Saddleworth is crossed by two rivers - the river Tame and its tributaries in the east and the river Medlock and its tributaries in the west. The river Tame and its catchment area contains the settlements of Denshaw, Delph, Dobcross, Diggle, Uppermill and Greenfield. The river Medlock catchment area contains the settlements of Scouthead, Austerlands, Grasscroft, Lydgate, Grotton and Springhead.

Situated on the western side of the Pennines, but historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Saddleworth has long looked in two directions - over the Pennines and eastward to the towns of Huddersfield, Halifax and Leeds and westward to its Lancashire neighbours of Oldham, Ashton, Rochdale and Manchester. This dual identity is as true today as it was in the Middle Ages and in the time of the Tudors and the Stuarts, when its absentee Lords of the Manor lived far away in Yorkshire and administration was from Pontefract and later Wakefield. Ecclesiastically, however, it was in the parish of Rochdale and Diocese of Chester.

Today, it is administered by Oldham Council, forms part of the sub-region of Greater Manchester, but is partly in the Peak District National Park and is a part of the South Pennines Countryside Character Area.

Saddleworth was at the forefront of the industrial revolution with many water-powered textile mills springing up along the River Tame and the emergence of one of the most impressive turnpike road networks in the country. The construction of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, with its three miles long tunnel under the Pennines, was one of the major engineering feats of its day.

The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a transformation of Saddleworth from a community of industrial stone-built villages to a largely dormitory area for the major employment centres on both sides of the Pennines. The motorway network accelerated this change. Local shops and services declined in most of the villages and with this change came a decline in the local economy. Housebuilding mushroomed, especially in the west, as Saddleworth was transformed from an industrial landscape to a district of attractive Pennine villages with a valued industrial heritage.

The present Civil Parish dates from the local government reorganisation of 1974, but its boundaries are essentially the same as those of its predecessor which was formed by the amalgamation of Saddleworth Urban District Council with Springhead Urban District Council in 1937. Saddleworth Urban District Council had been in existence since 1900, and the medieval Township dated back to the Saxon period. This long history gives a real sense of local identity both at a parish level and at a village community level.

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