Huddersfield Chronicle (28/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.

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.

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

(Continued from last week.)

The wide open uplands known at Honley Moor was, until the year 1783, an unenclosed moor, covered with mountain-fir trees. Cultivation does not always mean improvement, and its original romantic beauty was preferable to the present unpicturesque stone walls, set out with chess-board monotony. Formerly Honley Moor a was a thick forest, tenanted only by wild animals. In the time of Edward III. both red and fallow deer were hunted there. Wolves also inhabited the moorlands, for their haunts are still pointed out like those of the stags and kept in memory by their names.

From a copy of the 'Award of Honley Manor,' published by Mr Joseph Whitworth, it appears that the freeholders of Honley claimed the privilege or right of catting timber for house-boot, hain-boot, plough-boot, cart-boot, and fire-boot, and also the getting of stones and slates from these moorlands until the year 1788. In this privilege they were required to keep the mill-dam and dam stakes of Honley Old Water Corn Mill in repair (better known as Honley Mill). In 1788 the freeholders were exonerated from making any repairs to the mill, on condition that they abolished their rights in respect to the cutting of timber in the lands of the Lord of the Manor. They were, however, allowed to get stone and slates in the Dell Spring and the Old Wood (better known to the present generation as Soot-gate Head Quarries).

On the heights around lies many a brave warrior, and overtopping all, like grim sentinels, are the huge stones, supposed to be the remains of Druidical worship. I say supposed ; for to me nature appears to have been the sculptor of these massive stones, and cycle after cycle of time, with fierce action of storms and winds their labourers. Whatever conjectures have been formed about them, generation after generation have passed away, and on the conspicuous moorland known as West Nab, are still laid these huge stones.

Not far away from West Nab, overlooking the neighbouring valley, is the supposed ruined temple of the Druids, with its wonderful rocking-stone.

Pestilence, famine, and war have gathered about the walls of the old chapel. We may be sure that in the great strife between the Yorkists and Lancastrians many of the staunch yeomen of Honley would not hold themselves aloof. White-gate, an ancient bridle and pack way, tradition says, was once held by the followers of the White Rose.

Again, in that great civil warfare between Royalists and Roundheads, when kindred were slain by kindred, the village would send many a sturdy volunteer to take part in those bloody battles. As at present, the fringe of Whitley woods was in view of the old chapel, and the brave Beaumont, who fought so gallantly for his king, must have had many a Honley youth in his train. Charles Nettleton, of Honley, who was a companion of Captain Horsfall, of Storthes Hall, was in Sir John Ramsden's regiment. He fought for the Royal cause at the battle of Marston Moor. Those who took the side of the Parliament would fight as nobly in its cause. We can fancy how the village folks — all more or less akin as they are to this day — would watch the departure of their warriors, wishing them God-speed and victory. Then we can imagine the sorrow and aliened of the welcome back to those defeated cavaliers, perhaps many of them who had set out left dead on the battle-field of Marston Moor ; and many a good yeoman's family would welcome back their Roundhead son who had been spared to them, or mourn over one also left dead on Marston Moor — the summer's moon shining down upon the white upturned faces of both Cavaliers and Roundheads. I cannot think that the sturdy yeomen of Honley who took part in this great civil strife either sung many battle-psalms or sported any love-locks.

Again, dismay and consternation would fill the minds of the village people, when it was known that the Scotch Pretender intended marching down upon them. The furthest point to which the army advanced is still pointed out, and known as Scot-gate Head, and the defile below is named the 'Sentry,' because it was guarded by sentries during that unquiet time.

According to history the followers of the Scotch Pretender did not advance so far. Probably some stray soldiers might have been seen in the neighbourhood, and thus give rise to this belief. As Honley is not rich in historical possessions, I have no wish, if history has, to rob it of this little joy, but 'facts are stubborn things.'

It is said that in fear of the invasion bags of wool barricaded this still precipitous road known as the 'Sentry,' that extends to the church doors. On the heights above the defile watchful sentries scanned the approaches to the village.

I feel great admiration for the practical characteristic nature of those old Honley clothiers who brought their bags of wool for such a purpose. The writer, when a chlld, once saw some dilapidated military garments worn by one of those, who answered to the call of the constable to help to defend the village. The coat was of red cloth of a now antiquated pattern, and trimmed with brass buttons. A band of yellow lace adorned the hat.

If the times were perilous the inhabitants had their pastimes and recreations. What crowds of people would press up the village street on their way to the scene of bull-baiting and other sports! These sports took place every Honley feast in Thirstin, until made illegal by law.

(In all old documents Thirstin is spelt Thurastan.)

The merry village maidens would dance around the May-pole that stood on the village green. This open space in the centre of the village has, I am sorry to say, had its old name modernised to 'Town-gate.' Amongst the old inhabitants it still retains its original name of 'May-pole hill.' I hope that its proper title may neither be forgot nor ignored by the present inhabitants.

During the disturbed period when King Charles was beheaded, it speaks well for the religious zeal of the neighbourhood that a church was erected at Meltham. The erection of this church (or more properly speaking chapel), in the year 1651, caused the withdrawal of its inhabitants from the worship at Honley Chapel. This structure at Meltham was built through the influence of the mother of William Woodhead. This old lady had a dread of Popery. Her great age prevented her coming to Honley Chapel by a foot-road across Harden Clough, still called ' Chapel Gate.' It is said that this old lady on her way to Honley was occasionally pelted with sods by the youths of Meltham.

Godfrey Beaumont, of Crosland, gave to Honley and Meltham Chapels certain lands by will, dated 31st March, 1672. He was of that noble class of yeomen now so fast dying out ; a class that answered to the name of 'free born Englishmen.' Such as these have handed down to us our hearths and homes, our faith and fatherland. But to return to Honley.

The old oratory had, no doubt, been frequently altered to meet the needs of Divine worship. There are deeds to prove that both alterations and additions took place in 1507 and 1630. In the year 1760 the chapel had been entirely rebuilt, but most of the old material had been used in its re-construction. Though dedicated, like its predecessor, to the Virgin Mary, it was known to the inhabitants as the 'Old Peg.'

I have never been able to gain any correct information why it should lay claim to this appellation. Some people say because of the cracked tone of the old bell that hung in the cupola.

This building was a plain structure without a tower. There was a small cupola at the west end, in which the bell was hung. In the interior was suspended a large brass chandelier. This was considered a magnificent piece of workmanship, and was only required when the short winter Sunday afternoons closed in early, and tallow dips were then inserted in its scones.

This chandelier has a little history of its own. It was formerly suspended In Huddersfield Parish Church. After some alterations there, it was purchased by the late Miss Armitage, and given to Honley Church. It was hung both in the old chapel and in the present edifice. When gas was introduced at Honley, the chandelier was sent to Brockholes Church. After gas was put into Brockholes Church the chandelier was sent back to Honley, and is now suspended, after having been divided, in the central room at the National Schools.

On the north and west walls of the chapel were two life-size oil paintings of Moses and Aaron. When the old building was pulled down these pictures were removed to the National School ; but at the last enlargement of the school they were destroyed. This is to be regretted, as they were not only very ancient, but of great merit. How many a grey-headed man and woman, who have passed the time meted out to man, will think with a sigh of regret about those two well-known pictures! In their long past youth have they not whiled away many a tedious sermon by holding imaginary conversations on the merits of the nose of Moses and the beard of Aaron? The Royal coat of arms hung in the front of the east gallery. The pews were of black oak ; of an antiquated pattern ; and adorned with the signs of ownership. Many of them were in the “three-nooked chapel,” as it was named by the inhabitants, and on many were carved the initial letters of the names of the owners, with dates of an early period. At that time, the bindings of books were too precious to be handled ; and the books laid in the corners of the old pews, protected with their various coloured coverings of kersey cloth, or other materials. These coverings were of home manufacture, and made by the Honley clothiers with the intention of never wearing out. The old Bibles, Prayer Books, or versions of the Psalms contained homely entries of births, marriages, and deaths, date of purchase, poetry as to the ownership of the books, generally of a threatening character. We then could boast of a local poet of no mean name — William Crosley, of Honley.

The pulpit was long and upright, commonly called a 'three-decker.' It was covered with a huge carved oak canopy or 'sounding board.' At that time Honley must have been far in advance of the times, for an organ stood at the east end of the chapel. The mother Church of Almondbury was behind her daughter, for she could only lay claim, even until the year 1826, to a bass voil. We know that organs were both rare and expensive in earlier days. According to the entries in the old Parish Book this organ not only cost a large amount of money, but was always out of order, and required much attention. It was like an ailing patient, and different kinds of physic were in constant request.

The chapel had three galleries, or lofts, as they were named by it's worshippers. These wars known as the red-loft, white-loft, and singing-loft. The red-loft was situated over the east end, the white-loft over the north, and the singing-loft over the Communion table. There was no gallery over the south side.

Still, the old chapel was in the midst of unrest. Napoleon threatened to invade England — the great Napoleon — the gloom of whose glory, says Lord Byron—

'Arose, and o'ershadowed the earth with her name.'

The writer has often heard old people tell, how on each evening their parents were wont to go to the end of the village, and watch with trembling hearts for the lighting of the beacon-fire on Castle Hill. Its blaze was to be the signal that Napoleon and his army had already landed on English soil. The flare of the late beacon-fire, lighted in honour of our Queen's jubilee, must have caused very different feelings from what existed then.

It is of interest to note that the year of our Queen's jubilee, was also the centenary of the commutation of tithes due from Honley to Almondbury, and the enclosing of Honley Moor.

Evidently the people of Honley had both morals and manners. The Rev John Wesley records preaching at Honley about 11 o'clook on 30th April, 1788. The Rev John Alexander, M.A., read the prayers. John Wesley writes as follows

"After the curate had read prayers to a large and serious congregation, I preached on the text, 'It is appointed onto all men once to die.' I believe many felt, as well as heard, the word."

The writer has heard old people say that John Wesley preached in the churchyard, and that he wore a black surplice. As a result of his preaching, a year afterwards Deanhouse Chapel was erected, the first Wesleyan chapel built in the valley of the Holme. When John Wesley preached at Deanhouse, the cushion that was used by him on that occasion was preserved by the Rev Charles Drawbridge, incumbent of Honley. It occupied a place in his study, and he was very proud of the relic.

(To be continued next week.)