Prior to the completion of stretch of the Calder and Hebble Navigation canal between Elland and Brighouse in 1808, barges on the River Calder would navigate meanders by temporary “cuts”. Tag Cut at Cromwell Bottom, constructed to provide water access to Elland Stone Mill, was built in 1770 but appears never to have been used. Today, its remains form part of the Cromwell Bottom nature reserve, running just below the railway line and Strangstry Wood.
During the early 20th Century the area was a popular beauty spot but the site was forgotten for many years whilst the area was used as gravel pits and then for landfill. However, the cut still holds water and whilst it has the appearance of being stagnant, there is actually a slow flow which contributes to the diversity of wildlife habitats. It’s one of the most important sites for dragonflies in damselflies in West Yorkshire, with at least ten different species recorded, not to mention herons, kingfishers and a range of flora.
It is certainly an atmospheric place. Due to the area’s history as a landfill site – including for highly alkaline fly-ash produced by the now-demolished Elland Power Station which once stood nearby – the trees cannot put down deep roots in the shallow soil and so appear stunted and unusually contorted. Meanwhile, the water in the cut is tinted orange on account of iron oxide and clay leaching through the soil from old workings at the disused Calder Mine on the hillside above.
It is not known why the cut was never actually used. It may be that it was simply superseded by the Calder and Hebble Navigation. However, a much more sinister possibility is that the area was once haunted by an apparition called Tag, a headless ghost who drove a carriage pulled by a two-headed horse down the length of the cut from a secret passage leading to Elland New Hall. It is even reputed that a room in the hall once went by the name of Tag Chamber.
An article in the Halifax Evening Courier & Guardian dated 6th August 1938 records the experience of one woman who often stayed at New Hall in the early Nineteenth Century. One night she was so disturbed by mysterious crashes emanating from Tag Chamber that she fled the building, believing it to be the sound of Old Tag setting out on his nocturnal travels. Nothing could persuade her to sleep at New Hall again for many years.
Meanwhile, an article in the Brighouse Echo dated 29th October 1971, speculates: “Has anyone seen a headless horseman recently? There is a local legend that such a gruesome apparition can be seen on windy nights galloping past Cromwell Bottom or along Elland Lane at the bottom of Lower Edge. The most likely origin of this tradition is a bitter dispute that occurred some 600 years ago and which has become known as the Elland Feud.”
Such an origin for the tradition would be very satisfactory indeed but on closer inspection it seems unlikely. Whilst New Hall became the home of what remained of the de Eland family after the Feud through marriage to the Saviles, at the time of his murder Sir John de Eland the Younger still lived at Elland Old Hall, sited on the other bank of the Calder to Tag Cut and New Hall, and it thus seems more likely that any such apparition would be associated with Old Hall instead.