The History of Huddersfield and the Valleys of the Colne, the Holme and the Dearne (1906) - Chapter V
Table of Contents for The History of Huddersfield and the Valleys of the Colne, the Holme and the Dearne (1898):
The rise of Nonconformity — The Rev Richard Sykes — Wycliff's Threefold Witness — Oliver Heywood — The Conventicle Act — Proclamation of Justices against Conventicles — Heywood at Slaithwaite — At Golcar — Esqire Ramsden — Mtris Ramsden — The Rev. Christopher Richardson — Presbyterian Church at Lydgate — Oliver Heywood at Lydgate — At Lassell Hall — Incident at Whitley Hall — The Independent Church at Highfield — Its Trust Deed — Discipline — The Rev. Dr. Boothroyd — The Rev. Dr. Bruce — School Board Elections — Other Congregational Churches — Ramsden Street — Jones v. Stannard — Milton Church — The Baptist Churches — Salendine Nook — The Rev. Dr. Stock — The Rev. D. W. Jenkins — Other Baptist Churches — Pole Moor — The Burnplatters — Secession from Pole Moor — The Rev. H. W. Holmes — The Wesleyan Churches — -The Church at Netherthong — At Almondbury — Abraham Moss — Other Wesleyan Churches — The Kilham Controversy — Local Preachers — Squire Brooke — The Unitarian Church — The Secular Institute — The Friends' Meeting House.
AUTHORITIES :— Home : Popular History of the Free Churches ; Miall : Congregationalism in Yorkshire ; The Conventicle Act ; Heywood : Diary, Heywood : Register ; Heywood : Memoranda ; Morehouse : History of Kirkburton ; Bruce : Memorials of Highfield ; Evans : Pole Moor Notes ; Phillips : Walks round Huddersfield ; Mallinson : Methodism in Huddersfield ; Cockin : Life of the Rev. Joseph Cockin ; "Huddersfield Chronicle" : Fifty Years Ago.
Whatever may have been the case in other parts of the country, there appears no evidence in this district of the existence of Nonconformist churches prior to the Stuart era. As we have already seen, the Presbyterian form of public worship gained some acceptance in England during the Civil Wars, and had it not been for the opposition of the Independents, of whom Cromwell was the foremost figure, it may well have been that Kirks and Elders would now be as numerous in this country as in Scotland. We have seen that during the Interregnum Presbyterian ministers occupied the pulpits of the Established Church in this district. Some of the divines who had been appointed to their benefices before the troubles in the Church and State reached their climax showed no little complaisance, accepting the Solemn League and Covenant, and abjuring their bishops with a docility that would have been more remarkable had not the alternative been the loss of their benefices. Thus in Huddersfield the Rev. Edmund Hill was vicar under both King and Commonwealth, as was the Rev. Thomas Naylor, in Almondbury, and both these clergymen appeared to have conformed, with what grace we may imagine, to the Presbyterian doctrine and discipline. In Kirkheaton Parish the vicar, the Rev. Richard Sykes, was of less plastic disposition. He defied Parliament and all its works and was summarily ejected. The triumph of the sectaries was short-lived. In 1660 Charles II. was Testored, and the Church of England came again into what it doubtless regarded as its own, and the Presbyterian ministers had to shift for themselves.
But however pliant some of the shepherds proved themselves, it cannot be gainsaid that about the time of the Civil Wars the principles underlying the churches that now claim the distinctive appellation of Free Churches took abiding root in this district. How far these principles diverge from those of the Episcopalian community may be judged from what Home in his "Popular History of the Free Churches" calls Wycliffe's Threefold Witness : "Firstly, that the Bible is the ultimate Court of appeal in all matters of conduct, doctrine, and government. Secondly, that there is such a thing as private judgment in matters theological, and that it is open to the Christian thinker and teacher to question even the most cherished dogma of the authoritative church, and make appeal to the simplicity of the teaching of Christ. Thirdly, that the Church" — here the allusion would seem to be to the Established Church — "in grasping the temporal power is sacrificing her true authority and jeopardising her influence, losing her soul to a false ideal" : the Free Churches, conformably with Wycliffe's teaching, being unanimous in the contention that "the magistrate is not to meddle with religion or matters of conscience, nor to compel men to this or that form of religion, because Christ is the King and Lawgiver of the Church and conscience."
The dominance of the State in matters of religion, as avowed in the creeds and government of the Anglican Church, was therefore a matter stoutly resisted by the Nonconformists, and, after the Restoration, though the general body of the people probably saw without much regret, if not with actual relief, the end of the austere reign of the Calvinist professors and the revival of the less exacting discipline and more comfortable doctrine of the Church of their fathers, yet many still clung to the principles underlying the Free Churches, and that despite the fact that their mode of worship exposed them to the opprobrium of their neighbours and the terrors of the law. That the spirit of Nonconformity survived in this district after the Restoration is due mainly to the labours of Oliver Heywood. This eminent divine, born at Little Lever, near Bolton, Lanes., in March, 1630, and baptised in the parish church of Bolton, but without the sign of the cross, entered the Presbyterian Church, and in 1655 settled at Northowram, and became the pastor of a small church at Coley. These pages are not the place for any record of the manifold labours and trials of this devoted minister, of whom Miall, in his "Congregationalism in Yorkshire" thus writes : "To no servant of God is the cause of Evangelical dissent in Yorkshire so largely indebted. Though not a man of genius, his piety, his courage, his earnestness and labouriousness have caused his name to be indelibly engraved in the history of Nonconformity, especially in the West Riding, and his course furnishes the most remarkable illustration of the manner in which the seed scattered by English Presbyterians ripened into modern Congregationalism. A very considerable number of the churches which now belong to Independency have arisen, more or less directly, from the exertions of this most Apostolical man. Even when age and infirmity had much diminished his physical powers, he continued to labour on, and the estimation in which he was held was very wide and general; and in his old age he received several invitations from other congregations, and among others from St. Helen's, in London, which had lost by death the services of Dr. Annestey. But Heywood steadfastly refused them all. When he could no longer walk, he was borne, like another Apostle John, into the public assembly, and still preached with energy and favour. At length, on May 4th, 1702, he yielded up his spirit to that God whom he had untiringly served amidst such a fight of afflictions. His death quenched the greatest Evangelical light of the northern district. Baxter did great things for Kidderminster and London. Bunyan did much for the district round Bedford. But still more was done by Heywood in the wide space over which his influence extended."
That "wide space" included the district with which this History has to do. Heywood's Diary is a record of his labours, a marvellous story of untiring activity, and I make no apology for extracting from it references to his efforts in this locality, for they are, in all probability, the only remaining minutes of the proceedings of the small and often scant gatherings which in the fulness of time became great and powerful organisations.
It should be premised that the Act of Uniformity, passed but two years after the Restoration, compelled or sought to compel "assent and consent" to everything in the Book of Common Prayer ; and by the Conventicle Act of 1664 all meetings consisting of five persons or more (exclusive of the family) assembled for the exercise of religion in any manner other than according to the Liturgy and practice of the Church of England, were prohibited, and all persons present, above 16 years of age, were for the first offence to pay a fine of £5 (equivalent to at least £20 of this day), or be imprisoned three months ; for the second offence £10 or six months; for the third offence £100 or be transported to one of the American plantations for seven years. The following copy of a proclamation issued in 1681 is of interest :—
- West Rid. Coun. Ebor.
- Whereas His Majesty hath been pleased to express his resolution that the Justices of the Peace of the severall Countyes within this His Kingdom of England should use their utmost endeavours to suppress all Conventicles and unlawfull meetings -under Colour or Pretence of any excuse of Religion in other manner than according to the Liturgy and Practice of the Church of England, It is this day ordered that ... the Justices of Peace use their utmost indeavours to suppress all Conventicles and unlawfull meetings upon pretence of such Religious worship within this County. And to the end this good work may be effectually performed. It is further Ordered that a Warrant be made and directed to the Constables, etc., of every Parish and Precinct within this Ryding, Commanding them ... that they do make a diligent inquiry of such Conventicles and unlawfull meetings in their severall Parishes and Precincts. And that they do take the Christian name, Sir-name, and place of abode of «very Person that hath Preached or Teached in any such meeting within a month last past ... And also the Christian name and Sir-name, with the additions, of the most considerable Persons that frequent such Conventicles and meetings, and of such as wittingly or willingly suffer any such Conventicles, meeting, or unlawfull assembly in his or her house, outhouse, or barne, etc.
The reader will, therefore, the better appreciate the difficulties under which Nonconformists laboured, particularly after the Restoration and before the Act of Toleration, and the extracts from Heywood's Diary, referring as they often do to meetings in private houses, the very Conventicles aimed at by the Act, possess a special interest, for those meetings were, so to speak, the very cradles and nurseries of Dissent in this district.
- 1666. — On Thursday (May 31) I went to Robert Bins' house to visit my friends about Slawait where I am wont to keep exercise every year—but now they are fallen and al things changed.
