The History of Honley (1914) - Chapter X

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The following is a transcription of a historic book and may contain occasional small errors.

The History of Honley and its Hamlets from the Earliest Time to the Present (1914) by Mary A. Jagger


(Sunday Schools. — Church Sunday School. — Congregational Sunday School. — Wesleyan Sunday School. — Primitive Methodist Sunday School. — Wood Royd Sunday School).


The origin of Sunday Schools was all part of that great religious revival which swept over the country. Robert Raikes, of Gloucester, influenced like others, gathered together in 1780 the stray children in the streets of his native town; and taught them on a Sunday. Helped by others, his noble and unselfish efforts far exceeded his expectations. Giving publicity to his enterprise in the columns of the Gloucester Journal, of which he was proprietor, his scheme awakened great interest throughout the country. In 1784, there appeared a letter in the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” written by Robert Raikes, explaining to his numerous enquirers about the Sunday School at Gloucester. This Magazine was read by all country gentlemen at that time. No doubt the letter would be seen by a Honley resident or residents, and probably discussed, for a Sunday School was established in 1790. The Wesleyan and Independent religious bodies joined with the Church of England in opening the first Sunday School at Upper Steps Mill, in 1790, where writing was taught by using a piece of pointed wire upon Calais sand, when the writing could be erased by running the hand over the sand. This method of acquiring learning side by side with religious knowledge continued until 1814, when by mutual consent each party separated, and provided rooms for themselves. The Church rented the now demolished Town Hall for the instruction of scholars on Sunday, the Independents taught in a cottage in Thirstin, situated underneath the present Minister’s residence, and the Wesleyans removed to Green Cliffe Chapel. In the early history of the National School, it will be seen that scholars attached to the Church were removed to the new building erected in 1816. This was the first National School erected in Honley. When the present School was built in 1846, they were then taught in the new structure; where Sunday-School teaching with weekday education has since been carried on side by side.

Sunday Schools have been a great feature of religious life in Honley since their formation over one hundred years ago. It was there that reverence for God and our fellow-beings has been nourished and kept alive in young hearts, and willing hands stretched out to give spiritual guidance to untrained feet. According to extracts from old Sunday School books, still in existence, the scholars in the past had kind friends, treats, prizes, etc. as at present. Amongst the items copied will be found recorded the custom common in Honley Sunday Schools of giving beer for the children’s refreshments on Whit-Monday in place of tea being served as at present. This might be due to the old custom of drinking Whitsun-ale, but more probably on account of tea being an expensive luxury at that time, whilst home-brewed beer was cheaper. In the early part of last century, when food was at famine price, good fare was certainly meted out to the children on Whit-Monday and other holidays, according to entries in the old Sunday School book; and the word treat was not misnamed.

It is said that the attendance at our Sunday Schools is not as good as formerly. Annual Anniversaries however are still held in esteem, and our streets and lanes are bright each Sabbath-day with clean and well-dressed children and adults all hastening to their respective Schools. Sunday School Prizes are still valued, and there does not seem as yet any diminishing in numbers attending our Whitsuntide festivals, which it is hoped will never be merged in an outside world holiday. Minor changes have taken place in our Whit-Monday festival since the early days when beer was given to the children in place of tea as at present. These alterations have all been for the better. Old scholars will recall the time when no crockery was provided in the Schools for partaking of tea. Each scholar had to bring his or her own mug, the care of which proved a great infliction during the afternoon march around the village, and generally ended in disaster to the mug before the day ended. Cups and saucers, with no responsibilities attached, have replaced the mugs. Cut bread and butter, flanked by other dainties, have also been substituted for the once familiar currant tea-cake with which we were regaled. The custom also of presenting a second currant cake to each scholar when dismissing them after tea continued for a long time. At present, I suppose this once valued luxury would not be considered worth taking home. The present Whit-Monday evening scene of children playing, and older people all meeting together until sunset is a happy change, and typical of a once “Merrie England” scene. In past days many small flags were carried by the children in Whit-Monday processions, until now superseded by one large banner borne aloft in front, requiring male strength for carriage, and ropes for steadiness. Next came the advent of brass-bands heading each school procession, which transformed a once modest gathering into a triumphal march. The most notable change, however, has been the meeting of teachers, scholars, and all connected with the various schools in Town Gate. Here, after the marching around has been concluded, are gathered old and young, who join together in singing well-known hymns and tunes dear to the natives of Honley.

The great Centenary Festival in commemoration of the opening of Sunday Schools was held on July 3rd, 1880. If Robert Raikes had witnessed that festival, he would have marvelled that his first early efforts of gathering a few waifs and strays out of the streets of Gloucester for instruction, had been crowned with such wonderful success. To see scholars of our respective Sunday Schools, varying in age from 3 or 4 years to 30 and often older, march on Whit-Monday, the girls dressed in white or light-coloured garments if fine weather, and the boys clad in new suits of clothes is a very pretty sight. Headed by bands of music and flags, — marching through familiar streets and lanes, — winding in and out under shady trees, — or standing upon lawns of well-known residents; each scholar is confident that his or her school is of more importance than that of other groups who pass and re-pass on Whit-Monday perambulations. The parents also, whose loving hands have made the children look so fresh and fair, live over their past in their children’s present. When teachers and scholars have been regaled with tea, then follow games in green fields which have been played in the past, such as “drop handkerchief,” “Choosing partners,” “Kiss in the ring,” “Bingo,” “Duck-under-water kit,” etc. At the approach of dark, a happy future is being mapped out by lovers stealing away to the old field-paths and lanes walked upon by other lovers before them. How often the Sunday School festival in Honley, with its once familiar faces and observances, will have been recalled by toil-worn men and women; or those dwelling in far distant towns, or under foreign skies!


Imagination must take a backward leap to the year 1790, when the boys and girls of Honley assembled on a Sabbath Day in the small upper room at Steps Mill, endeavouring to acquire knowledge by using a piece of wire on Calais sand. Then think of the scholars attached to Church assembling in the old Town Hall in 1814, until advanced another stage by being transferred to the building erected in 1816, described in the early history of the National School. Their hours of instruction were long, not only religious, but secular instruction being given on a Sunday. Many scholars also came long distances, and it was common to bring the Sunday dinner according to entries in old Sunday School book. Mr. William Leigh was the first Treasurer of the School, whose family history will be found under Honley families. In the Sunday School book, he records in beautiful hand-writing, each small detail in connection with the work of the Sunday School for a long period. First there are rules to be observed, such as opening of the Schools at half-past eight in the morning during summer, and a quarter-of-an-hour later during winter. The afternoon School opened at half-past one throughout the year. Children were not allowed to break the ranks when going to Church on account of being thirsty, as the School was supplied with two cans of water for those who brought their dinners. Naughty children were entered in the “Black Book,” and if absent four Sundays without cause, their names were erased. The names of the original Trustees of the School will be found in the National School history, for the early annals of both must of necessity run side by side. The following extracts from Sunday School book prove that old customs were not far removed from present-day Whitsuntide observances. Evidently there were many treats given during the year in addition to the Whitsuntide feast. Easter and Good-Friday were not allowed to pass over without due observance, and Good-Friday cakes were given to the children.

£ s. d.
May 17th 1821. Good Friday. 244 cakes for children. 2 0 0
1824. A treat for teachers and children on Easter Monday, viz:— 232 spice cakes for children, 2 spice loaves for teachers, 12 light-cakes, 12 tea-cakes, one loaf of bread, 71bs. of sugar at 1/- per lb., 6ozs. of tea, 3½lbs. of butter, tobacco and pipes for teachers. 3 4 11
May 25th 1826. Whit-Monday School-treat. Two strokes of malt and hops, 10/3. Brewing, 2/6. Prize Books, £1 5s. Id. Waiting on and Coals, 3/-. 280 cakes and bread, £2 9s. 0d. Tobacco and pipes for teachers, Butter, Cream, etc., for tea. 5 4 2
June 4th 1827. Whit-Monday Treat. 240 cakes, bread and muffins.,18 quarts of ale, black tea, green tea, sugar, butter, milk, Miss M.A. Armitage two bottles of wine for negus. 4 3 0

There is also an account of the Whitsuntide festival of May 31st, 1830, written by Mr. William Leigh. Its descriptive simplicity is worthy of record, bringing back a more beautiful age than at present, or so it reads perhaps to those who are inclined to cherish lost illusions. The following is a copy:—

1830 May 31st. — "The children assembled in the National School at 2 o’clock. The boys on the South side, the girls on the North.” (This is the custom at present). “The tables and seats for the Minister, Trustees, Superintendents, Visitors, etc., being at the West end between the two Schools. The proceedings commenced with a suitable hymn, followed by prayer and address from the Minister, — then the children’s pieces, — a boy and girl alternately. Then the Scripture Candidates for the two Bibles annually given as rewards for learning the Scripture:— Harriet Pool, Thomas Jessop, Harriet Burhouse and Edward Senior. Harriet Burhouse 7 mistakes, Thomas Jessop none. Their pieces interspersed with hymns to relieve the children, and diversify the proceedings till four o’clock or half-past, when the cakes and beer were brought in, the children rising and singing the grace:—
Be present at our table, Lord,
Be here and every where adored,
Thy creatures bless, and grant that we,
May feast in Paradise with Thee.
The children having been refreshed and presented with a cake were dismissed, and the teachers’ tables for tea prepared. The Minister asking a blessing, and at conclusion the whole rising and singing:—
We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food,
But more because of Jesu’s blood,
Let manna to our souls be given,
The bread of life sent down from heaven.
The tea things removed, the Minister addressed the teachers on the importance of their office, the acceptance of personal religion to make them successful, and above all, for the blessing of God the Holy Ghost on their labours. Then the 84th Psalm was sung to Bedford’s tune. Then the Anthem, 'I will arise and go to my Father;’ — the female teachers leaving with the presiding lady, and the male with the superintendent about 8-0 o’clock.”

The grace is still sung at the Annual Sunday School Festival as heartily as when sung 84 years ago. The Anthem, “I will arise and go to my Father,” is as familiar in our midst as of old.

When the present National School was built in 1846, the dividing line was then drawn between the work of Sunday and week-day teaching, the particulars of the latter being continued in the history of the National School. Even in the year 1846, and for a long period afterwards, the hours of instruction in the Church Sunday School were longer than at present. I remember when the scholars assembled at a quarter-to-nine in the morning, and at half-past one in the afternoon. When the time for assembling at morning school was changed to the late hour of nine o’clock, there was great fermentation. One angry parent declared to the Clergyman by whose wish the original time allowed for teaching had been curtailed, that “things wor coming to a pass, when th’ parson wor too idle to get up on a Sunday morning.” At the same time also,-she gave him free advice about cultivating the habit of going to bed earlier. The pulpit which had been erected in the 1846 School held a commanding position between the boys and girls rooms. The resident Vicar, or in his absence, the boys’ Superintendent occupied this pulpit when opening and closing both Schools, all scholars joining in the hymn and prayer. Prizes were not earned so easily as at present, and generally consisted of a Bible, Prayer and Hymn Book, these being valued as priceless treasures in those days when literary pastures were so bare. The Whitsuntide Festival ended after the children had partaken of tea. We were dismissed with a bun which we carried home along with the mug that had proved such an infliction during the afternoon’s perambulations. The Superintendents and Teachers, however, held a meeting afterwards in the School, much in the nature of that Whitsuntide Meeting described by Mr. William Leigh, in 1830, when present-day amusements, such as “Socials,” etc. were non-existent. Quarterly Meetings of Teachers were a feature of Sunday School work for a long time. Excellent lectures or addresses were given, and each Teacher provided his or her share to the evening’s entertainment. The rules at that time were strict with regard to the conduct of a Sunday School Teacher, and present-day dancing would not have been tolerated. If the hours of instruction were longer than at present, we did not think so. Taught by earnest and capable Teachers, the time often passed too quickly.

Since 1846, the scholars attending the Church Sunday School have gradually increased in numbers, the high water mark in attendance being reached from 1880 to 1885. Perhaps no other Sunday School in the neighbourhood has been so blessed with worthy and capable Superintendents and Teachers, especially in the past, when Sunday School work was more honoured than at present. Amongst those who in addition to teaching undertook the duties of acting Treasurers after Mr. Leigh’s resignation, were Mr. George Jessop, 1838 to 1846. He was followed by the Rev. T. B. Bensted, Curate, afterwards Vicar of Lockwood, who married Anne, daughter of Mr. William Leigh, mentioned in her father’s diary when describing the attack made upon his house by rioters. After Mr. Bensted’s removal in 1852, the duty was undertaken by Mr. Thomas Brooke, Junr. — afterwards Sir Thomas Brooke. On his removal to Almondbury, when married, Mr. William Brooke (the present) became Treasurer in 1854, and held office until 1870. Mr. William Hoyle, of whom mention is made in “Private Schools,” followed until 1873, when Mr. James F. Lunn, Churchwarden, and Mr. J. A. Jones, son of the then present Incumbent of Honley, undertook the duty, — the latter acting for a long number of years until his removal to Huddersfield. It is interesting also to trace the names of members of all the leading families in Honley, who in turn were teachers in the Sunday School of a past day. Amongst the names are the late Mr. Thomas Brooke, Mr. William Leigh, Mr. Thomas Hallas, Mr. James Brooke, Mr. George Jessop, etc. As time went on, the eleven sons and daughters of the late Mr. Thomas Brooke followed in his footsteps. All were Sunday School teachers in turn, either at Honley, Brockholes or Armitage Bridge until marriage, or the duties of a wider world, caused their removal from the old home. Mr. William Brooke remaining upon Honley soil, has been a devoted Teacher at the Sunday School for over fifty years. The lady members also of the Brooke family have all taken active parts in Sunday School work, of whom mention is made in the family history. In addition, other men and women, both good and true, have sacrificed their Sunday’s rest for the benefit of the scholars.

The adult classes have long been distinctive characteristics of the Church Sunday School due to the personal influence of two teachers, who, in the hey-day of youth shouldered the duties of teaching, and did not shirk their self-imposed tasks during a lifetime. Mr. William Brooke’s class, and Miss Brooke’s class have long been household words in Honley. Many of the young men and women who once were taught Sunday after Sunday are parents, who have now children attending the same classes. Others are grey-headed, dead, or scattered far and wide. But to all, the purest memories of life will be associated with past Sundays in the school. The difficult task of teaching adult men and women for fifty years is not easy to grapple, but praise is due to those who have unselfishly stepped into gaps, and undertaken these duties since the resignation of Mr. William Brooke and Miss Brooke.

The activities of the Church Sunday School have not been confined to Sunday teaching. A well-stocked Library provided by friends of the School, and the duties of Librarian, undertaken by the same friends in turn, was for a long time the only means of obtaining good books to read. The gradual cheapening of books, and the opening of Free Libraries also cheapened this once valued blessing. Societies of a varied character formed for the moral and religious benefit of the young replaced the Library, many of which are mentioned in National School history. The writer can only add, that the Church Sunday Schools of the past have had great moral and religious influence upon the character of Honley dwellers. With regard to their future, as well as other Sunday Schools in the place, let us hope that we can apply to them the words of Robert Browning, that:—

“God’s in his heaven,
All’s right with the world.”

We have seen that the Independent body first taught their scholars at Upper Steps Mill, and afterwards removed them to a cottage in Thirstin, which is still under the Minister’s residence. Whether the children remained here until the building of a new Sunday School near the Chapel I am unable to say. My information about the present Sunday School has been very scanty. A meeting was held in January, 1839, to take into consideration the building of a School. Mr. Thomas Armitage, a well-known member of the Chapel, gave the site, and the first Independent Sunday School was erected at a cost of £140 0s. 0d. As time went on a Library was added, and numerous organizations formed, which are features of active Sunday School work. The number of scholars also gradually increased, so that the School proved too small and inconvenient for improved modern requirements. About 1881 or 1882 (am open to correction of exact date), the members of the Chapel determined to build a new School, and the present beautiful and well appointed structure at Moorbottom was erected. In the past, as at present, there have been earnest and God-fearing Teachers, whose influence has been far reaching. Many of its Sunday School scholars also have worthily upheld the traditions of that teaching, and have joined themselves to all good work, not only in Honley, but in the outside world.


