In the good old days Slaithwaite had more noted local preachers than it has to-day. Old Mr. Bamforth, of Dark Wood, was a man of mark, led a peculiar life all his own, was at one time a stated minister of no mean ability, and in after time lived a long and quiet life at his old home at Dark Wood. He was before my time, and I know little of him beyond being strongly impressed with his personality when we used to call on a Sunday night to see him.
Joshua o’ th’ Row I knew much better. This gentleman used to come and preach at Gadsby’s, and could divide his subject as clearly as any man I ever heard, though it was hard stuff between, but firmly believed. The Sunday school might and did teach writing, but it could not teach religion. This was to come from above: a queer faith that will surprise the present generation of Sunday school teachers.
John o’ Charlotte’s was not of the same mental capacity, did not often try his hand, was more of a singer, and right heartily he laid on when singing the bass part in the good old tune of “Derby,” and then looked round the congregation for a well-merited approbation. He was a faithful soul, and his dear wife was as peculiar in another way, being most remarkable for her short cuts at truth, religious or otherwise. On another occasion John took Mr. Holiday to tea, and knowing the peculiarities of his spouse only too well, John went on in front up the garden walk quickly, and called out, “Charlotte! set out the cups and plates; here is the minister coming.” “Not I, by G—,” returned the wife, “tha’lt have to have thi porridge.’’ The minister was shocked. John was dismayed, but the old lad at last relented and made a good tea, which put everything right, and made for peace and happiness which was not always the lot of this good old Christian when the preacher was away.
The preachings used to be in the weekdays on the Wednesday nights at some brother’s or sister’s house. Tins particular one for John was at Clough House, in a large roomy house, with the furniture and work-things all put back, and forms added to sit on. On this occasion, after duly opening with singing, prayer, and a lesson, the time of the sermon came, which was, “Owe thou no man anything”; but, do what he could, our friend John could get no forrarder, and after struggling with it a long time with no better result, old Anthony Hoyle gave out a hymn, A prayer was said, then the pipes were brought out, and in the discussion which followed some one said, ‘‘Whatever did ta tak yond text for, John, because it is unkindly said that tha owes Jim Clay some money, and he cannot get paid.’’ Very likely this is a story of the worldly, who are ever ready to invent something to the detriment of the faithful, for John was a grand old man, and deservedly respected.
Among those who used to come and preach in Slaithwaite was the great personality of Squire Brooke, briefly called “Ned Brooke.”‘ He was a great favourite at the Wesleyan Chapel, then not so comfortable or handsome as it is now. The chapel bottom was a wilderness, and used for the Sunday school, with a square railed off for the singing pew immediately under the pulpit. In that pew (I can see them to-day) sat old Sam Whiteley, Tom Carter, Joseph Haigh, Edward Varley, R. Wilkinson (with his ‘cello), Frank Shaw, and myself (with a violin each), and this was mainly the choir, who were largely called upon in the service when the squire was preaching. It was quaint, straight, honest, and direct. He would tell how he used to go to church on a Sunday morning before he was converted, and in the afternoon go out into the fields to see where to find a hare for the Monday morning. Then he would take the congregation into his confidence and tell them how smart he used to be in his shooting costume, and dry remark, “How fine the devil had me, but, thank God, not so after my conversion.” Then he would stop suddenly, and begin to sing “I do believe,” etc., etc., in which all the congregation heartily joined.
The old gentleman never came empty handed, and the deserving poor had ever a helping, hand. There was one lamentable occasion on which a drunken man in the chapel threw his pipe at the old gentleman in the pulpit. This was too much to submit to, so the fellow who had done this foul thing and his mate went to beg pardon, a matter readily granted, and they were well fed; but what should the wicked beggars do but steal the knives they had used in eating the good things provided! Happily, this was not discovered by the family at the time, but wrongdoing does not go long unpunished, and in a short time after, for other misdeeds, they were brought to justice.
Edmund Sykes, known briefly at the chapel as Ned o’ Billy’s, one of the oldest, best-remembered, and most respected of a family of village shopkeepers, living under the shoj3 at what was the old post office, now occupied by Godfrey Woodhead. Ned Lane takes its name from the old gentleman, who was not so much of a preacher, but a devoted member of Gadsby’s Chapel, to which his wife (a fine woman in every sense) was closely attached. The ministers were often located there, and old Mr. Kershaw, of Rochdale, used to tell with a relish of his first reception there. Getting from Rochdale was not so easy as now. He had to walk over Blackstone Edge, and came on a Saturday. When he arrived he was not so well dressed, a little uncouth and uncanny. He did not take Mrs. Sykes’s eye, and little was the talk that night, you may imagine. The morning was no better, so all quietly went to chapel. The service opened, hymns were sung, lesson read, prayer said, and a most eloquent sermon preached. And when this was done all was changed from darkness to marvellous light; where it had been winter cold was summer warmth. Ever after, Mr. Kershaw, as long as he lived, when coming to Slaithwaite, always stayed with the Sykeses, and was most welcome.
Sometimes a minister did not turn up, and then one of the deacons had to try. Mr. Sykes sometimes did duty, who nearly always cried, so soft and tender were his feelings. To us boys this used to be a wonder, and it generally won our sympathy, so that we were better behaved than on ordinary occasion. Once he did not get on a bit. He had taken a hard text from a very complicated subject, which he could not open out, and had to cut it short. When he got home his wife lovingly advised him that in future he was to take all his texts from the Psalms, as more within his powers, advice which never failed him after, as he always kept his little boat near the shore, and within the sound of the songs of David. Joseph Sykes, Lingards, was a very good hand, was very useful at Holthead, and latterly was a home missioner down Bedfordshire way.
James Wood, Hollins Row, did not do much, but had a very clear head, and could repeat a sermon when he had heard it. However, on one memorable occasion, when he should have preached at a week-night meeting, he had entirely lost the idea of his sermon, and could not proceed. He was a bellman of the town, and could tell a good tale, giving a clear idea of a sale, etc. Well known and highly respected, he brought up a large and honourable family.
Brother Mellor belonged to the old Wesleyans, and had a respectable career. He was asked to become the clerk at the church, which in later life he accepted. He was a very useful man, and at the meetings which Lord Dartmouth attended was most welcome, often delighting his lordship with his quaint sayings.
Messrs. Charles and John Wilkinson were long the staunch and able supporters of the old body, in which they spent a lifetime for the love of the cause.
John Varley did the same yeoman service for the Free Wesleyans after the separation. This latter body had a hard struggle, and the only thing to be regretted (and for which they were not to blame) was the purchasing of the land for their new chapel in Carr Lane from a private owner (at a profit), who had made the first purchase of free land after Lord Dartmouth had consented to sell. This put the sale of land back for a time, had a very bad effect on the authorities, and was not conducive to cheap land in the future. A bad beginning which, fortunately, has had a good ending.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden