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Winter Hill: a great protector?

Winter Hill

With so much snow across the region, there can be few more appropriate names in Greater Manchester than that of Winter Hill - but exactly why is the peak called that?

Peaking at 456 metres (1498 feet) above sea level, there is no doubt that Winter Hill is high, but it is hardly a snow-capped peak, yet its seasonal moniker suggests that it may well have once been seen as some sort of embodiment of the harshest months.

Yet, that is unlikely to be true, because while it is bare at its summit today, the peak once held a woodland and possibly even a settlement, back in the Bronze Age.

Winter or Egberden?

The name Winter Hill might be a fairly modern one, as maps of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries refer to it as Egberden, a name that encompassed both the hill itself and the Dean Brook valley.

But a further turn back through the pages of history reveals the first name and the one that its present name is derived from - that of Wintyrheld (also written as Wintyrhold).

Winter Hill more than a transmitter

Wintyrheld is the first recorded name for the mighty peak and comes from the thirteenth century, a time of great change for the region.

Nestled in the lea of the hill, the town of Bolton (or rather, the manor of Bowelton) was starting to grow, thanks to the granting of a Royal Charter allowing it to hold markets and an annual fair in 1251.

Little wonder that with the increasing wealth, the town began to make proper records of its affairs, and thus the name was first written down.

Why Wintyrheld?

Wintyrheld may derive from two Old English words, Wynter and Hyll.

Winter Hill
There is a Bronze Age round cairn dating from 1600-1400 BC
An iron post, the Scotsman's Stump, marks the place where a man was murdered in 1838
In 1958, 35 people died and seven were injured when an aeroplane crashed into the hill
The hill is home to the TV transmitter for the North West, which now only broadcasts digital terrestrial television signals

The meaning of both words is as you'd expect - Wynter is Old English's version of winter and Hyll is simply hill, so the name might simply refer to the seasons on its slopes.

However, there is a different word that the latter part of the name may have come from, that of Hyld (or Hield), and it offers up the idea of a more affectionate opinion of the peak by the local Saxon population, as it means protector or guardian in Old English.

When combined with Wynter and the knowledge that the slopes were once abundant with trees, this suggests that the hill offered not a bleak dark presence in the coldest months, but a shelter from the elements and the cold Northerly winds, along with a supply of firewood.

So it seems that there is a chance that, once, Winter Hill might not have been as unwelcoming and remote in its namesake season as it is today.

Winter Hill more than a TV mast
01 Dec 09 |  Nature & Outdoors
Manchester on TV: Ghosts of Winter Hill
30 Oct 09 |  Arts & Culture



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