- On Thursday, Jany. 9 (1667-8) ... we passed on towards Slaughwait, but being waylaid with snow upon the hills we had a difficult and dangerous journey, yet at last got to Widdow Bottomley's house, and providence ordered my coming thither very seasonably, for their minister being absent I preached at the chapel on Lord's day, where I had kept many an exercise, there god assisted graciously at night I went to Robert Bins' house.
- Nov. 28, '69. — The day after I came to Slaighwait according to appointment; but upon the wrong day, it was a heavisome disappointment, multitudes came from all sides, nobody came to supply the place.
- Aug. 28, 1670. — On Lord's day after young Mr. Root preacht at Shadwel, Lord Savil, Mr. Copley, Mr. Hammond, and 40 of Lord fretzwels troopers from York came took Mr. Root, carryed him to York, put him in the castle, took 4 or 500 names of people, seized on their horses made them pay 5s. a peece before they had them — tho he is a prisoner — ... he was kept close prisoner put into the low jayl among 12 thieves, had double yrons laid on him for 4 days and nights, but upon Capt. Hodgson's importunity with Mr. Copley was released.
- Oct. 4, 1670. — On Thursday I went to Slawit to help Mr. Root, in a day of thanksgiving for his deliverance out of prison, and god was seen on that day.
- June 9, 1672. — Sam Holdworth and I rode to Robt. Bins at Slaughwait where great number of people were got together, god helped me in praying, preaching on Rom. 54. blessed be god.
An entry in Heywood's Register records :—
- Sarah Bins (Robert Bins wife) of Slaughwood dyed Saturday May 3, 1684, buryed May 7, aged 77.
And a later entry :
- Robert Bins, formerly of Slaughwait dyed at Steneland, buryed at Ealand, June 26, 1692, aged 92.
- Aug. 14, 1672. — At Slawaut Mr. Dawson and I preacht an exercise—He preacht first, very well, I followed, but could neither pray nor preach as I was wont. I had a weighty subject about the difficulty of salvation from I Pet., 4, 18 — but it would not off. I strove and sweat about it but it would not doe, yet towards the latter end of my sermon I found some inlargemt.
- Jany. 13, 1673. — I went from home upon a cal to preach at Mr. James Dison's house at Westwood near Slaughwait. When I came thither the people were going down to the chappel, and so had concluded and ordered, that there I should preach for the license for his house was not come. I was a little startled at having been so lately before that great man that is lord of Slaughwait, — but I must either preach there or nowhere so I continued, and there was a great congregation, god helped my heart, affections, voyce, for I was hoarse through a cold.
Heywood's Diary is not confined to recording his journeys and preachings. In the "Rawson" volume are entries that surely should find place in a local history :
- A son of Esquire Ramsden's of Longly, who had been a souldier, a wild, ranting, hectoring blade of no mean size, having been at Huthersfield Octob. 30, 79, having been drinking too liberally, went home about 12 o'clock to his mother's, was observed to sing and rant as he went out of towne, but in the morning was found dead in their owne fields a little beyond the bridg, much blood having issued from his body, whether slain by himself or some other its not known, it was astonishing.
- 1680. Mtris Ramsden of Langly-hall near Huthersfield, wanting preferment for her daughters suitable to their deserts, and for better education, goes to York, lives there, got various acquaintances. She had with her a daughter that was a widow, had married Sir Wm. Dobson's son of Heath-hall, had 400 li a year joynture. They fell into acquantance with a souldier and his sister (really his wh——e) — Intimate they were. The Lady was desired to stay all night, lay with his sister. In the morning the souldier comes into the room pretending business with his sister, she out of bed, he went to her, either threatened or bewicht her to marry him, he sends her to London, now wants writings, oh dreadfull cheat.
— an entry that reads rather like an excerpt from " Tom Jones " or " Pergrine Pickle."
- Mr. Clark, vicar of Huthersfield, hath behaved himself with strange insolency since he came thither in many things, particularly concerning a house and land of 10 li a year given to the poor decayed housekeepers of Huthersfield, but he would needs have it in his hands that he might give it to the common poor of the parish, whereby he lost the favour of the townsmen. With other strange acts — he hath made a law that if any weddings come to church after the clock hath struck 12 they must pay 5sh. or not be marryed.
- Mr. Robinson, vicar of Ambry [Almondbury] (alas a careless, swearing man) having marryed his daughter to Mr. Hayford (late chaplain at Fixby) placed him at Honly Chapel (one Armitage dying having left 16 li a year to it) yet not content therewith will needs thrust out Mr. Ellison from Meltam (to wch 40 li a year is fixed) to place his son in law in yt place also, and the Mr. Ellison had Mr. Robinson's hand for Meltam, yet he denys his own hand, charging Mr. Ellison for forging it, tho he acknowledged to several that he hath given him his hand. Strange things this Robinson doth, however Heyford is a very debaucht person as is reported.
Between Mr. Richardson, Vicar of Kirkheaton, and Mr. Oliver Heywood a great friendship existed, and the references to Kirkheaton, Lascelles Hall, and Kirkburton are too numerous to be transcribed. Selections only must suffice. It was in the last-named parish, at Lydgate, that a Presbyterian Church was established soon after the expulsion of the two thousand ministers who refused to conform to the requirements of the Act of Uniformity ; and to Lydgate, too, the allusions are numerous.
- June 13, 71 ... went forward to the Lidget in Kirkburton parish, preacht at John Armitage's to a great number.
- Jan. 13, 72-73. On Thursday upon a call and appontmt, I went to J. Armitage's at Lidget, a licensed place, where many people were together, preacht, lodged at Mr. Ab. Lockwood's, of Blackhouse in Burton parish.
- July 4, 73. I went and preacht at Lassal-hall with Mr. Richardson.
- Jan. 2, 72. I went to Lassel-hall near Kirkheaton to preach an exercise with Mr. Richardson, where we were disturbed by Sir John Kaye's Clark, who required a sight of our licenses, and when we had done we went to Sir John, shewed him our license for the house — with promise of personal — so dismist.
From the Memoranda —
- One John Pickles being urged and threatened to the sacrament, yet resolved to keep the sitting posture, but the churchwarden bad him kneel, and got hold of him to bend his knee and did bow him. Shortly after that churchwarden had his knee broken, wch could never be set straight, but he goeth still bowing and bending his knee and wil doe while he lives. This was in the parish of Kirk-heaton.
- On Jan. 2, 1671-2, I joyned with Mr. Richardson at an exercise at Lassel-hall, abundance of people came. When Mr. R. was preaching Sir John Kay's sergeant came, and thrust through the crowd, made inquiry whether he had a licence to preach there. Mr. R. smartly answered wt. have you to doe with that ? The man withdrew, Mr. Richardson went on. I confess at first it something affrighted me, and I thought with myself if he come again wn. I am preaching it will put me quite out — Well he finished, I succeeded, and when I had prayed and was preaching, he came again, demanded if we had licence. Mr. Rich. ans. sharply saying what authority have you to inquire ? He ans. : his master sent him. Who is your master, said he, he ans. : Sir John Kay, and he commanded us both in the King's name to goe along with him to his master. Mr. R. ans. : we would not goe without a warrant, he told him he had a warrant, we desired to see it, he shewed it us. I read it, wherein both our right names were. When I saw that I gave him mild words and desired him to stay awhile while we had done our work and then we would obey him. Wei, sth. he, I shall wait your leisure, he stood by, I went on with my sermon, and god graciously helped above fear, it was quite gone, and god helped memory, and elocution, and affection. When we had done our work we went along with that man and two of Sir John's livery-men, came to Woodsome. That Clark (I suppoe he was) was churlish and snappish, told me he thought we had not made such particular reflections as we did. I asked him in what ? Sth. he, I took good notice of your words. I bade him speak truth and I cared not what he said. We went into the hall, wherin many serving- men were playing at cards at the table. We waited a pretty while. At last, Sir John came, who askt us if we had any licences, saying his majesty hath graciously incouraged conformists, and indulged others of his subjects that pretend conscience in not conforming, but his princely clemency hath been abused in many places, therefore sth. he, he hath sent us expresse order to inquire into persons licenses.
On promising to forward their licenses the two ministers were dismissed.
I fear the good parson, like many another before and since, must have had an exceptionally quick ear for scandal. In the Event Book under date, July 1, 1674, he jots down :—
- There was several gentlemen at Whitley hall. Mr. Rich. Beaumont of Lassel hall slightly invited them to his house. They made an appointment among themselves to come. He had laid up 19 gallons of wine agt. his wife lay in. Being come thither, and besides beer, ale, they drank all those 19 gallons that night except 4 bottles. There was fearfull blasphemous work. There they lay like swine, they were but 7 men that drank all this.
An entry of quite another kind is as follows, and gives some further notion of what dissenters must perforce endure before the Revolution of 1689.
