Freemasonry and stoodley pike west yorkshire

from steve hanson blogger
I wrote a letter to Todmorden News about Stoodley Pike and its strange features a few years ago (it was printed in the Friday December 3, 2004 edition). I was hoping to draw some Freemasons out of the woodwork to comment, but none were forthcoming. However, a week after publication, a man approached me in a pub and asked if I had written the letter. I told him I had and I asked him what he thought. ‘Load o’ bollocks…’ he replied. How I miss West Yorkshire. Here are my musings in full. All the quotes relating to the Pike are from E.M. Savage’s excellent little booklet on the monument.

Stoodley Pike, built in 1856, sits above the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden. An obelisk, it’s part of a trend which Alan Moore called ‘the great Masonic obelisk siting drive of the nineteenth century’. The obelisk design of the tower is a ‘…reflection of patron Samuel Fielden’s freemasonry’ and of the society of the time’s obsession with Egyptology.

As well as the obelisk shape, the compass symbol of Freemasonry is on the lintel above the door. About a quarter of the way up the obelisk is a balcony offering views of the valley. This balcony can only be reached by narrow stairs, which have to be navigated in total darkness. This is a version of the Freemason’s blindfold ceremony, compulsory on your ascent, built into the monument.

During the actual Freemason ceremony, a hangman’s noose is placed around the neck of the blindfolded ‘candidate’, the end of the rope hanging down behind him (it’s always a ‘him’). The Inner Guard places the point of a dagger to the candidate’s left breast. This is baptism by fear, in the presence of the ‘Great Architect of the Universe’.

The stairs spiral up around the central coil of Stoodley Pike, the dizzy ascent accentuated by the deliberate lack of lighting. You literally have to take a leap of faith to go up, commit yourself to the uncertainty of what lies in the darkness. This makes Stoodley Pike a religious artefact, an optical technology and a figure of control, as much as it’s a peace monument, war memorial and Freemason’s fancy. The plunge into pitch black as you ascend the stairs to the balcony only lasts a few minutes, but it seems much longer. As with Masonic initiation, the potential rewards for going through the ordeal are great, as the view from the balcony is breathtaking, the whole of Todmorden can be seen from there. As part of restoration work in 1889, a grill was placed in the balcony floor so that a little more light would be shed on the ascendant, and the roughly hewn stone around the grill can still be seen. But this is an afterthought, and even with this addition, nearly all of the steps remain in total darkness. A simple choice could have been made for the stairs to be lit, a couple of windows would have sufficed, but they were never part of the original design.

Paul Overy writes of attractions created for the nineteenth and early twentieth century, of Great Exhibitions and World Fairs in which ‘…visitors were subjected to sensations of shock, vertigo…’ Overy links these panorama-like spectacles, moving dioramas, sometimes called ‘vertigo machines’, to the fragmenting of vision within modernity. It is unclear how far this comparison can plausibly be pushed here, yet Stoodley Pike’s design certainly uses some of the tension build-and-release of the rollercoaster, albeit much more subtly. I don’t think – apart from the initial plunge into darkness and release – that the Pike can be read completely as a fragmenting vision machine. C.L.R James’s comments on modern cinema and culture could be figured in as well, they place the western visual space in the ‘panoramic’.

Stoodley Pike is an optical technology from the nineteenth century. It works by removing all vision from you in a way that instills fear –this is the fragmentation of vision- and then restoring your sight in a spectacular, panoramic way. The ‘blind’ are made to see, but of course made to see in a very didactic way. The underlying message of the view from the balcony is one of ownership; this is the land we survey, you are privileged to be seeing it. And literally, nearly all of Todmorden’s key buildings were created by Freemason Samuel Fielden, his associates and family. It’s an exclusive view, not for the faint-hearted, only for those brave enough to make the leap of faith, but a leap of faith into a patriarchal, religious (often non-conformist) organisation. The link between macro view and phallocentricity has been widely acknowledged, only bolstered here by Stoodley Pike’s overtly phallic shape.

The optical aspect (the view from the balcony) is a symbolic grasping at the immediate local territory, and the appropriation of aesthetics of an ancient, ‘exotic’ artefact (the obelisk design) at colonial territory. The Pike is an early symbol of globalisation, nearby Manchester being a key early globalising city, via its export, not only of an industrial model, but of the whole form of industrial capitalism. A form of branding from the 19th century, the land is signed and sealed by this giant stamp, as a land registry deed would be, as the cows in Stoodley Fields below were once branded. Icon, logo, it has since become the emblem of the town of Todmorden. For instance, it’s the emblem on the front of the Todmorden News and Advertiser, the town’s newspaper, in which my letter on Stoodley Pike originally appeared.

