The second part of the historical sketch was published the following week.
HISTORICAL SKETCH OF MELTHAM CHURCH.
The interest excited in the public mind of Meltham by the services lately held in St. Bartholomew's church, in connection with, the ceremony of consecrating the new burial ground, and in commemoration of the original consecration of the church itself, has afforded a very favourable opportunity for presenting to the public an historical sketch of some of the leading circumstances connected with the first erection and original endowment of that place of worship.
Not long ago we promised to supply to the readers of the Chronicle such information on this subject as we should be able to pick up, and we now proceed to make good that promise. The sketch will not, however, be so complete as we at first, intended, and for this reason : we have since learned that the worthy incumbent, the Rev. Joseph Hughes, is about to publish a work on the same subject. It will consist of the sermons delivered in the church on the 16th of November, by the Rev. D. James, of Kirkdale, Liverpool, and the Rev. C.A. Hulbert, Incumbent of Slaithwaite. To these he will add, by way of appendix, a history of the church, and verbatim copies of some of the most authentic documents relating thereto. In justice to Mr. Hughes, we feel bound to acknowledge that we are indebted to him for much of the information we are about to give; and this being the case it would be the height of ingratitude under the circumstances, to extend our sketch as far as we at first intended. We shall content ourselves with giving the principal leading circumstances, and leave them to be treated more at length in Mr. Hughes’s pamphlet.
The church is a handsome but plain building, — but it is not our intention to describe its present appearance, either inward or outward. Some of the most remarkable appurtenances thereunto belonging we shall, however, mention as we proceed. From a document now in the posssession of the minister, we learn that the present site of the church was consecrated in the year 1651. At that period it was far from being respectable to be a churchman, as that great opponent of all state religions, Cromwell, was then at the head of affairs. There are no records in existence of any preaching place being in existence in Meltham before that time. The district was in the chapelry of Honley, to which place, or still further, — even to the parish church of Almond-bury, — the piously disposed people used to wend their way each Sabbath morning, to listen to the words of truth from the lips of some man of God, who dung to the church through all the trials to which it was subjected during the turbulent period preceding the consecration of their own. In thought, we stand on some one of the heights which command a view of the valley towards Honley. It is a Sunday morning, about the commencement of the seventeenth century. The massive-looking farm-houses scattered over the district upwards — but a tithe of those existing there at present — are few and far between. The Manor House, Thick Hollins farm, Helm Cottage, and Harewood Mill, at which all the people of the district were once compelled by law to grind their corn, were among the most conspicuous places of the district, and the residences of the leading inhabitants. The people turn out in their holiday finery, which, as far as the men are concerned, consists of home-spun grey coats and other articles of a similar description. We will not glance at the dresses of the softer sex, lest we should give offence ; but however, in such dresses as were fashionable at that time, we see the people wending their way through the long winding valley to the house of prayer, to offer up at the altar of their faith the offerings of such primitive feelings as welled up from hearts nurtured in such wild solitudes as the vicinity of Meltham then consisted of. Amongst other appurtenances necessary for a journey to the church in those days would be a basket of provisions for the mid-day meal, and we are of opinion that the following verses from the pen of the Ayrshire ploughman will not be a bad description of a Sabbath dinner time at church in those days. We would not, however, have people come to the conclusion that we think lightly of the faith of that age because we have transcribed them :—
We will now, however, bid adieu for the present to church and chapel going in the olden time. The people of Meltham got tired, not of worshipping, but of travelling so far Sabbath after Sabbath ; and as they increased in numbers and importance, began to speculate about erecting an altar of their own. With whom, or in what year the idea first originated we have not been able to discover. We can, however, imagine some greyheaded old man of earnest faith plodding his weary way to Honley and back on a wintry Sabbath-day, stretching out his weary and aching limbs before the fire, being first struck with the idea and communicating it to some of his acquaintances, by whom no doubt if would be at first received as a visionary project. Once started, however, it was not destined again to be lost sight of. The very idea of having, a chapel of their own would cause the Sabbath day's journey to be a toilsome one to many, and make them enter into the scheme with greater earnestness. The matter was discussed, and in the year 1649, we find that it had made considerable progress, as in that year, a man named William Woodhead, whose family were all natives and residents of Meltham, but who, according to tradition, resided on some property situate at Dobcross, in Saddleworth, by will bequeathed the sum of forty shillings a year towards the maintenance of a minister, to preach the word of God at Meltham, if there should be a chapel there-erected. According to all that we have been able to discover, this is the first or earliest recorded allusion to the origin of the church, and it contains proof that in that year it was not fully decided whether one was to be erected or not. There is no clue as to who were among the first zealous forwarders of the project, except what is found in the above will, and some other documents of a similar kind belonging to a later date. Thus, a man of the name of Waterhouse, who succeeded William Woodhead to Saddleworth estate above mentioned, left the whole of the said property, subject to an annual rental of £3 per annum, to the minister at Meltham. In what year this bequest was made we have not been informed, but it affords proof that the whole of the family, through a many years were attached to the church at Meltham, and among the most earnest of those who bestirred themselves in the work of its first erection. About the latter end of the year 1649, or early in 1650, a decisive effort was made to give the project a tangible shape, and the success with which it was attended is indicated by the fact that on the 24th or 25th of August, 1651, Henry Silson, Bishop of Elphine, in Ireland, consecrated the chapel and chapel yard. We are not informed who furnished the means for the erection — we may safely infer however that no portion of the money came from the government, from the fact that Church of Englandism was then at a discount, and presbyterianism and independency the predominant religions of the country.
In our next paper we shall trace the history of the church through the interval between its erection and the present time, noticing, as we proceed, the various incumbents who have administered to the spiritual wants of the people of Meltham.