- On Aug. 30, 1682, at mine own house, we kept a solemne day of thanksgiving to god for the publick liberty we have injoyed in my house without interruption, above 10 yeares, notwithstanding many warrants issued out agt. us as well as others. Yet we have been secured through the moderation of our officers as instrumental where all the societys round about us have been sadly broken and scattered. Mr. Smith at Kipping ... meet not in the day, but in the night for these several months, so at ... Mr. Whitehurst at Lidiat — all have been some way hindered in the places they are used to meet in.
Dangers by road, etc., Heywood shared with other travellers in those days of bad roads and worse lighting. He describes an experience on his way to Lydgate Chapel that was doubtless common enough :—
- Going in the snow from Mr. Lockwood's of Blakehouse to J. Armitage's, going,down the hill from Thurstiland to Lidiat, having no tract in the new snow, I mist my way, and went down too soon, and so got entangled in a wood, among bogs, and very dangerous precipices. I made my way towards the end of the wood where I knew my way lay, but toyld hard, one while riding where I durst, another while struggling and sweating afoot till my breath was spent. I stood still and breathed and at it again. My horse followed me, tho' with great difficulty. It was moonlight. At last I got to J. A. When I told him where he had been he was much astonishd, and wondered how I ever got quit, and said I did not know my danger, for that place is full of pits, so that it is called Sinking-hills by the inhabitants ... I was still on a sweat, but got hot drink, fell to praying, preaching to about 40 persons.
The Lydgate Presbyterian Church
In Morehouse's "History of Kirkburton" is an account of Lydgate Chapel : "This religious society takes its rise from the preaching of ejected ministers ... in the reign of Charles II., and is the only chapel which was founded through the labours of those worthy confessors within a district comprising the parishes of Kirkburton, Almonbury, Huddersfield, and Kirkheaton ; comprehending the Valleys of the Holme and the Colne (or Marsden Valley) down to Cooper Bridge ; including now a population of more than one hundred thousand souls. The most important agent in spreading the principles of nonconformity here, and in many parts of the West Riding, was the Rev. Oliver Heywood. Shortly after the 'ejectment' took place a considerable number of ernest persons in the parish having strong religious impressions, and deeply sympathising with those ministers, met together for worship ; but as the laws forbade all such meetings, they were held in great secrecy. The place of their most frequent resort was the house of Godfrey Armitage, of Lydgate, who is stated to have been 'a great friend of Mr. Oliver Heywood.' This house was pulled down a few years ago." (Dr. Morehouse's History was published in 1861.) "It was an ancient structure, built about the reign of Charles I. or somewhat earlier, and was one storey in height.
"In 1672 this Society obtained a license for the house of John Armitage, at Lydgate. The chapel was rebuilt in 1768. In 1786 a gallery was erected ; and in 1801 an organ was added. In 1848 the chapel underwent extensive repairs.
"The interior of the chapel has more the appearance of an ecclesiastical structure than usually appertains to dissenting chapels. The windows are ornamented with stained and ground glass. The pulpit and reading desk are within the communion rail, opposite the entrance. In a recess in the communion table are the works of Archbishop Tillotson, three volumes folio, chained to the table. These have been from time immemorial.
"In regard to the foundation deed of this chapel, there is no stipulation with respect to doctrine, neither has any confession of faith for membership been required, and in conformity with these principles the English Presbyterian congregations generally adopted the practice of 'open communion.'"
A Mr. Milward was the first resident minister of Lydgate — about 1700.
Although the community at Lydgate, in common with many other English Presbyterian churches, gradually discarded the Trinitarian faith, and is now numbered among the professors of Unitarian doctrine, a very little reflection will convince the reader that dissent in this district must turn to Lydgate as the local Mecca of Nonconformity.
Of the Independent Congregational Churches
If I am right in believing that the Presbyterian Chapel at Lydgate was the first Nonconformist temple erected in this district, it would seem to follow that the Independent or Congregational communities, as lineal successors of the Presbyterians, are entitled to place of honour among the existing orthodox dissenting bodies of the district; though in point of time the Baptist Church at Salendine Nook had precedence. I have already spoken of the ministry of the Rev. Henry Venn of the Huddersfield Parish Church. His successor, the Rev. Harcar Crook, failed to hold the numerous and earnest disciples whom Mr. Venn had attracted to the ancient fane of St. Peter's. We are told that "the people who had profited by his (Mr. Venn's) preaching were repelled from that church by discourses which had formed a marked contrast to those which they had lately heard within the same walls. So that they were dispersed in various directions, some to neighbouring churches and some to dissenting chapels. Several of them at length determined upon building a chapel, in the hope that they might be united together in one body, under a pastor of their own choice. Mr. Venn gave his sanction and assistance to the plan, and advised the people to attend the chapel after it was built ... It was Mr. Venn's first hope that the Liturgy would be used in the new chapel at Huddersfield ... But in this and in many other important respects his expectations were disappointed." We are told in the "Life of the Rev. Joseph Cockin," by his son, that just as in the motion of a fish the head is pushed forward by the tail, so in this instance, the poorer members of the parish church were the first to resolve upon a chapel and contribute towards it, and afterwards wealthier persons concurred in the measure and added larger sums. The subscription list, in which Mr. Venn's name figured, began with a sum of £58, and ended with a donation by Sarah Radcliffe of one penny.
Thus arose the Independent Chapel at Highfield, the church there worshipping being formed February 14th, 1772, members being admitted by "an invariable method of relating their experience before the church — either in writing or by word." The first members appear to have been :—
- William Schofield, Lockwood
Katharine Goddard, Dyke-end
John Houghton, Huddersfield
George Styring, Huddersfield
Joseph Hirst, Yew Green
William Hall, Quarmby
John Hirst, Dyke-end
John Bradley, Lockwood
George Crow, Lockwood
Joseph Beaumont, Lane Head
Abraham Littlewood, Huddersfield
Nancy Hepworth, Huddersfield
John Horn, Marsh
James Bray, Fartown
John Brook, Flush House
Joseph Mellor, Longwood
John Batley, Marsh
Ann Batley, Marsh
The Trust Deed, which does not appear to have been prepared till some thirty years after the formation of the Society, being dated September 2nd, 1808, declares that —
- The Chapel shall be set apart for and at all times thereafter used for the worship of Almighty God, by that sect of Protestant Dissenters who usually distinguish themselves or are distinguished by the name of professing Christians called Independent or Congregational, and that the Doctrines intended to be therein preached and inculcated be those called Calvinistic — not only as a system of Doctrines uninfluential, but enforced in connection with their proper practical influence on the hearts and life — and no other ; and that the following subjects be from time to time treated of and preached upon in the sermons or discourses in the said Chapel, namely :— Original Sin, as set forth in the Shorter Catechism used by the said sect or assembly ; Unconditional Election; Effectual Calling ; Justification by Faith, through the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers ; the Final Perseverance of Saints ; the doctrine of the Trinity (as treated in the same Catechism), and consequently the Divinity of Jesus Christ, as co-eval, co-eternal, and co-essential with the Father, who in His own incarnate state fulfilled most exactly all the precepts of the Moral Law, as the covenant head of His people, and at His death suffered fully all the penal effects of the sins of all those for whom He died.
- Which said doctrines and subjects before-mentioned and intended to be treated upon in the said Chapel are agreeable to the religious tenets of the founders thereof ...
- And it is hereby declared that the Minister of the said Chapel shall be from time to time chosen by the Church, or the major part of them ; and that they shall have the power to dismiss him at pleasure and to elect another to supply his place, and so from time to time, as often as they see cause, or as the said Chapel shall become vacant by the Death, Resignation, Removal, or Dismission of any Minister thereof.
The church in its earlier days seems to have kept a jealous eye upon the private life of its members, for not only were backsliders excommunicated for fornication, intemperance, and disorderly walking, but a spirit of austerity was displayed which, if manifested in these laxer times, would probably empty Highfield from its gallery to the seats of the elders. Thus we read :—
- J.B. — Withdrawn, 1794, as the church would not agree to his children dancing.
- Miss B. — Separated, 1794, for keeping a dancing school and attending public days (qy., plays).
The community at Highfield has been singularly fortunate in retaining for prolonged periods the services of its ministers once chosen. From the formation of the Church in 1772 to the resignation of Dr. Bruce in January, 1904, a period of one hundred and thirty-two years, it had but four pastors :—
|The Rev. William Moorhouse||1772-1823.|
|The Rev. Benjamin Boothroyd||1823-1836.|
|The Rev. John Glendenning||1836-1853.|
|The Rev. Robert Bruce||1854-1904.|
The life of Dr. Boothroyd is a striking lesson upon what may be accomplished under the most untoward conditions, given but the will. His parents were in the humblest of circumstances, his father a shoemaker, and himself also a youthful devotee of the art supposed to be under the special favour of St. Crispin. He was sent to a dame's school, and it is easy to conjecture how much, or should one say how little, he would learn there.
