Whitworth is a small town and civil parish within the Borough of Rossendale in Lancashire, England. It is set amongst the foothills of the Pennines, between the towns of Bacup, to the north, and Rochdale, to the south. It has a population of 7,263.
The territory of Whitworth spans the entire length of the Whitworth Valley, an area of 7 square miles (18.1 km2). In addition to Whitworth it consists of the areas of Healey, Broadley, Facit and Shawforth (all re-directed here) that are linked by the A671 road, part of the great turnpike built in the 18th century, together with a number of smaller hamlets now subsumed into the main areas of Whitworth itself. There are several such hamlets now making up parts of Whitworth, such as Cowm Top which was removed to make way for Cowm Reservoir, together with others that have been absorbed by Whitworth and other nearby towns, such as Prickshaw which is now a part of Rochdale.
The early history of Whitworth is unclear; exact dates are difficult to pin down. At the very earliest period, Whitworth was at the edge of the famed and extensive Forest of Rossendale, which covered 22,000 acres (89 km²) and reached a point somewhere near Bacup. Flint arrows, stone hammers and spearheads found in the area point to the existence of Mesolithic man who roamed the bleak open moors. Whitworth has a substantial history, notably the Whitworth Doctors who occupied Whitworth House, a property still in existence in Whitworth Square.
In those early years, Whitworth came within the ancient parish of Rochdale which, although vast, was itself a part of the hundred of Salford, one of the main divisions into which the historic county boundaries of Lancashire were divided during Norman times. The Abbot of Whalley Abbey held much of the land in this area. Saxton’s Map of Lancashire of 1577 does mark Whitworth, setting it between neat pyramid-like hills on either hand.
The 16th century saw the beginnings of sheep farming, the growth of weaving and eventually the first industry in the area, with coal mining being recorded in the 17th century Industrialisation, however, remained a "household" affair through the 18th century and the settlements of Whitworth, Facit and Shawforth remained villages. Impetus was given to the development of the area through the construction, during the middle of the century, of a turnpike road through the valley. It ran from Manchester via Rochdale and Whitworth to Bacup and then on to Burnley, Colne and Skipton. It was one of the few such roads in East Lancashire and provided a ready means of conveying local goods to Manchester and Yorkshire. The road was of vital importance in Whitworth’s industrial expansion and with it, the settlements in the township thus began to grow. By the 19th century, quarrying and coal mining were the chief industries although the manufacture of yarn remained important.
Towards the end of the 19th century a great deal of development was visible including the opening in 1881 of a rail link between Bacup and Rochdale. Passenger services on the railway stopped in 1947. Two reservoirs, at Cowm and Spring Mill, were completed in 1877 and 1887 to augment Rochdale’s water supplies. In 1910, a tram service was introduced by Rochdale Corporation, first to Whitworth and later extended to Bacup. Buses replaced these in 1932. The population of Whitworth reached its peak of 9,574 in 1901 following which the recession in industry in the 1930s and the effects of World War II saw it decline. The first post war census in 1951 declared a population of 7,442 which declined further to 7,031 by 1961. Since then, however, the figure has risen to its present total of around 7,500.