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Tod from golf course.jpg
A view over Todmorden
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Population 15,481 (Including Cornholme and Portsmouth, West Yorkshire. 2011 census)
Demonym Todmordian
OS grid reference SD936241
• London 174 mi (280 km) SSE
Civil parish
  • Todmorden
Metropolitan borough
  • Calderdale
Metropolitan county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district OL14
Dialling code 01706
Police West Yorkshire
Fire West Yorkshire
Ambulance Yorkshire
EU Parliament Yorkshire and the Humber
UK Parliament
  • Calder Valley
List of places
53°42′47″N 2°05′46″W / 53.713°N 2.096°W / 53.713; -2.096

Todmorden ( tod-MƏR-dən;) is a market town and civil parish in the Upper Calder Valley in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England. It is 17 miles (27 kilometres) north-east of Manchester, 8 miles (13 km) south-east of Burnley and 9 miles (14 km) west of Halifax. In 2011 it had a population of 15,481.

Todmorden is at the confluence of three steep-sided Pennine valleys and is surrounded by moorlands with outcrops of sandblasted gritstone.

The historic boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire is the River Calder and its tributary, Walsden Water, which run through the town. The administrative border was altered by the Local Government Act 1888 placing the whole of the town within the West Riding.

The town is served by Todmorden and Walsden railway stations.



The name Todmorden first appears in 1641. The town had earlier been called Tottemerden, Totmardene, Totmereden or Totmerden. The generally accepted meaning of the name is Totta's boundary-valley, probably a reference to the valley running north-west from the town. Alternative suggestions have been proposed, such as the speculation "maybe fancifully" that the name derives from two words for death: tod and mor (as in mort), meaning "death-death-wood", or that the name meant "marshy home of the fox", from the Old English.

Pagan prehistory

In 1898 Blackheath Barrow—a ring cairn monument situated above Cross Stone in Todmorden—was excavated and proved to be a site of "surpassing archaeological interest", according to J. Lawton Russell, one of the men who carried out the excavation. Various Bronze Age items were discovered, including sepulchral urns, a human skull, teeth and hands.

Russell contended that Blackheath Barrow was primarily a religious site, specifically intended for the "performance of funeral rites", as there was no evidence that it had been settled for domestic use. Of particular interest were the four cairns, positioned at the cardinal points of the compass, and it has been suggested that this indicates "a ritual evocation of the airts, or spirits of the four directions, with obvious correlates in relation to spirits in the land of the dead".

The various finds from the 1898 dig are now housed in the Todmorden Library, on permanent display.

Early history

Tod 1800s
Todmorden c.1870

The earliest written record of the area is in the Domesday Book (1086). Settlement in medieval Todmorden was dispersed. Most people living in scattered farms or in isolated hilltop agricultural settlements. Packhorse trails were marked by ancient stones of which many still survive.

For hundreds of years streams from the surrounding hills provided water for corn and fulling mills. Todmorden grew to relative prosperity by combining farming with the production of woollen textiles. Some yeomen clothiers were able to build fine houses, a few of which still exist today. Increasingly, though, the area turned to cotton. The proximity of Manchester, as a source of material and trade, was undoubtedly a strong factor. Another was that the strong Pennine streams and rivers were able to power the machine looms. Improvements in textile machinery (by Kay, Hargreaves and Arkwright), along with the development of turnpike roads (1751–1781), helped to develop the new cotton industry and to increase the local population.

19th century

In 1801 most people still lived in the uplands; Todmorden itself could be considered as a mere village. During the years 1800–1845 great changes took place in the communications and transport of the town which were to have a crucial effect on promoting industrial growth. These included the building of: (1) better roads; (2) the Rochdale Canal (1804); and (3) the main line of the Manchester and Leeds Railway (1841), which became the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in 1847. This railway line incorporated the (then) longest tunnel in the world, the 2,885-yard Summit Tunnel. A second railway, from Todmorden to Burnley, opened as a single line in 1849, being doubled to meet demand in 1860. A short connecting line, from Stansfield Hall to Hall Royd, completed the "Todmorden Triangle" in 1862, thus enabling trains to travel in all three directions (Manchester, Leeds and Burnley) without reversing.

The Industrial Revolution caused a concentration of industry and settlement along the valley floor and a switch from woollens to cotton. One family in the area was particularly influential on the town; the Fielden family. They created a "dynasty" that changed the town forever by establishing several large mills, putting up assorted impressive buildings and bringing about social and educational change.

20th century

Throughout the first decade of the 20th century, the population of the Borough of Todmorden remained constant. The ten-yearly UK census returns show figures of 25,418 in 1901 and 25,404 in 1911. Like the rest of the Upper Calder Valley, Todmorden's economy experienced a slow decline from around the end of the First World War onwards, accelerating after the Second World War until around the late 1970s. During this period there was a painful restructuring of the local economy with the closure of mills and the demise of heavy industry.