The site has been used for much longer than the current monument though. The first Stoodley Pike is rumoured to have been a beacon where fires could be lit to warn of the Spanish Invasion. Oral histories frame identity. People locate themselves in a Todmorden-of-the-mind. I’ve heard parents asking their children if they think they’ll see ‘The Stoodley Pike ghost’ inside. In William Law’s poem, Wanderings of a Wanderer, a stanza on Stoodley Pike reads: ‘Thou standest upon the tomb of one unknown’. A skeleton discovered when the first Pike’s foundations were laid is rumoured to be the body of a murder victim, but even this anecdotal evidence died along with the workmen building foundations for the second Pike, who did find bones there, but never confirmed if they were human or animal. When restoration was finished in 1889, twenty Masons visited Stoodley Pike. The foundation stone of the current incarnation of Stoodley Pike was laid with Masonic honours. ’A youngster perched on his father’s shoulder, leant forward to see all that was going on, and was touched accidentally by the Tyler’s sword, and blood flowed freely’.

Flints and other stone age artefacts have been found on the moor, so it is likely the area has been familiar to man for a long time. Todmorden people didn’t always live down in the valley, early man lived on the moors as the valley was a densely vegetated swamp. Before any Pike monument existed, a heap of stones used to stand on the spot, the keeper of which, it is said, had to keep them tidy, otherwise:

‘…no-one could sleep. The banging of doors and other noises started up… Elusive flames were to be seen playing around the stone’.

The habit of building new churches and cathedrals on older pagan sites is active here, but this kind of myth I will leave for the Ackroyds and Sinclairs of this world. There is a much more straightforward reading to be had here, albeit a Foucauldian one: this myth encourages order through building (literally, ordering stones) the penalty for failure being chaos, hell. ‘Redemption’ in this era comes through a Cartesian ordering of space.

Discussing Philippe Hoyau, Patrick Wright says ‘The past may still be an imaginary object, but it is now organised around three major models: the family, conviviality and the countryside. Purged of its leading political tensions, the past can then be offered to one and all in newly inclusive ceremonies of collective identification.’

Stoodley Pike is ‘naturalised’ as a tourist site, busy on summer days, but below this veneer of ‘collective identification’ it is a bizarre collage of styles, aspirations and religious motifs, as Freemasonry itself is. The ‘traditional’ is always to some extent ‘fake’, and buildings of power, as Raymond Williams has it, are to some extent always ‘ambivalent’. But the practice of siting great public works is, in the final analysis, still an exercise in Power, from the Roman-era on up.

The Stoodley Pike seen today isn’t the first, but the second. The first version of the Pike, commemorating the surrender of Paris to the Allies in 1814, fell in strange circumstances. It was already fragile after being cracked by lightning. Then, on the afternoon the Russian Ambassador left London before the declaration of war with Russia, the first Stoodley Pike collapsed. The monument to peace conveniently fell on the eve of war. Stoodley Pike is officially a war memorial and peace monument. Yet a peace monument could have been made in any form, like the Remembrance Gardens in Centre Vale Park, or the stone carved lists of the fallen found in many towns all over the world…

A lightning conductor was added to the second Pike to limit damage. This enlightenment science element is another strong narrative emerging from Stoodley Pike. Todmorden lad made good, John Cockroft studied under Ernest Rutherford, taking part in nuclear research, which irrevocably changed the face of the world. Along with Walton, he first split the atom. The family cotton mill had a water wheel, so the Cockroft family took us – via paying for John’s Manchester University science education with the proceeds of the industrial revolution – from water power to nuclear in the space of a generation. Such was the incredible modernity we have just been through. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein inevitably shadows a narrative such as this. Victor Frankenstein’s teacher introduced him to almost unlimited godlike powers, as did John Cockrofts. As Todmorden artist and writer William Holt put it in his novel The Wizard of Whirlaw, he had discovered ‘the key to unlock the powerhouse of the universe’.

The first visible tribute to John Cockroft’s efforts appeared in Todmorden years before his blue plaque did. In 1962 a CND symbol appeared on Stoodley Pike. Just below, John Cockroft’s Great Grandfather, Jack o’ the Heights had grazing land. The CND paint dauber(s) chose their target well. A monument to peace in Europe during an age of altogether new potential violence. The CND symbol stood on a symbol of conservative power and enlightenment narratives. Parallel to the Bush visit demonstrations in London, an effigy of the US president was toppled at Stoodley Pike. It actually looks like a rocket, a stone missile placed high on the moors for all to see, the new sword of Damocles hanging over us in the post-fusion age, an age ushered in by one of the town’s sons. The CND symbol is still visible on the Pike, and though faded, it is now as much a part of the Frankenstein’s monster that is Stoodley Pike as are its bricks and mortar.

