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Rockhall,The Roaches,Staffordshire Moorlands.

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posted by SteveJeffsson alias Steve @ Slackbladder Hall. on Wednesday 6th of October 2021 01:39:47 PM

The cave dwelling called Rock Hall was until some score of years ago, occupied by an old crone of great age known as Bess Bowyer. Here, in the large natural cavern, she lived for nearly a century, an immense mass of rocks having so fallen as to form the roof, sides and entrance. This she divided into two compartments, one for day and the other for night, and through which flowed a small ice-cold stream of water. In her weird bedroom was a secret outlet,. Conducting among the wild crags at the back of the dwelling, and through which she assisted smugglers and deserters to escape from soldiers sent to capture them. A young handsome girl, her reputed daughter, lived with her, but about whose history much mystery and doubt existed. The girl had a fine voice and could be heard on summer nights among the rocks singing sadly to herself songs that sounded foreign to English ears. One winter morning the hag was seen in great distress. Strange men had seized and carried off her child. The daughter never returned and at last the supposed mother was herself discovered dead in her lonely home. This Bess Bowyer was a descendant of ‘Bowyer of the Rocks’ a noted moss-trooper. One of the, probably by now unprovable, definitions for Doxey’s Pool on the Skyline area of the Estate, is that it is named after Bess’s daughter. A later theory is that Doxy Pool (note the change) took its name from a particularly prevalent type of predator of medieval times, the woman tramp, fortune teller, curer of children’s’ and women’s’ ills, and chicken stealer, generally known as a Doxey. They all have the ring of truth about them, don’t you think? Oh! And if you can explain why this Pool on the ridge never dries out completely even in the occasional hot droughts let me know. Rockhall Cottage, albeit in a more primitive form than today, without mains water or electricity or drainage, was built in 1862 as the gamekeepers cottage for the Roaches area of the Swythamley Estate. The last gamekeeper to live there allegedly brought up a family of twelve children in the cottage. Even today, if you know where to look on the estate you can find the gamekeepers’ hideouts where they used to lie in wait for poachers on Brocklehurst’s behalf. It were a ‘ard life in them days. You can imagine therefore, the problems in the early years of climbing pre the 1914-18 war and in later years of gaining access to the rocks and dodging the keepers, but nevertheless people persisted, succeeded, and their climbs are recorded in the BMC guidebooks as living proof. If you do book the hut have a read of the letter from Sir Philip Brocklehurst to a Miss Mary Glynne from Oct 1932 that is on the wall by the fireplace in the hut, it is a copy and the original is owned by the Peak Park Authority. It is doubly interesting, for the facts that it is a woman who is seeking permission to climb at the time and for the attitude to land ownership that is still widely held today in the 21st century in these so-called enlightened times. Just continuing the access theme for a moment, for a time in the inter war years, that is the first and second world wars and not any of the multitude of other ones before or since, it was possible to visit Ludschurch and the Roaches on payment of 2d old money at Manor Farm, Gradbach. What is that in new money, less than half a pence, but a big chunk then of any spare cash for ordinary folk.There are still a few landowners around who would like those days back of charging for access in the name of ‘making money’, as well as others who resolutely refuse access of any kind to their land to the public. It seems you can die for ‘freedom and country’ but you can’t walk over it before you do. Amongst the spring boulders, called that because it was where the water supply was situated and not because it’s a good place to boulder in the spring, which it is, you can see holes bored in the sides of large square boulders. These were made especially to hold a tent at the time of the famous visit of H.R.H. The Princess Mary of Cambridge and The Prince Teck her husband, on 23rd August 1872. Another flat boulder nearby bears anchoring marks for a single cannon also fired to mark her visit. She must have been quite important even in those days and luckily for the future King George V the cannon missed her and one of her daughters later became his Queen Mary. The occasion of their coming was to grace with their presence a picnic given by Mr Brocklehurst of Swythamley at his moorland shooting lodge. (The Whillans Hut/Rock Hall Cottage). Rock Hall is situated in the midst of the wild romantic crags and rocky precipices of the far-famed Roaches. Flags floated in the breeze from different prominent positions. The royal standard waved conspicuously on the verge of the third summit (above Teck Crack). Tents had been erected, one of which, having two huge pieces of rock forming the gable ends, the interior decorated with pink and white heather and carpeted with the skins of wild animals, was especially dedicated to royalty. The Roach, ascended by the royal party, has as it were four divisions or summits which can be reached by means of a circuitous route up a