Tag Cut, Cromwell Bottom

Prior to the completion of stretch of the Calder and Hebble Navigation canal between Elland and Brighouse in 1808, barges on the River Calder would navigate meanders by temporary “cuts”. Tag Cut at Cromwell Bottom, constructed to provide water access to Elland Stone Mill, was built in 1770 but appears never to have been used. Today, its remains form part of the Cromwell Bottom nature reserve, running just below the railway line and Strangstry Wood.

During the early 20th Century the area was a popular beauty spot but the site was forgotten for many years whilst the area was used as gravel pits and then for landfill. However, the cut still holds water and whilst it has the appearance of being stagnant, there is actually a slow flow which contributes to the diversity of wildlife habitats. It’s one of the most important sites for dragonflies in damselflies in West Yorkshire, with at least ten different species recorded, not to mention herons, kingfishers and a range of flora.

It is certainly an atmospheric place. Due to the area’s history as a landfill site – including for highly alkaline fly-ash produced by the now-demolished Elland Power Station which once stood nearby – the trees cannot put down deep roots in the shallow soil and so appear stunted and unusually contorted. Meanwhile, the water in the cut is tinted orange on account of iron oxide and clay leaching through the soil from old workings at the disused Calder Mine on the hillside above.

It is not known why the cut was never actually used. It may be that it was simply superseded by the Calder and Hebble Navigation. However, a much more sinister possibility is that the area was once haunted by an apparition called Tag, a headless ghost who drove a carriage pulled by a two-headed horse down the length of the cut from a secret passage leading to Elland New Hall. It is even reputed that a room in the hall once went by the name of Tag Chamber.

An article in the Halifax Evening Courier & Guardian dated 6th August 1938 records the experience of one woman who often stayed at New Hall in the early Nineteenth Century. One night she was so disturbed by mysterious crashes emanating from Tag Chamber that she fled the building, believing it to be the sound of Old Tag setting out on his nocturnal travels. Nothing could persuade her to sleep at New Hall again for many years.

Meanwhile, an article in the Brighouse Echo dated 29th October 1971, speculates: “Has anyone seen a headless horseman recently? There is a local legend that such a gruesome apparition can be seen on windy nights galloping past Cromwell Bottom or along Elland Lane at the bottom of Lower Edge. The most likely origin of this tradition is a bitter dispute that occurred some 600 years ago and which has become known as the Elland Feud.”

Such an origin for the tradition would be very satisfactory indeed but on closer inspection it seems unlikely. Whilst New Hall became the home of what remained of the de Eland family after the Feud through marriage to the Saviles, at the time of his murder Sir John de Eland the Younger still lived at Elland Old Hall, sited on the other bank of the Calder to Tag Cut and New Hall, and it thus seems more likely that any such apparition would be associated with Old Hall instead.

The Elland Feud

Despite modern certainty of the story’s historical veracity, the cause of the conflict between the de Beaumont and de Eland families and hence the origin of the Elland Feud remains steeped in mystery. Some have speculated that it was an extension of the factionalism resulting from the early 14th Century dispute between the Lacy family, who were the Earls of Pontefract, and the Warren family, who were the Earls of Wakefield. Others have argued that Sir Robert de Beaumont may not have been the “kind and courteous knight” the ballads portray him as and had been a constant thorn in the side of Sir John de Eland the Elder during the 1340s when de Eland was High Sheriff of Yorkshire. Simple power struggles between the sheriff and other influential families would not have been unusual at the time. The de Elands were certainly a dominant force in the region prior to the Feud. Lords of the manor of Elland and occupants of Elland Old Hall since the 11th Century, they owned large tracts of land and enjoyed permission to hunt in Elland Park Wood granted by royal assent from Edward II.

Whatever the reasons for the disagreement between Sir John de Eland the Elder and Sir Robert de Beaumont, sometime around 1340, de Eland gathered a coterie of loyal supporters and marched by night to Crosland Hall at Netherton near Huddersfield, the home of Beaumont. En route, they stopped at Quarmby Hall to kill Sir Hugh de Quarmby and Lockwood of Lockwood, known to be Beaumont’s allies. When they finally arrived at Crosland Hall they found the drawbridge closed so lay in wait until the early morning whereupon it was opened by a servant girl. Eland and his gang rushed in and following a brief struggle, decapitated Sir Robert de Beaumont. Buoyed by their victory, they chose to eat breakfast before departing and forced Sir Robert’s two sons to join them. His eldest son Adam refused to eat and Eland left Crosland Hall warning Adam that his card was marked.

The heirs of Beaumont, Quarmby and Lockwood fled to Towneley in Lancashire where they spent the ensuing years practising combat and plotting revenge. It is thought they harried Sir John de Eland the Elder a number of times during the year 1350, as Eland made his will during this time, but their revenge was not consummated until intelligence reached them that he could be ambushed as he journeyed to preside at the October sheriff’s tourn or wapentake court in Brighouse. Thus, on 28th October 1350, the Beaumont faction lodged with the sympathetic Lacy family at Cromwellbottom Hall, which still stands between Brighouse and Elland. The following morning, they set upon Eland and his party at a place described as the hill between Brookfoot and Lane Head, corresponding to Brighouse Wood Lane today. Sure enough, following an engagement, Eland was separated from his retinue and slain amidst a great “effusion of blood”.

