Huddersfield Chronicle (21/Jul/1888) - Some Account of the Parish Church of St. Mary's, Honley

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.


BY MRS MARY A. JAGGER, Honley, Authoress of 'Rookery Mill,' 'Is Love a Crime?' etc., etc.

'The decent Church that topt the neighb'ring hill.' (Goldsmith.)

Antiquarians have been accused of making something out of nothing, and sauce to it. Perhaps what often passes for truth may only be conjectures; but the suppositions of a thinking and penetrating mind may in time become undoubted truths. Even If wonderful traditions are now accepted with reserve, they are helpful in forming oar opinions ; and though we live not in the dark ages, when people 'Held each strange tale devoutly true,' yet traditions and superstitions are like the dragon — hard to kill ; and when supposed to be killed will still crawl on. As far as possible, I shall endeavour not to stumble upon many errors ; nor quote from mythical authorities. Even with these precautions mistakes may occur, and acute people, who are now more rank than those whose ancient faith knew no guile, may pounce down upon me.

The Jews kept registers of their genealogies — the pedigree of the house of their fathers ; and if every family had done the same, what a halo of romance would rest over those old chronicles! What a grand biography of the past and gone! Did not the Jews write down each detail relating to their temples and forms of worship? Almost every girl and boy in my village could tell me something about the building of Solomon's Temple, with its vast army of labourers — hewers of stone and wood, skilful artificers in precious stones, gold, and brass. Are not the cedar and fir trees of Lebanon, used in its construction, as familiar to them by description as the trees of their own hill-sides? Have they not read of that great and solemn feast, the dedication of the Temple to God's worship and glory? Could they give me an outline of the history of their own temple — the village church, under whose shadow they first drew breath? I trow not, for we are apt to look upon things that dally life has made familiar to us with indifference. It is only when like the aged Prophet we say—

'But as for me,
I would that I were gathered to my rest,'

that we, too, think of the past — that now out of reach, misty, behind. How many a weary pilgrim repeats the request of the aged Jacob: 'Bury me with my fathers!'

The history of a church is the history of the place ; for the associations that cling around an ancient edifice are closely interwoven with the lives of the people around it. Those who worship one Master, though they cannot consent to do so in company, mast agree with me on this point.

We will take a retrospect of those old memories that entwine themselves around our own church.

St. Mary's Church has not that mellow tint upon its walls that old age alone can bestow. No hanging ivy, or many-coloured lichens creep around the tower. No storied windows of dead and gone heroes cast their opal lights upon the aisles below ; nor are banners and gauntlets, once trophies and challenges of chivalrous combat, suspended from its walls. A stranger, on entering the sacred edifice, would at once know that the present church is a comparatively modern building, whose architecture is of a plain, but pure style. What history, then, can this modern erection possess?

Is there not a 'tale in everything'?

This is the third edifice, built upon the old foundation, that has looked down upon the changes of the village.

In Domesday book (Bawden's translation) we read : 'In Haneleta and Mettham (Honley and Meltham) Cola and Suuen held four carucates of land to be taxed, where three ploughs might be employed. Ilbert now has it, but it is waste. T. R. E. — value forty shillings. Wood — pastures two miles long, and a mile and a half broad.'

Suuen was a Thane ; a term signifying one of the Saxon nobility. He appears to have been deprived of his lands at Honley by the Norman invaders. The Ilbert named was the great and powerful Ilbert de Laci, unto whom Suuen's lands were given.

As the village had not a tribe like unto Zebulun, who 'handle the pen of the writer,' my information of Honley about this time is very scanty, unless I quote from self, the reader must take a leap to the time of Edward III. We then read of a Richard Waley, the lord of Honley, He joined in the rebellion against Edward III., and followed the most powerful nobleman of that period, the Earl of Lancaster. The latter was beheaded in his own castle at Pontefract ; but Richard Waley, the lord of Honley, was pardoned. His life, however, was only spared on condition that he became a faithful and obedient subject. Richard Waley had all his lands confiscated, and was fined 2,000 marks.

If Honley came under the critical survey made by William the Conqueror, it must have been of some importance ; and no doubt a religious edifice of some kind stood in the village. The highways leading into the place, still designated as 'gates,' all point to the church as the common centre to which they led ; also the field-paths leading from some isolated house, fold, or hamlet ; now merged into public roads — 'rights of way' for ever to the inhabitants. Honley feast, whose origin was the festival of the dedication of the church, is still faithfully honoured by the inhabitants. During the time of the Commonwealth it was not discontinued, though so many wakes and feasts were then prohibited.

The origin of the earliest chapel dedicated to St. Mary is, however, lost in the mist of antiquity. It can be proved that it existed before the Reformation, and was then an oratory, or a place for private devotion. The first document relating to this structure is a Latin faculty, granted by Archbishop Savage, Primate of England. The following is a translation of this quaint faculty, originally written in dog Latin :—

'Faculty for the Celebration of Mass in the Chapel of Honley. 18th year of Henry VII., A.D. 1503.'

