Due to the coronavirus lockdown; staff of the Co-operative Heritage Trust are currently working from home. Whilst undertaking my socially distanced exercise, I have been learning about the history within walking distance of my home in Huddersfield. I have learnt about ways that local people have responded to difficult periods in history with a spirit of collectivism and co-operation.

The best example of this in my area is Nab End Tower,  overlooking the village of Longwood. It was built in the summer of 1861 by unemployed woollen mill operatives who lived in the village. The Cotton Famine, which caused widespread problems in the North West, also had an impact in Yorkshire, where cotton was used in the woollen textile industry. Cotton had been overproduced in the years before 1861, leading to a drop in prices, and the impact of the American Civil War from 1861-1865 led to a real shortage of raw cotton in those years.

Nab End Tower today

The project was undertaken to stop the unemployed workers being distracted by alcohol, which was cheap and readily available. During the long summer days, local men and boys collected stone from two nearby disused quarries and started to build the tower using traditional technique of rural dry stone walling, so there was no design or blueprint to follow. The tower was constructed entirely by eye under the supervision of local mason, George Hellawell. This explains why it is such an odd shape; wide and squat at the bottom, with 26 spiral steps leading to its tower which is 25 feet above the ground - they were making it up as they went along!

The hillside it was built on had long been used for the “Longwood Thump”, a folk festival that took place in the village and indeed is still celebrated, although under a new name - the “Longwood Sing”. It was an important place for the villagers anyway, and building the tower here in a time of hardship gave people hope and something positive to focus their energies on. It proved that sometimes, we can come together and build something brilliant out of a bad situation. 

We would love to hear what your communities are doing now to work together during these difficult times and co-operate. You can contact us via email on [email protected]