But he manifested in his earliest youth so insatiable a passion for books, and had so indomitable a resolve to become a scholar, that means were found to enable him to study for the ministry at the Yorkshire Academy, and in due course he obtained a pastorate at the old Nonconformist church at Pontefract, a church so poor that its minister was fain to add to his stipend by carrying on the business of a printer and bookseller. He wrote and printed a History of Pontefract. A more formidable undertaking was the "Biblia Hebraica, after the text of Kennicott, with the chief various readings selected from his collation of Hebrew MSS., from that of De Rossi, and from the ancient versions, accompanied with English notes, critical, philological, and explanatory." He also published a translation of the Old and New Testaments. He was forty years of age when he set himself to the earlier of these works, and he did not then know a letter of Hebrew, and he studied that difficult language whilst earning his living as a printer and as a preacher.
The memory of Dr. Robert Bruce will long be cherished in the district in which he laboured for half a century. Born at Heatherwick Farm, Keith Hall, Aberdeenshire, August 4th, 1829, the son of a considerable yeoman, educated at King's College and Aberdeen University, where he graduated in 1848, taking first-class honours in mathematics, trained for the Ministry at the Lancashire Independent College, Dr. Bruce came, in 1853, to Highfield in the full vigour of early manhood and with a mind exceptionally trained for the Ministry he was to adorn. His ability and devotion won early recognition. In 1888 he was chosen chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, and the Yorkshire Congregational Union and the West Riding Congregational Union conferred upon him the highest distinctions. He took an active part in the political life of his adopted town, speaking often and always with acceptance on Liberal platforms. He was a foremost figure in the educational work of the district, a manager of the Old British Schools in Outcote Bank and Spring Street, honorary secretary and governor of the Huddersfield College, deeply interested in the shorter-lived Girls' College, from 1883 to 1903 member of the Huddersfield Public Education Authority, a strenuous service of twenty years, during eight of which he filled the exacting office of chairman.
In days to come, whose advent many portents indicate, when a system of national secular education shall have superseded the existing compromise exacted by sectarian jealousies, people will scarcely credit the story of educational government as it flourished in the years immediately succeeding the first provision of public Board Schools, under Forster's Act of 1870. The Huddersfield Board consisted of thirteen members, elected for three years. The supporters of the Established Church and the adherents of the Nonconformist churches engaged in triennial contests for the supremacy on the School Board. It may be assumed that the Church party, as it was distinctively called, had little or no difficulty in selecting its candidates, for were they not all of one faith. But when the Free Church parties met to choose those who were curiously enough styled unsectarian candidates — curiously, for they represented as many sects as there were candidates, quot homines, tot sententiae — then, indeed, arose a knotty problem. Roman Catholics, Wesleyans, Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers, Unitarians, Secularists, all were insistent that their Churches or causes should be represented in the "unsectarian seven." How nice were the calculations of the claims of Highfield, Ramsden Street, Queen Street, Fitzwilliam Street, and so forth, and what tact was needed to adjust the pretensions of contending conventicles ! The only thing that seemed to be of no moment was the educational qualifications of the aspirants to the responsible position of directors of the tuition of the young. Fortunate, indeed, was the party that for so many acrimonious years dominated the Huddersfield School Board that it had amongst its representatives a man like Dr. Bruce, who, though holding strong views upon undenominational teaching, was not likely, in the heat of sectarian strife, wholly to disregard the paramount necessity of giving to the children of the town every facility for acquiring a sound secular education.
The following statement, to which I am indebted to the Rev. D. C. Tincker, secretary of the Huddersfield and District Congregational Union, indicates the growth of Congregationalism in this town and neighbourhood since the foundation of the mother church at Highfield in 1772 :—
- CONGREGATIONAL CHURCHES IN HUDDERSFIELD AND DISTRICT.
- Highfield, first Congregational Church in Huddersfield. "Mother of all." Formed 1772 ; rebuilt 1844 ; membership (1910) 372.
Holmfirth, formed 1770 ; rebuilt 1829 also 1890 ; members (1910) 94.
Marsden, formed 1790 ; rebuilt 1858 ; members (1910) 74.
Shelley, formed 1792 ; members (1910) 90.
Clayton West, formed 1795 ; rebuilt 1866 ; members (1910) 65.
Honley, formed 1795 ; members (1910) 123.
Netheroyd Hill Sunday School, built 1814.
Dogley Lane, formed 1816 ; members (1910) 93.
Ramsden Street, formed 1825 ; Rev. John Eagleton first Pastor ; members (1910) 148.
Netherton, formed 1843 ; members (1910) 20.
Paddock, formed 1844 by 61 members from Highfield ; members (1910) 196.
Kirkheaton, formed 1845 ; members (1910) 70.
Hillhouse, formed 1864 ; members (1910) 214.
Moldgreen, formed 1865 ; members (1910) 128.
Milton, formed 1883 ; members (1910) 321.
Great Northern Street, formed 1888 (a Mission from Highfield) ; members (1910) 90.
Crimble, formed 1903 ; members (1910) 31.
Milton Church was born of strife and envenomed controversy. Prior to its formation its first pastor, the Rev. John Turner Stannard, was minister of Ramsden Street Chapel, the first offspring of the mother church at Highfield. Mr. Stannard had leanings towards what we now term the Higher Criticism and the New Theology, though I do not remember that these phrases had vogue in his day. But, unfortunately, there were men in his congregation who had strong views as to the interpretation of the English language, and who found it quite impossible to reconcile Mr. Stannard's sermons with the terms of the Trust Deed of the Ramsden Street Church. And it will not surprise the student of human nature to learn that men who were loud in their railings at a Creed-bound Church, as they stigmatised the Anglican Establishment, could stoop to invoke the secular arm and appeal to the terms of a Trust Deed, a Creed as precise, if not as intelligible, as the Nicene or the Apostles'. This Deed, subscription to whose dogma was required of the minister, insisted upon :—
- 1. The divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and their sole authority and entire sufficiency as the rule of faith and preacher.
2. The unity of God with the proper Deity of the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit.
3. The universal and total depravity of man and his exposure to the anger of God on account of his sins.
4. The sufficiency of the Atonement which was made for us by the Lord Jesus Christ and His ability and willingness to save all who come to Him for salvation.
5. Free justification by faith and by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ.
6. The necessity of the Holy Spirit's influence in the work of regeneration and also in the work of sanctification.
7. The predestination according to God's gracious purpose of a multitude which no man can number, unto eternal salvation by Jesus Christ.
8. The immutable obligation of the moral law as the rule of human conduct.
9. The resurrection of the dead, both just and unjust.
10. The eternal happiness of the righteous and the everlasting punishment of the wicked.
For months before the questions at issue between two sharply divided sections of Mr. Stannard's congregation were referred to the prosaic arbitrament of the law they were keenly debated in the public Press, at street corners, in political clubs and in private circles; and, finally, in 1881, when the matter came for determination before Vice-Chancellor Hall, Dr. Bruce, as the High Priest of a rigid Calvinism, was called upon by the opponents of Mr. Stannard to give what lawyers would call expert testimony. The questions at issue were, broadly : 1st, whether Mr. Stannard's teachings were consistent with a reasonable construction of the Trust Deed; 2nd, whether, even granting they were not, it was in accordance with Free Church principles nicely to weigh every word and sentiment of a preacher whose life was universally admitted to be in every sense exemplary, and whose devotion to lofty ideals of conduct was beyond cavil. The first only of these issues could be submitted to the judgment of a legal tribunal, and Vice-Chancellor Hall pronounced a decree inhibiting Mr. Stannard from occupying the pastorate of the Ramsden Street Church. The plaintiffs in the suit, whom it is, I trust, proper to describe as standing for strict Calvinism and the letter of the law, were C. H. Jones, William Atkinson, James Thompson, James Hartley, William Shaw, C. J. S. Couzens, Joshua Whitworth, Benjamin Halstead, John Whitfield, C. W. Ellis, and Edward Stott. The defendants, who claimed to represent a broader spirit, alike of interpretation and tolerance, were the Rev. J. T. Stannard, J. E. Willians, Chas. Hirst, jun., W. H. Woodcock, Thos. Kettlewell, J. C. Moody, Stephen Arlom, Frederick Eastwood, John Joshua Brook, George Maitland, and Walter Turner.
