The History of the Township of Meltham, Near Huddersfield (1866) by Rev. Joseph Hughes
It does not appear that the public spirit which in the year 1650 led the inhabitants of Meltham to supply themselves with a chapel of ease for the worship of Almighty God, had been extinguished in that of 1785, when they again met together to consider the propriety of erecting for themselves a larger and more commodious church. The former edifice had stood for 135 years, and its then decaying walls, and limited accommodation for the wants of an increasing population, called for immediate and strenuous exertion — nor was this wanting.
As a first and necessary step, they applied to Parliament for the required powers, and on the 29th July, 1785, a faculty was granted to re-build the chapel, and in vol. xviii., page 298, of the "Parliamentary Survey," it is recorded :—
The value of the living in 1707, and probably even later on, is stated to have been £34. 3s. 6d. per annum; but a document in 1716, rates it at £40 per annum, well paid, namely, £20 raised upon houses, "which," says Mr. Radcliffe, an inhabitant of Meltham, "was, I suppose, settled when the chapel was consecrated, and £20 more since given in land."
That in the year 1785 only "eighty inhabitants were fit," that is were of age to repair to the chapel, is a clear proof that the population was at that time small, and this shows that even a very limited number of persons, united in heart and hand, and pulling steadily together, may effect much. The inhabitants of Meltham had tested this fact before, and they were then about to test it again. All the preliminary steps which were necessary having been taken, the demolition of the old edifice was decided upon. A notice of the day on which it commenced has been preserved in the diary of the Rev. Mr. Murgatroyd, the master of the Slaithwaite Grammar School, who writes on July 6th, 1786, "I hear they are this morning taking down Meltham Chapel."
The materials of the first chapel were used in part for the second, and the residue sold to the masons. A portion of these was applied to the building of a fulling mill, and the stone pinnacles, which had ornamented the porch of the old chapel, were made use of to adorn one end of the new mill. What more remained of the materials, went towards the building of a cottage situated close to the Pinfold, and not far from the chapel. In this cottage the old east windows were inserted, and are in existence at this day. It is traditionally stated, that in making the contract with the masons, the old bell was entirely forgotten, and that these worthies refused to give it up, except on the condition of its being filled with ale. This, or an equivalent being granted, it was restored to the proper authorities, and eventually hung in the belfry of the new chapel, to summon the inhabitants of Meltham to Sabbath worship in the new, as it had previously done in the old. This bell came originally from Almondbury, and bore the date of 1736. It had probably done duty in the first chapel for fifty years, and was destined to further service in the second for fifty more, when it was superseded by the present musical peal in the year 1836.
As the chapel of 1651 found both promoters and endowers in the Woodhead family, so also that of 1786 could boast of of a faithful and energetic friend in one of the same name and lineage — an "Abraham Woodhead," born and bred in the village of Meltham. This gentleman, it would appear, took a most active part in public affairs, was a very staunch Churchman, and kept the younger members of the community in good order. Those who remember him, describe his appearance as commanding, his features handsome, and his manner somewhat pompous.
It has been stated that the masons began to pull down the old chapel on the 6th of July, 1786, and it is recorded that the new one was ready for the organ on the 19th of June, 1788, that the instrument was brought into the village on that day, set in order on the 20th and 21st, and fully opened on the 22nd day of the same month. The pulpit belonging to the old chapel was put up in the new one for temporary use as soon as the building was ready for divine service, and the last sermon preached in it by the Rev. E. Armitstead was on the 21st of June, 1789, the text, which he took being from Galatians vi. 5, "For every man shall hear his own burden." How these words were applied by the preacher, whether in the sense indicated by the apostle, or as an exhortation to his hearers to exercise a conscientious liberality — for on such an occasion it may be concluded there must have been a collection — cannot now he ascertained.
The same pen which noted down the text of the last sermon from the old pulpit, has also preserved the first from the new one, preached on the 28th of June, 1789. It was from Psalm viii. 4, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?"
The Chandelier in the centre of the building, at that time considered a specimen of superior workmanship and an object of admiration to all beholders, was brought into the village October 25th, 1788, and suspended by the chain in its present position November the 2nd of the same year.
