The curiously named Folly Dolly Falls is a little hidden gem of a waterfall to the east of Meltham, just off the Meltham Greenway section of the old Meltham Branch Line.
Essentially a fault line where sandstone meets softer shale, a small stream (which used to be called Gylloproyd Dyke) cascades over the fault. As far as I’m aware, the stream rises from a spring not far above the falls, then flows down through a culvert under the old railway line and then eventually joins Hall Dyke near Bent Ley Mills. The stream also forms part of the old boundary line between Meltham and South Crosland.
In recent years, a viewing platform has been built, giving an excellent view of the falls and the stream above. It’s worth noting that the falls are on private property, so be respectful if you visit!
It was somewhere around here on a rainy afternoon in April 1864 that the first sod of earth was cut for the railway line by Charles Brook. The journalist who covered the event had obviously never hear of “Gylloproyds” before, and wrote it down phonetically as “Gill-up Rudes” in the article.
Surprisingly, the falls aren’t signposted but you’ll likely hear the water easily enough as you approach them along Meltham Greenway. Look for a path dropping down off the Greenway, with a circular metal gate for accessing a private field. Don’t go into that field, but instead follow the path down to the right, before the gate. You can either continue down the steps to reach the stream, and then walk up to the falls, or take the higher path to reach the viewing platform.
The flow over the falls is highly dependant on recent rainfall, so it becomes little more than a trickle in dry periods. However, this means that the falls can freeze up during particularly cold spells, making for a dramatic flow of solid ice.
As for the meaning behind the name of the falls, if you look elsewhere online, you’ll likely find a half-story about a woman named Dolly building a cottage somewhere above the falls — quite why that should be dubbed a “folly” isn’t explained. In the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Society’s 1987 booklet about the Meltham Branch Line, there’s even a claim it “took its name from the suicide of Dorothy Seymour who killed herself jumping over the forty-two-foot high waterfall after being jilted by her lover”(!)1
A much more likely source for the name is given in Richard Orton’s The Story of Meltham (published 1977):
This name first appears in the Baptism Register for 1819. The entry states:- “Alice, daughter of Samuel and Sarah Wood, clothier of Dollyfolly, baptised.” The two questions arise in connection with this — who was Dolly and what was his folly? Perhaps Dolly was the nickname either of Samuel Wood or of some other clothier who lived in the house before him. The nature of his folly is in dispute. A recent correspondence in the “Huddersfield Examiner” suggested that Dolly committed a folly in building a house in such an out of the way spot. This correspondence was prompted by a photograph printed a few nights previously of Folly Dolly Falls in spate. Anyone familiar with Folly Dolly Falls will know that it is in spate only after heavy rain when there is plenty of “top water”. Most of the time there is only a trickle coming down the Falls. I would suggest that the folly was connected with this fact. It was not at that time a folly to build cottages in out of the way spots. There were many cottages built in spots much more out of the way. We can still see the ruins of them dotted about on the edges of the moors. Wherever there was water a weaver’s cottage would be built. In any case this particular spot is less out of the way than most. Two paths cross there, one from Meltham to High Brow past the brickworks, and the other from Helme to Bent Ley. Before the turnpike road was built up the valley these paths would have been much used. Dolly Folly would be quite a busy cross roads. We must seek some other reason for the folly. Clothiers at that time were thinking in terms of mechanisation. It had been discovered that looms could be driven by water power, more cloth produced and more prosperity attained. One can imagine Dolly saying to his wife, “Everybody’s doing it. We must have a water wheel.” So he dug a dam, and a channel from the dam to the stream, constructed a wheel, connected his loom to it and sat down waiting for the wheel to turn. Nothing happened! There was indeed plenty of water after heavy rain, but very little of it got into his dam. The majority went straight past and over the Falls. It is possible that the dam never filled up at all. Dolly certainly committed a folly in imagining that that stream could ever provide enough power to drive machinery.
I owe this suggestion to the late Mr. Matthew Kaye who himself heard it from Mr. Francis Creaser. Francis Creaser was born in the 1860’s at a time when there would still be people living who could remember Dolly and his Folly. There is no doubt that somebody dug a dam and a channel. They are still there to be seen (silted up now of course). Then apparently he found out too late that he had wasted his time and energy. Would not this make him a laughing-stock of the neighbourhood? Would not his Folly be talked about in the taverns? One needs something like this to account for the sudden appearance of a new place-name, and this seems to the writer the most likely explanation. The evidence is quite strong, a trustworthy tradition traceable through known individuals of proved reliability, going back to within living memory of the event itself and concrete evidence in the form of a mill dam in a place where there is not enough water to fill one.
We owe the preservation of this story to an event which took place in 1940. Matthew Kaye was called to put out a grass fire at High Brow. They took their hoses but found there was not enough water power to operate them, and so had to fight the fire by hand, a job which took all night. Next day, working at Royd Edge Dye Works on some sewers in the presence of Francis Creaser, whom he had called in to advise (being the man who had put the sewers in in 1885), he remarked on his night’s work, and Mr. Creaser replied, “You made the same mistake as old Dolly!” and of course explained his remark.
The 1841 Census lists a 70-year-old widow Sarah Wood living in Meltham, apparently with her married daughter, Alice (25) and husband Henry Chapman (30).