Though never robust enough for the strong doctrines at Providence Chapel, yet I am, and in my youth was, devotedly attached to the old place, so closely connected with the days and friends of my youth.
Would you learn the spell? My answer would be, the burial ground contains the sacred remains of many who were so fondly dear to me, and whose memory is the wealth of later life. One of these, a treasured mother, sent me to school there early in life, when the occupation was not to my liking, and the attractions were few.
What could a young lad do with the doctrine of grace, or the attacks on the Arminians, who were dubbed unworthy of existence? There were very few for heaven, but a great number for the other place, all for God’s glory; and, believe me, these people were in terrible earnest about it. They were desperate about their faith. The world, the flesh, and the devil had no terrors for them; no favours to give for which they eared, or frowns which they feared. They had seceded from Pole Moor on a matter of faith, and now in their little fold at Kitchen (as it was often called) no one was going to make them afraid. The members were told to act up to the Apostle’s injunctions when difficulties confronted them; to rise superior to the occasion in the strength of Jehovah, who had ordered all things well before the world began. Weak men and women were no use there; all were brave and strong on what they called the side of the Lord. Members could not come and go with the wind. It was a most serious matter; a kind of mental agony and suffering to the soul, which made the man or woman most miserable until salvation came. Then they broke into song and thanksgiving, ready for any emergency. I have seen them baptised in the River Colne at Dry Mill, on a cold winter’s day, when the ice had to be broken. If on some points of doctrine these good people were mistaken, they were no fair-weather Christians, winning heaven on cheap lines, seeking to make the most of this world by the handiest means that came to hand. No; they were ready to do and, if need be, die for the faith that was within them. They never dreamt of the sordid, or thought of the selfish. This was the sainted mother’s faith; but it was not for her son — “her child,” as she fondly called him. To him it was nothing; it was all for her. The chapel was little. There was the gallery around, the area of straight-backed pews, the pulpit in the centre, back to Smithy Green, and the singing pew immediately underneath. A ‘cello, a flute, a fiddle or so, now and then to lead the singing; and at the end nearest to Hollins Row, up some steps, there was a small room used as Sunday school. This proved too small, and Mr. Barrett’s day school was taken in Laith Lane until a new wing was built over the present archway where the school is to-day, and now again to be enlarged.
Many are the experiences one had of men and things at that period. The teachers were many and various. Some were hard and knocked us about; others easy and good matured; and, like at all times since and before, these latter were taken advantage of. I remember one dear old man who always fell asleep in chapel, where we were taken twice a day to hear some long and peculiar sermons from men with various gifts, the ministry being vacant and supplies the order of the day. Their dress, voices, manners, and peculiarities are all before me, and if I were a writer what interesting chapters one could give of these men, their sermons, and the times! Suffice now to say the shortest were the best to us boys. Joyfully did we welcome the man who would be short, and wonder on the other side what to do to get the time on with the long. Then, as now, Satan found some mischief for idle hands to do. Our sleeping teacher fared badly at such times. Being sound in wind, slight things did not waken him; tickling his nose with hairs made no impression. The wicked would then try a pin, which would have the desired effect. When he awoke he would find himself without .shoes. They would be hid in another pew amongst confederates; but the poor sufferer was of that even temper that no further trouble arose on the return of the shoes. All the owner would say was: “Rabbit you; in future I must remain awake to keep you out of mischief.” With others it was different, and the above indulgence was often more than outmatched by undue severity.
Whitsuntide then, as now, was a great day, but we had to take our own pots for the coffee. The Johns, Sarahs, Jameses, Rachels, etc., etc., were then marked on in bold letters, but it remains a mystery to-day how each one ever got back his or her own. How things have changed since! A succession of ministers have followed. The first I remember was Mr. Halliday, from Oldham, a cotton manufacturer, a good Liberal, and a well-educated gentleman, large hearted, generously disposed, and broad in his views. This gentleman had been at Marsden on Sundays for some years, but the members there agreed to associate with the friends at Slaithwaite; a good understanding was arrived at, much good was done, and the church prospered until his time came, all too soon, and the place was left to supplies again. Then followed Mr. R. Parry, who made a great impression at first, but his ministry ended in ructions. He was followed by the mild Mr. Thomsett, the blind pastor, of a winning and amiable disposition. Then came Mr. Dolby, the weaver lad from Howarth, who made such progress that he went from £70 a year here to £700 in London. This gentleman was followed by Mr. Jones, a sensible, hard-working minister, who removed to London also, after having done good work here. Nor must we forget the long and loyal service of the late Mr. Crowther, of Gomersal. Then last, but not least, we have Mr. Snow, the present minister, who has done excellent service since he came. Under his influence, though I dare say he would add by God’s guidance, many have been added to the church, the debt removed, and the lovely little chapel made more beautiful than ever.
How it was built, the new organ added, the peculiarities and consequences of changing the ‘cello to a new harmonium by the young school party, cannot be related here. Some thought at the time this was done in antipathy to the members of the church, but it was not so. The great and varied successes of anniversaries, the Christmas parties, successful entertainments, the speeches made, and the actors on this stage would form interesting chapters in themselves, if one had only the time to write them.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden