SOME ACCOUNT OF THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST. MARY'S, HONLEY.
BY MRS MARY A. JAGGER, Honley, Authoress of 'Rookery Mill,' 'Is Love a Crime?' etc., etc.
A spirit of insubordination now began to manifest itself amongst the people. Work was scarce and food dear. Large bodies of misguided men assembled by night for the purpose of breaking obnoxious machinery that they thought would take the bread out of their mouths. The characteristic Yorkshire clothmakers, however, refused to be intimidated by the threats of their workpeople. Once, creeping stealthily around the walls of the old chapel, the Luddites were intent on taking dire vengeance upon one who had dared to bring into use the hateful machines, the late Mr William Leigh. His house was opposite the old chapel,door. The family were aroused from their sleep by the report of a pistol outside. One of the sons of the village had been chosen by drawing of lots to shoot Mr William Leigh, and with loaded gun he awaited the escape of this gentleman by the back entrance of his house, whilst others were trying to batter down the front door with huge stones, so as to force him to escape by the back door. The clank of the accoutrements of the cavalry sounding distinctly In the distance prevented further outrage. The Luddites then passed up the village street as silently at they bad come, and Mr Leigh was left unharmed, though his windows were broken. Many a mother's heart must have ached with apprehension and dread as she knelt In the old chapel, for Honley had many of her sons engaged in this insurrection. Transition in crime is easy, and when Mr Horsfall was shot in open daylight, as he was returning from market, the three Luddites fled from the scene of the murder to Honley, passing under the walls of the old chapel.
Dr Whitaker, the historian of Whalley, evidently disliked this neighbourhood. In writing about it he says : 'A stranger coming into the district would be shocked by a tone of defiance in every voice, and an air of fierceness on every countenance.'
To a stranger, the description given by Dr Whitaker may appear true, but after all the people only take their tone from their own native moorlands. Many are characterised by a kind of rugged grandeur, found only amongst a mountainous people, and all are hardy, vigorous, intelligent, and independent. Again, Dr Whitaker says that we are ignorant and savage, yet conning and attentive to out own interests. We are under few restraints from laws, and fewer from conscience, but under one denomination or another, it is a singular fact that we are all religionists.
Dr Whitaker's description may or may not apply to Honley; but certainly neither priestly nor aristocratic influence has prevailed much in the village. Their pastors and masters were expected at once to fall in with their ways and ideas ; if not, their room was preferable to their company. In an old document dated 1522, relating to an enlargement in Almondbury Church. it is stated 'that it was casten into four parts, and lots were cast where all should sit when they came to church to avoid contention ; Honley being placed first.' I am afraid that this old document proves that Honley was inclined to be aggressive towards Almondbury.
In the year 1793 the congregation worshipping in the old chapel was smitten with the fever of restoration. It was, however, only a alight attack, and extended no farther than the pulpit Its position, which was in the middle of the central aisle, must have been an eyesore, for Honley wished to remove it. For this purpose a Faculty was obtained, dated 22nd November, 1793. Crosland and Netherthong fiercely resented this innovation (Meltham having withdrawn from the chapelry). When there is rough independence, if spirit prevails on both sides, it is apt to breed contention, for both cling tenaciously to their own ideas. The removal of the pulpit was the
beginning of a long contention between the three townships, extending down to a recent date, when at Honley feast, in memory of this old feud, free fights were indulged in by the natives of these townships. Honley still preserved its aggressive power, for the pulpit was removed and placed against the wall on the north side of the chapel. To escape the watchfulness of Nether-thong and Crosland, who had set a sentinel to observe the movements of Honley, the pulpit was secretly removed in the night time. Netherthong and Crosland appealed to the strong arm of the law against such high-handed proceedings on the part of Honley.
If people will appeal long and earnestly enough to this giant, we may be sure that eventually both sides will collapse under its sledge-hammer strokes.
Litigations commenced at York in 1793, and extended over many years. In Yorkshire we call a spade a spade, and so did the plain-spoken churchwarden who entered the particulars of these litigations in the parish book. He wrote as follows:—
'Troubles began at York,' and do doubt other people have had the same idea of protracted law proceedings.