However, whilst the families of Beaumont, Quarmby and Lockwood were now avenged, the bloodshed did not stop there. Following the death of Sir John de Eland the Elder, his killers retreated to the wild Furness Fells between Lancashire and Cumbria. However, they heard news that Sir John de Eland the Younger had assumed his father’s responsibilities and was living happily at Elland Old Hall with his wife and son, whilst petitioning the king to pursue those responsible for his father’s death. Thus, the conspirators returned the following year and on the eve of Palm Sunday, occupied Elland Mill which stood beside the River Calder near Elland Old Hall. The next morning, Eland the Younger and his family attempted to ford the river by the mill dam, where they were ambushed by their enemies firing arrows from the mill. Both Eland and his infant son were struck and mortally wounded, curtailing the Eland line for good.

Upon seeing their final victory, Beaumont, Quarmby and Lockwood fled, with their victim’s servants in hot pursuit. A wounded Quarmby was discovered hiding in a tree in Ainley Woods, where he met his end. It is said Adam de Beaumont successfully escaped the country and pledged himself to that organisation variously known as the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitaller or the Knights of Rhodes and was killed fighting heathens in Hungary. Meanwhile, despite there being a warrant circulating for his arrest for his part in the murders of the Elands, Lockwood remained in the district to pursue his affair with a lady of Cannon Hall. He was later betrayed to the under-sheriff and executed. On the other side, the Eland family had been largely destroyed and their estates passed to Sir John Savile of Elland New Hall when he married Isobel de Eland following the murders of her father and brother.

These events were bloody enough to linger in the folk memory of the region for centuries after their occurrence. The first published account was a ballad known as the Beaumont-Watson Transcript, taken from a manuscript borrowed from R.H. Beaumont of Whitley Hall (a descendant of Sir Robert) and included by John Watson in his 1775 History of Halifax. It had probably been written down in 1650 by John Hopkinson, secretary to the early antiquary William Dugdale. Later, a second, older version of the ballad – dubbed the Holroyd-Turner transcript – was discovered in the care of the Holroyd family and published as The Elland Tragedies in 1890 by indefatigable local historian J. Horsfall Turner. Based on a study of the calligraphy and dialect, Turner thought it to date from the 1620s.. It is also believed that there was once a play based on the story which had been preserved by the Armytage family of Kirklees Hall but it is now lost.

The oldest surviving version known today, however, is a prose narrative called The Discourse of the Slaughter of Eland, Lockwood and Quarmby, discovered at Cannon Hall and published in 1944 by Philip Ahier as part of his invaluable series, Legends and Traditions of Hudderfield and Its District. The manuscript is thought to be penned in the hand of the Rastrick antiquarian John Hanson, who is known to have died in 1621 meaning it must have been written somewhat earlier. Nonetheless, it is suspected the ballads would’ve been the original modes of transmission, sung by Tudor minstrels long before they were written down. The first example was probably composed in the 1530s as a cautionary tale designed to be heard by those involved in the Wakefield-Pontefract Feud, a dispute between Sir Richard Tempest and Sir Henry Savile which had led to much bloodshed in the Halifax region around that time.

For years, controversy raged as to the truth of the story. Thomas Wright refused to include it in his 1738 book, The Antiquities of the Town of Halifax in Yorkshire, believing it to be too fanciful. Meanwhile, R.H. Beaumont who had provided the Beaumont-Watson Transcript, also considered it to be little more than legend, claiming the historical record shows that the families had been at peace during the period in question. He cited evidence that they appeared to have “attested each others charters”, the fact of which is still something of a puzzle. However, whilst there is still no documentary evidence confirming the original murders of Beaumont et al by Eland, the Feud’s historical accuracy was largely substantiated by the discovery in 1890 of a writ dated 6th July 1351 condemning “Adam Beaumont, William de Lockwoode and very many other felons indicted of the death of John de Eland, one of the King’s Justices”.

One remaining issue of contention is the precise location of the death of Sir John de Eland the Elder. The ballad recorded in the Holroyd-Turner Transcript describes the spot thus: “beneath Brook Foot a hill there is to Brighouse in the way… From Lane End came Eland then”. As previously mentioned, this corresponds to Brighouse Wood Lane today. However, in an article entitled “The Eland Murders, 1350-1: A Study of the Legend of the Eland Feud,” published in Volume 51 of The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal (1979), J.M. Kaye takes issue with this location on the grounds that in the 14th Century the road between Elland and Brighouse ran via Lower Edge and Rastrick. As late as 1720, a map of the county shows no road on the north bank of the Calder between the two towns and no substantial highway was constructed until the Elland-Obelisk Turnpike in 1815. He also argues that the 1351 writ states the murder occurred “apud Brygghous” (near Brighouse) whilst in the 14th Century Brookfoot was a quite distinct settlement over half a mile away.

Yet Kaye’s contention that the murder could not have occurred where the ballads claim seems to lack any acquaintance with the local topography. Whilst Brookfoot would have been almost a mile distant from the centre of Brighouse then, the ballads state it occurred at Lane Head, on the hill between Brookfoot and Brighouse which is equidistant from the two. Moreover, if there was no road recorded along the north bank of the Calder until after 1720, it would have made little sense for the ballad writer to locate the murder in that place, unless it actually happened there. Routes of some description must have existed in the area as Cromwellbottom Hall is sited on the north bank and if the Eland family enjoyed hunting rights to Elland Park Wood, they would be familiar with the woodland in the area and would probably be quite happy to travel through it, especially as Elland Old Hall was also on the north bank of the Calder so they would’ve been spared crossing the river. Whilst this is not decisive evidence, it is certainly a stronger case than Kaye’s.