Extracts from the Diary of the Rev. Robert Meeke (1874) by Henry James Morehouse & Charles Augustus Hulbert
The Rev. Robert Meeke, who was for nearly forty years incumbent of Slaithwaite, a chapelry in the parish of Huddersfield, is, for several reasons, deserving of special notice. His name must long continue to be held in grateful remembrance by the inhabitants of the district, as one of the founders of the Free School of Slaithwaite, and for many other benevolent acts.
He was son of the Rev. William Meeke, a native of Skipsey, near Bridlington, Yorkshire, where he seems to have been resident in 1645; in which year he published a pamphlet entitled, The Faithfull Scout, “giving an alarm to Yorkshire (especially to the East Riding) and all other places at that time freed from the misery of Warre: or a Treatise tending to stirre up men from the Security which possesses them, because (as they think) all danger is past, now the seat of Warre is removed from them. Written by William Meeke.” Printed at York. The Epistle dedicatory. ― “To all Honest Religious and well affected persons in Holdernes (in the East Riding of Yorkshire), more especially to the Inhabitants of Skipsay, the Author wishes peace and Truth.” Dated ― “From my Study in Skipsay ― February 16th, 1645.”
In 1650, Mr. Meeke was settled in Salford, near Manchester, as minister of a chapel which had recently been erected and endowed by Humphry Booth. The chapel stood on the bridge, between Salford and Manchester. After his removal to Manchester, he joined the Presbyterian Classis, and became an active member of that synod during the protectorate. He suffered persecutions from the Independents, when they became powerful, under Cromwell, and was imprisoned in Liverpool, with other ministers, in 1651, upon suspicion of some correspondence with the king in his going through the country. “This was at the time the Earl of Derby died a martyr for his loyalty.” Having at length been set at liberty, he returned to his pulpit at Salford, where he continued till his death in 1658.
Robert Meeke, the author of the diary, was born at Salford, on the 30th December, 1656, so that he was not more than two years old when his father died.
Of Mr. Meeke’s early life little is known, nor are we informed where he was educated, but as Canon Hulbert observes, “The Library which he bequeathed to his successors, proves him to have been a learned and sound divine.”
The diary from which the following extracts are made was begun in May, 1689, and ended in 1694, and is written in a style of great modesty and simplicity, presenting a faithful index of his mind.
There is every reason to believe that he continued to keep a diary to the close of his life. In this respect he seems to have followed the example of his father, of whose diary he also makes mention in his will.
We sincerely regret with Canon Hulbert, that the remainder of the diary is lost, but we confess to a lingering hope that, at least, some further portion of it may yet be discovered.
There are many allusions to his family in the diary, though he seldom enters largely into particulars respecting them. It, however, contains a few pleasing notices which we regret are not more frequent. Thus, on the 1st September, 1692, he records a visit to Flamborough, to see his father’s relations, and “Went to Skipsay, to see the tenant who liveth where my father was born: it is an old house, much out of repair ― very mean. I went to see my father’s study. I thank God, I have one much more convenient and pleasant. I desire to be thankful and humble, for my parentage is of an inferior rank, but I hope, and as I hear, of a religious family, which is better than gentility or greatness. My father was born in a very mean house, my mother in a comely hall; thus the Lord is pleased to make high and low ― noble and ignoble, equal, and both one. I am a branch of Yeomanry by the father: of gentility by my mother. Lord, grant me true nobility, virtue and grace above my mother’s blood; meekness and humility according to my father’s name.”
The property at Skipsey would seem to have been his father’s.