Of the Baptist Churches
The great mother church of Lancashire and Yorkshire was founded in 1675 "within the forest of Rossendale." Of this church an offshoot existed at Rodhillend and Stoneslack, one community meeting in two places. One Henry Clayton, described as " a good man, not burdened with overmuch learning, but full of faith and the Holy Spirit," was a member of the community at Rodhillend and Stoneslack, and appears to have gathered about him a small number of worshippers at Salendine Nook. In 1739 a "commodious meeting-house" was erected at that place and duly licensed under the Toleration Act "on the tenth day of July in the twelfth year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord, George the Second, by the Grace of God, etc." Four years later those usually worshipping at the new conventicle at Salendine Nook, "reflecting upon the great distance of most of their residences from the community to which they belonged, and the many disadvantages that attended them on that account, and also the hopeful prospect of several well-disposed neighbours joining with them in the fellowship of the gospel, if they had the encouragement of a fit opportunity to do it," determined to unite in "the relation of a distinct Church of Christ," and apply to their mother church for "their dismission from them and for their approbation and allowance of them to sit down together as a Church of Christ by themselves" — this, it should be observed, in strict conformity with the established usage of the Baptist discipline, in the spirit of the son who withdraws from his father's household to establish his own, and not, as we have seen in the case of Milton Church, in that of rebellious or alienated children shaking off the dust of the paternal dwelling and going forth in anger and resentment. I have always considered the letter of request and the letter of dismission, the foundation documents of Salendine Nook, to be among the most beautifully and chastely expressed of the many ancient documents which it has been my fortune to peruse :—
- Dearly beloved Brethren, forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God (in whose hands our Times are) to bound our habitation at so great a distance from you as greatly interrupts our fellowship and communion with you ; and forasmuch as God hath been graciously pleased to send amongst us his faithful servant and our dearly beloved brother in the Lord, Henry Clayton, who hath, for some years past, laboured amongst us in Word and Doctrine to our spiritual profit and mutual satisfaction, and under whose ministry we have been blest with a little reviving, and have now a hopeful prospect of a growing increase : now, that we may not be awanting to improve this happy opportunity to the best of our capacity, it is our desire to embody ourselves together as a Church of Christ, under the care of the said Henry Clayton, our Pastor.
The Letter Dismissory, August 24th, 1743, is couched in language equally beautiful :—
- Dearly beloved Brethren, — We heartily approve of, and cheerfully consent to, your pious intention ; and for the end you have in view we do hereby give unto all of you jointly, and to each of you severally, a free and full dismission from us. And now, dear brethren, may the blessing of the Lord crown your Christian design with desired success :— may you be happy and comfortable together in your relation as pastor and people, and grow and increase with the increase of God, that we may have occasion always on your behalf to give thanks to our Father and your Father ; to our God and your God, in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.
As the church at Salendine Nook was the mother church of many communities of the Baptist profession throughout the district, considerable in membership and influence, the solemn covenant of communion of the eleven brethren who in 1743 founded the parent organisation, destined to be so fruitful of a good effect, may surely claim place in this record :—
- We, a small handful of the unworthy dust of Zion, usually assembling for the worship of God at Sallonden Nook, and in obedience to the command of God, and conformity to the example of Jesus Christ and his faithful followers, recorded in the New Testament, upon profession of repentance towards God, and Faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, — Baptized in water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ;— having first given our own selves to the Lord, are now met together with one accord, to give ourselves one to another by mutual consent and solemn covenant, according to the will of God, with deep humiliation for our past sins, and earnest prayer to God for pardoning mercy and preserving grace. We say with our hearts, we are the Lord's — and subscribe unto Him with our hands in manner following :
- NAMELY :
- We this day avouch the ever blessed Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the one only true and living God) for our Covenant God, and all-sufficient portion; and give up ourselves to Him alone for His peculiar people, in a perpetual covenant, never to be forgotten. We receive and submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, as our alone Saviour, Prophet, Priest, and King, on whom alone we trust for wisdom and righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
We devote and consecrate ourselves as living temples to the Holy Ghost, our Sanctifier, Guide, and Comforter, whose gracious operations and heavenly conduct we desire daily more and more to feel and follow. We take the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the only ground and rule of our faith and practice, desiring in all things to be conformed to the holy will of God therein revealed : according to the tenour whereof we now covenant with God, each for ourselves, and jointly together, to worship God in spirit and in truth :— to observe His commandments, and keep His ordinances, as He hath therein delivered them to us. To be subject to that divine order and discipline which Jesus Christ, our only King and Lawgiver, hath appointed to His Church ; and not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together for the worship of God in its appointed seasons ; but to continue in our relation to one another, and fill up our places in the house of God, and maintain His worship therein to the best of our capacity, until death, or the evident calls of Divine Providence shall separate us one from another. To love one another with pure hearts fervently, and endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, for the honour of our God and our mutual good unto edification. We will, also, make it our care to walk before the Lord in our own houses with perfect hearts, and upholding the work of God therein, by prayer to God and reading the Scripture, that so the word of God may dwell richly in us. And, as we have given our children to the Lord by a solemn Dedication, so we will endeavour to teach them the way of the Lord, and command them to keep it, setting before them a holy example, worthy of their imitation, and continuing in prayer to God for their conversion and salvation.
- We will also endeavour to keep ourselves pure from the sins of the times and places wherein we live, and so to be holy in all manner of conversation, that none may have occasion given by our holy lives to speak evil of God's holy ways. And all this, under an abiding sense that we must shortly give up our account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. Unto which solemn covenant we set our hands, in the presence of the All-seeing, Heart-searching God, this twenty-fourth day of August, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and forty-three.
This document, that reads so strangely like a legal instrument, and which, withal, is so commendably free from the jargon of the sects, is subscribed by the founders of the church, of whom only the pastor and two others were able to write their names :—
- HENRY CLAYTON, Pastor
WILLIAM SOUTHWARK (his x maark)
WILLIAM SOUTHWARK, Jr. (his x mark)
GRACE JAGGER (her G letter)
SUSANNA LEES (her x mark)
ELIZABETH CLAYTON (her x mark)
DAVID SOUTHWARK (his x mark)
JOSHUA WORTH (his x mark)
MARY WATTERHOUSE (her x mark)
The original baptistry of the Church was at Pot Ovens, Salendine Nook, and there the first neophyte of the new community, Stephen Brook, one of the signators to the above Covenant, was baptized by Mr. Clayton; and, thereafter, the place was known as Stephen's Well.
Of the ten ministers who, in the hundred and seventy- six years that have passed since its formation, have held the pastorate of Salendine Nook Baptist Church, more than one has won distinction in fields neither academic nor theological. The Rev. Dr. Stock (1848-1857, 1872- 1884) was not only widely esteemed as a preacher and pastor, he was an ardent politician and a frequent and fluent speaker upon political platforms; and the Rev. D. Witton Jenkins, who became pastor in 1895, and from whom his flock seems loth to part, is an eloquent and moving preacher, a fervent apostle of the principles of total abstinence from alcoholic beverages, and is not averse from entering the political lists when occasion offers.
The following Churches in what is called the Huddersfield District attest the vitality of the Baptist faith and discipline :—
|Jagger Green, Longwood||—||—|
|Clough Head, Outlane||—||—|
|Huddersfield (New North Road).||1846||326|
|Scape Goat Hill||1871||283|
|Sunny Bank, Golcar||1883||49|
Of these Churches that at Pole Moor is perhaps most widely known. The site upon which the chapel is situate is upon the estate of the Duke of Leeds in a wild and mountainous district. When the chapel was first erected in the last decade of the eighteenth century, the population of those regions must have been very sparse ; but the founders of the Church were fain to build where they could. They were a mere handful of poor men and women who had been in the habit of meeting in the upper chamber of a hostelry once existing in Slaithwaite called "The Silent Woman" — its signboard representing a headless female form. When the congregation outgrew the limits of this room the members sought to obtain land in Slaithwaite, but the Earl of Dartmouth of those days, possibly influenced by the then Curate of the Chapel of St. James, could not be induced to grant a plot for the erection of a dissenting conventicle, and land at Scammonden which had been enclosed from the common by the Duke of Leeds was first leased and subsequently purchased, and a small edifice erected and licensed. The contractors for the building of this chapel were Charles Hopkinson and James Binns, and the tender for the work and material should be, for many reasons, of abiding interest :—
- December 15, 1788. — An estimate for the prices of mason work for building a place to preach in, near Slaithwaite, Pole, to marrow the Haugh Top Cottages. For dressing and walling at 6s. and gd. per rood ; the north corners of wall stone, 6d. per yard ; dressing corner window lights, 1s. 9d. per light; all other plain hewing, 4d. per foot.
- Agreement with Joseph Hopkinson for the stones. For wall stone, mason measure, 2s. 6d. per rood ; window stone, 4 inches thick, 4d. per yard ; sash and stone, id. per foot; slate-laying, 3d. per yard ; broad covers, 8d. per yard ; slates, 8s. per 100 ; the wages to be paid at five several payments.
- Estimate for the house : Dressing and walling, 7s. per rood ; west corner, is. 6d. per yard ; plain hewing, 4d. per foot; heading, 6d. per yard ; fire places and chimney, £1 1s. ; upper fire places, 10s. 6d. each ; common window lights working, 1s. 1d. per yard ; flags laying, 5d. per yard ; other things to be paid for at common prices.
