I’ve lived in Halifax for 15 years now, all of them residing at various locations on Beacon Hill, however most of the time up here has been spent living in Southowram, a village it would take a lot for me to move away from now with the open countryside on its doorstep looking down over the surrounding area.

Over the years the village stock of pubs (I’m counting both Bank Top and Southowram Village when I refer to Southowram), has fallen from 5 to 2.  We lost both the Malt Shovel on Brookfoot and the Manor House in Bank Top not long after the turn of the millenium and the Packhorse in the centre of the village has been in a flux of being open, closed and in the charge of temporary landlords for several years until recent times since when it has become an Indian restaurant.

The two remaining pubs atop Beacon Hill are the Shoulder and Mutton on Brookfoot and the Cock and Bottle at Bank Top, both doing very good business and being well supported by the community.  These two premises are supplemented by the Social Club and the village cricket club for drinking purposes.  The Malt Shovel has been left untouched for many years and now appears to be a shell of a building which is being left to go to rack and ruin.  The Manor House has since become a small housing development.

The Cock and Bottle closed for a year in 2009 after several years of mismanagement by Enterprise following the departure of the long term landlords George and Margaret Pearson, but local developer Hutton and Cawood brought the premises in 2010 and re-opened the pub later that year after a very well done re-fit.  It was actually the pieces about the pubs past and present at the time which started me writing for PubPaper.  I still haven’t got round to finishing the trilogy of pieces 2 and half years later.

Looking at the historic list of pubs that have been present on the top of this hill, there have been 17 recorded licensed premises over the last few hundred years.   However the name which caught my eye was “Who could a’ thowt it” which was located in the valley on Sunny Bank Lane going down towards Hipperholme.  The pub existed from 1860 and served beer until 1933, finally closing totally in 1941 after which it fell into a state of disrepair.  An interesting note was added to the history of this pub on the Calderdale Companion website that there was a passage between the cellar and adjoining cottage to allow quick escape for illegal drinkers.

What is clear from looking at the history of pubs in the area is that if you had been present in Southowram in 1900, it would have been one hell of a pub crawl to get from one side of the hill to another.    Looking at any other major conurbation in the Calderdale area would probably give you a similar drunken experience at the time of course.  However Southowram as a village is dictated by its geography sitting on a relatively long flat topped hill.  It sits plum atop the crest straddling the route from Halifax to Brighouse, branching off to Siddal to service the extensive quarries sitting on that side of the hill.

As you peel off from the main route the buildings thin out and looking at most of the pubs throughout the village history they were all close to the main routes, if not on it.  However the ones which were off the beaten track showed where there was major employment to support them.  Going back to “Who could a’ thowt it”, it was located near the Sunnyvale Brickworks (photo’s here, aerial view below), the extensive remains of which are free to explore still today and cover 3.5 acres.  The area would have been a huge hive of activity employing many hundreds of men.  Large numbers of manual labourers demanded a lot of beer, which the pub was happy to provide, although the walk back up to the homes in the village may have been a challenge at times afterwards, it can be hard enough walking back from Travellers Rest, Hipperholme to Southowram after a few pints in current times, never mind after a shift at the brickworks.

Sunnyvale Brickworks Aerial

By the time of the pub being opened in 1860, the now A58 to Leeds had been built so passing traffic was much reduced over Beacon Hill on routes such as this and the Magna Via packhorse track which used to serve Leeds.   The pub would not have been passed casually and though the origins of the name is not listed on Calderdale Companion, but I can only guess the name came from the surprise that there was pub there at all to the unsuspecting visitor to the area.