Of his mother’s family, we gather little information, not even her maiden name, though we are informed she was of gentle blood. We have, however, discovered that her name was Catherine Hyde, the third daughter of Robert Hyde, Esq., of Hyde hall, in Cheshire; an ancient but picturesque mansion, which stands on the banks of the river Tame. The more ancient portion dates from the 16th century, the remainder was built in 1625. The Estate seems to have been inherited by the family from the earliest period of the Plantagenets. A younger branch settled at Dinton, in Wiltshire, which afterwards became more distinguished; being advanced to a peerage in the person of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, who took so prominent a part in favour of Charles 1st, in the great civil war. Robert Hyde succeeded to the Hyde Hall estate on the death of his father, Edward Hyde, in 1639. He married Alice, the third daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Crompton, of Crompton, Esq., by whom he had 15 children. He was “a zealous Puritan,” and at the commencement of the civil war, took an active part in the struggle against Charles 1st. “When Lord Strange laid siege to Manchester, intending to take possession of it in the king’s name, Mr. Hyde was one of the neighbouring gentry who armed their servants and dependents and marched to the relief of the town, assisting in the discomfiture of the Royalists.” He was appointed a deputy lieutenant of the Parliamentary Army. He became also an active magistrate of the county; and on the “2nd October, 1646, was chosen a lay member of the Lancashire Presbyterial Classis.”
In 1664, at the Lancashire visitation of Sir William Dugdale, he registered a pedigree of his family of 17 generations.
He died in 1684: his wife having died in 1645.
From the manner in which Mr. Meeke speaks of his mother, it is evident she was a pious excellent woman, training up her children with great care.
She married again to Mr. Ralph Arderne, the third son of Ralph Arderne, of Harden in Cheshire, Esq., by whom she had several children. He also died leaving her a widow, and when Mr. Meeke wrote his diary, she was living at Clayton Bridge, near Manchester. Here she was surrounded by many relatives, to whom frequent allusion is made in the diary, viz: “The Hydes, the Hollingworths, and the Heywoods”; also his “Uncle and Aunt Gerard.” Mention is made of Sir John Arderne, of Harden, on whom he occasionally called. Sir John was the eldest brother of Mr. Arderne, his stepfather. Frequent mention is also made of “Billy Meeke,” the child of his elder brother, deceased, for whom he was apparently guardian. Mr. Meeke’s mother died on the 18th of May, 1693, and was interred at “Denton Chapell”; a “great number of people came to the funeral,” having been “well beloved,” and “died much lamented.”
About a year after her death, he alludes to this painful bereavement, in his diary, and to her valuable counsels to the family. He says, “Accidentally I found a piece of my mother’s letter, sometime writ to me; it put me in mind of her good counsels in life, upon her death bed; my own resolutions also then, to follow her advice to us, her children. I called to mind the impression which her dying speeches had upon my spirit.”
Mr. Meeke was about twenty eight years of age when he came to reside at Slaithwaite, in 1685, and from 1689 to 1724, the period of his death, he lodged at the house of his cousin, Æneas Bothomley, who was a woolstapler, at the (Green, Hill-top, in Slaithwaite; having previously lodged at the Waterside. The house still remains, says Canon Hulbert, “the lintel-stone still bears the inscription Æ.E.B. 1685.” [Æneas and Elizabeth Bothomley]. His study is still pointed out, but there are few traditions respecting him.
In one of those valleys which intersect the mountain range dividing Yorkshire from Lancashire, lies the village of Slaithwaite. The stream which runs through it gathers upon the high moor-lands of Standedge, and descends through Marsden, down a steep and narrow valley to Huddersfield, where it joins another rapid stream from Holmfirth, and is known as the river Colne. Upon the banks of these streams a large number of manufactories have arisen. On that from Marsden, activity and enterprise are not the least apparent.
The canal from Ashton-under-Lyne to Huddersfield, tunnels under Standedge, for a distance of more than three miles passes down the valley through Slaithwaite, near to, and parallel with the river. The London and North Western Railway, from Manchester to Huddersfield, also tunnels under Standedge, and runs along the side of the valley; while beneath are mills and factories, occupying the banks of the river. The scenery along the valley is pleasingly diversified with green fields, villages and hamlets, and with an occasional villa residence rising conspiciously to view, indicating the perseverance and industry of the inhabitants. Yet the lines of stone walls which divide the enclosures, and the almost entire absence of timber or even coppice, to break the stiff uniformity, obviously detract from the picturesque effects of the landscape.