On 1 January 1907, Todmorden Corporation became only the second municipality in the British Isles to operate a motor bus service. By the end of that year, the fleet had expanded to five double-deck vehicles: two by Critchley-Norris, two by Lancashire Steam (predecessor of Leyland Motors) and one by Ryknield. In 1931, the service became jointly operated by the Corporation and the LMS railway under the name "Todmorden Joint Omnibus Committee". At its maximum size in the 1940s and 1950s, the undertaking operated 40 vehicles over 50 route miles (80 km) through the rugged South Pennine terrain.

Until 1938, the town was served by no fewer than six railway stations: Todmorden, Stansfield Hall, Cornholme, Portsmouth, Walsden and Eastwood. With the exception of Todmorden railway station, all closed during the middle third of the 20th century although Walsden railway station reopened on 10 September 1990 on a site a few yards north of the original 1845 railway station. In December 1984 a goods train carrying petrol derailed in the Summit Tunnel between Todmorden and Littleborough causing what is still considered as one of the biggest underground fires in transport history.

In 2008, a group of local residents initiated the Incredible Edible Todmorden project to raise awareness of food issues and in particular local food and food provenance. The project has been responsible for the planting of 40 public fruit and vegetable gardens throughout the town, with each plot inviting passers-by to help themselves to the open source produce. The project has attracted publicity, media attention and visitors and the idea has been replicated in at least fifteen towns and villages in the UK.


View from Watty Lane, Todmorden, (July 2010) geograph
A view of Gauxholme & Walsden from Watty Lane.

Other villages and towns in the Upper Calder Valley include Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd. The territory of the civil parish of Todmorden also extends to cover Eastwood, Walsden, Cornholme, Mankinholes, Lumbutts, Robinwood, Lydgate, Portsmouth, Shade, Stansfield, Dobroyd, Ferney Lee, Gauxholme and Cross Stone.

Medieval Todmorden had consisted of the townships of Langfield and Stansfield in Yorkshire, and Todmorden/Walsden section of the greater township of Hundersfield in the Ancient Parish of Rochdale, Lancashire. The township of Todmorden and Walsden was created in 1801 by the union of the older villages of Todmorden and Walsden.


Todmorden Town Hall
Todmorden Town Hall

Todmorden has a Greek Revival town hall (built 1866–1875) which dominates the centre of the town. The building straddles the Walsden Water, a tributary of the River Calder, and was situated in both Lancashire and Yorkshire until the administrative county boundary was moved on 1 January 1888. Designed by John Gibson of Westminster, this imposing building has a northern end which is semi-circular. One interesting external feature of the town hall is the pediment to the front elevation, which reflects the fact that it straddled the boundary as it depicts the main industries of the two counties. The fine carved stonework has two central female figures on a pedestal. The left-hand sculpture represents Lancashire (cotton spinning and weaving industries), and the right-hand one Yorkshire (wool manufacturing, engineering and agriculture).

Todmorden Market Hall (29th August 2010)
Todmorden Market Hall

Todmorden has the look of a Victorian mill town. Other notable buildings include Dobroyd Castle (completed in 1869), now used as a residential activity centre for schoolchildren; the Edwardian Hippodrome Theatre, and the Grade I listed Todmorden Unitarian Church (built 1865–1869). Dobroyd Castle, the town hall and the Unitarian church were all built at the behest of John Fielden and his sons and designed by John Gibson, who had been a member of Charles Barry's team at the Houses of Parliament. Pre-Victorian buildings include two 18th century pubs; Todmorden Old Hall, a Grade II* listed manor house (Elizabethan) in the centre of town, and St. Mary's Church which dates from 1476.

Todmorden is situated alongside the Pennine Way, Pennine Bridleway, Mary Towneley Loop and Calderdale Way and is popular for outdoor activities such as walking, fell running, mountain biking and bouldering. Its attractions include canals and locks, a park containing a sports centre, an outdoor skateboard park, tennis courts, a golf course, an aquarium/reptile house and a cricket ground. There are wooded areas around the town and cafés and restaurants. The Hippodrome Theatre shows films as well as putting on live performances. The town has a small toy and model museum, a library and a tourist information centre, along with independent retailers. Annual events include a carnival, agricultural show, beer festival, music festival and the traditional Easter Pace Egg plays.

Centre Vale Park in Todmorden is the setting for several pieces of local art, including tree carvings by the sculptor John Adamson. Also in the park are the reconstructed remains of Centre Vale Mansion, next to Todmorden War Memorial in the Garden of Remembrance, and nearby there is a sculpture of a dog. This was sculpted by local sculptor David Wynne in 2005, and was cast in steel at the local Todmorden foundry Weir Minerals. It was donated to the park by the sculptor and the foundry, but installation was delayed for several years due to the extensive flood alleviation works. In 2011, the dog was featured on an episode of Derren Brown's The Experiments. Brown spread a rumour that the dog was lucky; it then gained a reputation for bringing luck to anyone that touched it. During the First World War the mansion was used as a military hospital.

