The History of the Township of Meltham, Near Huddersfield (1866) by Rev. Joseph Hughes
To enable the rapid growth and present importance of the flourishing village of Meltham Mills to be duly appreciated, its condition some eighty years ago should be reviewed, when it contained only a small corn mill, about the size of a cottage situated near the Old Manor House, built by Mr. Nathaniel Dyson's ancestors many centuries before, and in which he at that time lived. It was from the corn mill attached to this house that the place originally derived its name of "Meltham Mill" the designation still given to it by many of the older inhabitants of the district. And if to these two buildings, the manor house and the com mill, five or six small cottages be added, a fair picture of the village of Meltham Mill, as it was in the year 1786, will be presented. It did not assume the name of Meltham Mills till a few years later on, when it became entitled to do so in consequence of the increased number of mills erected in it.
With regard to the Old Manor House, there is a tradition that it was built at a time when the wages of masons were a peck of meal, or a penny a day; and that the old wall of Mottram Church, or churchyard, was then in building ; the masons, after finishing their work at the mansion, are said to have gone direct to complete the wall at that place. If the statement as to the rate of wages at that time be correct, the Old Manor House belonged to an exceedingly early period, as the earnings of a mason in the year 1350 amounted to threepence a day.
The following curious story connected with this ancient edifice, and some of its early occupants, has also been handed down by tradition :— One of the lords of the manor who resided in it, and whose name was Dyson, died intestate, and left behind him a widow and two sons, Nathaniel and Daniel. To supply the deficiency of a will, the widow, who was a spirited lady, is reported to have taken the law into her own hands, and to have executed a deed, by which she gave the royalty to one son, and, as an equivalent, £5 to the other ; the remaining lords of the manor being appointed by her to decide which of the sons should have the royalty, and which the £5. Such a document would hardly be held valid in the present day, whatever may have been its legal force then. The story is given as handed down by tradition.
But to resume the history of the various mills erected from time to time in this part of the valley from the close of the last century down to the middle of the present, Mr. Nathaniel Dyson, as has been already stated, in the year 1786, purchased a part of the materials of the old chapel of Meltham erected in 1651, and with these built a fulling mill near the site of the premises where Mr. W. Myers's workshop now stands. This was afterwards bought by Messrs. Brooks, and taken down by them about the time that the present church at Meltham Mills was built. Another small mill stood on the stream behind Wood Cottage ; it was situated about half-way up the long and narrow dam and stream which are now overlooked by tasteful pleasure grounds, but at that time the stream ran through rough and tangled banks. This was a scribbling mill, and was used for scribbling, carding, and stubbing wool only; the exact date of its erection is not known, but it could hardly be further back than from eighty to eighty-five years, perhaps even less than that, as the purpose for which it was used, namely — scribbling, carding, and slubbing by water power, superseded the same kind of work performed by hand labour about that period ; and if, therefore, it was built at the commencement of the new system, it could notbe of an earlier date than about 1780. It is stated on good authority that this building was taken down between fifty and sixty years ago, being then found too small and not well adapted to meet the required improvements of the time. Messrs. William Brook and Sons were the owners and occupiers of this mill, and were at that time engaged in the woollen trade. The fulling department was carried on in another small building which stood on the site of the south end of what is now termed the "old" or "first factory," namely, that building in which the clock, with the illuminated face, is placed, facing the north.
In the year 1785-6, Mr. William Brook, who was at that time residing at Thickhollins, which he had taken on a twenty-one years' lease, built a small woollen mill on a part of the site occupied by the present extensive cotton thread factories, which was worked by a water-wheel. As, however, the supply of water proved insufficient to keep the machinery in action, a steam-engine was erected for the purpose of pumping it up from the pond at the foot of the wheel into a small dam above, from which it was conveyed back again to the wheel. By this means the whole machinery was kept in continuous motion, the same water being again and again used for the same purpose.
Some years later on, the building above mentioned was enlarged, the woollen mill converted into a cotton factory, and about the year 1805 a reservoir was made, calculated to afford a constant and sufficient supply of water for the carrying on of the works. The aid of the pumping steam-engine was therefore dispensed with, being no longer required.
The idea of the reservoir first originated with the late Mr. Jonas Brook, whose keen foresight, practical sense, and steadiness of purpose, peculiarly fitted him for the inauguration of a new and great design. It was under the auspices of this gentleman that the manufacture of cotton thread was introduced into the neighbourhood ; and the firm of Messrs. Jonas Brook and Brothers, now so widely known, then first entered upon its successful career. The business once established, was rapidly extended by the great talent and energy of Mr. Jonas Brook, and its expansion led from time to time to the erection of much larger works. This worthy man, whose memory is held in much esteem by his family and friends, died in the year 1836, and his remains were followed to their resting place in Meltham Church by the sincere regrets of all his workpeople.
