The history of Windmill Lane

Words by Frank Brown

THIS is one of our oldest lanes, but it must also be grouped with, what we now know as, Manchester Road and Ashton Road as it was once one continuous route, and that is only the Denton section of it.

According to Bowman’s ‘England in Ashton-under-Lyne’, a Salt-way existed throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries running to and from Cheshire.The route later became the turnpike road from the ancient parish of Ashton to Stockport.

It is difficult to assess the age of such a lane for it partly depends on when it was first regarded as a lane, having developed gradually from such humble beginnings. Like many others of the time, it clearly started as a footpath and then developed into a salt track or bridlepath.

It was used to carry salt on a long line of pack horses as it was delivered to Denton Hall, and later, Hyde Hall and Reddish Hall. As was the case in those days, the track was made by the feet of men and their horses as they made regular trips across the fields.

As Denton Hall developed and flourished, other men with horses and wagons chose the same route. As the wheels flattened the grass and undergrowth, the track was widened and thus the lane was born.As far as Windmill Lane is concerned, it started from what is now Manchester Road and then cut diagonally across the ground which Christ Church and its graveyard now occupy after moving the lane aside. In time, a name was needed for it, and it was duly called Dane Shot Lane or Dane Shut Lane. This requires some explaining.

Throughout the medieval period many battles were fought between the Danes and the Anglo-Saxons, and during this time Dane Bank was a stronghold of fierce Danish warriors. In the late ninth century, a battle took place which became known as the ‘Battle of Red Ditch’. It covered about two square miles in Denton, Reddish and Gorton. In the aftermath, a considerable length of the stream known as Nico Ditch was said to have ‘run red with blood’ and was thus named Red Ditch, which later became Reddish.

Another area, strewn with dying men, was such a gory mess it became known as Gore Ton (ton meaning town at the time). The place where the Danes had settled became Dane Ton, and later Denton.

Ancient warriors usually chose high ground for their encampments because this made them easier to defend. The area now known as Dane Bank was a natural choice for the Danes because it constituted high ground from the south and east. Likely attacks were thereby reduced from four sides to two.

The southern approach was the long steep hill from the River Tame valley (near Reddish Vale). The eastern approach was also a natural embankment, not as high, but quite steep. These had been created about 10,000 years earlier by the action of glaciers. The latter one produced the valley along which the M60 now runs.When the railway was laid along the top of this embankment in the 1840s, a section of it was cut away to allow Windmill Lane to pass under the railway. But in the ninth century the embankment was still intact and quite formidable. In the above picture, the bridge indicates the height of the original banking as nature had made it.

An old story tells of a Danish chief, possibly a prince, who was shot by a Saxon bowman as he made his last stand at the highest point. A row of large houses, built in the 1800s for the wealthy Woolfenden hat masters, now occupies the area and it is known as High Bank (situated on south side of the lane opposite Dane Bank Mews).

A memorial in the garden of number five indicates where he was shot. As this picture shows, it consists of a plaque set into a large stone flag laid at the edge of the lawn. It appears he staggered a few paces before falling to the ground and dying, and he was subsequently buried nearby.

The lady living next door at number three, who kindly helped me with my research, showed me this area in her garden and told me that a small gravestone in an overgrown shrubbery marks the exact spot. Some people believe that the name Dane Shot Lane was derived from this event.

To be continued…

  • FRANK Brown, a local historian and author, is writing a monthly column for the Correspondent as he delves into the past of his hometown

One Reply to “The history of Windmill Lane”

  1. I was very pleased to see this article about Dane Bank. My late Aunt and Uncle used to live in the house at High Bank which had that stone in the garden. I always wanted to know more about it.

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