The 120 ft Stoodley Pike monument (built 1814 and rebuilt in 1854) stands atop the 1,300 ft hill of the same name. It commemorates the defeat of Napoleon and the surrender of Paris. It is a prominent feature of Todmorden's moors, and is a landmark on the Pennine Way.


Weaving shed, Queen Street Mill - - 680867
A typical weaving shed at Queen Street Mill Textile Museum, Burnley

Heavy industry is now part of Todmorden's history, not its present. The industrial chimneys have largely gone and the remaining mills have mostly been converted for other purposes. The town's industrial base is much reduced (at one time Todmorden had the largest weaving shed in the world). There has been a great deal of regeneration activity and Todmorden is now increasingly a commuter town for people working in Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and smaller towns. Todmorden also services the local rural area and attracts visitors through its market (indoor and outdoor), various events, heritage and the local Pennine countryside. It has for centuries been considered the safest accessible route directly across the Pennines.


Pubs in the town centre include the Duke of York, the Wellington, the Royal George, the Golden Lion, and the White Hart (Wetherspoons).



Todmorden Cricket Club has existed since 1837 and currently play at Centre Vale in the town. They are the only Yorkshire team in the Lancashire League.

Notable people

Science and engineering

John Mitchell Nuttall (1890–1958) was a Todmorden-born physicist remembered for the Geiger–Nuttall law.

John Ramsbottom (engineer) (1814–1897) was a mechanical and railway engineer and inventor from the town.

Nobel Prize winners

Todmorden has two Nobel Prize winners: Prof. Sir John Cockcroft (Physics) and Prof. Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson (Chemistry). Despite 24 years' difference in their birth dates, both attended Todmorden Grammar School (now Todmorden High School with the prior grammar school building now home to Ferney Lee Primary School) and both had the same science master, Luke Sutcliffe.

Arts and culture

Travel writer Geoff Crowther (1944 - 2021) was an early and long-time editor of BIT Travel Guides, London from 1972 to 1980. The BIT Travel Guides were some of the first guidebooks to cover the overland Hippie trail from Europe to Asia and Australia Crowther went on to be a prolific author for Lonely Planet (1977–1995) and played a key role in the early days of the company. He wrote the first editions of Africa on a Shoestring, South America on a Shoestring and contributed to the first edition of the India on a Shoestring. In 2016, the British Library in their 2016 exhibition 'Maps & the 20th Century' showcased Crowther's hand drawn travel maps and his research journals for the first edition of South America on a Shoestring. He died in Northern New South Wales, Australia on 13 April 2021.

Fred Lawless, Liverpool born theatre playwright has a house in Todmorden; he was also a writer for the BBC 1 TV series EastEnders, as well as several other TV and radio programmes.

Todmorden actress Claire Benedict has appeared in UK TV shows Waking The Dead, Prime Suspect, Unforgiven, Holby City, Casualty, Doctors, Grange Hill, The Bill and the Lenny Henry Show. She featured in the films Felicia's Journey, Sea Sick and Mersinias, and has had numerous theatre roles, including work for the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. On BBC radio she is the voice of Precious Ramotswe in The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Todmorden-born actor Dicken Ashworth appeared in Coronation Street and Brookside.

Antony Booth, actor, father of Cherie Blair and father-in-law of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, resided in Todmorden.

Manchester-born Becky Simpson is an actress. As a 10-year-old child she starred as Spoonface Steinberg in the BBC production by that name written by writer Lee Hall, famous for writing Billy Elliot. Becky is married to Wes Paul notable Rock and Roll lead singer with the Wes Paul Band; they are tenants of the Grade-I-listed lodge inside the gates of Todmorden Unitarian Church and are both members of the local management committee.

The Bayes family of artists were prominent in the 19th and 20th centuries. They were: Alfred Bayes (1832–1909), painter; Walter Bayes (1869–1856), painter; Gilbert Bayes (1872–1952), sculptor; and Jessie Bayes (1876–1970), painter (some of her work can be see at Lumbutts Methodist Church, Lumbutts, Todmorden).

William Holt (1897–1977) was a writer, painter, political activist, journalist and traveller. William was often seen riding his white horse Trigger around Todmorden and other local areas.

Keyboardist Keith Emerson (1944-2016), founder member of UK prog-rock groups The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, was born in the town while the family was evacuated from the south coast.

John Helliwell, another Todmorden-born musician, was saxophonist in the band Supertramp.

Dale Hibbert, original bass player with The Smiths, author of "Boy Interrupted".

Geoff Love (1917–1991), the big band leader, was born in Todmorden.

John Kettley (born 1952), the former BBC weatherman, grew up in Todmorden.

Tim Benjamin (born 1975), the composer, lives in Todmorden, and the world premiere of his opera Emily was given at the town's Hippodrome Theatre in 2013.


England Test cricketers Peter Lever (born 1940) and Derek Shackleton (1924–2007) were originally from Todmorden.


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