Three hundred and fifty million years ago, Yorkshire lay at the Equator and the place we now call home was part of a vast river delta system called the Pennine Basin. Rivers washed particles of silicon and sand down from upland regions and dumped them here. Over millions of years, the sediment coalesced and hardened into the millstone grit and sandstone rocks which are so characteristic of our local landscape today.
This same rock has been quarried extensively in Horsforth and used in countless building projects throughout recorded history. Indeed, much of the stone used in the construction of Kirkstall Abbey and the older houses of Horsforth was formed in the Pennine Basin and extracted from local quarries.
By about 300 million BC, the landscape had been transformed into a tropical forest of primitive trees rising to 50 metres (164 feet) above swampy ground. When the trees died and fell, they rotted into peat in the swamps. As the peat became more and more compacted, over millions of years, it was transformed into coal. This is therefore known as the Carboniferous (literally “coal-bearing”) Period. This same coal was mined for centuries at Horsforth, particularly in the Hunger Hills area.
The Horsforth climate was obviously warmer than it is now but, at that time, the Earth rotated more quickly, meaning the days were shorter (by about 90 minutes). The faster spin of the planet would also have created stronger winds than we generally experience now.
This was so long ago that the dinosaurs had not yet appeared. Instead, the forests teemed with invertebrates and amphibians which grew to terrifying sizes in the oxygen-rich atmosphere: dragonflies the size of seagulls, giant cockroaches and scorpions as long as your arm. This was also the age of the penis worm, of which no description is necessary!
Occasionally, sea levels rose and flooded the region with seawater. The nearby Chevin and Great Dib Wood have yielded up fossils of marine creatures, such as trilobites which look a bit like prehistoric woodlice. Sharks’ teeth have also been found in the hills above Todmorden.
It is humbling to look closely at – and feel the texture of – the ancient rocks that surround us. Try it some time and you will see the tiny pieces of grit which were washed into the Pennine Basin all those hundreds of millions of years ago.
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