The first part of the historical sketch was published the preceding week.
HISTORICAL SKETCH OF MELTHAM CHURCH. No. II
The first incumbent of which there is any record was the Rev. George Crosland, B.A., of Trinity College, Cambridge. According to one document he took the cure of souls in Meltham in the year 1669, or eighteen years after the church was first consecrated. From another source we learn that he presented his license as incumbent of the chapelry of Meltham in the year 1662, or only eleven years after the erection of the church. How it happens that this latter should be the earliest notice of him we cannot say. There is no mention of him in any shape before that time. Where, however, the evidence of direct testimony fails, we may be allowed to offer a suggestion. It is this : that owing to the unsettled state of the country at the time the church was erected, the Rev. George Crosland, though he might perform the duties of pastor in Meltham chapel during the whole of the eleven years prior to the presenting of his license in the year 1662 ; it might be that all the ceremonies required by the church were not observed till the still later mention of him in the year 1669. We may observe again that even if all the ceremonies of the church were observed in 1651, and if Mr. Crosland had been fully installed into office, that would not prevent him from being required again to exhibit his license, providing any successor of the bishop who installed him into office should call in question the legality of his appointment. Hence, though there is no mention of him prior to 1662, that is not to be taken as a proof that he was not the officiating minister prior to that date.
The succession of incumbents to the living, from the time of George Crosland to the appointment of Robert Sager, in 1728, is not very clearly ascertained by the evidence of direct testimony. Their names, and the order in which they succeeded each other, may be, perhaps, known correctly, but the dates of their appointments and deaths are not so clear. According to the best evidence we can command, the above-named gentleman, of whose death we have seen no record, and whose name occurs as the incumbent till 1772, was succeeded by Timothy Ellison, who exhibited his license in 1774. As was said in the case of the first incumbent, the exhibition of his license in 1674 is not to be taken as a proof that he was not the incumbent before that time. In the church register for 1674 there is an entry of the marriage of George Crosland (written Xland), clergyman, and Martha Banister, which took place on the 2nd or the 20th July. This was the year in which Timothy Ellison, according to another entry in the same register, exhibited his license. And again we learn that George Crosland had two daughters, — one born on the 8th June, 1675, and the other in 1677 ; the former of whom, we learn by another entry, died in 1678. This was four years after Ellison exhibited his license. Here is proof at least that Crosland was not dead, but how to account for two ministers being at Meltham at the same time we are at a loss. It does not appear at all probable that at that early period, when the district was so thinly populated, that Crosland would need an assistant curate. One thing has suggested itself to our mind, and it is this, — that Crosland had been removed to some other living not far distant, and that out of respect for his wife, a native of Meltham, his children were baptised and interred at this place. It may be that the date when Timothy Ellison exhibited his license is wrong ; but there is no evidence to solve the difficulty either way. There occurs no entry in the register of the death of George Crosland.
The next mentioned is the Rev. Randoll Brome (or Brook), who exhibited his license in the year 1684, and died in 1705. On a tombstone in the churchyard is the following :—
The Rev. John Kaye exhibited his license in 1716. Here, again, is an interval between the death of Randoll Brome and the exhibition of his license by John Kaye. We, however, have proof in this case that the Rev. John Kaye was the officiating minister before the above date. According to a letter of the present vicar of Almondbury (a copy of which we have in our possession), it appears that John Kaye was curate in 1715, — Mr. Jones's authority for this being a book or books belonging to Archbishop Sharpe.
From the letter above referred to we also learn that John Kaye was succeeded in office by the Rev. John Staunton, but of whom we have nothing more, as we have met with no mention of him in any other document.
Mr. Staunton was succeeded by the Rev. Robert Sager, who was appointed in the year 1728, and died in the year 1770. On the tombstone above referred to is the following record :—
Mr. Sager, according to the letter above referred to, had two assistant curates, — viz., Samuel Brom (or Brook), who was appointed in the year 1730 ; and Jonathan Leatherbarrow, three years later.