An interesting light is thrown upon the condition of some of the people in the neighbourhood of the new church by G. S. Phillips (January Searle) who, in 1848, was Secretary of the Huddersfield Mechanics' Institute, and who in that year published a small volume entitled "Walks Round Huddersfield" : "A few years ago the inhabitants of the Platts" — this district is hard by Pole Moor — "were literally savage, living in log huts thatched with sods, and paying neither rent nor taxes. They were a community to themselves, and had their own laws and government. They were the terror, likewise, of all wayfarers, and it was dangerous for any man to go amongst them alone. They lived by hunting and whisky- making, and, when these failed, by depredations. Their legal marriages, however, were celebrated in one or other of the churches in the neighbouring villages, and on all such occasions they marched in grand procession, adorned with ribbons, and having a fiddler at the head of them ... Their houses are all built of stone and mud, and, at a distance, have more the appearance of hovels than human habitations. We entered one of them. It consisted of a single room, open to the roof ... From the rafters of the roof were suspended sundry tattered garments, and in a hole in one of the walls were several broken pots and mugs of ancient manufacture ... We enquired into their ways and means, and found that they were weavers earning not more, upon an average, than 8s. per week."
These Burnplatters, as they were commonly called, were supposed to be of gipsy origin. They were the bogey-men of the children of those parts, and I remember that my grandmother, who resided in her early married life at Holme, nor far from the seat of the Burnplatters, could find no more awful threat than "to send me to the Burnplatters."
The church at Pole Moor was much torn by internal disputes, being divided between Hyper-Calvinism and Fullerism. Under the ministry of the Rev. Abraham Webster, "a strong, able-bodied man, a pleasant and feeling speaker, and very kind and charitable-minded," the adherents of Hyper-Calvinism, feeling that the doctrine at Pole Moor was but meat for babes, seceded and established a church — Providence — at Kitchen Fold, Slaithwaite, commonly called Gadsby's, from the use there of the hymnal of that compiler. The leaders of the secession issued an appeal which may be cited as a reminder of controversies that once sorely vexed the minds of our forefathers, but which to us seem scarcely comprehensible :—
- Seven of us were members of the Church at Pole Moor, and we esteemed both our brethren and our privileges, and we wished to fill our place as beseemed saints; but as we never thought that the Church of Christ was a prison, and as our minister declared that all who did not believe the moral law of Moses was a perfect rule of life for believers must be cut off from the Church, we, having felt the law's power in our conscience, have been glad to hear the small voice of the Gospel, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it." Therefore, upon our denial of the law being our rule of life, we have been separated from the Church.
This apologia was signed by the minister of the new conventicle, the Rev. William Cooper, and by Edmund Sykes, deacon, who, I believe, was my great-uncle, yet none the less I am constrained to say I do not understand it.
Of all the ministers of Pole Moor Chapel the memory of none is more fragrant than that of the Rev. H. W. Holmes, who accepted the pastorate in the year 1830, being then about 33 years of age, and held it with evergrowing acceptance to his death in 1875. He was described by the Rev. T. R. Lewis, in a lecture delivered at Scape Goat Hill Chapel, an offshoot from Pole Moor, as "of medium height and slender form, of pleasing appearance, and active temperament." "Mr. Holmes," we learn from the same source, "never spared himself; he was unwearying in the harvest field. Seven sermons a week, three on the Lord's day, and four during the week, he usually delivered ; but occasionally he would exceed this abnormal number. The week-night sermons were preached in school-houses, cottages, and farm-kitchens, often four miles away from home, and scarcely ever less than two, the distance being no object to this zealous son of God." Such were the numbers that flocked to the remote shrine on Pole Moor that the chapel could not contain the worshippers. In the summer time Mr. Holmes would preach from a tomb-stone in the churchyard ; in the winter, standing in the doorway of the chapel. From the funeral sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Stock, January 31, 1875, we learn that during his pastorate at Pole Moor Mr. Holmes preached more than 11,500 sermons, delivered in chapels, schoolrooms, and cottages, sermons "marked by sound doctrine, manly vigour of thought, a ready flow of expression, and the deepest earnestness of spirit ... He committed more than 2,700 corpses to the silent tomb, and never allowed a funeral to take place without setting the way of salvation before the mourners ... In seasons of sickness and of trial Mr. Holmes was a never-failing pastor. His visits to the bedsides of the dying must have been many thousands in number. They were never withheld from anyone, whatever his creed, and however great the distance, however trying the weather, and however unreasonable the hour." In his many journey- ings over the wastes where his lot was cast and his serene and blameless life spent, he was often waylaid on the dark and lonely moors by men of evil designs — a thing not to be wondered at considering the near neighbourhood of those godless Burnplatters — but he came to no harm, for even the reckless and desperate characters of that desolate region had learned to respect this gentle and devoted servant of his Master.
Of the Wesleyan Churches
I have already written much of the marvellous revival of religious zeal in Huddersfield during the vicariate of the Rev. Henry Venn. We have seen that many who had attended St. Peter's during the ministry of "T'owd Trumpet," as Mr. Venn was affectionately called, felt constrained, when failing health enforced that divine's retirement from the strenuous charge at Huddersfield, to erect a new temple with, if not a new faith, a new discipline and a new allegiance at Highfield. Hence the Independent schism. Mr. Venn appears to, indirectly and doubtless unwittingly, have been the cause of the Wesleyan secession. He was on terms of intimate friendship with the Rev. John Wesley, and in the Journal of that great evangelist are many entries attesting Mr. Wesley's visits to Huddersfield and its vicinity, and the impressions, none too favourable, made upon him by the bearing and appearance of the natives. His first visit appears to have been in 1759, and under date June 9 of that year he writes :— "I rode over the mountains to Huddersfield. A wilder people I never saw in England. The men, women, and children filled the streets as we rode along, and appeared ready to devour us. They were, however, tolerably quiet while I preached. Only a few pieces of dirt were thrown ; and the bellman came in the middle of the sermon, but was stopped by a gentleman of the town. I had almost done when they began to ring the bells, so that it did us small disservice" — a record from which one could gather that Wesley's first sermon in Huddersfield was preached at an open-air meeting, possibly at the Market Cross. In the same year Wesley enters in his Diary : "I preached near Huddersfield to the wildest congregation I have seen in Yorkshire. Yet they were restrained by an unseen hand ; and I believe some felt the sharpness of His word."
The first distinctively Wesleyan Society formed in the district with which this History is concerned was at Netherthong. Of this the Rev. Joel Mallinson in his "Methodism in Huddersfield" writes :— "The year Mr. Venn came to Huddersfield a few godly men and women, followers of Wesley, met together for prayer and Christian fellowship at Netherthong. Their number gradually increased, and, after prayerful consideration, it was resolved to build a chapel. Accordingly a site was secured and careful preparations made, and in 1769"— ten years, be it observed, after Wesley's first visit to Huddersfield — "one of the first chapels of village Methodism was erected and opened. It was about the sixth Methodist Chapel in England. The first was at Bristol, the second Birstall, the third Newcastle, and then Hipperholme, Haworth, and Netherthong. The Conference contributed £104, and in 1772 a further grant of £13, to this chapel. On two occasions Mr. Wesley preached in the chapel. The first was on July 8, 1772, when he preached at ten o'clock, having preached the same day at Halifax at five o'clock in the morning, and in the afternoon at two in the Market Place, Huddersfield, and in the evening at Dewsbury. The other occasion was on July 6, 1773. On returning from preaching, Mr. Wesley was accompanied by many friends through the Haig Wood, where they took leave of him, after heartily singing :—
- Ye hills and ye dales, In praises abound,
Ye mountains and vales, Continue the sound,
Break forth into singing, Ye trees of the wood,
For Jesus is bringing Lost sinners to God !"
Almondbury appears to have been the next village in the district to catch the sacred fire, Abraham Moss, a shoemaker, conducting services in the house of Matthew Lodge at Bank End, Canon Hulbert recording that in 1766 the first Methodist sermon was preached in Almondbury — it was in the house of Edmund Mellor, Town End — by the Rev. John Martin, commonly called "the weeping prophet," by others "the false prophet," a designation indignantly repudiated by Abraham Moss in the oft-quoted words : "If he be a false prophet, the Bible is false, and the whole system of the Church of England is false also. He takes his text from the Bible, and supports all his doctrines by the teachings of the Church of England as found in her homilies and articles." We are told by Mr. Joel Mallinson that "the aged vicar, the Rev. Edward Rishton, in his eighty-second year, was alarmed at the innovation of Methodist preachers, and appealed to the Archbishop of York against 'the deceivers,' but was advised by his grace 'not to meet the evangelical movement with controversy and opposition.'" This judicious counsel notwithstanding, "the wrath of lewd fellows of the baser sort was kindled. An attack was resolved on, and forthwith, headed by Joseph Kaye, constable and parish clerk, an excited mob broke into the preaching place" — the house of Squire Studderth, afterwards occupied by the Co-operative Society. "Approaching the preacher, Kaye ostentatiously lifted his staff and with stentorian voice cried : 'I charge thee in the name of King George to come down.' Darney — the preacher — firmly retorted : 'I charge thee in the name of the King of kings to let me alone.' The retort was met by a brutal attack, in which the preacher was severely wounded and nearly killed.'" There was an indictment for assault, the constable relying on The Five Mile Act, apparently not having heard of the Toleration Act, but he escaped with a caution.