At a town's meeting held in the vestry, it was resolved to levy a church-rate to meet the expenses attending these proceedings. Many forcible reprisals from those who had no finger in the pie, would often meet the firm old churchwarden, who was won't to collect this rate.
In 1807 the animosity of Netherthong and Crosland was very strong towards Honley for electing a church-warden against their wishes. The congregation was now ambitious to remove the organ from the east end of the chapel to the west end. Netherthong and Crosland also strongly opposed this removal. Again the three townships went to law, the sturdy churchwarden, the late Mr Thomas Leigh, valiantly leading Honley. But Honley was defeated, and their ambition to see the organ at the west end was not to be gratified until latter on.
These litigations, according to the entry in the parish book, were very protracted and expensive. 'In 1809,' writes the churchwarden, 'troubles again at York with Thong and Crosland. They refuse to pay their share of expenses in connection with former trials ; also their share in keeping the chapel in order. Troubles until 1813.'
These litigations may account for the dilapidated state of the chapel, for a citation was received from the Ecclesiastical Court at York in 1826 compelling them to make the necessary repairs. By this time, all the three townships appear to be weary of law, for at a town's meeting held September 12th, 1833, It was resolved, 'that Netherthong and Crosland should not be compelled to pay their proportionate share of expenses attending on Honley Chapel.' Honley was evidently glad to abandon its claims. A year afterwards, on November 18th, 1834, the church-rate, that had been levied to meet the expenses of these protracted law proceedings, was also abolished.
In the year 1870 the good feeling between clergy and people was a little strained. Two factions supported, no doubt, by religious zeal, though well fermented by animosity, refused to be intimidated by each other. Like the previous troubles, they in time, allowed their animosity to die a natural death.
We have noticed the sturdy traits of the congregation, but there is also a humorous side. The quaint and pithy sayings of the people are proverbial, and the presence of neither 'parson nor clerk' has any influence to overawe Honley people if they wish to speak. When they removed the pulpit it necessitated the alteration of some of the pews. After the alterations an aggrieved pew-owner refused to sit only in the same place where his pew had been previously located. As the pulpit occupied that site, this was impossible. He was not to be propitiated by the offer of another seat in a more agreeable situation, and he was wont to stalk up the middle aisle with his three-legged stool under his arm. Looking around upon the congregation, he would exclaim, 'I wonder if there is room here?' Then putting down the stool in the middle aisle, he would sit down upon it.
Certainly it is more profitable and easy to have a grievance than to redress one, and I hope that conspicuous self-chosen martyr was happy with his.
After the alterations, a resident of Netherthong also considered herself wronged with regard to the part ownership of a pew. The rightful owner not only refused to allow the native of Netherthong to share her pew, but bebarred her from entering, by having a padlock put upon the door. Nothing daunted, this lady on each successive Sunday climbed over the sides of the pew, and defiantly sat in the disputed place. It must have been very edifying to witness this performance ; and the woman would certainly have been more benefited In following John Ruskin's advice, to go and pray behind a hedge.
Another local worthy constituted himself into a watchful sentinel upon the actions of his clergyman. The latter was not so punctual at church as he ought to have been. If by any chance he was seen to hurry up the pulpit stairs a few minutes late, the punctual and alert worshipper would cry out, 'What! late again lad, late again.'
The parish clerk was a conspicuous figure, both in the old chapel and In the present church. One noted character, whilst half asleep, jumped up in the middle of the sermon and cried out 'Amen.' He was not aware of his precipitate haste until rebuked from above by the clergyman.
A strange clergyman who had been preaching one Sunday morning, was fishing for compliments about his sermon from this old clerk. His reply was not at all flattering ; for the old clerk was as destitute of compliments as the present Honley dyke is of fish. It was as follows :— 'Yore sarmon maister is wa'ar nor weak broth ; and cowder nor Nan-hob watter.' (Nan-hob, a beautiful spring of water in the township.) On one occasion when the congregation was small, on account of the day being cold and stormy, this old clerk invited the said preacher to mount upon the vestry table, and discourse to them from there, whilst the congregation sat around the vestry fire for greater comfort.