This last event seems to have completed the internal decorations of the chapel in the year 1788, and no doubt the two great additions, the organ and chandelier — neither of which existed in that of 1651 — were held in due estimation by the inhabitants of that time. Nothing more, probably, was wanting in their opinion to make their sanctuary all they could desire, and nothing then remained but that they should assemble themselves duly within its walls and diligently listen to the instruction to he therein given them.
who was appointed to the Curacy of Meltham in 1770, had occupied the pulpit in the old chapel for sixteen years, and he was the first occupant of that in the new, of which he retained possession for forty years, until his decease, which occurred in October, 1828, at the advanced age of 85. His remains were brought from Netherton, where he had resided during the whole of the time that he had charge of the chapelry, and were interred under the communion table in Meltham Church.
Mr. Armitstead was succeeded by the Rev. Lewis Jones, Vicar of Almondbury, who, as such, appointed himself to the Curacy, and continued to hold it for ten years, during the latter three of which, the taste for church improvement, which had lain dormant in the minds of the inhabitants of Meltham from the close of 1788 to the beginning of 1835, a period of forty-seven years, was suddenly aroused, and came upon them with such irresistible force, that they resolved by the building of a tower to raise their chapel to the dignity of a church, and, for the accomplishment of that end, immediately determined upon opening a subscription list. It was at the same time considered desirable to increase the accommodation in the chapel by adding a north aisle or transept, capable of containing a sufficient number of forms for the children of the Sunday schools, and placing a gallery above it.
On the 25th of February, 1835, a faculty was obtained to enlarge the chapel and to erect a gallery; and as 310 free sittings would be thereby obtained, in addition to the 750 already existing, the Incorporated Society for Promoting the Enlargement and Repairing of Churches and Chapels gave a grant of £250 to assist in carrying out the design. There was perfect union in the counsels of those with whom the idea of these improvements first originated, and the success attending "a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether," was never better exemplified than on that occasion. In the village and neighbourhood very handsome subscriptions were readily obtained for the contemplated additions. These included a square embattled tower, with a vestry in the basement, a north aisle or transept, and a gallery above it. Heretofore the vestry had been in the north-east corner of the chapel, near to the communion rails, in the space now occupied by two pews belonging to the family of the late Mr. Jonas Brook.
On March the 5th, 1835, the first stone of the tower of Meltham Church — for henceforth, by virtue of this tower, it was to be considered and called a church, and not a chapel — was laid by Charles Lee, Esq., of Leeds, and a sermon preached on the occasion by Dr. Naylor, Head Master of the Grammar School at Wakefield, in his capacity of Chaplain to the Freemasons, who attended the ceremony in great numbers. The Rev. Dr. took for his text the 8th verse of the 32nd chapter of Isaiah, "But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand." The collection after the sermon amounted to £16 14s. 3d. In the autumn of that same year, and on a day — St. Bartholomew's, the 24th of August — memorable in the annals of Meltham as that on which the first chapel was consecrated, the top stone of the tower was put on ; and great, beyond measure, were the rejoicings in the village on the occasion. It was the time of the annual feast, and the inhabitants were resolved to make a real holiday of it.
Among other amusements, baskets, to which pulleys were attached, had been provided to enable the more adventurous among the crowd to make easy ascents to the top of the tower, and probably in the excitement of this novel and somewhat hazardous expedition lay its greatest charm. One act of daring imprudence, which must have thrown all others into the shade, is still remembered, and has been narrated by the individual who was himself the perpetrator of it. This mad freak was no other than mounting the ladder used by the masons in their work, with his little child, a year old, in his arms, and holding her in triumph on one of the east pinnacles of the tower. This he did in defiance of the entreaties and remonstrances of the bystanders, who hardly dared to look for his safe return with the child from so giddy an eminence.
The cost of these additions and improvements was £1,500 ; but there was still something more wanting to make the church all that its friends desired, and that was—
The tower completed, it stood invitingly ready for their reception, and the inhabitants of Meltham, being enthusiastic lovers of music, were resolved at that time to gratify their taste for it by the purchase of a peal of bells, six in number, which should eclipse all others in the neighbourhood, and bring not only harmony, but glory to their village. The idea was so popular, that subscriptions for the object were speedily obtained, and on Monday, the first of February, 1836, the bells were brought in triumph by carts, readily volunteered for such a purpose, into the village. By the 20th of February they were ready for use, and on that day they sent forth their first glad volume of sound, and awoke an echo of gladness in every heart in Meltham.
