Within Healey Dell Nature Reserve, overshadowed by the Viaduct, resting in a narrow gorge known as “The Thrutch”, lays a pool and waterfall. Before the Flood of 1838 which ultimately destroyed it, this area was also home to a cavern within the surrounding rock. Inside this cavern could be found a pulpit, as well as reading desks and seats.
While we understand that the erosive nature of the local waters formed this structure, legend tells of a different story.
This cavern is home to the Fairies Chapel, and legend has it that was created when the King of the Fairies turned a local coven of witches to stone, aiding Robert of Huntingdon in overcoming a curse. Details of the curse are vague at best, but it can be claimed that this moment gave birth to another, more impressive legend known around the world: in overcoming the witches, Robert was forced to relinquish the only proof he had of his claim to the title of Huntingdon – his Uncle’s ring. In doing so, he took his first steps towards his ultimate destiny and the legendary mantle as the outlaw known as Robin Hood.
This isn’t the only time the Chapel features in folklore. During the reign of Edward IV (1461-1470), Ralph the Miller enticed Eleanor Byron – then betrothed to Oliver Chadwyke – to the Chapel. Ralph himself had been tricked into entering the Chapel while out poaching, and agreed to bring the young woman there in exchange for his own soul. He convinced Eleanor to accompany him on a quest to find her “true love”. She had been pledged to Chadwyke since childhood and had questioned on occasion whether he was truly a man she wanted to spend her life with. The temptation and promise of meeting her “true love” proved intriguing enough for the maiden, and she agreed to travel with him.
The miller instructed her to go to the Fairies Chapel at a certain time, and told her to cast a token into the River Beal to carry her summons to her “one true love”. She complied, only to be confronted by the evil fairies that lay in wait, intent on capturing her soul in exchange for immortality. With her soul in moral peril, her true love was indeed summoned to her – Oliver came to her rescue and broke the spell binding her.
If the writers of some of the greatest romances ever penned have taught us anything, though, it’s that the course of true love never runs smoothly, and the tale of Eleanor and Oliver was no exception. Eleanor was told that she would be “Maid, wife, and widow, in one day.” On the day of her wedding to Oliver, her new husband was slain, attacked by a feuding family of many years. As the prophecy foretold, Eleanor began the day as a maiden, became a wife, and ended the day a widow.
The legends tell of the magic of the Chapel, but the stories don’t compare to being there, or seeing what is left of it. Time has ravaged the Fairies Chappel and the Thrutch, but it is still a place of great beauty. The flood, which occurred on July 4, 1838, was destructive, rising to as high as 4 metres at Spotland Bridge, washing the bridge – and others – away. Rain and ice fell mainly on Rooley Moor, and hail stones weighing as much as 12 ounces each fell the following day. It was one of the most violent and vicious storms the area had ever seen, and the critical damage to the Spodden Valley was evident throughout. The mills at Broadley, Healey Hall, Foot Mill, and the Dye Works at Spotland Bridge were destroyed throughout the storm.
Despite the destruction that befell the Thrutch, the Chapel still gives off the mystical energies that befits the legends that are told about its inhabitants. Its beauty is still present, and it is well worth taking the time to explore.