The principal part of the management of the business after his death devolved on his younger brother, Mr. Charles Brook, of Healey House, and at that time the works were again still further enlarged. The nephews of this gentleman, Messrs. William Leigh and Charles Brook, became in the year 1845, on the death of their father, James Brook, Esq., of Thorparch, proprietors of the extensive cotton works at Meltham Mills, to which they made considerable additions by the erection of another large factory and a great number of cottages for the accommodation of the operatives in their employ. In various other ways they also greatly improved the works, and brought them at length almost to their present magnitude.
The name of another estimable man, James Brook, Esq., of Thorparch, who was at one time intimately connected with Meltham Mills and its immediate neighbourhood, must be here introduced. His great benevolence and worth, enhanced by the charm of simplicity and naturalness of character, made him beloved and respected by all, and those who knew him most intimately, used to remark that his fine open countenance, so expressive of kindly feeling, was a true index of his mind.
Fully sensible of the increased responsibility attached to increasing wealth, Mr. James Brook, in the year 1838, made provision for the spiritual welfare and instruction of those residing at Meltham Mills, by the erection of a neat and commodious Gothic edifice, built on the plan recommended by Bishop Wilson, and designed to serve the double purpose of a church and school; it combined in itself also two small residences, one for a clergyman, the other for a schoolmaster. This building was licensed for divine service by the then Lord Bishop of the diocese — Dr. Longley — and was opened for that purpose in the December of 1838. It contained 250 sittings.
The first appointment made to this church was that of the late Rev. David Meredith, whose talent and piety had been amply tested in the church and village of Meltham, where he had previously laboured with unwearying diligence for above three years, and where his ministry was held in the highest possible esteem. From the close of the year 1838, when this valuable young clergyman took upon him the charge of the new church at Meltham Mills, until the summer of 1841, when failing health compelled him to resign his post and try the effects of a dry and warm climate, strongly recommended to him by his medical advisers, he continued to minister with devoted earnestness among his people, notwithstanding the weakness of his frame and the depressing nature of his complaint. How truly sad was the parting between pastor and flock when it actually took place, many who read this may remember, for the place of his destination was a most remote one — Smyrna — and who among them could be hopeful enough to anticipate his return ? This, however, was in the good providence of God permitted; and when in the year 1845 he again reached the shores of England, he was received with a cordial welcome by the friends whom he had left behind, and who rejoiced in the prospect of being once more placed under his ministerial care.
The church accommodation afforded by the building of 1838 was, in the year 1844, found so inadequate to meet the wants of the increased numbers who sought admission within its walls, that the erection of the present beautiful Gothic structure of St. James's, Meltham Mills, was decided upon, and so rapidly was the work executed that it was ready for consecration by the 11th of November, 1845. It was in this sacred edifice, which contains 730 sittings, that the Rev. David Meredith continued to officiate until the year 1850, when he removed to Elland, in the parish of Halifax.
The worthy founder and endower of the church, James Brook, Esq., did not live to see its completion, having been called to his rest some months before it was finished. A notice of the monument raised to the memory of this good man by his three surviving sons, will be found in another place; and the inscription it bears, as a faithful sketch of his character, may be read with interest by many of those who knew him in life, and who still hold his name in affectionate remembrance.
The various improvements and additions made at Meltham Mills within the last twenty-five years must not be overlooked, for they deserve to be put on record for the information of future generations. After the completion of the church, a suitable school, in connection with it, was erected by Mr. Charles Brook, of Healey House, in the year 1856, assisted by grants from the National Society, and to this, a few years after, a beautiful parsonage house, in the Gothic style of architecture, was added by the same gentleman. The infant school was built by his nephew, Mr. Charles Brook, junior, as also the noble dining hall for the comfort and convenience of the workpeople employed at the cotton thread manufactory. This spacious room is furnished with a stove and apparatus adapted for the heating of water, coffee, &c., and is also fitted up with all the appliances necessary for lectures, concerts, and public meetings of every kind. A large swimming bath below, greatly adds to the completeness of the accommodation in the building, and is much appreciated by those wise enough to make use of it.
One striking feature in the Meltham Mills landscape is the handsome family mansion — Meltham Hall — built by the late Mr. William Leigh Brook, in the year 1841, which, standing on a slightly elevated plain, and in the midst of tastefully arranged grounds, has, from every point of view, a very imposing effect.
The last and certainly the most delightful addition to all that has been previously undertaken for the benefit of the inhabitants of Meltham Mills and neighbourhood, are the public gardens, or, as they are popularly called, "The People's Pleasure Grounds."
These were laid out by Mr. Major, the celebrated landscape gardener, at the sole expense of Mr. Charles Brook, junior, and are not only picturesque to the eye, but beneficial to the health of those who from time to time resort to them for the enjoyment of innocent recreation and social intercourse. Eventually, when the wood on the slopes has attained a certain amount of growth, these grounds, the gift of a generous and large-hearted man to the public, will form a still more marked feature in the landscape, and afford shelter while they also add beauty to it.
Such are the physical changes which have been effected at Meltham Mills by the talent, public spirit and energy of the Messrs. Brook, and the moral effects produced by their character and conduct upon the vast number of operatives in their employ is perhaps still more striking. Between these, and the masters and managers, the utmost harmony has at all times prevailed, and while those at the head of the business have ever shown the deepest interest in the well being, both temporal and spiritual, of their workpeople, they, on their part, have, as a body, been found diligent in duty and faithful to those under whom the providence of God has placed them, and the result, with his blessing, has been prosperity to all parties. Families having once settled at Meltham Mills have rarely removed from the place, and in numerous instances three generations, and in one, four out of the same family are found working together in the factory.
The ecclesiastical district attached to St. James's, Meltham Mills, contains a population of 1096 souls. The church, which stands at an angle with Meltham Hall and the mills, is of Gothic architecture, cruciform in figure, and adorned with a spire. Its interior is richly ornamented with stained glass windows, many of which are memorial ones. On the walls a great number of illuminated texts are inscribed ; and several monuments which record early and affecting deaths are to be found in the chancel and other parts of the building. The whole edifice, within and without, as well as the pretty churchyard surrounding it, is kept with scrupulous exactness, and bespeaks the care bestowed upon it by one who would not choose himself to dwell "in a house of cedar," while any thing was lacking in the house of God.
Hitherto the pulpit of this church has been filled by faithful and diligent pastors, men "wise to win souls," and fully alive to the responsibility of their sacred office. One of these, the Rev. Andrew Frost, now a missionary in India, succeeded the Rev. Mr. Meredith in the year 1850, and in 1853, on the resignation of the Rev. Mr. Frost, the vicar of the parish appointed the present much respected incumbent, the Rev. Edward Cumming Ince, to fill this important post.
The schools in connection with the church are under the efficient care of Mr. and Mrs. Morehouse. The average attendance in the day schools is 274, in the Sunday schools 270, and in the night school 32. To the lending libraries and clothing club connected with the schools and mills, the allotment gardens and annual horticultural show established for their encouragement, the limits of this work will not admit of more than a passing allusion, but it must be observed that all are kept in excellent working order, which reflects great credit on those by whom they are managed.
This review of the rise and progress of the cotton thread manufactory of Meltham Mills contains in itself an important moral lesson, showing how a well ordered and successful business has been made the centre of much that is excellent and of "good report among men." In proof of this we point to its church, schools, libraries, commodious cottages, public gardens, baths, &c., and to countless other arrangements designed for the comfort and well being of the working classes.
Among the various monumental inscriptions in St. James's Church, transcripts of which are here given, that in the chancel on the founder, James Brook, Esq., of Thorparch, is the first to claim attention.
On the opposite side is the following tablet :—
A beautiful east window has during the past year — 1865 — been put into the chancel by Mr. Charles Brook, junior, the subject of which is, "The Ascension." It bears the follow inscription :— "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."
Two of the very affecting inscriptions in the chancel of this church may serve to teach future posterity, as the events they record have taught the present generation, a solemn lesson on the uncertainty of human life and of all things pertaining to it. Many of the inhabitants may remember the health and spirits in which Mr. and Mrs. Brook, of Meltham Hall, left their home in the month of August, 1855, never again to return to it ; and many still surviving in the neighbourhood can recall the shock, like the sudden fall of a thunderbolt in the midst of a calm, which was produced throughout it by the arrival of a telegram announcing Mrs. Brook's death, of Asiatic cholera, on the 17th of September, 1855, at Frankfort-on-the-Maine. The circumstances under which this sad intelligence reached Meltham Mills were very remarkable, and seemed, if possible, to increase its sadness ; for, on the morning of that day, news of the fall of Sebastopol had arrived, and all hearts were filled with gladness at the prospect of returning peace which this event seemed to promise. From every part of the mills flags were floating in honour of it, decorations everywhere preparing, and expressions of joy and exultation were heard on all sides. But the telegram came on with its dread message, and in a moment all was reversed. Flags were instantly lowered, decorations stopped, and it might truly be said then, as once on a former occasion in Israel, "the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people." It will also be remembered how, before the public mind had at all recovered from the effects of this first stunning blow, a second, still more terrible, followed close upon it, and another telegram, with the appalling intelligence of Mr. Brook's death at Cologne, of the same malady — Asiatic cholera — two days only after that of his wife, closed this solemn tragedy. The effect produced upon the neighbourhood by these events may be better imagined than described, as also the regrets felt by all, for the friends thus suddenly cut off in the bloom and vigour of life, far away from their kindred and country, and from all the alleviating circumstances attendant upon a home deathbed.
