If you’ve ever driven the M62 motorway into Manchester, chances are you’ve noticed that for a period the two sides of the carriageway diverge and no longer run side-by-side.
There’s a farm slap bang in the middle of the carriageway in a stretch that cuts right through the North Pennine mountain range.
It’s called Stott Hall Farm and predates the construction of the motorway by a matter of centuries.
Stott Hall Farm has stood perched 1100 feet up on the bleak Pennines since 1737. For over 200 years there was nothing else there but the birds, the sheep, the wind and the rain. But, after two centuries of splendid isolation, the M62 arrived – literally on the farm’s doorstep.
There’s a populist myth proffering an explanation of just how a farm came to be in the middle of a major motorway. According to the legend bulldozers and civil engineers rolled in with the might of the compulsory purchase order behind them but…
Legend has it that a hardy, redoubtable (some say pig-headed) sheep farmer called Ken Wild refused to budge as the bulldozers inched ever closer to his doorstep. He was allegedly offered huge sums of cash to up stumps and leave Stott Hall Farm to its fate. But he refused to play ball – much to the chagrin of the increasingly fraught bowler-hatted civil servants who had repeatedly traveled up from Whitehall to reason with him.
Eventually, the Department of Transport was forced to spend millions of extra pounds of hard-earned taxpayers’ cash to completely re-route the shiny new road – an economic lifeline across the snowbound wintry wastes of West Yorkshire.
This David vs. Goliath myth even provides the narrative backbone of the obituary of a valuations officer who was supposedly dispatched from the local council to negotiate with Wilde at the height of the dispute. Leading travel publications even purport the same.
Although we all love the one man defeats powerful organisation trope, the Ken Wild story simply isn’t true. A documentary film about the Stott Hall Farm by Danny Lomax (which you can watch in full here) drives a stake through the heart of the myth.
According to Paul Thorp, who currently occupies the farm and spent many years working for Wild, the reason the carriageways were re-directed around Stott Hall is purely geological.
This part of the M62, along with some others, is constructed on peat bog. Engineers soon realised that the ground conditions would create a landslide if they built the road there and split the road around the farm because conditions were more favorable on either side.
The construction of this particular part of the M62, running through the Pennines, is interesting in general. This excerpt from the documentary The Secret Life of the Motorway outlines some of the challenges civil engineers faced in running miles of motorway through the harsh landscape.
This job is different. The geography is against us. The weather conditions are against us, they’re extremely adverse.
It includes interviews with Wild’s family and some history on the area before building began. It also chronicles construction of the iconic footbridge and Scammonden Dam.