Lower Woodfield is one of 3 Woodfield Farms, the others being Higher Woodfield and Woodfield Top. They are grouped within a couple of hundred yards of each other on the bleak and windy Todmorden Moor. As many old documents refer to Woodfield, without distinguishing which Woodfield, it is difficult to be entirely precise. Today, Lower Woodfield still exists but the original farmhouse has been replaced by modern buildings.

Lower Woodfield can just be seen middle left of photo. The farm on the right is Moorhey


John Ratcliffe and his wife Mary (Barker) moved the short distance from Hazlegreave Farm to the larger Lower Woodfield Farm in the early 1800’s. Their son John succeeded his father as farmer at Lower Woodfield about 1816, being generally known as Jone o’ Ratcliffe’s. In addition to farming some 55 acres of land, he set up business as a rural shopkeeper and grocer. He married Sarah Stansfield and they had 12 children.

In those days, the principal occupation for farmers and their families was hand weaving at home. John was fully initiated in this cottage industry, having been taught the art by his parents.


Sourhall cottages about 1900

John set up a small business from the nearby cottages at Sourhall for this purpose. The cotton was prepared and spun at the cottages and local cottagers and small farmers came along to collect warps and wefts to take home for weaving. They would then return the woven yarn and collect payment.

He was a familiar figure, often seen riding on horseback to the Manchester markets, wearing white knee breeches and a top hat. He took a leading part in local affairs such as the Turnpike Road Trust and the administration of the Poor Laws in his position of Overseer of the Poor. His interest in the poor was evident, and he set himself up as an amateur lawyer, giving help and advice to those who could not afford a professional but were in difficulty or trouble of some sort, and became known as “th’ hedge-side lawyer”. He was a sort of latter day one-man citizen advice bureau!

On one occasion he was asked to be a defence witness in a civil hearing at Manchester. He attended the court on Wednesday March 10th 1830, and gave evidence. The Liverpool Mercury reported the case, an extract of which says:

"One of the witnesses for the defence, John Ratcliffe, a kind of hedge-lawyer, excited much mirth by his provincial dialect, and the manner in which he replied to the questions of Mr. Brandt in his cross examination."

Although John was a churchwarden at St. Mary’s, he also took a considerable interest in the Methodist Chapel near his home at Clough Foot. On one occasion he pulled the Minister out of the pulpit in mid flow and threw him out of the chapel for preaching doctrines that were not in accordance with the conditions on which the chapel had been founded.

Cloughfoot Chapel

His daughter Hannah married John Law and together they ran the small farm and beerhouse at Sourhall known as The Last Shift, which was later to receive a full licence and a change of name to the Dog and Partridge. The farm and beerhouse was taken over by another of his daughters, Maria, and her husband William Eastwood. Eleven children later, Maria was widowed at the age of 41. Undaunted, she moved to Walsden and became landlady at the Sun Inn.

Peter Ratcliffe

His son Peter became a porter at Todmorden railway station, and later was appointed Station Master before retiring in 1871 and taking over the licence at the Black Swan Inn, Todmorden. He purchased the Inn in 1875, and in 1883 he purchased the Golden Lion in Todmorden for his son John. Peter was a very prominent citizen, an Overseer of the Poor as his father had been, and Worshipful Master of Prudence Lodge.
Only John’s youngest son Richard showed any interest in the farm. He took over after his father’s death in 1852. In the summer of 1863 he could have done with some of his father’s legal advice when he came unstuck over grazing rights for his sheep.
James Pearson of Centre Rock, Dulesgate, was employed to watch over the sheep grazing on the common land on Todmorden Moor. That spring, he impounded 20 of Richard’s sheep and lambs, as he believed Lower Woodfield had no grazing rights on the moor. In June of 1863, Richard charged James Pearson with cruelty to animals, stating his sheep had not been properly fed whilst impounded.

Access to Lower Woodfield


The case was dismissed, but Richard pursued his claim in the County Court, requesting £5 damages sustained by the impoundment on the ground that the impoundment was illegal.

His lawyer called John Greenwood, a local farmer, to swear that the tenant of Lower Woodfield had the use and custom to pasture cattle on the moor. However, Richard had no documentary evidence to show he had such rights. Edmund Pilling of Sharneyford was called to give evidence. He stated he had been a moor-looker for 36 years and always impounded cattle from Lower Woodfield when found them upon the common. Mr. Peter Ormerod of Pexhouse stated that the previous tenant of the farm, Richard’s father, had told him in a conversation that the farm had no common right. After several further attempts by Richard to prove his farm had rights of pasture on the moor, the case was dismissed and Richard was ordered to pay the costs.

Richard was no stranger to the courts. In May 1871 he found himself in Rochdale, where he was dupped by a prostitute who he accompanied to a "house of ill-fame" where he was robbed of £40. The Manchester Times reported the incident as follows:

Manchester Times, Saturday, May 20, 1871;

On Wednesday at the Rochdale Police Courts, Ann Smith was charged with robbing Richard Ratcliffe, farmer of Todmorden, of £40, and Harriett Swift, Harvey, Sarah Ann Butterworth, Mary Gannon and John Heywood were charged with aiding and abetting. Chief Constable Stevens said that on Monday last, the prosecutor met Harvey and Gannon in Church Lane, and they invited him to a house of ill fame, and there Smith robbed him of £20 in gold and four £5 notes, while Swift, Harvey and Gannon were upstairs. Upon Ratcliffe threatening to send for the police, Gannon handed the four £5 notes to Smith who gave them back to the prosecutor. Ratcliffe then got outside and held the door to keep the prisoners in the house, when Sarah Ann Butterworth pulled him away, and they escaped. While Ratcliffe was running after them, John Heywood caught hold of him and said: “Wait until tomorrow and you’ll get your money back.” A short time after, Detective Sergeant Marshall apprehended Butterworth and Smith; PC Frost apprehended Heywood and Gannon; and PC Lord, Harvey and Smith. The prisoners were committed to the sessions to take their trial.


view from Lower Woodfield

Richard remained at the farm until sometime after 1891. Nothing further is known about his sheep and where he allowed them to graze. He and his wife Sarah Ann were childless, so the tenancy was taken over by his cousin, Reuben Ratcliffe who remained there until his death in 1911.