There are shadows of the Cold War here, espionage, 39 Steps running inside. But this is to read Stoodley Pike as metaphor, before we all get carried away. However, on some of the more over-excitable websites, it is suggested that Masonic influence may have been behind the choice of Trinity for the test of the first atom bomb. Alchemy, another practice linked with Freemasonry, was the attempt to transmute base metals into gold. John Cockroft achieved a true alchemy of base substance – in nuclear fusion – where alchemists failed. Yet as I write, ‘Rutherford’s room’, in Manchester University, is being investigated, as those who inhabited offices above, below, and to the sides, have been dying of cancer. In this we can read another old and strong myth related to Victor Frankenstein, that of Prometheus.


Hanson, S. (2004) ‘Open letter about Stoodley Pike: Does it represent Masonic ‘leap’? in Todmorden News, Friday December 3, 2004, (page 6)

Holt, W. (1959) The Wizard of Whirlaw. Printed and published by the author

James, C.L.R. (1954) ‘Popular Art and the Cultural Tradition’ reprinted in Third Text No. 10, 1990. C.L.R. James had Anna Grimshaw as an assistant in his later years, who taught visual anthropologist Amanda Ravetz. Her PhD thesis is an ethnography of Todmorden.

Moore, A. (1996) From Hell. London: Titan

Overy, P. (2003) ‘Re-Inventing the Wheel, Speed In Slow Motion’, from Visual Cultures in Britain, Vol. 4, Number 2. Manchester University Press

Savage, E.M. (1998) Stoodley Pike. Todmorden Antiquarian Society

Shelley, M. (1993, orig., 1818) Frankenstein. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth

Wright, P. (1985) ‘Everyday Life and the Aura of the Modern Past’ from On Living In An Old Country. London: Verso, 1985


I came across the original letter to the Todmorden News and so here it is:

An open letter regarding Stoodley Pike:

I’m wondering if any local historians or people with family links to Stoodley Pike’s construction have made a connection which I feel is a possibility. Stoodley Pike’s balcony can only be reached by stairs which have to be navigated in total darkness. The re-building of the second version of the monument was paid for by subscription, with patronage from the Freemasons. The Masonic compass is on the lintel above the entrance to the stairs. The ascent in total darkness appears to replicate the Masonic blindfold ceremony, a trial by ordeal, a leap of faith, after which enlightenment is received with the removal of the blindfold and acceptance into the order. Whilst I wish to completely dissociate myself from the kind of occult conspiracy theories which already surround my subject, it does occur to me that the Pike might be designed to replicate this ceremony for the layperson: ascent by ordeal, followed by a privileged view. I probably need not point out the fear which ascending Stoodley Pike for the first time can generate. As part of restoration work in 1889, a grill was placed in the balcony floor so that a little more light would be shed on the ascendant, and the roughly hewn stone around the grill can still be seen. Even with this addition though, nearly all of the steps remain in total darkness. A simple choice could have been made for the stairs to be lit, a couple of windows would have sufficed, but they were never part of the original design.


Hebden Bridge post office to stoodley pike 8 mile walk

Hebden Bridge post office to stoodley pike 8 mile walk
Stoodley Pike from hebden bridge
This is a walk of about 8 miles with splendid views, first of Hebden Bridge , then across steep sided valleys. It goes near the famous landmark of Stoodley Pike and takes in a short stretch of the Pennine Way , finishing with a pleasant and easy stroll across grazing land and downhill through deciduous woods.

To follow these notes accurately have the appropriate OS map with you.

Start outside the post office in Holme Street, in the centre of Hebden Bridge.

Walk to the canal and cross it using the packhorse bridge at the end of Holme Street .

Turn right and in a few yards go up the steps on to Palace House Road.

Turn left on the road and cross the railway, taking care to observe the traffic lights at the narrow bridge.

Shortly after the railway, take the footpath to right, going steeply uphill through trees.

Where it branches right to a gate, carry straight on and go under an arch.

At track turn left and go past Old Chamber (renovated farmhouse and associated cottages).

Carry on, crossing a cattle grid and pass Great Jumps farmhouse on left.

Go through gate and up the grassy track.

Turn left and go through wooden gate.

Pass Hawthorns on right.

Pass Moorside Farm on left and join track.