The love of church bells is one of our strongest national characteristics, our country being from an early period called "Merry England," because of the prevalence of bells in it, and the universality of the taste for ringing them.
It is to be lamented that any evil should be connected with that which is associated with the most solemn, as also with the most joyful seasons ; and yet such is unfortunately too true, for the ringing of the church bells is frequently made an excuse for the neglect of that sacred worship to which it invites others, and thus "from the tower to the alehouse," has become almost a proverb. The first prize ringing took place on the 6th and 7th of April, 1836, being the Wednesday and Thursday in Easter week, and, as may naturally be supposed, the new bells were for a length of time the universal topic of conversation with both young and old. It would indeed be difficult to overrate the sweetness and fulness of their tone, or the high estimation in which they were then, and have ever since been held. The inscriptions upon them are the following :—
On the first or smallest bell,—
On the second,—
On the third,—
On the fourth,—
On the fifth,—
On the sixth,—
It is to be observed that the bells, though cast in the year 1835, were not hung until 1836.
It did not require much foresight to perceive that a church, furnished by the public spirit and energy of those around it, with a tower and peal of bells, was likely to be left without a clock; and hence, in a short time after, that useful appendage was added, and which gave the last finishing touch to the whole structure.
Those who witnessed the excessive interest shown by the inhabitants of Meltham in the erection of the tower and the addition of bells to their church, affirm that, during the six months which the building occupied, the wall outside the churchyard, whence its daily progress could be watched, was the general rendezvous of the working men in the evenings, and that the excitement about the bells was so great as to induce vast numbers of the people to go as far as Marsden to meet and welcome them. Such enthusiasm could hardly be excited in the present day by the erection of a far more pretentious edifice, and it is doubtful whether the inhabitants of Meltham will ever again feel the same amount of pride and delight as they unquestionably did on the completion of their tower, and the first ringing of their sweet-toned bells.
In the year 1838, the Rev. Joseph Hughes was nominated to the incumbency of Meltham, on its resignation by the Rev. Lewis Jones, vicar of the parish, and patron of the living. The appointment was viewed with entire satisfaction by all at the time it was made, and what was thought of it twenty-five years after, when this faithful pastor was removed from his charge by the hand of death, on Sunday, the 8th of November, 1863, is best known to those who remember the village of Meltham on that Sabbath Day, a day of darkness and distress to all its inhabitants, and one on which we may not dwell in this place. His memory is enshrined in the hearts of the people, and there all those who loved him best are well content to leave it.
A beautiful monumental tablet, erected to his memory in the church where he ministered so long, bears the following inscription :—
From 1836 to 1851, nothing further seems to have been projected or done, either to the external or internal framework of the church, but the gospel continued to be faithfully preached within its walls, and it is trusted that during that time many souls were, through the instrumentality of the ministry, added unto the Lord.
In the year 1851, the church and churchyard were closed by an order of the Queen in Council, according to the provisions of Acts 16 and 17 Vict. c. 134; and 15 and 16 Vict, c. 85, against the continuance of further interments therein, when active steps were taken by the churchwardens to provide ground for a cemetery, and a rate was levied for its purchase and enclosure. The churchyard at Meltham not being of large extent, and having been used as a place of sepulture for a couple of centuries, its crowded state rendered such additional provision a matter of positive necessity, and the cemetery was proceeded with, and got ready for consecration on Friday, the 14th of November, 1851, on which morning the bells rang a cheerful peal to welcome the only bishop who had visited Meltham since the 24th of August, 1651 — the day on which the first chapel was consecrated by Bishop Tilson. In the evening his lordship kindly occupied the pulpit, and preached the annual missionary sermon to a large and very attentive congregation.
On the following Sunday, November 16th, two admirable and appropriate discourses, the one by the Rev. D. James, of Kirkdale, the other by the Rev. C. A. Hulbert, of Slaithwaite, were delivered from the same pulpit. The text taken by the former was from Exodus xv. 11, "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders." The text of the latter was from Daniel ix. and the latter part of the 25th verse, "The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times." On each occasion the attendance of the inhabitants was very large, and unqualified satisfaction was expressed with both discourses.
From the year 1851 to 1857 nothing more, worthy of record, was done in the church. But in the latter year, the comfort of the congregation was greatly increased by the removal of an unsightly stove, and the substitution in its place of hot water pipes. By means of these, every part of the edifice was effectually warmed, and an even temperature produced throughout. Stairs from the transept into the boys' school below were also added, and the congregation thus relieved of the noise and confusion inseparable from the exit of the boys of a Sunday school, pushing their way out at the same door with their elders, impatient of restraint and eager for dismissal. After the addition of these stairs, the boys were henceforth to go by them from the transept into the lower school.
At this time a new pulpit was put up in place of the old one, and the panel from that of 1651, which had been carefully preserved, with the inscription carved in the wood — Cathedra Yeritatis 1651 — was inserted in the centre of it in front, and easy and commodious stairs substituted for the almost perpendicular flight by which the former narrow and confined pulpit had to be reached. These various improvements were effected by the kind liberality of one of the members of the congregation, Mr. Hirst, of Wilshaw Villa.
The next improvement in the interior of the church at Meltham was a new organ, erected in 1859. This excellent instrument was presented by the late lamented Mrs. Beaumont, the beloved wife of Mr. Alfred Beaumont, then of Park Cottage, near Huddersfield, and now of Greave, in the new parish of Netherthong. This amiable lady, the only child of Mr. Joseph Hirst, of Wilshaw Villa, was removed suddenly by death, at the early age of twenty-seven, a short time before the organ was opened, which, therefore, will ever remain an affecting memorial of one whose memory will long survive in the esteem of her relatives, friends, and neighbours.
When the incumbency of Meltham became vacant, near the close of the year 1863, by the death of the Rev. Joseph Hughes, who had held it for twenty-five years, the Rev. Edward Collis Watson, previously Curate of Meltham Mills, and afterwards Incumbent of Honley, was appointed to the living by the patron, the vicar of the parish. Since Mr. Watson's appointment, the chandelier, mentioned in a preceding page of this chapter, has been removed, and the internal improvement of the church has been further effected by the introduction of gas light.
In taking our leave of the church we may observe, that however defective the fabric may be in an architectural point of view, it undoubtedly has a three-fold claim upon the inhabitants for their liveliest regard. 1st, As the link which connects them with the chapel of 1651; 2nd, As the truest memorial of the Churchmanship of their forefathers ; and, 3rd, As being evidently the mother church of the valley.
Next to the church, the National and Sunday Schools in connection with it, claim a brief notice, and especially their rise and progress. The earliest intimation on record of the schoolmaster being at Meltham, is contained in a clause in the will of one Matthew Lockwood, dated "May 23rd, 1715, by which he directed the interest of £20 to be paid to a schoolmaster for teaching children in the town of Meltham, English or Latin." Whether there was at that time a school-house in existence, is not certainly known, though it may be inferred that there was not, from the fact that one was required and built in the village in the year 1737, the wood for which was given by Mr. Benjamin Armytage, of Thickhollins, and there is no tradition extant of a previously erected school-room. This building stood on the same site as that of the present school, but was of much smaller dimensions and ruder construction. What means of instruction may have existed, or what kind of teaching may have prevailed in the village previous to the year 1737, cannot now he definitely ascertained, though it may be inferred that neither the qualification of the teacher nor the extent of the instruction was more than elementary and superficial; for when the principal inhabitants met in 1721 to elect new trustees for the chapel estate under the will of the Rev. Abraham Woodhead, only twelve persons out of forty-four were able to subscribe their names. Education, it is true, at that time was mainly confined to the privileged few, even in the vicinity of large towns. It would, therefore, be unreasonable to expect that it could have been widely diffused in a remote and isolated village like Meltham. In proof of the gross ignorance which pervaded many parts of the West-Riding of Yorkshire, even thirty-six years later than the period specified, the Rev. John Wesley records in his journal an account of his visit to Huddersfield, and adds a description of the people to whom he preached. In June, 1757, he states :—
And again, in 1759, he says :—
Nor were such barbarous proceedings then confined to the West-Riding alone, for when George Whitfield preached in Moorfields, a.d. 1742, the same degree of lawless violence marked the conduct of the bystanders, who, if inhabitants of a less wild country than that visited by his friend Mr. Wesley, were in no ways behind them in barbarity of conduct, so that the schoolmaster was quite as much needed in Moorfields, though so near to the great metropolis, as in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield.
