Huddersfield Chronicle (01/Sep/1894) - Crosland and a Church Sparrow

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.

CROSLAND AND A CHURCH SPARROW.

(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")

Instead of going to the head of the stream, past where Old Will[1], the Chartist, lived so long, I keep to the left and am soon in the ancient village of Crosland, which catches all the breezes that blow, and is washed by all the storms that pass. Still on this summer afternoon its people and its farmsteads seem to be dreaming of the past, or resting that they might the better battle with the future. The air is ever pure and bracing at this place, and as my eyes catch “1683” on the lintel of a door I feel as if I should like a peep at the inhabitants of that time. I, however, do the next best thing, that is, go straight to the “Fleece” and find the sturdy farmer host at his best, and those who know him will have some idea what that means. He has fully reached his anecdotage and is ready to keep me amused about old times as long as I am prepared to stay with him. He knows the pedigree of all the cattle, horses, and pigs, the lineage of the people, and the genealogy of all and sundry of the inhabitants of Crosland and the surrounding district for 10 or 20 miles. When in his company your best and safest plan is to ask questions and not make statements, or he is sure to forcibly convict you of ignorance and make you look and feel small. He knows all about the Plug time and will make you shake with laughter as he tells how he and a well-known neighbour, who is a Guardian of the poor, after the Riot Act had been read in St. George’s Square, scampered along John William Street and hid in a “coil hoil” till the police had gone by, and how they then emerged, black as coal miners, and never looked behind them till Folly Hall was reached. Mine host now “sits” on one innocent individual who hazards a statement as to a circumstance that occurred at Wilshaw 40 years ago. Surrounded by four or five about the same age as himself they talk of matters both ancient and modern, most interesting to me, in language as emphatic as emphasis and the dialect of Crosland can make it. If it were all presentably given as uttered, it would at least fill a couple of columns of incidents that would produce loud smiles, wet with not a few tears from excessive laughter. No matter how I turn the subject they are all ready with repartee or otherwise. In answer to a question as to whether they have any of the Labour party about Crosland, and if so who are they, mine host replies: “The’ve sprung aat o’ thersen, and are called ‘share-alls.’ If I feed two pigs they’d want one o’ them, but they’d be a battle or two before they took one.” He felt himself good enough for half-a-dozen of “them chaps” any day, and he looked it as he struck the floor with his stout stick. If they didn’t work for what they got, he’d see them —— before he’d let them take what he’d bought, fed, and paid for. I left him with the remark that he didn’t alter a bit, when he retorted he wor too owd to alter, and what wor moor he’d nowt to alter for.