At FP sign turn right and go steeply uphill above a sunken walled path.

Cross the stile in fence.

Cross Erringden Moor.

At fork in path keep right.

At 986247, at a finger post follow Dicks Lane to Pennine Way .

If you wish, go on to Stoodley Pike, the memorial commemorating various historical events and providing wonderful views from its viewing platform, and then retrace your steps, if not

Turn right, following the Pennine Way away from Stoodley Pike.

At London Road , near Swillington, go left along London Road and drop down across the rough hillside to stile near Strait Hey.

Here you will be very near the Woodcraft Folk's camping barn, Height Gate, which was converted from a near derelict farmhouse with work on it done largely by volunteers. Worth a very short detour to see it.

Leave Height Gate uphill, skirting Height Gate's fields.

Go through gate and turn right following the path towards Swillington.

Turn left on to Pennine Way passing a farm on the right.

At FP sign go right across fields to Pinnacle Lane .

Follow Pinnacle Lane to Horsehold Road .

Go straight over, crossing narrow fields and successive stiles to pass a TV mast.

At track, go right skirting Crow Nest Wood.

Take FP on left signposted Crow Nest Wood.

Go over stile into Crow Nest Wood and follow path down to Old Palace Road and thence back into Hebden Bridge .


Hebden Bridge to Stoodley Pike

Stoodley Pike to Hebden Bridge Waymarked Walk;

Please note that the weather at Stoodley Pike can be much colder and wilder than at the valley bottom. When the weather is poor, this is a walk for more experienced walkers.

As you leave Hebden Bridge railway station, turn right down the track to the road below and turn right under the railway bridge. Continue straight ahead, slightly uphill, and almost immediately (as the houses stop) turn right up a narrow track.

Follow this path diagonally up the hillside, enjoying the views of Hebden Bridge. Keep to the waymarked route, following the main path as it bears right as the woods are reached.

Walk through the wooden gate into the beech woods. The track may be muddy and ill-defined here, but there is a waymark post ahead to help keep you on the route. You are aiming for the far corner of the woods, near the TV transmitter.

Cross over the stone stile onto New Road. Continue straight across the open fields. The sign points to Pinnacle Lane and the path goes upwards, keeping to the left of the fields.

Towards the top of the fields, Stoodley Pike comes into view.

The next wooden signpost points straight on to Stoodley Pike, but this route takes a left turn, on to a tarmac farm lane. in 150 metres turn right onto Kilnshaw Lane, another tarmac lane. Continue to the lane end at Swillington Farm, taking the Pennine Way to Stoodley Pike.

Return from the Pike to Swllington Farm, and now follow the Pennine Bridleway, turning left shortly on to a farm track, then right on to a field path and then left again, beside a little stream. At the bottom, as you enter a wooded area, leave the Pennine Bridleway and instead turn right to take the track above Beaumont Clough woods. At the end, when you meet a tarmac road, follow this down to the outskirts of Hebden Bridge, from where you may return to the railway station.


yearly stoodley pike fell race

every year around july The Stoodley Pike Fell Race takes place it.s a quick dash up and down one of Calderdale's famous landmark.s

the stoodley pike event is the The longest established fell race in the area (started in the 1970's). It get.s a good crowd, year on year drawn by the hopefully sunny conditions that Todmorden Harriers try to arrange for this yearly event. profits from the race benefit deserving local causes.which is always surely welcome buy the less fortunate of us

stoodley pike fell race location
Location Race HQ is The Top Brink Inn, Lumbutts, Todmorden.
GR956236 on the OS South Pennines Sheet 21.
Online map (new window)


Langfield Edge to Stoodley Pike

Langfield Edge to Stoodley Pike
« Wadsworth Moor and High Brown Knoll
Haworth’s Bronte Moor »
Langfield Edge to Stoodley Pike

Start and Finish: Todmorden
Approximate time for the walk: 4 hours
Distance: 7 miles
Landscape: Open Moorland
Map: O/S Outdoor Leisure 21 South Pennines

Description of the walk:
1. Start in the centre of Todmorden. Make you way to the Todmorden Town Hall. From here, turn left down the left-hand side of A6033 (Rochdale road) to pass over a bridge over a canal, to meet the Golden Lion pub. Just after the pub, turn left up the road. This first section is very steep as you wind your way out of Todmorden. Continue up the road on its left-hand side and take the first road on your left. Continue up this very steep road which leads eventually leads to Longfield Terrace. At Longfield Terrace, turn left on track and continue straight along this track up hill. When this path folks, take the left-hand branch track and continue past the farm and continue up the track, up-hill, to meet an road. Turn left along the road and continue along the road to reach the Shepherd’s Rest pub.