A beneficial change has taken place in the tone of society throughout the whole kingdom since the time in which these two apostolic men lived and preached, and is perhaps nowhere more strongly marked than in the West-Riding of Yorkshire. This is doubtless mainly attributable to the humanising influence of Sabbath schools, to which the district of Meltham, in common with many others, owes much of its advance in civilisation and morals. It is about eighty years since Sunday schools were first established in the village, and well and wisely have they done their work in it from that day to this. Let all honour be given to the memory of those who first founded these institutions. They were the organisers of a system adapted more than any other to combine and elevate the largest class of society, and effect the greatest amount of good on the greatest number of persons.
Our great national poet has said, that the quality of mercy "blesses him that gives, and him that takes," and this, it may be observed, is eminently the case in Sunday school teaching, which, while it enforces attention and obedience in the scholar, at the same time exercises the virtues of self-denial and patience in the teacher, and thus, morally, strengthens both.
The village of Meltham owes its first Sabbath school to the exertions of Mr. William Whitacre, a gentleman who in the year 1788 was appointed one of the commissioners to inquire into the state of the neighbouring chapel of Slaithwaite. His attention, probably, about that period, was called to the important subject of schools, for it was only a year later that he succeeded in establishing one at Golcar Hill. A second Sunday school was set on foot in the village of Meltham in 1806, by some gentleman whose name cannot be ascertained. It was held in the week-day school, and when that ceased to be large enough to contain all who sought admission into it, a third school was opened in a cottage opposite the church, subject to the same rules and under the same management as the preceding ones. And from that day to this, the institution of the Sabbath schools has never lost its hold upon the affections of the people of Meltham.
In evidence of this, the educational statistics of the year 1864, as furnished by Mr. J. W. Carlile, in his speech at the meeting of the Mechanics' Institute held in the village, are here subjoined. They stand thus :—
With facts such as these before us, we are not surprised at the amount of interest excited in the district by the annual Whit-Monday festivities, in which all classes join heart and hand, or at the processions and social tea drinkings which mark that truly red letter day.
After the old village school of 1737 had fallen into decay and become unfit for use, it was taken down, and in the year 1823, another erected on its site. This, and the school-house attached to it, were built by subscriptions raised at the time, and by money — £100 — borrowed of James Brook, Esq. The amount of the masons' contract for the work was £266 16s. 3d.
After an interval of twenty-two years, the space, which previously had been found sufficient for the number of children, was then rendered wholly inadequate, by the rapidly increasing population of the village, for their future accommodation. Accordingly, measures were adopted in 1844-5, for enlarging and improving the school, so far as the limits of the site would admit, in order to meet their wants. The extension and other alterations in the building were made at a cost of £315 10s. ; and the money for defraying the expense incurred was raised partly by subscriptions among the inhabitants, and partly by means of grants obtained from the Committee of Privy Council on Education and from the National Society. The grant from the Committee of Council was £110; and from the National Society there were two grants of £25 each — one of them dated July 4th, 1844, and the other May 26th, 1846. From that period the school became a National School, and was at the same time placed under Government inspection. Mr. Lawford, who is well known for his efficiency as a teacher, is the present master. He entered on his duties in that capacity in February, 1844, with five scholars only. And when the number in attendance is now found to amount to one hundred and sixty, some idea may be formed of the success which has attended his labours. The career of the school from 1844 down to the present time has been marked by constant and steady progression, as the periodical reports of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools fully testify.
Whilst the present state of the National School at Meltham, as regards the efficiency of the teaching carried on in it, is highly satisfactory, it must be admitted that the limited dimensions of the building itself, with its defective means of ventilation, and no space for play-ground attached, is utterly inadequate to supply the growing exigencies of the place. The improved system of instruction adopted in all schools under Government inspection, requires ampler room and better arrangements in order to be put into proper and successful operation. It is, therefore, to be earnestly hoped that no time or exertion will be spared in promoting the erection of a new and commodious building on the site which has been purchased by Mr. Charles Brook, jun., and by him munificently presented for that object. By united and persevering effort on the part of the inhabitants who have the welfare of the young at heart, the reproach of inferior and insufficient school premises may be speedily and effectually removed, and thereby another instance would be added to those already enumerated of the public spirit which has ever prevailed in Meltham.
P.S. — Since the foregoing paragraph was written, an influential building committee has been appointed to carry out the plans of the projected new schools, and contracts for their erection have been already entered into. It is therefore highly probable that the foundation stone will be laid, and the building commenced in earnest before this work be out of the press.