With my face towards Huddersfield, from Sun End I have one of the grandest views of the Happy Valley. It is exquisite. If the fine outlet Honley and Magdale way were embanked, there would soon be a lake deep enough and extensive enough for the people of this or any district. We greatly lack sheets of water in this locality, and if we would tax our patriotism our lovely town and its environs could be made into a veritable earthly Paradise. Of course I walk straight into South Crosland Churchyard, and then feel to be surrounded by the memories of many whom I knew in the flesh, and I at once feel subdued and thoughtful. The form of the venerable vicar who rests here, and the influence of the good deeds of that pure-souled minister of God, seem to be materialised at every step. I never think of “The Vicar of Wakefield” without thinking of the late Rev. George Hough. Goldsmith must have come across a typical predecessor of this dear old saint ere he limned, for all time, the ever living Vicar of Wakefield. If the evil that men do lives after them so does the good in Mr. Hough’s case, and like fruitful seed cast in good ground we reap from it a hundredfold, daily and continuously. I have heard him preach as no one else seemed to preach. He preached and lived the Gospel. Gentle, but as firm as a rock; kind, but as strong as an oak; retiring, but as fearless in doing the right as man can be; if ever a human being lived up to the teaching of Scriptures at all times the first Vicar of South Crosland was such a man. I drop my wild flowers on the graves and feel that the onlooking spirits of the dead commend the act. After a while I try the doors of the church, but, of course, find them bolted. The porch is open, but that is as far as I can get inside, and being too bulky to enter by the steeple, or through some broken pane, as sparrows do at times, I turn to leave, when the memories of a Sunday morning service come vividly to my mind. On that occasion that Scriptural bird, the sparrow, absorbed my sole attention, and possibly the attention of children of a lesser growth. I remember little of what the preacher said, but every act and chirrup of this poor Church sparrow are indelibly imprinted on the tablets of my brain. Not wishing to be too late this little worshipper was the first in, and possibly the last but one out. When I entered the sacred shrine it was taking unrestrained liberties with the pew, the pulpit, and the Communion Table. It was plainly a supporter of free seats and in favour of being natural in church as well as in the open air, possibly having some instinctive perception that the God of the hills and the plains and the outside of a church is also the God of the inside of a sanctuary. This keen-eyed visitant had, probably, by its exceptional opportunities for observation, seen how frequently vacuous many of the cushioned paid-for sittings were. It would soon see from the pulpit where the easy and comfortable places were, and it might wonder why the late comers should have these kept empty for them, while the bare pews were more or less crammed with poor people. The church was filling, and when the organ pealed forth the bird was startled, and seemed bewildered. It soon, however, resolved to go towards that king of sacred instruments. As it perched on the topmost pipe it was a puzzle to me whether it was charmed or frightened by the varied harmony. I fancy it was pleased, as I heard its treble above the piping soprano as it fluttered to the rafters and then remained quiet for a moment. As the church further filled, however, the chancel seemed to be its chief place of refuge. When the service commenced it knew not where to go, and in its confusion it flew anywhere and everywhere indiscriminately, evidently not appreciating the solemnity of the occasion. Not understanding the Church’s noble ceremonial it gave voice to its feelings when the congregation were quiet, and children of all ages tittered in consequence. It, however, clearly showed that it could worship in the roof as well as in the pulpit or on the Communion Table. It had the advantage of the people in the side galleries. It could turn and face the minister without the necessity of screwing its neck till the spinal column all but broke. Notwithstanding the efforts of the sexton and other wise-heads to turn it out it continued to assert its right to worship anywhere within the holy edifice. Driven from point to point by the pew-owning people, it perched on the beautiful memento to the late Mr. George Dyson, when its solemn demeanour, as it gazed on the inscription on the pavement, was very affecting. What passed through its small cranium while there may not be known, but if the kindly acts of men live after them, and shed their influence around the places with which they were once lovingly associated, surely that influence must be felt by the small as well as the great of God’s creatures. As the bird could find no sympathetic eye of welcome it flitted about in the Holy of Holies as far as possible from mankind. It seemed even to have doubts about the intentions of the man in white, and eyed him furtively at a safe distance. When the glorious notes of the Te Deum filled the building and streamed to heaven it seemed, like many others before and since, to be suddenly roused by the grandeur of that hymn of praise and adoration, and it went wild with ecstasy and fluttered and swerved in the air with uncontrollable delight. It soon found, however, that the music, vocal and instrumental, was sweeter and more mellow at a distance than at its source, so it quickly withdrew to the chancel again, and finished “let me never be confounded” with its chirping “Amen.” It is just possible that the mixed choir here also had some attraction for it. There is nothing in all harmony more harmonious than a woman’s voice, nor is there anything that more appeals to ear and heart than do the dulcet strains that are comprised in the highest flights and the mellifluous depths of mankind’s guardian angel. In all that is good and pure, in all that lifts from earth to heaven, surely the blending melody produced by a mixed choir is good, and pure, and heavenly. It is useless to expect man to step from his province and usurp woman’s province of secular or sacred song, nor should it be expedient for him to exclude from his choirs the voices made for unison and for catching and interpreting the inspiration which can be drawn from the superlative blessing of music. What more natural than for this poor songster to appreciate the songstresses in the choir at this place? The anxiety to get rid of this stranger in the church, however, disturbed it and made it more uncomfortable. It certainly would, if it could, have escaped. Frightened, it again flew as far from man as possible, and adapted itself to circumstances in a most commendable manner. After discovering that the man in white was no enemy it examined the situation with a coolness that was astonishing. It seemed to wonder why the shew-bread on the Communion Table should be so securely draped in white, that not a crumb could be seen or got. Having full liberty of action so long as it remained in the chancel it perched on the cloth which covered the toothsome morsel, eyed the beautiful plate, forgot not the Commandments, noticed the brilliant lectern, and examined, with a minuteness to be envied, the pulpit that was erected as a memorial to a “True friend by his lamenting friends.” What could be more appropriate than such a memento from which might be preached the pure Gospel which that friend lived? The bird then flew against the stained-glass window, through which a “dim religious light” streamed, and made a close acquaintance with the saintly figures there, but it found no means of egress, so it fluttered to the organ again, doubtless forgetting that if the music was so sweet when it reached the chancel, it would be far more delightful at its source. It soon discovered its error for even with a sparrow’s ears it found that organ music is not less sweet because of its remoteness. Flying to its safe retreat again it patiently waited the course of events with a demeanour that might, with good effect, have been practised by others of the congregation, and assumed a saintly attitude. On the 10th chapter of St. Matthew being given out for the second lesson this friendless creature was all attention, but when the chapter was cut short at the 24th verse it made the painful discovery that even the comprehensive Church Service left out of its ritual the poor sparrows of the world. Surely there is room here for reform. That glorious institution, the Church, has accomplished much in the past, but that it may accomplish more in the future let it always bear in mind the sparrows of the world. Whether the preacher remembered that he bad wronged this sparrow by not, as the Master did, even mentioning it when he might have spoken a word in due season, it does not appear, but I noticed that, on his leaving the reading desk, a piece of bread was lying on the floor. Quick as thought the sparrow perceived it, and at once shewed how readily the crumbs of the Church are picked up when the kindly forethought of her ministers opportunely leave them in the way of strangers. It did not transpire whether this piece of bread was consecrated, but if it were not, surely the greatest of all the virtues hallowed it and made it a refreshing feast. It was, however, all consumed, so that those who are particularly conscientious about the ritual of the Eucharist can, in that respect, find no fault with this uninstructed stranger. Let the Church, therefore, open her arms of charity and give a free welcome to the poor sparrows of the world. Lingering a little after the service it was amusing to see the grotesque energy displayed in getting rid of the bird. It, however, persistently refused to be forced out. Leaving the poor creature to the tender mercies of the sexton, if it could escape his dread clutches, I passed out of the sacred building with the thought that even a sparrow may afford food for profitable reflection.

With these memories passing before me I go into the sunlight as the lightning seems to set the valley in which Huddersfield was when I left it ablaze, and is immediately followed by the rolling and almost continuous thunder which, doubtless, is shaking from the clouds a deluge of rain. Still where I am the sun is over everything, and it makes the clean church gleam all the more brightly, while the spire looks to heaven and with its pinnacled arms, eloquent in their silence, point the way as forcibly as ever words did. As evening brings all home so

The dusk wraps the village in its dim caress;
Each chimney vapour, like a thin grey rod,
Mounting aloft through miles of quietness
Pillars the skies of God.

Notes

  1. William Armitage (c.1815-1893), a contemporary of Richard Oastler, who lived at Stony Batter, South Crosland, from around 1837 until his death.