At the recent anniversary at Pole Moor, I see they got over £100. What a good collection this is, and how creditable to those who are left to continue the Christian labours at this tabernacle on the wild hills above Slaithwaite, made famous by the honourable life of the late Mr. Holmes, who did yeoman service in his day for this popular church by his zeal, devotion, and constant endeavour to win souls for Christ!
I remember the old gentleman well, for a dear mother used to take me by the hand to Pole Moor Chapel, then a miserable dark shell; pulpit due south, facing the congregation, who sat in the body in flat, straight-backed pews. There was a vestry at the end, where dinner was partaken of, and consisted mostly of a bit of bread and butter which had been carried in a handkerchief, and to which a little tea or coffee was made at the place. In going to Pole we should call on friends, and, like the river, gain strength as we went along-. Well do I remember the summer following the winter, when old Mrs. Carter’s fine boy was drowned in his skates on the Slaithwaite reservoir, just anent that small lane which leads up to Ing Head. At this point the ice was thin, and when the churchwardens turned out from church to clear the water, it being Sunday, all the skaters made for the top end towards Clough House Mill, and just at the point indicated this fine young fellow dropped in, never again to see his dear old mother alive. She, all unconscious at Pole Moor Chapel, was made aware of the calamity, and hardly ever smiled any more through this terrible loss. All day on Sunday every effort was made to rescue the body, but it was Monday forenoon when this was accomplished. I fancy I can see him now on the bier as he was taken home to his sorrowing parents, who received much consolation from Mr. Holmes and their numerous friends.
In talking over this event, when my mother called with me a Sunday later, how these dear souls did fret! The one in deep sympathy, the other in irreparable loss. All the circumstances so affected me that they have never been off my mind — giving another example, as it does, of how the poor can truly feel for each other in their great sorrows, and extend a consolation which money can neither buy nor command.
Arrived at the chapel, at the morning service, during the dinner hour, and between prayer meetings, I have heard some curious discussions on Christian work and doctrine between men and women, each or nearly all with a long clay pipe in his or her mouth. To-day I am not sure but that the ladies were the more inveterate smokers of the two, holding the pipe between their teeth like a sweet morsel, and handling it with their fingers with a delicacy worthy of a sweeter thing. The picture has so fixed itself on my mind that to see the same again is a great treat, and I only know one place where a lady can be found to recall this scene, and that is at Scapegoat Hill, an offshoot of Pole Moor. In later years I have seen this old dame turn and twist her pipe, leaning forward in her rocking chair, and sending forward volumes of smoke with a relish of sweet perfume, and at the same time the tongue lets out a richer fragrance in quaint sayings, strongly marked by a rich hillside Yorkshire brogue.
To go back to those old times at Pole Moor. An old man would say to his neighbour, “Well, Betty, lass, how has ta liked t’ sermon this morning?” “Well, middling, John,” she would answer, “but there was not as much grace as I should have liked, for tha knows it’s little we can do as poor mortals to be saved, and if it were not for the love of God we should all be lost.” “You have as little faith in works as ever,” John would reply to Betty; and the latter adds, “My salvation is from above, and if not that I should never have any at all.” “But what about your children, Betty?” “Ah, they are dear to me, and you touch me on a tender subject when you mention them. Oh how I do pray daily that they may be of God’s elect and of the chosen race; but this is not for me to decide. It must be left to One aboon, who, in His great mercy, I humbly beseech, will save mine. Man cannot alter it; we must leave it with the Lord.” “But, Betty, you heard Mr. Holmes this morning say everyone that thirsteth, let him drink of the water of life freely; let none be turned away. Is this not only a more Christian doctrine, but more humane, and more Christlike? You surely do not believe that there are children in hell. Come now (continues John), how would you like this applying to your own flesh and blood?” This was a poser to the dear old lady, who dearly loved her children, and when brought home had its effect, for she said, “They taught me the high doctrine in days gone by, which was hard to believe. Maybe we are mistaken, and let us hope with Mr. Holmes that heaven is open to all believers, and then my lads will have a chance.” This picture shows not only the religious discussions of the times, but a touch of human nature which must come to a mother solicitous for her children, not only for this world, but for the world to come.
In this way Mr. Holmes did a great work in bringing the church to a sense of saving grace for all, and not for the few; and if for nothing else, he deserves the blessings of all good men and women for widening the doors to receive all the ransomed of the Lord.
There were those who were not so soon convinced as Betty; they were not all mothers, and some of these old Roundheads stuck (as they said) for the faith delivered to the saints, and caused old Mr. Holmes to have many a bad hour, but he triumphed in the end. No minister or man I know did ever a greater service to the church, and at a time when it was greatly needed, and when there was some danger of losing his place by preaching a freer Gospel. To show his broad faith, every Shrovetide he would come down to Slaithwaite and join the Wesleyan body in promoting the mission of the Bible Society, and in this manner and in other ways built up a great church at Pole Moor, with its branches here and there, etc., etc., a history of which has been given in the Slaithwaite Guardian, and may be reproduced elsewhere very shortly. Suffice here and now to say that this man of God has left a great name, a greater work, and passing rich on £50 a year, a great example to all and sundry who might be tempted to make money out of preaching; not that a parson should not have his just reward (a labourer is always worthy of his hire), but to keep him pure from money’s contagion, and at the same time free from poverty, that he be not dependent on the rich. This will preserve for him that freedom to preach a faithful gospel with power, and safe from trammels which might otherwise injure the greatest cause on earth; that is true religion.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden