Shelf & District Community Group

Shelf History

This page is dedicated to the history of Shelf.  In conjunction with Ben Stables we will bring you snippets of the history of our village. 


Image above shows some of the History display at our Event in March 2015 

Shelf Woods

The Woods at Shelf could be called a well loved institution.
The portion of woodlands below Low Bentley and Jake Royd is called Sun Wood and the parts near Brow Lane are called Wood Fall, there the stream is called Annet Hole Beck. There are a number of different portions of woodland in Shelf but this article will deal mainly with those parts.

For the most part, the trees in Shelf Woods are oak, ash and beech. Oak and ash trees were present in the part of the woods owned by Dean House and Low Bentley in at least 1763. Recent reports of ash tree die back may be a very real threat. In the woods below Berry Bottoms was supposed to have been a yew tree which was over 200 years old in 1900. Beech trees might have been introduced here in the 18th and 19th centuries when it was profitable to sell beech wood for making bobbins. The large amount of well made tracks were probably made for the removal of trees from the woods.

What is now an important resource for leisure was once an important source of minerals and timber. Throughout the woods there are earthworks that probably result from small scale open cast mining and over the years the area appears to have been felled and replanted. There are many documents relating to the sale of timber from Sun Wood in the 18th century, and later in the Great War (1914-18) much of the woodland appears to have been felled to provide much needed timber. This gave rise to the name “Happy Valley” as opposed to ‘Happy Wood’ for the section of wood that runs alongside Brow Lane, this
area was replanted in the 1920s and 30s. Apparently Alfred Ashworth who for a time held the position of ‘woodsman’ planted beech and birch trees in Sun Woods in the 1930s. 

Remains of the house at Kester Hole

The Woods became popular for recreation in the 19th century. Several of the houses near the woods became gardens selling produce and refreshments. Probably the earliest of these was at Kester Hole (now ruinous) near to Berry Bottoms and Dean House. The place name ‘Kester’ seems to be a corruption of Christopher, after Christopher Petty who was living there aged 70 in 1841. Later his house was demolished and replaced in the 1850s with two cottages built to replace Ox Heys Farm that had also been demolished to enable mining on its site. These cottages burnt down in 1902. 

The gardens at Berry Bottoms (just above Kester Hole) were founded in around 1880 by the Oddy family. They sold berries to walkers which were always served on a cabbage leaf and never in a bag. The gooseberries were well known, and would ripen at the time of the “Shelf Tide” which was held on
August 7th. There were similar gardens at Jake Royd on the lane leading to the woods from High Bentley, at High Bentley itself, and in the fields below Low Bentley there were strawberries grown for the consumption of the ever increasing numbers of mill workers from Bradford and Halifax who came to see the countryside and spend the day in and around the woods.

In the late 1950s there was a dispute over a few acres of privately owned woodland in Shelf that was under the threat of felling,similarly in 2011 concerns over the felling of trees stopped a proposed
development on Green Lane. In the 1980s Calderdale Council undertook the felling of many trees in the
woods, including what must have been the oldest tree which was nestled in a fork in the path between Berry Bottoms and Brow Lane - its stump is still there. The stone steps at Berry Bottoms apparently had 144 steps which were renovated at this time, although renovation is required again as they are unsafe since many of the stones were raised when a nearby tree fell down a few years ago. The steps formed an important route to Coley Church, going past Dean House and over the fields and the steps’ much less steeper cousin are situated in the woods on the other side of Dean House.

In 1989 “Happy Valley” underwent a complete clean up and a great deal of rubbish was removed. New paths were introduced, although the path heading from the stile where Brow Lane becomes Green Lane is much older. Near to the stile is the imposing former Shelf Vicarage which was built in 1855/56. One of the former residents of the house was Rev. Thomas A. A. Hughes (Vicar of Shelf 1874-1905), an Irishman, his granddaughter was Kathleen Hale, author of the Marmalade Cat books. From 1903 to 1905 she lived at the Vicarage and developed her interest in plants, flowers and drawing there. Further down the path are the remains of the Shelf Sewage Works which were opened on the 1st March 1907 and operated until about 1960 when the sewage was diverted to Brighouse. Shelf people have had a variety of uses for their woodlands!

More recently Calderdale Council have removed some trees and aim to completely remove the invasive Himalayan Balsam, they aim to increase the amount of wildlife by increasing the deadwood left for habitats and thin the tree canopy to encourage the growth of native plants. One hundred years ago
(in 1904) the native wild flowers seen in Sun Wood included Wood Sancile, Goutweed, Chervil, Hedge Parsley and Guelder Rose. I wonder why the well loved Bluebells weren’t mentioned?


Bluebells at Shelf Woods

Photographs copyright of and kindly provided by Ben Stables 

Ben Stables

Originally published in the Shelf with Buttershaw Parish Magazine
March 2013

Revised for the Shelf and District Community Group website
April 2016

Community Web Kit provided free by BT