2. At the pub, look opposite and you see a track leading up hill. Turn right and follow this track up hill(no diversions) to reach the top of Langfield Edge. You reach some quarry working, turn left up the path. Continue straight ahead till the path again folks. Keep right as the path continue up-hill passing the summit of Langfield Edge. Continue straight ahead on this path (take no diversions).

3. This path eventually meets another path by a waymarker stone. Continue straight ahead on this path and take no diversion paths as you slowly head towards to impressive monument of Stoodley Pike in the distance. Continue straight ahead, with the last section on the flat to arrive finally at the monument of Stoodley Pike.
4. At the monument of Stoodley Pike, go past it and right and continue straight down a downhill path to meet a stile in a wall. Continue over the stile and continue on for about 40 yards, to meet another ladder stile. Now, turn left over this stile and continue down downhill along this path. This path leads down another wide track called London Road and leave your existing.
5. Turn left on this track as it descends down to the small hamlet of Mankinholes. Follow this track taking no diversions to arrive at this small hamlet of Mankinholes. W hen you reach this small hamlet, turn right and straight along the road for about 120 yards.
6. After about 120 yards after the last house, take a path on your left signposted ‘Calderdale Way.’ Continue straight ahead on this path to emerge at the Top Brink Pub at another small hamlet called Lumbutts. At the pub, go right on path between houses and continue straight along the path between a fence and wall, to reach a gap stile. Continue straight ahead over the wall and turn right across the field to another gap stile in the wall. Continue over the wall down the steep sided valley to meet a farm track. Continue down the farm track to meet a minor road at some cottages. Continue down this minor road and over a bridge over of the Rochdale Canal.
7. Now turn left down by canal, to reach the path on the canal. Walk up the canal as you slowly head take towards the centre of Todmorden. Continue straight ahead to reach the bridge you passed over at the start of walk. Take path up to regain the street path and turn right to finish and conclude this walk.


history stoodley pike todmorden west yorkshire uk

Stoodley Pike is a 121-foot monument that stands on a prominent Pennine hill, also known as Stoodley Pike, on the moors of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, Northern England. The current structure was designed by local architect James Green in 1854 and the building was completed in 1856 when peace was declared at the end of the Crimean War.

An earlier monument had existed on the site, started in 1814 to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon and the surrender of Paris then completed in 1815 after the Battle of Waterloo (Napoleonic Wars). This structure collapsed in 1854 following an earlier lightning strike and ongoing wear and tear from the elements. The replacement was therefore (rather wisely) built slightly further from the edge of the hill. During repair work in 1889 a lightning conductor was added. The Pike has since been struck by lightning on numerous occasions without any notable structural damage. There is evidence to suggest that some sort of structure existed on the site before even this earlier pike was built.

The inscription above the entrance is worn and covered with lichen but it is legible and reads:
















The site is inaccessible due to terrain to all vehicles including off-road vehicles and quad bikes, (the Pike stands on Langfield Common, so is the responsibility of Calderdale Council). Langfield Common is a true moor and an SSSI.

The structure contains a spiral staircase of 39 steps accessed from the north side. In 1889, during repairs, a grill was added to the top step to allow some light in, so only 6 or 7 steps are actually in total darkness. There are no windows. The exit from the staircase onto the balcony, some 40 feet above ground level, is on the west face. There is no way to ascend above balcony level.

It serves primarily as a destination for hikers, fell-runners and cyclists, being close to Mankinholes Youth Hostel and the Top Brink pub. Just below it on the roughly 200 metres contour shelf lies the Harvelin Park housing estate. From here walkers can enjoy an easy 30-minute walk to the Pike.

Many fell races visit the Pike, primarily those organised by Todmorden Harriers including the Noonstone, Hebden Bridge, Shepherd's Skyline and the Stoodley Pike Fell race.

The Pennine Way (Britain's first National Trail, opened in 1965) passes Stoodley Pike.

Stoodley Pike can be easily seen on the horizon, when stood in front of Beacon Hill, in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

In the last couple of years the entrance to the Pike has been re-paved and a seat has been provided to the south west of the monument.

Start Hebden Bridge Railway Station
Distance 6 miles (10 km)
Height Gain 984 ft (300 m)
with some steep slopes
Terrain Stony paths, muddy woodland and
Time 3.75 hours
Refreshment & public toilets Public toilets,
shops and cafes in Hebden Bridge
How to get there Rail and bus services to
Halifax, Huddersfield, Keighley, Todmorden
and Rochdale

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