In this small valley Mr. Meeke resided nearly forty years. Slaithwaite was then a small obscure village. It now forms a populous centre of commercial activity. In the midst of the village is the church, the tower of which stands conspicuous. The entire edifice, however, has been rebuilt since the death of Mr. Meeke, and it would require some strain of the imagination to picture to the mind the condition of the village and its inhabitants, at the time of his ministrations there, not only as regards the smallness of the population, their simple and primitive habits, but also, in the almost entire absence of mills within: the district. Here he passed his life in comparative retirement and peace, fulfilling the duties of his office with diligence and christian charity ― of which his diary gives us ample evidence.
We have sufficient proof that Mr. Meeke was not only sincerely attached to the work of the ministry, but also to the people among whom his lot had been thus early cast; and that his services were also very acceptable. The general poverty of the district, and the smallness of the provision for a minister, were undoubtedly serious obstacles in the way of a permanent settlement, as the only certain endowment was 4s. per annum: and the inhabitants of the chapelry paid at the rate of 1s. 6d. for each sitting, which did not amount to more than £20 per annum, and this was often paid with difficulty. Mr. Meeke being, however, possessed of, some private means ― unmarried, and of simple habits, was enabled to hold the incumbency.
We learn from his diary that overtures were made to him to accept more advantageous preferment. In 1690, February 6th, he writes ― “About 5 o’clock there came a man with two letters, to desire me to preach at Penistone, their minister being dead, for they desired I should be their vicar. I promised to preach, but as for residing with them I would consider on it Lord, direct me. I have no inclination at present to remove.” After much importunity from some of the leading parishioners, he ultimately wrote to decline ― “being at present well settled.”!!
This is a striking instance of the devotion and humility with which he regarded the ministry, and a touching instance of the sacrifice of his worldly interests to what he conceived to be his duty.
Living in a quiet and secluded district, with much time for study and reflection, it is much to be regretted that in this portion of his diary, Mr. Meeke furnishes us with few allusion to the books he had been reading, or with his reflections upon them, and but seldom with the names of the authors. It would have been very interesting, at this distance of time, with his tolerant spirit, to have noted his reflections. It is certain that the writings of authors of his own church he studied with attention, and from his enlarged charity, he was led to peruse some of those of the nonconformist bodies. We find him in November, 1690, engaged in perusing Richard Baxter’s English Noncornformity, upon which he exclaims ― “It is sad to read, to consider of the divisions which are among us. Lord, remove the cause, and grant peace; let not things indifferent cause so much difference. Let there be no such acts of uniformity to occasion deformity. Take away such unnecessary terms of union as breed divisions - Though I can submit to many things which others cannot, yet I would not have able and worthy men to be cast out of the church, because they cannot. Lord, grant to England’s rulers a spirit of wisdom to know and heal our distempers, and unite their hearts to make up our breaches.” These reflections at once indicate the liberal and catholic spirit with which he regarded christians of other sects. That the writings of Baxter, should, to a considerable extent, have commended themselves to his favourable judgments, need excite no surprise, as many of them had an extensive circulation; and being a man of great moderation and charity, he was led not unfrequently into controversy, by opposing the narrow sectarianism of the times. Of another divine ― one of his own church, it would have been very interesting to have met with some notice ― one whose enlarged sympathy with a broad christianity, whose great candour, acute perception, and genial piety, caused his writings to be extensively read. We allude to Jeremy Taylor. There seem to be several points of resemblance between Bishop Taylor and Richard Baxter; both were attractive preachers, each possessed a warm and lively eloquence, while the nature and object of many of their works, were almost identical; and though very dissimilar in style, both were devoted to a liberal and catholic christanity in opposition to the narrow bigotry of the times. This is exemplified in Taylor’s Discourse of the Liberty of Prophesying, a work remarkable not only for the ability displayed, but for the christian meekness by which it is pervaded. He probably equalled the most liberal nonconformist in his views, in relation to freedom of church communion, as set forth in the work just named, which stands a singular monument of open and liberal sentiments, in regard to the essentials of christian doctrine, in the defence of which, we know not whether most to admire, the force and ingenuity of its reasoning, the warmth of its piety, or the amiable and tender regard or the scruples of those who differ from him.