When the present Wesleyan Chapel was built in 1827, the Sunday School was under the Chapel, and had its entrance in Cuckoo Lane, where the scholars were removed when Green Cliffe Chapel was closed. Here the Sunday School was held until there was a desire for larger and better equipped premises. A meeting was held on October 28th, 1871, for the purpose of taking into consideration the building of a new School. It was decided to erect a new school, and dedicate it to the memory of the late Mr. Edward Brooke, whose conversion and life had been so intimately connected with the Chapel. The foundation-stone was laid in 1878, by George Mallinson, Esq., of Linthwaite, who gave £50 0s. 0d. towards the new building. The occasion was a red-letter day for members, teachers, scholars, and friends of the Wesleyan body, when headed by Honley Band, they marched around the village. The School was opened the following year. There remained a debt upon the building which was gradually paid off by gifts from generous friends, and the labour of devoted workers. When the debt was finally paid off, a thanksgiving meeting of old scholars who had attended the school in the past was held. The great gathering was presided over by Edward Brooke, Esq., the eldest son of him to whose honoured memory the School had been built. The former had given £250 0s. 0d. towards the extinction of the debt. The new School is a handsome and substantial building, and fitted up with all modern requirements conducive to healthy and happy surroundings. Like unto other Sunday Schools in Honley, it has proved a great moral force both in the past and present.


When the Primitive Methodists erected their Chapel in 1842, the Sunday School was built under the Chapel, where it still remains. Its number of scholars has increased since that time, and a new School is in course of erection. When recalling the past history of the School, one is reminded of the Annual Anniversary which formerly took place in Thirstin out of doors. The love of music is so implanted in the hearts of Honley dwellers, that there was no lack of willing helpers, both with tuneful voices and clever performers upon musical instruments, to swell the volume of sound which came from the lofty platform at the Annual Sunday School Festival. The large number of instrumentalists, singers, and scholars would burst forth like a thunder-peal at the motion of the Conductor’s wand:—

“Behold! another rolling year,
Has swiftly passed away,
And we within Thy courts appear,
To hail this happy day.”

I have seen tears run down cheeks at the familiar words and music, perhaps regretful memories being too keenly aroused in the minds of those who had carelessly drifted away from their places of worship. As time passed on the behaviour of many strangers who were amongst the vast crowd which gathered, became rather irreverent. The out-door annual service was thus discontinued in Thirstin, and the School Anniversary is now held in the Chapel.


Previous to the building of Wood Royd Chapel, we have seen that a Sunday School was established by Thomas Haigh, at Hall Ing. Assisted by his son Joseph, the School was opened on December 25th, (Xmas Day), 1821, in a room known as the “Stove” which was in use for cloth-manufacturing on week-days. It is interesting to know that one old lady in Honley, aged 86 at the time of writing this history, attended Hall Ing Sunday School as a scholar as early as 1838. Beginning at the age of ten, she walked from Honley to the School twice each Sunday, which would mean a four mile walk if youthful feet strayed no further than Hall Ing. Still alert, intelligent and well-read, she can recall many interesting reminiscences of the past in connection with the school, — such as past Whitsuntide Festivals, when buns and home-brewed beer were given to the children, — the teaching of reading and writing on a Sunday, — and the almost fatherly care and kindness of the Haigh family at that time. Like unto other children of that period, she had to begin work at an early age; and the Sunday School teaching at Hall Ing School was the only education she received.

When Wood Royd Chapel was built in 1840, the Sunday School at Hall Ing was transferred to the present room under the Chapel. Mr. and Mrs. Henderson tell me that the teaching of reading and writing was carried on in the School for a long time even after its removal to the present Chapel. By the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Henderson, I am able to give a few interesting extracts from a Primitive Register book containing "Rules of Hall Ing Sunday School, instituted December 25th, 1821.”

That if any teacher does not attend to his or her appointment, or provide a proper substitute, shall pay for omitting for the day 2d. If half-day 1d., and if a ¼ of an hour late by the Chapel Clock 1d.
Resolved that a School-feast be made on Whit-Monday to commence at two o’clock, a desent (decent) cake for each scholar, one strike of malt brewed for teachers and scholars only.
December, 1838. Joe Sigg (the local pronunciation for Sidgewick), for misconduct before he begun work was fined 5s.
To Sigg for misconduct again was fined 2s.

Continue to Chapter XI...