The name of Mr. Sager being pronounced like the Meltham provincialism of Sawer (of wood), gave rise to the following pun. According to tradition, which is evidently wrong in this instance, the name of Mr. Sager's predecessor was Littlewood ; hence some wag said, —
The above gentleman was succeeded by the Rev. Edward Armitstead, who was appointed incumbent in 1770, and died on the 24th October, 1828. There is no doubt whatever that the living has been in the gift of the vicar of Almondbury ever since the year 1651, when the chapel was first erected. According to the authority of the letter above referred to, the Rev. John Staunton was appointed by R. Slater, vicar of Almondbury ; the Rev. Robert Sager and his two assistants by Edward Ruston, vicar of Almondbury ; and Edward Armitstead by Robert Smith, vicar of Almondbury.
On the death of the Rev. Mr. Armitstead, the Rev. Lewis Jones, who had then succeeded to the vicarage of Almondbury, appointed himself incumbent of Meltham. It seems, however, that the late Mr. Armitstead had an assistant curate who had become very popular among the people, and at the head of a considerable number of them opposed the appointment of Mr. Jones. How it happened that the people got the notion that they had power to move in the matter we do not know. We have, however, heard it stated, that a donation or rather an annuity has, at some time, been left to the church, with the proviso that two-thirds of the inhabitants should have the appointment of the incumbent. We are not sure whether such is the case or not ; but certain it is that no private individual had the power to give the appointment of the incumbent to the inhabitants. He might give them control over his bequest, but nothing more. Certain it is, however, that a considerable number of the inhabitants insisted upon the appointment of Mr. Keene, the curate above referred to. A considerable number of the people who took part in the proceedings on the occasion are still alive, and possibly regret the part they took in them. It would, therefore, be out of place to deal with these circumstances as matters of history. The prejudices and hatreds then engendered have not yet entirely died away, and we would be the last to stir up the embers of discordant passions among the inhabitants of any neighbourhood. Mr. Jones succeeded in appointing himself, and held the incumbency till the year 1838, when he appointed the Rev. Joseph Hughes, who, from that period to the present, has continued to perform the duties of the place in a manner satisfactory to all parties.
In the year 1787 the chapel was erected on a larger scale to meet the increasing requirements of the district. The lintel stone of the old building, on which was engraved, in rude characters, the date of the first site (1651) was made use of in the new building, and is still to be seen behind the door on the right hand of the south-west entrance into the church.
At the time of the re-building of Meltham Chapel, in 1787, Mr. Dyson, who then owned Meltham Mill, was re-building the said mill, and purchased some of the old timber belonging to the church, and used it in the mill. The mill afterwards passed into the possession of the Brook family, who, when they built the beautiful church at Meltham Mills, caused the wood in question to be taken out of the mill, and it now forms the staves of the altar in the new church.
A further enlargement of this chapel was made in 1835, as will appear from the following, which is a literal copy of an inscription, painted on a board, and hung up on the north side :—
The front panel of the old pulpit is still preserved in the vestry, and contains the following :—
The interior of the church is beautified by several monuments of the Brook family, viz., one containing the following inscription :—
Another contains the following:—
Another black slab contains the following:—
Another recently erected marble monument contains the following:—
Sacred to the memory of John Green Armytage, Esq., of Thickhollins, who departed this life October 3rd, 1841, in the 82nd year of his age ; and of Ann Green Armytage, his wife, who died July 10th, 1819, in the 53rd year of her age. This memorial of two revered parents is raised by their affectionate children, not so much in token of their unavailing regret as of their earnest belief and hope that as Jesus died and rose again, even so those that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
The churchyard does not contain many old epitaphs. Some of the oldest stones which had been filled with the primitive effusions of the first assemblers within the walls of the chapel have been seized by ruthless hands, and all their sacred characters which had been conned over by many generations have been totally effaced in order to receive the impress of more modern regrets. The following is the oldest we could find, and it cost us some half hour's labour to make out. It only dates about 70 years ago :—
In looking over the other stones we found the following, which we think worthy of note:—
The above named Nancy who had become the wife of John Ingham, of Greetland, died on the 15th of August, 1850.
We will conclude our notice by transcribing the following quaint lines from the gravestone of George Taylor (huntsman), of Meltham, who died November 16th, 1848.