Extremes meet, and the old clerk from being too alert, one Sunday during the sermon, overslept himself. The congregation waited impatiently for the number of the conceding hymn, but the old clerk slept on, calmly unconscious of his duty. Another old Honley worthy cried out testily 'Waken that sleepy clerk.'
The love and cultivated taste for music in the district is well known ; it being literally a land of song. Who has not heard the strains of sweet music, all the parts blending together in perfect harmony, from some village church or hill-side chapel? At that time Honley possessed some of the best singers, and performers upon various instruments in the neighbourhood. Musical gatherings took place at each other's homes ; dark nights and long walks proving no obstacles. The largest gathering was on Honley Feast Sunday, when, in the old chapel, 'great sings,' as they were called, were held. Old local musicians will recall the memory of these wonderful gatherings. Vast crowds assembled to listen not only the church being filled to overflowing, but the graveyard and street were crowded with listeners. Oratorios and other kinds of sacred music were sung, reinforced by instrumentalists, and a charge for admission was made. This custom was discontinued when the late Mr Drawbridge became the incumbent, of whom more will be said. The influence of Mr Drawbridge must have been considerable when an old village custom could be thus discontinued without some more forcible remonstrance than words. At one of these 'great sings,' a famed local vocalist mounted the high singing gallery. She had been absent from it for many years, on account of maternal duties. As it was the Sunday after the Battle of Waterloo, and Honley had many of her sons engaged in that battle, she was requested to sing 'Lovely peace.' So well was this sung that enthusiastic musicians were with difficulty restrained from loudly applauding her. On another occasion, when the church was crowded, a favourite singer warbled forth, 'Angels, ever bright and fair, take, O take me, to your care.' An old native, whose ardent love for music broke the bounds of decorum, cried out, 'Aye. that they will, lass, for such sweet voice as that can never go to the devil.'
We know that harmony is apt to breed discord, and many a feud has been fought out in the high singing loft of the old chapel. The book of Psalms by Sternhold and Hopkins was in use. The singers wished to adopt the new version, composed by Nahum Tate, the then Poet Laureate, and set to music by Brady. This change was not allowed without much contention and hard words. Another clergyman — a Mr Stafford — like the Puritans, preferred sour solemnity to the singing of God's praises (at least history informs us that this was a Puritanical trait). Mr Stafford thought that a joyful noise, at the best, was only the singing of songs and ballads, that tended to the nourishing of vice, or the corrupting of youth. Mr Stafford refuted to allow either the Psalms or canticles to be sung. Taking little heed of this reprisal the choir, after the first lesson, chanted the Te Deum. After the second lesson, however, Mr Stafford was too quick for the singers, and succeeded in reading the Jubilate himself. This victory was followed by a defeat. When the number of the hymn was given, neither organist nor singers answered to the call. They sat in defiant silence, and during the rest of the service Mr Stafford had the pleasure of listening only to his own voice. At this time, to keep the peace between clergyman and singers, the services of both constable and churchwardens were required.
As we are on the subject of music, it will not be out of place to bring before the readers the well-known anecdote of the organist and his blower. I have often noticed that this anecdote has been claimed as belonging to other parishes, but the writers have been misinformed. The circumstance occurred at Honley, the organist being John Hirst, and his blower Joseph Bradbury, but known in the village by the cognomen of Joe 'Sprod.' A previous rehearsal of the music to be sung at one of the 'great sings' had to elated the organist that he added his own praises. This self-praise on the part of the organist did not please Joe, who listened in sulky silence. 'Of what use were all the clever performances on the organ if he did not blow?' thought Joe to himself. No sweet sounds could be heard if he did not supply the wind! Joe waxed wroth at the alight put upon his performances. On the following Sunday, at a most critical part of a difficult accompaniment, the organ suddenly became silent for lack of breath.
'Blow! blow!' loudly whispered the enraged organist.
'It is we, then?' said the blower.
The wits of the organist were like some of his notes — sharp, and he instantly replied, 'Yea, we, Joe ; go on.'