Turning back time on Denton’s history

LOCAL historian and author Frank Brown continues his history of Windmill Lane, Denton.

SOME people believe its former name Dane Shot Lane was derived from a Danish chieftain being shot by a Saxon bowman.

There must have been hundreds of men killed this way, both Danes and Anglo-Saxons. It seems strange that this one event of the distant past should be commemorated this way, unless there is a lot more to the story than this.

An old story I heard many years ago told of an incident which took place following a tribal battle. The victors were either so elated at their success or so full of hatred for their enemy, that they publicly cut off the head of the leader of the defeated tribe. 

The head was then mounted on a pole stuck in the ground in the centre of the village and was left there for all to see for a considerable length of time. 

This was regarded as a priceless trophy and, at the same time, a constant reminder to future would-be adversaries of the fate they would also suffer. 

This was by no means an isolated incident and in fact became a custom in some regions. Places were sometimes named after such events and would live on long after those sickening heads had been removed. 

There are no written records to prove that such a thing happened in Dane Bank; yet why else would old maps call the area ‘Dane’s Head Bank’? 

There is, however, an alternative explanation to the origin of the name Dane Shot Lane.

In medieval times, the lords of the manors owned large areas of land which were farmed for them by peasant farmers, the feudal system.

It necessitated dividing the once open moorland into narrow strips of land each worked by one family of peasants. Hedges, fences or stone walls were used to shut off one piece of land from the next and they were known as ‘shuts’ or ‘shots’. 

We know how to pronounce things today because we are guided by the spelling, but in those days people were illiterate. Consequently, the two words were synonymous. (A ‘shot’ of rye today still means a small portion). 

The fields at each side of the lane were thus divided up into ‘shots’ of land. It is, therefore easy to see why the lane was referred to as ‘the shot lane’ and since it led to Dane Bank – Dane Shot Lane. So could this be the explanation? 

Many years later in the 17th century, a windmill stood on the north side of the lane. It was where the entrance to the Tameside Business Centre is now sited. 

Apparently the windmill was used for grinding corn from Denton Hall and Woolfenden’s farm. The lane was then given the more appropriate name of Windmill Lane.

By the 19th century, the windmill was gone and generally forgotten, but one old man at the time used to talk about the Windmill Tavern which abuts on the lane not far from Denton Hall.

Another indisputable clue is a beer house, which is shown on maps of that period as Windmill House. (see Johnson’s Map of 1820). 

An old story recently rediscovered stated when the cellar of Windmill House was excavated, workmen discovered the foundations of an old circular stone wall. Its features clearly indicated that it had once been a windmill.

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