flight of steep steps cut out of solid rock. Facing the edge of the rock on the third summit, and immediately close to the royal standard, was the seat of honour for Her Royal Highness. Constructed by a huge hollow being hewn in the rock, in the hollow cushions were placed, the surroundings being covered with white satin, embroidered with the royal arms, and guarded round the face of the rock with a slender chain. (Eat your heart out all you belayers at the top of Teck crack). The Royal party then proceeded on foot after a circuitous route- a route which it was evident within the past few days had undergone considerable alterations to render it safely passable- among the living rocks of the far-famed Roaches their Royal Highnesses and the distinguished party arrived at what we may call their destination, the third summit of the Roach. The Princess displayed capital mountaineering powers and during a portion of the ascent the Prince of Teck gallantly adjusted a rope for her support. (The first roped ascent at the Roaches? Get it in the guidebook. What’s the grade?) Royal salutes were fired during the stay and having spent fully three hours on the Roaches, the Royal party descended to the cave, where they inscribed their names, and near the entrance of which the Princess graciously planted a Scotch fir tree to commemorate the visit. To show their loyalty and respect, the labourers on the estate made a ‘path’ for a few yards approaching the royal carriage by strewing their coats on the green sward, so that their Royal Highnesses might step from these into the carriage. (Bring back the good old days, eh what!) A later episode of local history owes more to infamy than fame. In the 60’s Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the Moors Murderers, were in the Roaches area and a photograph clearly taken from the spring boulder area looking towards Hen Cloud was found in Myra Hindley’s possessions after she died. One of the persistent rumours surrounding this infamous pair is that their photographs often contained clues to the burial sites of their victims. Police have dismissed the possibility of any victims being buried in this area. Nonetheless the pair was here. As mentioned previously, the Brocklehurst family line died out in the 70’s and the whole estate was put up for auction. This was the time when Doug Moller, self-styled ‘Lord and King of the Roaches’, and Annie bought Rock Hall Cottage. Initially, much of the rest of the estate, most of which is now owned by the Peak National Park, was bought at the same time by some sheep farmers from the Macclesfield area who proceeded to overgraze it and seriously try to prevent access between 1977 and 1980. Early in the 80’s the Peak Park was at last able to buy a significant part of the estate, albeit for more money than a few years earlier, and this secured public access as well as an unwarranted capital gain for the sheep farmers. Most of the estate, except for the hut and garden, now falls within the ‘Open Access’ provisions of The Countryside Rights of Way Act 2002 although for all practical purposes the hut garden area is used as Open Access and the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) and Peak Park both support this. Doug and Annie bought the cottage to escape from noise and other negative aspects of modern life and to live close to the nature they both loved and valued. The obvious clash between those wishes and the objectives of climbers and walkers visiting the estate led to several confrontations in the early days, not helped by the inconsiderate and insanitary behaviour of some climbers. They pissed in Doug and Annie’s water supply area, would you believe. Thankfully, after a few dramatic and legendary differences of opinion, those days passed and Doug and climbers established a way of living together that worked. Indeed Doug became something of an expert at advising climbers new to the area on how to do certain routes on the Lower Tier, whether you wanted or needed the advice mattered not, you got it loud and clear. In the garden area, the large boulder with steps cut in it also has a hole at the top. Doug told me that this hole was used by preachers who would climb up with a pole and stick it in the hole to steady themselves whilst they blew a horn to call locals to hear them preach. If you face the cottage and look left (north) you will see at ground level the original mounting stone for riders, used when stables formed the left hand end of the cottage. In the later years of their ownership the cottage began to deteriorate and the living conditions for Doug and Annie consequently worsened as did their relations with the Peak Park. At last, in 1990, the Peak Park found another acceptable home for Doug and Annie near Knotbury, a few miles away, that was remote and quiet and that had mains water, electricity, and toilets. There they lived happily until late November 2003 when Annie tragically got burnt whilst tending the fire and died of the complications within a couple of weeks in early December. Her funeral was well attended by locals and some climbers. Doug still lives in the house (2013) and I see him from time to time and he helps us on occasions as a ‘celebrity’ prize-giver at litter clean-ups. Quote By Derek Walker B.M.C.



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  • Published 12.02.21
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