Kirkheaton Parish Church, also known as St. John the Baptist, was built on a traditional site of worship where Anglo-Saxon crosses were located c.750 AD.
The first building was likely constructed before the Norman invasion and parts of the current church date back to the 14th century. The church's font was discarded under Oliver Cromwell's reign and spent around 300 years being used as an animal trough before being reinstated.
The church is home to the Beaumont family chapel, and includes an effigy of Sir Richard Beaumont (1574-1631), better known as "Black Dick".
The church was badly damaged by fire in 1886 and was rebuilt at a cost of £8,000.
In 1888, Legh Tolson funded the new west window of restored church and, the following year, he was elected a churchwarden. In 1891, he paid for a "handsome carved oak screen" and "stalls finished in the same style" for the church, as well as for the parish registers ("which were in a sorely dilapidated condition") to be restored and then housed in a new "strong iron safe".
The southern entrance to the church is known as "Deadman's Gate" and is traditionally the one used for funerals, whereas the eastern entrance used by brides is the "Wedding Gate".
Close to the Wedding Gate is the monument to seventeen girls who died in a fire at Thomas Atkinson's cotton mill in Colne Bridge in February 1818. The inscriptions on two sides read "To commemorate the dreadful fate of seventeen children who fell unhappy victims to a raging fire at Mr. Atkinson's factory, Colne Bridge. Feb. 14th 1818. This monument was erected by voluntary contribution MDCCCXXI." and "Near this place lie what remained of the bodies of seventeen children, a striking and awful instance of the uncertainty of life and the vanity of human attainments."
In July 1885, it was reported that the churchyard would be full by early 1888 and the Kirkheaton Local Board began looking for suitable land for a new cemetery. However, a dispute over burial fees delayed the process and it was not until February 1890 that the conformist section of Land Side Cemetery was consecrated by the Bishop of Wakefield.
Extract from Discovering Old Huddersfield (1993-2002) by Gordon & Enid Minter:
The Parish Church of St. John the Baptist was founded circa 1200 A.D. but ancient stone fragments found at the church indicate some form of worship on this site dating back to the ninth century. As the church was badly damaged by fire in 1886, much of what we see is Victorian re-building but the tower survived the fire and dates back to the fifteenth century. The Beaumont Chapel which, until the Reformation, was probably a chantry chapel, also escaped the flames. It contains a collection of monuments, brasses and banners all relating to various members of the Beaumont family who were lords of the manor for more than four hundred years. This old chapel dates back to the fourteenth century and the stonework contrasts well with the more regular Victorian work and may easily be seen from the churchyard near to the east gate.
The oldest gravestones are near the porch, the oldest one of all being that of John Horsfall who died in 1624. This, we believe, is the oldest surviving outdoor gravestone in the Huddersfield area. In 1859, the graveyard as it then existed was deemed to be full and a new piece of land, to the southwest of the church, called Church Close was consecrated in that year and brought into use to extend the burial ground. Today this 'new' graveyard is overgrown, neglected and desolate whilst the 'old' graveyard is much easier to inspect as, during the last two decades, it has been tidied and, in parts, cleared.
In the cleared area in front of the eastern end of the church there may be seen, under a gravestone, the massive stump and extensive root system of a yew tree which in the early 1900s, when it was still growing, was said, credulously perhaps, to be a thousand years old.The gate on the south side of the churchyard is known as Deadman's Gate for it is the gate through which, over the centuries, have passed so many coffins and so many mourners. Near to the East gate, which was traditionally the way brides entered the church, is the most noticeable feature in the churchyard. This is the monument to seventeen girls who died in a fire at Atkinson's cotton mill at Colne Bridge in 1818. The monument tells the full story but don't overlook the girls' gravestone which lies near the foot of the column.
Church, mainly 1887-8 incorporating Perpendicular west tower and the north chancel chapel of the Beaumont family. Hammer dressed stone with ashlar dressings. Stone slate roof with gable copings. three-bay nave, west tower, lean-to south aisle and pitched roof north aisle, both buttressed, two-bay chancel with vestry on south side and Beaumont chapel to north. The three-tier tower has later south porch, diagonal buttresses with off-sets to first tier, two-light bell chamber openings with tracery, and crenellated parapet with crocketted pinnacles. three-light west window to tower, and six-light west window to north aisle both with Perpendicular tracery. Large square headed traceried two-light windows to south aisle and two, three and four-light Perpendicular windows to north aisle. East chancel window is five-light with intersecting tracery, with two circles and a cinquefoil in head. The three-light east window of the Beaumont Chapel is original, square headed with five-foiled lights. An original three-light window exists on the north side of the chapel, three-light with five-foiled heads and curvilinear tracery.
Interior: Three-bay arcade to north and south on short octagonal piers. Hammer-beam roof to nave and north aisle.
Four extremely fine monuments in the Beaumont chapel: To Sir Richard Beaumont (d. 1631) of Whitley Hall, by Nicholas Stone, a recumbent effigy on a dresser tomb. Engaged Corinthian colonnettes to each side support round arched surround to the central plaque. Surmounting each colonnette is standing female figure and surmounting the arch is a coat of arms. All in marble and painted. To Richard Beaumont of Whitley Hall (d. 1692), a central plaque stating his many virtues. The plaque is supported by cherubs and surmounted by a male and female bust, and an urn and coat of arms. To Richard Beaumont of Whitley Hall (d. 1704), possibly by Guelfi (Pevsner) and dated 1731, a well carved bust under a simulated cloth baldacchino on a heavy consoled pedestal carved with palm leaves and flanked by framing urns, all supported on a heavily fluted sarcophagus with lions feet. To Charlotte McCumming (d. 1813), by S. & T. Franceys of Liverpool: the inscription is on a sarcophagus which is split, and rising from it is the spirit aided by two angels.
Also in the chapel is an C18 oak lecturn with bulbous stem.
Several other memorials in the rest of the church including one at the east end of the north aisle, to 5 members of the Dickins family who died between 1677 and 1702, a plaque with carved stone surround of flowers and foliage, crested with urns and a shield, and with two skulls at the base. At the base of the tower a well carved alabaster memorial to Robert Henry Tolson depicting St. Peter being released from prison by the angel.
Marble font, probably late C19, well carved with clustered pedestal and angels supporting 8-sided bowl.At the west end of the north aisle, a long coffin lid with a shield and a sword, probably C13. (Pevsner).
Grave slab about 10 yards to east of church, to 17 victims of mill fire at Colne Bridge Grave slab. 1818. Recently raised on low stone plinth. The stone is inscribed: "In memory of seventeen children whose remains are here interrd. who fell lamentable victims to the destructive element of fire in the cotton manufactury of Mr. T'hos. Atkinson at Colne Bridge, Feb. 14th 1818. This melancholy catastrophe was occasioned in consequence of the formen sending a boy into the lower room with a naked light. The following are the names of the unfortunate sufferers."