As Mr. Meeke resided in so remote and comparatively thinly populated a district, his intercourse with the “busy world” was only occasional, and for the most part unimportant; therefore, if we look into the diary for notices of the stirring events of the day, or even the gossip of the village, we shall be disappointed. Whatever were his literary tastes, he gives us no indication that poetry held a prominent place in his esteem. He was no politician: he sought not to stir up party strife, or religious controversy among the people. His aspirations were for peace and good government; and although party spirits and religious bigotry then ran high, he seems to have maintained a charitable regard towards all who differed from him, provided their characters were in accordance with their professions. This is exemplified in his friendship with the Rev. Christopher Richardson, of Lascelles Hall, who had been ejected, in 1662, from the rectory of Kirkheaton. Between them there seems to have been a warm and mutual friendship, he having baptized some of Mr. Richardson’s children. There are nearly thirty years of his ministerial life, of which few records remain, these, however, exemplify the same anxious desire to advance the interests of religion and social order among those around him. His last will affords an interesting example of this.
It is dated the 20th March, 1724, in which, after expressing in the preamble his faith in Christ, he bequeaths to the School, over which he had exercised great watchfulness, for the use of the Schoolmaster, a parcel of land in Far Sowood, in Stainland; and if there be no Schoolmaster, he gave the same to the poor of the chappelry, to be distributed “in Bibles, New Testaments, and Common Prayer Books, according to the discretion of the warden, the minister, and three or four understanding men of the chappelry;” but if the occasional profits be thought too much for Bibles, &c., then to “buy warm clothing for poor children.” He gave to the minister for the time being a portion of his library; the rest to be sold and the money given “to the poor of the chappelry of Slaithwaite, Linthwaite and Lingarths, and that portion of Golcar on the east side of the brook under Share hill, to be divided and distributed by some impartial and prudent men.” He devised legacies to his brother and sisters, his nephews and nieces. Also to his “landlord” [Æneas Bothomley] and his wife and their children. He gave two volumes of Poole’s English Annotations for the use of the family, [Bothomley] and to whomsoever resideth at Hill top, where he then lived; “and not to be lent abroad lest they be sullied and spoiled.” He gave two reading desks in his closet to Edmund Bothomley, [son of Æneas], also “the safe at the closett door,” and “the book safe in his chamber;” and “all his notes, and his father’s diary and his own, being in several paper books, to be perused if he please, or else to be burnt.” After enumerating several small bequest, to other members of Æneas Bothomley’s family, he devised, “nine pounds to be placed in good hands, and the interest to be paid yearly to buy wine for the communion.” Also “five pounds to make an easier and shorter way to the burial place.” He appointed Edmund Bothomley sole executor.
In 1718, Mr. Meeke obtained a grant of £200, Queen Anne’s Bounty, for augmenting the living of Slaithwaite, to meet benefactions to the like amount.
The chapel was rebuilt in 1719, by his exertions, and his remains repose within the chancel, where an upright slab, at the east end of the enclosed site of the old chapel, records:―
From the Register of the Chapelry, we learn that he was interred on the 3rd of June. It also records the burial of Elizabeth wife of Æneas Bothomley, of Hill top, on the 30th of August, 1724; likewise the burial of Æneas Bothomley, of Hill Top, July 20th, 1780.
The following brief estimate of Mr. Meeke’s character by Canon Hulbert, is so pertinent and just that with it we conclude this notice.
“On a review, we cannot but observe that Slaithwaite must have been much indebted to the residence of such a man, for forty years. Coming at first with scarcely any remuneration, and exercising charity far beyond the means at his disposal for that purpose. Intelligent and kind, he appears to have been ready at all times and hours to visit his parishioners, and even far beyond, for I find records of journeys to baptize, as far as Outlane on the one hand, and Crosland on the other, a distance of four miles each way. He frequently preached at Huddersfield and other churches, and the records of his benevolent exertions induce us to believe that he bore the fruits of temperance as well as other virtues in old age.”
After a recent visit to the scene of Mr. Meeke’s labours, to again view the changes which have taken place in the chapel [church] and school, to which he was so deeply attached, we cannot but feel that a similar spirit must have animated and directed, at least some of his successors, in endeavouring to augment the value of these institutions which are now rendered so commodious and comfortable, and which have proved so eminently advantageous to the inhabitants.
When the school was re-built in 1844, Mr. Hulbert, now Canon Hulbert, composed the following very appropriate Latin inscription, which was engraved at his own expense on a slab of Caen Stone, under a label, which was placed in the new school, just 120 years after Mr. Meeke’s decease, and which is alike honourable to both.
A translation of which is here added for the benefit of the general, reader.
 We have noticed this work more particularly, as it is extremely scarce. It was printed in small quarto, and contains 98 pages, in addition to the introductory epistle of 19 pages. See A Memoir of the York Press, with notices of Authors, Printers and Stationers, in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. By Robert Davies, F.S.A., 1868.
 “Annals of the Church in Slaithwaite.”
 The Rev. Henry Newcome speaks of him as “Sincere Meeke,” and thus expresses his great sorrow at his death. 1658, January 17th, “being the Lord’s day in the morning, my dear friend and brother Mr. Meeke died; who was a hearty downright christian, and one in whom I could put my confidence; and intimate we were. I could say of him as the Apostle, Phil. ii, 20. But the Lord snatched him from me thus soon after my coming to Manchester, to my just grief and great loss.” See The Autobiography of the Rev. Henry Newcome, M.A., edited by Richard Parkinson, D.D., F.S.A. Printed for the Chetham Society, 1852. P. 81.
 He was baptized at Salford chapel, on the 4th January, 1656-7, and registered at the Collegiate church, now cathedral of Manchester.
 It forms a small duodecimo volume, written in a small but neat hand.
 The father of “Billy Meeke” (whose name was William) had been educated for the ministry, and was Robert Meeke’s predecessor at Slaithwaite, which he held only a few years, as he died before 1685.
 “Annals of the Church in Slaithwaite.”
 This was the Rev. Henry Swift, who died on the 31st October, preceding.
 This selection might probably have arisen from the suggestions of Mr. John Wordsworth, of Swaithe Hall, in Worsborough-dale, who had married a daughter of Robert Hyde, Esq., of Hyde Hall, in Cheshire, Mr. Meeke’s aunt. Mr. Wordsworth, was a near relative of the Wordsworths of Water Hall, near Penistone. He is stated to have been married four times; only three of the names of his wives are known; (their families as well as himself had been staunch supporters of the Puritan movement). One being a daughter of Sir Edward Rodes, of Houghton Hall, another the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Spencer, of Attercliffe Hall, and of Bramley Grange, and Deborah Hyde, already mentioned; but the order of their marriages is not known.
 See “Annals of the Church of Slaithwaite.”
 “I commend my spirit into the hands of God my Heavenly Father, firmly and comfortably hoping to be blessed immediately after my departure, through faith in Jesus Christ, my Redeemer; and I leave my body to be burried in a decent and christian manner, looking for a glorious resurrection of the same from a vile and corruptible, to an incorruptible and glorious estate; thanks be to God who giveth me the victory over sin, death, and the grave, through Jesus Christ my Lord.”
 Edmund Bothomley seems to have been a great favourite with Mr. Meeke, and no doubt had been trained and educated under his special care. It is pleasing to find that his disposition and character were in every way worthy of the favourable regard here shewn. We find in 1749, the Rev. John Murgatroyd, the schoolmaster of the village, in letters to a friend, mentions him in high terms of praise, after many years of intimate acquaintance, as “a public benefactor.” “Mr. Edmund Bothomley always was, and is, in my judgment, a very good man, as well as a steady well-wisher to all really pious works; and as you observe, he shewed himself so in such weighty works for the public, as will always reflect a most lasting and glorious honour upon his memory.” Again he states, “I’ll assure you that Mr. Edmund Bothomley is a hearty well-wisher to every public good. If this must be made demonstrably apparent, I think that I could do it no better than by making this simple reflection ― that I do not know any one person in this parish, or the next, on any side of us, that has done for the public what he has done. Nay, considering situation and circumstances, that has in any likely or considerable measure come up to his meritorious character or rank of a public benefactor.”
The same hand records “Mr. Edmund Bothomley, died 27th February, 1762, and was buried from Hill Top, March 3rd, a very useful person among neighbours.”
He was succeeded there by a son of the same name who died in 1780.