married 17-year-old Betty Scholfield from Smallbridge near Rochdale in 1774. They married at St. Marys in Todmorden and were both able to sign their names. Together John and Betty took over the family farm at KNOWLTOP where they remained for the rest of their lives ... and Betty's was a long one.

Knowltop is perched precariously on the top of a steep-sided knoll, high above the valley on the eastern slopes. The real name of the farm is Knoll Top, but then Knowltop was the way it was pronounced, and therefore the way it was spelt. The other Scholfield properties, Calf Lee and Lodge Hall, form a triangle with Knowltop and are alone on the slopes.

Their 9 children were born there and were all brought up in the ways of hill farming and home weaving. Like their father before them, they were also brought up in the Christian faith as members of the Wesleyan Society. John died prematurely at the age of 46. His widow was left with a toddler and 2 other children under the age of 10. She continued to run the farm with the help of her older children and lived to the ripe old age of 88.

Betty was widely known as Th' Old Dame of Knowltop. She was often seen sitting outside the house doing her knitting, talking to anyone who would listen about the old days. One story she was fond of telling was of the harsh winter they experienced a few years after she was widowed, probably in say 1800. She said the snow fell like it had never done before. It fell in large quantities over a long period. The spring had been so cold that the snow remained on the ground and she witnessed the last of it melt away on the longest day, June 21st .


Betty had three sons who survived to adulthood. John and James, the two eldest, married and each farmed part of Calf Lee, their father's old home. The youngest, Abraham, married and remained at Knowltop. All three sons were instrumental in the spread of Wesleyanism within the valley and were three of the first trustees of the new school at Lanebottom when it opened in 1818.

John junior of Calf Lee lived a long and healthy life, contributing greatly to the LANEBOTTOM SCHOOL. He was so respected by his fellow Wesleyans that on Christmas Day 1874, when he was 88 years old, he was asked to cut the first sod of the new ground on which the new WESLEYAN CHAPEL and School at Lanebottom was to be erected.

Lanebottom Old School & Chapel


His older brother James of Calf Lee took to joinery as well as farming, and passed the trade of joinery onto his sons. He and his brother Abraham married two sisters, Sally and Martha Fielden, who were daughters of John Fielden the Quaker of BOTTOMLEY. He died before his mother at the age of 63. The night before he died he was at the School attending evening service.


The youngest of the three brothers was Abraham of Knowltop. He concerned himself with the farm work, but more importantly he became a stonemason. His name appears in the various trade directories of the time and he was responsible for building 4 cottages at Clough Holme, later known as Thistle Hall. Ten years before he died, Abraham was involved in a nasty accident with his cart. He ran over a child, a young son of Joseph Crowther of Newbridge. The child died and Abraham would have been distraught. He and his wife had no children of their own and were said to be uncle and aunt to almost half the younger generation in Walsden. When they died it is reported that over 500 people benefited from their estate. In one case the executor had to travel to a place beyond Huddersfield to pay out a share to a third generation family. The amount paid to them was a mere 2 shillings and eight pence each.

Th' Old Dame's daughters all married Walsden men, including her namesake and youngest child Betty, who had been a toddler when her father died. In 1813 Betty junior married William Woodhead of Allescholes across the valley.

Betty wouldn't have remembered her father but would have been the apple of the eye of her older brothers, especially Abraham the stonemason. She, too, was a devout Methodist and was used to life on an isolated farm high on top of the Walsden Moor. She would have known only farming and weaving and the regular visits to the School for worship. But things were changing in this rural spot. Cotton had arrived in the valley some 30 years previously and entrepreneurs had seen the potential. Old corn mills and other redundant buildings had been converted to the spinning of cotton. Great water wheels were everywhere there was water to drive them. The Masters paid people to work in these spinning mills, enticing the younger generation down from the hill tops and into the valley, whilst the very young, the elderly and the less mobile stayed on the farms, employed shepherds to care for the flocks, and wove the spun cotton in their homes. This, too, was well-paid work especially for those with large families when all but the babies could lend a hand. The coming of the mills meant more work for those disillusioned or disinterested in farming, not just inside doing the spinning, but outdoors as well. Raw materials had to be carried, roads had to be maintained, and mechanics were needed to keep the wheels turning.


William Woodhead was a young man who preferred the outdoor life. He was a carter, probably working for one of the new spinning mills in Walsden. He didn't have the luxury of inheriting family held land, as had the Scholfield sons, so he and Betty lived in the valley in the old hamlet of Bottoms. This area is probably the oldest part of Walsden. There were a few houses dotted about around the old Waggon and Horses Public House, which at that time was run by Thomas Hill late of Knowlwood. With the coming of the mills and the additional workforce, new houses were needed. These were built around the old ones, making one larger hamlet out of Moverley and Bottoms. It was still pretty isolated and rural in character. Steam power had not yet arrived. There were no tall chimneys and belching black smoke. There was much open space where the villagers could keep livestock and grow crops. The lanes were narrow and winding, just about suitable for horses and carts, and the houses were built with the gable ends to the lanes rather than the fronts as became later fashion. Shopkeepers moved in to sell groceries, tea, and other much needed goods, thus saving the trek into Todmorden, and Bottoms began to thrive.


The canal had already been operational for some 15 years when Betty and William married. It followed the course of the valley more or less parallel to the ribbon-like River Calder and the turnpike road. The canal climbed upwards, demanding many locks on its route. Bridges had been built by each lock as well as in between them, enabling those still on the farms to cross over to the road and make use of the facilities of the valley.

William would have been kept busy carrying goods to and from the mills to the loading bays at Gauxholme Wharf. His wife and 6 children were all devout Wesleyans, attending the School at Lanebottom with their grandma Scholfield and their Scholfield uncles and aunts. By now though, further great changes had arrived. Steam was in full use in all the mills and the Masters had extended the mills to accommodate weaving machines as well as spinning.
The Industrial Revolution had taken place and was taking away the rural nature of the village. More and more houses were built as the population moved down from the slopes and hilltops to work in the mills. Handloom weaving was left to those who wanted to stay, but remuneration was poor and only the hardy remained.
On Tuesday the 5th. November 1833 William left home for work as usual, but he never returned. Five days later his body was pulled from the pool at Gauxholme lock. He was just 42 years old. His devastated widow was left with 6 children, 3 of them under 8 years old. Mystery surrounded his death, not least because his own mother had drowned in the very same pool just 13 years earlier.

Betty and her children remained in the valley where she took to dressmaking for a living. This was a far cry from her early days at Knowltop, where her mother was still farming. Th' Old Dame died at Knowltop on 31st January 1845 aged 88 years.