Space would utterly fail me in which to attempt in this History to trace from its humble beginnings the rise and progress of the Methodist faith and mode of public worship in this district. The story of all the earlier organizations, even of those now the most considerable and meeting in chapels erected at much cost and of great size, is one and the same tale : a few earnest men and women, generally of the humbler and poorer sort, meeting together in some lowly cottage, meeting of week-nights and on Sundays for prayer, exhortings, and hymns of praise, sometimes visited by an accredited minister of the denomination, their services more generally conducted by some often illiterate but always fervent local brother — these have been the corner-stone of many of the stately Bethels to be seen in Huddersfield and all the villages round.
By what exertions and sacrifices these buildings were erected may be surmised from an extract of a report read fifty years ago (1860) at a meeting in connection with the Linthwaite Wesleyan Chapel : "This chapel was opened 1806 by Dr. Taft. The cost of the building is supposed to have been £1,200, £700 of which was begged by friends who went to Manchester, Leeds, and other places. John Garside and Matthew Lunn went to Manchester, where they were published in the chapels as impostors ; but they had the God of Jacob on their side, and on the Monday they succeeded better than they had done before. Joseph Whitley and Richard Baxter went to other places. Benjamin Whitwam and Edmund Baxter went to Leeds,, where one gentleman, a Methodist, called them into his room, and bade them kneel down and pray, if they were men. They were almost speechless at such a sudden request, but they knelt down and prayed to the Lord, who heard and answered their prayers. The gentleman gave liberally, which made their hearts rejoice in the work they had undertaken. These men went for three weeks together on a begging tour, and collected about £700. Much work was also done by the inhabitants when the building was being erected, such as digging and wheeling, and there was such an overflow of water that they used the pumps night and day ... The women, who were never far behind, also used to help in the work ... In the year 1826, some ten days before the anniversary, it was reported that the chapel had given way, and would fall on the Sunday. This caused great excitement in the neighbourhood, and some seven of the friends met in the vestry on the Monday to see what could be done. They agreed the end should come down, and forthwith entered into a subscription and got £7. They separated, and some went to Lindley for masons, while the rest went round to beg what would complete the work. The gable end was pulled down, and rebuilt in time for the anniversary on the Sunday."
Some time before 1775 Edmund Bray — again I quote from the Rev. Joel Mallinson's work — "opened his house in Kirkgate, Huddersfield, for preaching. The house, unfortunately, suffered from a smoky chimney, and with difficulty at times could they see the preacher or comfortably worship. From this fact the house was called Reek'em. Notwithstanding the inconvenience of the smoke, the congregation grew, and many were added to the 'Church in the house.' Increased accommodation became an urgent necessity, and, after many prayers and frequent conversations, authorities were approached with a view to securing land called Underbank, at the end of the now Buxton Road." The land was vested in trustees — Thomas Hudson, John North, Thomas Goldthorpe, Richard Pool, Thomas Ludlam, Joshua Collingwood, John Hardy, and James Sykes ; and these gentlemen were, presumably, the pillars of the first Wesleyan Chapel — Buxton Road — erected in Huddersfield. The Trust Deed stipulated "that no person or persons whomsoever shall at any time hereafter preach or expound God's holy word or to peform any of the usual acts of religious worship upon the said piece of ground or hereditaments nor in the said chapel or place of religious worship and premises or any of them or any part or parts thereof nor in or upon the appurtenances thereto belonging or any of them or any part or parts thereof who shall maintain, promulgate, or teach any doctrine or practice contrary to what is contained in certain notes on the New Testament, commonly reputed to be the notes of the said John Wesley, and in the first four volumes of sermons commonly reputed to be written and published by him" — a definition of doctrine by reference and incorporation that, one would imagine, left no small highway for the proverbial coach and six that it is claimed can be drawn through any Act of Parliament.
The new chapel attracted a large body of worshippers from Highfield, which had become inadequate for its congregation, and from this circumstance Buxton Road Chapel long was known as Catch'em, which certainly had the merit of being preferable to Reek'em. In 1819 Buxton Road Chapel was found too small to hold all the urban professors of Methodism, and in that year Queen Street Chapel was erected at a cost of £16,000. It was at that time the largest Methodist Chapel in the world. One of the principal, if not the principal, members of the church in Queen Street at or about that time was Timothy Bentley, founder of perhaps the best-known firm in Yorkshire, that of Bentley and Shaw, brewers. An inscription on a tablet in Queen Street Chapel reads :—
- Sacred to Faith, Hope, and Charity, all eminently exemplified in the life and spirit of Timothy Bentley, of Lockwood, Esquire, who fell asleep in Jesus, March 31, 1830, in the 62nd year of his age.
How thoroughly Methodism permeated this district may be judged from the fact that in 1797 there were Societies of that faith in Huddersfield, Golcar, Longley, Netherton, Crosland, Bag Green, Little Hill, Berry Brow, Armitage Fold, Cawthorne, Thurlstone and Penistone, Skelmanthorpe, Lepton, Houses, Kirkheaton, Kay Lane (Almondbury), Paddock, Nape Hill, Lockwood, Lindley, Woodhouse, Newsome, Quarmby, Cliff, Deighton, Netherthong, Hagg Lees, Denby Dale, Kirkburton, Farnley, Emley, High Hoyland, Slaithwaite, Dodworth, Silkstone, Honley, Marsden, Crawle, Woodhall, Netheroyd Hill, Holmfirth, Hepworth, Meltham, Scholes and Jackson Bridge, Huncoats, Shepley, Shelley, Tunnacliffe Hill, Gawthorpe. Of these the most considerable, in point of membership, outside Huddersfield was Holmfirth, with 122 members, Shelley coming next with 117. The total membership of all the above Societies was, in 1797, 1,714.
The Methodist communities in the Huddersfield District were originally comprised in the Birstall Circuit, but in 1780 Huddersfield was constituted an independent district, and is now divided into circuits. The first ministers of the Huddersfield District in 1780 were Parson Greenwood and the Rev. Thomas Johnson.
The history of local Methodism is not all harmony. Just as in the Colne Valley the Fullerite controversy rent the Baptist community and caused the secession from Pole Moor to Gadsby's ; just as at a later date the Stannard controversy drove a considerable section of the Congregationalist body from Ramsden Street, so, prior to 1815, had a following of the Rev. Alexander Kilham seceded from Buxton Road to High Street. But this last-named secession was not, as the others, on doctrinal grounds. Mr. Kilham, one of the "legal hundred," contended in Conference for a more liberal infusion of lay influence and representation in the government of the Methodist organization, conceiving that the original polity, as settled by the earlier Wesleyans, rested too much upon the authority of the ministers and conference of ministers. The congregation at Buxton Road was largely in sympathy with the principles of church government advocated by Mr. Kilham, and as the Kilhamites, as they were called, formed a majority of the flock, they proposed to appropriate the site and building at Buxton Road. To this the minority demurred. An appeal to the law resulted in the ejection of the Kilhamites, and they formed the Methodist New Connexion at High Street. Some thirty years later a similar controversy vexed the Wesleyan Church in the Colne Valley and led to the erection of "The Reformers'" Chapel in Carr Lane.
No account of Methodism in this district, nor, I suppose, elsewhere, would be complete without some reference to the work of the lay or local preachers, sometimes disrespectfully styled "pudding preachers," presumably from the fact that their Sunday meals, gratuitously and, it should be said, most willingly furnished by one or other member of the church, constitute their only material guerdon. For the services of the lay preachers the Methodist organization offers an exceptional field. Whilst other Nonconformist communities have for each chapel its settled minister with parsonage or manse, the Methodist communion relies upon superintendent ministers, who preach from chapel to chapel throughout the circuit on appointed days, the services on the Sundays when the superintendent is not "planned," and at the many week-day meetings, being conducted by local preachers, men, and sometimes women, who are not ministers by profession, engaged throughout the week in hard labour for daily bread, oft at the loom or forge or plough, and who construe a day of rest to mean a day of strenuous toil in the Master's service. Although the man of culture and acquaintance with modern science and comparative theology must often find himself repelled by the crude doctrine of some of these fervent professors, yet all must, methinks, yield ungrudging honour to these faithful souls who stint no time nor energy nor means in the work to which they indeed, if any, may claim to be called. This district has known many such, so many that one hesitates to name even one, lest such mention should be invidious. But it will, I think, be generally conceded that the name of Squire Brook will be long and honourably remembered in this connection.
Edward Brooke was the youngest child of William Brooke, of Northgate House, Honley, and therefore of that family, so highly and so justly esteemed, which has given to this district the late Sir Thomas Brooke, Bart., Mr. William Brooke, of Honley, J.P., Mr. John Arthur Brooke, of Fenay Hall, J.P., the Ven. Archdeacon J. J. Brooke, of Halifax, and of some of whom there will be later occasion to speak.
He was born at Honley, March 20th, 1799, and as a young man was addicted to the usual pursuits of the country gentleman of that day, coursing, cock-fighting, and perhaps an occasional bull-baiting, recreations viewed with extreme disfavour by the new sect then beginning to stamp its influence upon the neighbourhood. "Master," said to him one Thomas Holliday, doubtless snatching an opportunity to speak that "word in season" which comes so readily to some lips ; "Master, you are seeking happiness where you will never find it." Whether these words or the circumstance that a gun accident placed his life in jeopardy were the causa causans I know not, but we learn from the excellent monograph of Mr. Mallinson that "for three weeks he mourned his sin and unweariedly prayed, when, at four o'clock, a light beyond the brightness of the morning sun dispelled the gloom of unforgiven sin ; and, bounding up the broad and sounding stairs to his sister's room, he announced the glad news of his conversion, and forthwith sped to the house of Ben Naylor, and they two summoned Joseph Donkersley, and the three prayed and praised, sang and rejoiced together. At the love feast in Green Cliff Chapel the new convert rose and said : 'The camel has got through the needle's eye.' Every heart was moved, and ' the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.'" He was then 22 years of age. Some four years later the Local Preachers' Meeting resolved that "Edward Brooke have a Note on Trial as a preacher," and the following year he was received on Full Plan. From his conversion to his death, January 30th, 1871, he gave himself unstintingly and unswervingly to the cause he loved and to which he had been called. He was, if half the stories one has heard be true, noted not merely for the earnestness but for the unconventionally of his sermons. "See here," he is said to have exclaimed, gliding, as he spoke, down the pulpit rails, "that's going to hell." Then, with many a groan and sigh, with bent back and straining limbs, toiling up the steps, "that's getting to heaven" — a commentary on the text, "Broad is the way" — that none would be likely to forget. His eldest son, Edward Brooke, J.P., commonly called "Young Ned," inherited his father's fervent, if somewhat eccentric genius, and was for many years a foremost speaker on the Radical platforms of the neighbourhood. As these lines are written when the nation is in the throes of a General Election, in which the merits and demerits of the House of Lords have been much canvassed, the following gleaning from the Northern Pioneer, a paper that had a brief and troubled existence about the early 'eighties, will not be without its interest, though it is manifestly open to the criticism that it has no bearing upon the history of the Nonconformist churches of the locality. At a public meeting called by the Huddersfield District Registration Association, and held in the Town Hall in March, 1882, and presided over by Alderman Joseph Woodhead, it was moved by Coun. D. F. E. Sykes, and seconded by Mr. Edward Brooke, J.P., that —
- The Upper House, as at present constituted, is unnecessary, obstructive, and dangerous.
Among the auditors of the speakers to the resolution was Mr. John Arthur Brooke, a staunch Conservative, who must have listened with very mingled feelings to the burning periods of his Radical and clearly misguided cousin.
Of the Unitarian Church
The Unitarian Church in Fitzwilliam Street, in Huddersfield, is the spiritual daughter of the Presbyterian Church at Lydgate. It were a long story to tell how many Presbyterian communities, especially in Ulster, adopted what is called the Arian heresy, but it is certain that the one at Lydgate was among the number. I am informed by the Rev. R. Thackray, M.A., the present gifted minister of the church in Fitzwilliam Street, that Unitarian services were first held in Huddersfield on Sunday, April 5th, 1846, at a house where Messrs. J. S. Heaps' shop now stands in Westgate. The opening services were conducted by the Rev. George Stanley Heap, late of Lydgate, and by the the Rev. Charles Wickstead, of Leeds. Mr. Heap was the first minister of the new church, the Trust Deed of which stipulated that no credal test should be required of any member or minister connected either with the church itself or with the associated Sunday School. The services were, in 1847, transferred from Westgate to the Hall of Science in Bath Buildings, and in 1854 the present chaste edifice, erected at a cost of £3,000, was opened by Dr. Martineau, the distinguished brother of that noble woman Harriet Martineau. Names of strange sound to English ears are of frequent occurrence in the list of those connected with this church — Schwann, Kell, Liebeicht, Huth, Lowenthal. The explanation is that Jews emancipated from Mosaic traditions have found in Unitarianism a faith that, based on the worship of the one true and living God, is fundamentally identical with a purified Judaism. The liberality of the Trust Deed, however, allows in the Fitzwilliam Street Church considerable latitude of interpretation and exposition, and I do not think I greatly err if I describe the minister who, from-1862 to 1884, held the charge — the Rev. John Thomas, M.A. — as a convinced Agnostic, though I believe he preferred the term Positivist. His philosophic discourses were much appreciated by the most thoughtful and cultured minds of the town and neighbourhood, and it is a significant fact that the less aggressive section of those who had been wont at Senior's School Room to sit at the feet of George Jacob Holyoake, Charles Bradlaugh, George W. Foote, Dr. Aveling, and other lecturers of very liberal views, were more and more attracted to the church in Fitzwilliam Street. Mr. Thomas had in early life been ordained to the Established Church, and at one time the chaplain of the Duke of Newcastle, if memory serves aright. His advancement in the Episcopal Church was therefore assured ; but the change in his theological views compelled his withdrawal from that Church, and he lived and died a poor man, for conscience sake, one of the world's little known and little appreciated martyrs. His was a most lovable disposition, and by those who knew him he was alike revered and loved. His preaching was not adapted to popular audiences, "caviare to the general," and philosopher though he was, it vexed him sore that his scholarly discourses were addressed to but a handful of the faithful few, while the multitude flocked to hear men with not a tithe of his ability. He found consolation in the strains of his beloved violin, and I think his happiest hours were those devoted to the divinest, sweetest, and most elevating of the arts. How great and enduring were the services he rendered to the culture of music in this district an abler writer must tell.
The Friends' Meeting House
The first meeting-house in Huddersfield of the Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers, was erected in the year 1770. It was rebuilt and enlarged in 1812 and again in 1898, the latter extension being largely necessitated by the growth in connection with this Society of the work conducted by the Adult Schools, work whose value it is not easy to exaggerate. In the wall of the latest structure has been preserved the stone, bearing the initials T. F. and E. H., and the date 1770, once part of the first meeting-house. The initials are those of Thomas Firth and Edmund Horsfall, the first trustees of the Society's Meeting House. The document constituting the trust is of great interest, not only as preserving the names of the founders of this church, but as vindicating, if vindication were needed, the right of the people to the people's commons until that right was extinguished by the Enclosure Acts. The Trust Deed is dated December 11, 1769, and is in these terms : "We whose names are hereunto subscribed, viz. : Thomas Ramsden, trustee for Sir John Rarhsden, lord of the manor of Huddersfield, and principal freeholders and landholders in the same parish, do hereby consent and agree that Thomas Firth and Edmund Horsfall ... shall and may at any time or times hereafter at their freewill and pleasure enclose and take in with a wall or other fence any quantity of land or ground of and from the bottom of the waste or common called Paddock or Parrock in the said parish of Huddersfield, and part of the said manor not exceeding forty square yards in the whole and to build a house thereon or upon any part thereof to be used as a meeting-house for religious worship by the people commonly called Quakers at all or any time or times hereafter at their free will and pleasure without any acknowledgment or recompense so long as the same shall be used for that purpose only and no longer." The signators to this remarkable document are Thomas Ramsden, J. Ramsden, Jno. J. Kaye, Edward Gregge, M. Briscoe, Thos. Thornhill, Willm. Hague, Wm. Firth, Elizabeth Firth, junr., Joseph Bradley, Danl. Battye, Benj. Walker, A. Savile, Sam Wood, Richard Kitson, Susanna Naylor, John Haigh. How far even so numerous a body of assentors could extinguish communal rights, and, apart from the statutes of limitations, confer a fee simple on the trustees is a question the writer is happily not called upon to determine. In 1790 new trustees were appointed : John Firth, of Lanehead, Shepley, yeoman ; William Marsden, of Burdsedge, Penistone, yeoman ; Richard Brook, of Raw, Almondbury, clothier ; William Cooper, of Huddersfield, sergemaker ; Robert Firth, of Huddersfield, Salter ; Thos. Horsfield, of Greenhouse, husbandman. I am indebted to Mr. J. W. Robson, of Dalton, of that family so long and honourably connected with this Society, for this information.
Notes and References
- Clearly the Chapel of Ease of St. James. — D.F.E.S.
- License issued under an assumed dispensing power of the Crown and the celebrated Declaration of Indulgence. — D.F.E.S.
- It was customary to have the meetings in a house or barn on an elevated situation. Sentinels were posted who gave warning of the approach of the " minions of the law," whereupon the flock dispersed. — D.F.E.S.
- P. 79 of this work.
- See "Memorial of Highfield Chapel," by Dr. Bruce, for a fuller account of this Conventicle.
- Fifty Years Ago. "Huddersfield Weekly Chronicle."
- The term is convenient, though the document, not being under seal, is not in strictness a deed. — D.F.E.S.