Ashworth Moor Reservoir is a popular destination for many seeking to escape to the moorlands of Lancashire for a day. Walkers, bird watchers and customers from Owd Betts pub alike congregate here to admire the views. However, like many of the reservoirs in the county, its construction was not without controversy.
Before Ashworth Moor Reservoir was dug out, the surrounding scenery would not have been that different to what we see today. A windswept moorland, predominantly grazed by sheep, would have been the dominant feature. Some coal mines existed nearby, such as the one at Wind Hill on the east side of the reservoir.
Access into the area was vastly improved in 1795 when Ashworth Road was constructed as a turnpike, linking the towns of Edenfield and Rochdale. The next year, the pub that overlooks the reservoir (known as Owd Betts) was built by Richard and Mary Ashworth.
The area had a once thriving textile industry with a large amount of mills being found in the Cheesden Valley below. However, in the 1880s – the time period just before the reservoir was built – many of these must have been starting to struggle. Competition from the much larger mills based in the industrial towns was taking its toll on them.
Plans were first drawn up to construct Ashworth Moor Reservoir in the 1890s, with the land being purchased from the Earl of Derby. The surviving local mills that stood close were slated for closure. These were Cheesden Bar Mill (named after a nearby Toll bar) Cheesden Lumb Mill (see our post on it here), Croston Close Upper Mill and Croston Close Lower Mill. The latter three were all owned by Alice Ashworth.
The reason for their closure appears to be that they were too close to the reservoir catchment area. They also had water collection rights in the vicinity which could have interfered with the plans too. It was also policy of reservoir construction at the time to get rid of anything that could be a hazard to what would be a clean drinking water supply. Farms and mills alike were cleared off such sites, and we see similar stories of this throughout Lancashire, for example at Watergrove and Haslingden Grane.
Alice Ashworth bitterly contested the plans and angrily challenged the earl’s land agents Thomas Statter and his son. Judgement went against Alice and she was required to hand over her leasehold on the land. In 1898, all four of the mills were closed and work on the construction of this large, stone-lined reservoir began soon after.
In 1905, during the digging, a Bronze Age palstave was discovered by the workmen. This is an axe-like implement, cast from bronze. It remains a relatively rare find in the county, with only six others of this type being discovered. The palstave dates from around 1400-1200BC. This is not the only activity from this era in the area, as there have been finds of Bronze Age flints on nearby Knowl Moor and Cheesden Pasture. Interestingly, a Bronze Age burial cairn was discovered in 1968, nearby at Wind Hill, which was subsequently excavated by Bury Archaeological Group. Horn cores (the bony inner shaft of horns) from a prehistoric type of domestic cow was also discovered during the digging of the reservoir. They belonged to the cattle type named as the ‘Celtic shorthorn’ or Bos longifrons.
The reservoir was completed in 1908. Now over a hundred years old, the stonework is still in excellent and impressive condition. It’s a popular site for bird watchers who have recorded a variety of birds. Raptors such as Buzzard, Kestrel and Merlin are sometimes present. Wheatear, Stonechat and Redshank have also been spotted in the vicinity. On the water Teal, Cormorant and Goosander have been seen.
The site remains popular with walkers too. It is close to the access path into Cheesden Valley in which the remnants of early mills can be seen. Paths connect from Cheesden into the popular Ashworth Valley with its steep tree-lined slopes.
Site visited by A. Bowden and A. Shepherd 2020
The site is open access. There is off-road parking available on Ashworth Road.
Nearby, just a very short walk away
The Forgotten Valley, A.V. Sandiford & T.E. Ashworth (1981) Bury and District Local Historical Society. Still in print, this classic study of Cheesden Valley and its history can be obtained from the Bury and District Local History Society, Bury Tourist Information Centre and Bury Library. See here
Excavations by Bury Archaeological Group at A Cairn at Wind Hill, Heywood, Lancashire, Norman Tyson (1980) The Greater Manchester Archaeological Group. Publications No.1.
Prehistoric Lancashire, David Barrowclough (2008) The History Press