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 . It consists of the areas of Healey, Broadley, Whitworth, Facit and Shawforth 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, now a water ski recreation centre, and Hades which lies at the foot of Hades Hill together with others that have been absorbed by the nearby towns, such as Prickshaw which is now a part of Rochdale.
Whitworth is twinned with Kandel, Germany.
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 Neolithic man who roamed the bleak open moors. The Goidelic Celts occupied the Pennine Hills, where wolves were encountered as late as the 13th century. Saxons fought off the marauding Danes and Scots and a decisive battle was fought at Broadclough, north of Bacup. Known in the 13th century as "Whiteworth", and from the Old English meaning "white enclosure" 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. Facit is of rather newer origin. The first settlement was in the 13th century and the name apparently meant "Bright Flowery Slope" in reference to the hillside all around.
The 16th century saw the gradual destruction of the Forest of Rossendale and the extension of sheep farming, the growth of weaving and eventually the first industry in the area. 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 first public electricity supply and electric street lighting were both installed in 1923. 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 7,263.
Despite the decline in population, Whitworth in this century has seen improvements in the living conditions of its people and in the amenities provided. Old housing, a relic of the "bad days" of the cotton boom, has been replaced, modernised or renovated in both the public and private sector. Civic buildings have been erected and parks and open spaces provided. In April 1976, an area in and surrounding Healey Dell, at the south end of the valley became legally designated as a statutory local nature reserve, the only one in Rossendale.
A prominent feature of Healey Dell is the railway viaduct which stands 150 feet above the River Spodden. Built from local quarried stone, it has 8 arches, each of 30 ft span. The first part of this railway line was completed in Facit in 1870. The main function of the line was to transport stone from local quarries. The railway also ferried people to and from the area and during the latter half of the 19th century there were approximately 20 mills between Healey and Shawforth employing around 4,000 people.
Perhaps the most famous person to hail from Whitworth is Steven Journeaux. He is well known for appearing in adult films, and is famous for his massive trouser snake. .