'Thomas, by Divine permission, Archbishop of York, Primate of England, and Legate of the Apostolic See, to the beloved children In Christ, the natives of the villages or hamlets of Houndsley, Meltham, and Crossland (Honley, Meltham, and Crosland), in the parish of Almondbury, in the diocese of York, to the inhabitants greeting in Our Saviour's embrace. Since we have lately had information from true source, that the real Parish Church of Almondbury aforesaid is far distant from the hamlets aforesaid, and that the natives and inhabitants of the villages or hamlets, broken down with age and held with various diseases, moreover women labouring with child, and several others of them being far distant, are by no means able to be present to celebrate mass on holy and other festivals of the Saints, and at the canonical hours in the said church, in the parish of Almondbury, We, desiring to relieve such persons, and other inhabitants of the villages or hamlets aforesaid, from a great and heavy labour of continually visiting the afore-mentioned Parish Church of Almondbury, hoping to maintain, that they may more frequently offer the accustomed offerings at the Divine services, and for the rest, may be free to attend the offices. In order that in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Houndsley aforesaid, founded and erected of old, the mass, the canonical hours, and other Divine offices, may be freely and lawfully celebrated in a low voice by some proper chaplain or proper chaplains, the various vestments and expenses being furnished and found, ye may have power, and such man may have power, while however from thence there shall be no injury to the Parish Church of Almondbury aforesaid. To you, and your children and servants for the hearing, and to the chaplain or chaplains aforesaid that the celebration of the mass and other offices may be carried out, licence by the tenour of these presents we grant. May it be confirmed by commendation to our spiritual benediction. Given under our seal in our Castle of Cawood on the last day but one of March in the year of our Lord cue thousand five hundred and three, and the third year of our translation.'

This building sufficed for the spiritual needs of three townships, viz., Honley (which then comprised Nether-thong), Meltham, and Crosland. It was known in the village as the 'Three-nooked Chapel,' and was a plain, flat building with three corners. One corner pointed towards Meltham, the other in the direction of Crosland, and the remaining corner signified the claim of Honley, along with the other two townships, to its worship ; at least these three angles suggested that idea to the villagers.

The late Canon Hulbert in his history of Almondbury says, 'that from a MS. in the British Museum, these verses were formerly written on painted glass under the Kaye's Arms. In this chapel'—

'I, John Kaye, Esquire, and Justice of the Peace,
The ground of this isle doth freely release,
To joyn to this chapel for ever and aye
That the people may have the more room to praye,
Iff wicked laws come to pull chapel down,
Then witness I give to the poor of the town.'

The following is another copy from an old parish account book. The book bears date 1773 :—

'I, John Kaye, Esquire, and Justice of the Peace, The ground of this chappell I do freely release,
This I do give for ever and aye
That people may have more room to pray.
Iff wicked laws do pull this chappell down,
Then witness I give to the poor of the town.'

Even after the Reformation penance was performed in this chapel. An old person still living in the village, and now close upon 90 years of age, has heard her father-in-law give an account of his flight to London, rather than submit to the ordeal of penance in the old oratory. Then the distance to London was considered of more importance than a journey to the Antipodes would be to-day. Another account is also given of a young woman who had proved frail. To escape the indignity of public penance on the Sunday, she left the village on the previous Saturday evening, and walked to York Castle (where her father was incarcerated) with her illegitimate child strapped upon her back.

It is Interesting to know that after the Reformation the Roman Catholics of Honley retained their chaplain, and met together for worship in a building situated behind the present row of shops erected on the leftside in Church Street, going towards the church. Images stood upon the mantel-shelf in the room where they assembled, as well as other tokens of Roman Catholic worship. There are many people yet living who will remember the massive old buildings that were used for the business of tallow-chandling before the present modern erections took their place. To many will also come a memory that the overhanging gabled-fronts of those old buildings, and their general architecture gave unmistakable proofs of having once been a noble hall. The buildings were formerly occupied by the Nettletons, one of the family of the Thornhill Nettletons, and great benefactors to Aldmondbury and Honley. There was a tradition handed down in the family of the late owner of the property, that a petty king had once occupied the house. I should say that it might have been the residence of the once Lord of Honley — Richard Waley ; or perhaps further back, the simple wooden dwelling of Suuen the Saxon Thane stood upon this place. At one time the hall mast have held a commending situation; and overlooked s valley of rare beauty ; and sylvan repose.

The old chapel also mast have looked down outside upon scenes of violence, and sometimes bloodshed. Imagination can picture those perilous times. Only a mile across the valley (as the crow files) stands Castle Hill. Here are the remains of an ancient fortification. A grim castle once frowned down upon the little hamlets lying at its feet ; and tradition says, that dark and cruel deeds were performed in its underground dungeons.

This castle was burnt down in the wars between Ceadwall the Briton, and Penda the Mercian. Afterwards a castle was built by King Stephen, who gave it to Henry Lacy. Almost a stone's throw from the old chapel would be Crosland Hall, where the feud between Beaumont and Elland had such a tragic ending. (The present hall stands not far from the original site.)

In the still night, when Elland of Elland had led his retainers to Crosland Hall, the cries of warfare would be wafted over the unenclosed wood that only intervened between the old chapel and the hall.

(To be continued next week.)