Extract from Discovering Old Huddersfield (1993-2002) by Gordon & Enid Minter:
As with all old churches there is far more to be said about Kirkburton Church than can be included in a work of this kind, consequently we intend to comment only very briefly on the history and architecture of the church and to highlight one or two of its more interesting events and customs.
The history of Christianity in Kirkburton goes back a long time before the first recorded church was built. Evidence of the antiquity of the site came to light last century when, during repairs to the chancel walls, a stone cross (more properly a crucifix) was found. The cross, ascribed by experts to the ninth century or earlier, is thought to have been a preaching cross set up to mark the place where itinerant priests sent out from the Mother Church at Dewsbury preached the Gospel and celebrated the Mass.
Although there is no mention of a church at Burton in the Domesday Book this does not rule out the possibility of a rudimentary church existing in the eleventh century which would have been built, initially, as a small shelter near to the cross. If such a building did exist it would, in due course, become a chapel of ease within the Dewsbury parish and, as such, it would be unendowed with glebe land and, therefore, overlooked by the Domesday Commissioners.
Many years ago, Canon Raine published a theory in the "Archeological Journal" that the first church at Burton was dedicated to All Hallows. If this is so it seems likely that the church was rededicated to St. John the Baptist when it was rebuilt in the twelfth century by William de Warrenne 2nd Earl of Surrey whose father had died on St. John's day, June 24th, 1088. Whatever the truth of the matter, the church remained St. John's until comparatively recent times. The church was built on a fine, elevated site and, like the churches at Almondbury and Huddersfield, it stands at the eastern extremity of its large parish by the side of the old north-south highway.
The Norman church is thought to have been rebuilt during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) and there is an interesting legend connected with the rebuilding which was still common in 1861 when Dr. Moorhouse published his "History of the Parish of Kirkburton" Apparently, when the rebuilding was proposed a new central site was chosen at Stocksmoor for the convenience of the people living in the western part of the parish. When building materials were taken to the chosen spot it was found that what had been taken each day was by some miraculous means removed to Kirkburton each night. In the end, the parishioners, presumably accepting God's will, gave in and accepted the traditional site. Was it a miracle or was it a touch of sharp practice by the people of Burton? Whatever the truth, a chapel of ease was soon provided in Holmfirth to minister to the needs of the western parts of the parish.
A great deal of alteration and renovation has gone on at the church in the centuries since the rebuilding and not much that is obvious now remains of the Early English church although the handsome west door in the tower, with its dogtooth ornamentation is thought to be of that period. However, the door must have been re-set at some time as the tower is of a later date. It is seventy eight feet (24 metres) high and it was built in two stages with diagonal buttresses to the first stage which was originally a small belfry with a single bell. A glance up at the eastern face of the tower will reveal that the roof of the nave was once much higher than it is today. The chancel was rebuilt from the foundations to the roof in 1872 and if the lancet windows on the south side are, as is thought, Early English then they must have been reset at that time.
If time allows, readers might like to follow the path across the churchyard to the steps leading to the lych gate in the western boundary wall. The word "lych" is derived from an Old English word meaning corpse. The distinctive covers of lych gates were put over entrances to churchyards to provide shelter for the burial parties whilst they waited for the priest, without whom they were not allowed to proceed, to conduct them into the church. There are few genuinely old lych gates to be found in our area today but a close glance at the construction under the canopy, which is fastened with wooden pegs, easily reveals the age of this one.
The lych gate at Kirkburton was the terminus of a so called corpse way which led across the fields from the edge of the township. Because of a once widely held belief that the passage of a corpse across private land automatically created a right of way, it was considered vital by landowners that funeral processions followed a set and customary path, hence corpse ways. Such routes traditionally approached the church from the east for the dead must never be carried against the sun. If a route approached from another direction, the burial party would circle the church in order to come in from the east. Bearers from distant parts of the parish would carry the shrouded body along the corpse way in relays and they would always carry it feet first — a custom meant to discourage the spirit from returning to the house.
HUDDERSFIELD ROAD. Kirkburton. Church of All Hallows.
Circa 1200 nave, chancel and south aisle. Perpendicular west tower, though upper part said to be C19. North aisle rebuilt 1825, and clerestorey and south porch probably of similar date. East window probably mid C19, perhaps a restoration. Deeply coursed stone to tower and C19 parts, coursed rubble to south aisle and chancel. Stone slate roof with gable copings on cut kneelers. West tower, 6-bay nave, with north and south aisles each with porch, clerestorey , and long chancel. The tower has a fine early English doorway, presumably reset, with heavily moulded arch and colonnette to each side, and large dog tooth band around the whole doorway. Above it is a large 3-light window with Perpendicular tracery. 4-light mullioned and transomed bell chamber openings with traceried heads. Crenellated parapet. Six 2-light clerestorey windows to north and south. Six lancet windows to south aisle and three to south wall of chancel plus two paired lancets. 2-light windows with tracery to north aisle. East window of 3 large lancets.
Interior: 6-bay arcade to north and south on octagonal piers, except north side, west end, which is round. Some capitals with stylized leaves, some plain. Carved oak, 1st World War, commemorative screen to tower. Large chancel arch on slender semi-circular responds. Perpendicular panelled oak ceiling with bosses - C15. Arched braced chancel roof. Reconstructed Saxon cross fragments, at east end of nave, showing Christ crucified and with interlace at base. In the chancel are 3 late C18 wall memorials to members of the Horsefall family of Storthes Hall, all on a grey marble ground. Piscina in south wall, and a small square, chamfered hole in the north wall, thought to be possibly an opening into the priests room, a squint or a lepers' window. To left of this is a low, shouldered arched priests' doorway. Passage behind reredos with 2 reset doorways possibly of C13. 8-sided Tulip font with elaborate cover designed by Sir Charles Nicholson c.1930. Benches believed to be pre- Reformation, rectangular with simple mouldings. Other benches are Elizabethan with some carving and mouldings, one inscribed: JOHN WALKER - XX - OF - APREL - ANNO - DNI - 1584.