To the poor of the district and to his workpeople, Mr. Brook's untimely death was a great loss ; for to the former he was a liberal benefactor, to the latter a most considerate master, and to all a kind and friendly neighbour.
The two lines inscribed on the fifth and last window, which record the removal of one, a young wife and mother in the very morning of her existence, may serve to remind those who read them of the shortness of life, in "the midst of" which "we are in death."
Another interesting object in this part of the district which next claims attention, is the handsome and well ventilated silk mill at Bentley, erected by Mr. Charles Brook, of Healey House, in the year 1840. Adjoining this are several neat dwelling-houses for the overlookers and some of the skilled workmen connected with the establishment, which were built about the same time. In this factory, as in that of the cotton thread at Meltham Mills, great numbers of women and young girls find employment, preference being given in both to females, because of their superior delicacy of touch, which peculiarly fits them for the handling of the slight material, whether silk or cotton, which has to pass through their fingers. Precisely the same harmony is observed to exist here between the employers and employed, as at Meltham Mills; nor would it be easy in any locality to find masters more deeply interested in the welfare of their workpeople than those at Bentley Factory.
Bentley mill and the houses contiguous to it, now belong ecclesiastically to Helme, which, before 1858, formed a part of the chapelry of Meltham, but was in that year constituted a new parish under the Marquis of Blandford's act. This parish is now furnished with a church and school of its own, and in consequence, enjoys many religious privileges from which, owing to the remoteness of its position with regard to Meltham, it was previously excluded. The village of Helme owes the great blessing of its church to the family of Mr. Brook, of Healey House, by whom it was built in memory of one of its members, Mr. Charles John Brook, whose lamented death took place at Thickhollins, on February 17th, 1857.
Christ Church, Helme, was endowed by Mr. Brook and his eldest son, with the sum of £5000, and was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese — Dr. Bickersteth — on Thursday, the 3rd of November, 1859.
It forms a striking feature in the landscape, and is a pleasing object from almost every part of the valley below. Competent judges of ecclesiastical architecture greatly admire the style and proportions of this structure, which belongs to the early English decorated Gothic, while that which most pleases common observers is, its perfect adaptation to the locality in which it stands, and of which it is the chief ornament. The interior of the building is enriched with a great number of Scripture texts, and is calculated to accommodate 300 persons, besides which, it will seat 100 school children.
The pretty churchyard, though so recently consecrated as in the November of 1859, has already numerous tenants, and contains within its precincts the mortal remains of many whose names and memories will long continue to be cherished in the district. One in particular may be mentioned, who, coming a stranger into the village of Meltham, lived in such love and harmony among her neighbours during her short sojourn in their midst, that her early death was felt as a personal sorrow by every one, for all loved and trusted her.
The following inscription is to be observed on a tablet in the baptistery under the tower :—
The mortal remains of Charles John Brook repose in the churchyard of Meltham Mills, and on a white marble headstone which marks his place of sepulture, the following touching lines are inscribed :—
Of the benevolent and estimable young man, whose early and lamented death is here recorded, much might be said in this place, for he belonged to the district by birth and education, was known and loved by all residing in it, and was felt to be in the best sense of the word, the friend of all, his whole energies being devoted to the promotion of the spiritual and temporal good of those among whom his lot was cast To the poor and afflicted his ready sympathy with human suffering of every kind, especially endeared him, and made his presence in the chamber of sickness and death both a solace and support. The name of "John Charles," as he was familiarly and lovingly called by his poorer friends, was a household word in every family, and will long be remembered as such in all the cottages* of the working-classes, whether scattered over the distant moors, or situated in the nearer hamlets. Among the latter, that of Helme was, from the remoteness of its position and want of spiritual privileges, an object of much interest to him, and it is to these combined circumstances, it probably owes its selection as the site for a memorial church. The incumbent is the Rev. James Brook, who is much respected in the parish.
The school at Helme was for a time under the management of Mr. Lunn, and at the last meeting of the Meltham Mechanics' Institute, when statistics were given of the various schools in the ecclesiastical districts, it appeared that Helme, out of a population of 787, had 78 children under daily instruction, 138 in its Sunday school, and that the young persons from Holthead and Helme, attending the evening classes, amounted in number to 54.
The picturesque Gothic cottages built by Mr. Brook, of Healey House, in the road leading to Helme, are a great addition to the beauty of the landscape, and their gay little gardens, sloping down to the highway, have a most pleasing effect.
One more interesting portion of the chapelry of Meltham, still remains to be described, which is Wilshaw. In this hamlet which belongs entirely to Mr. Hirst, various additions and improvements have been made during the last twenty years. But before entering upon a description of them, it may be well to glance for a moment at the probable aspect of the locality in the fourteenth century, at which time we gather from an ancient document of the reign of Edward III., that Wilshaw was a well wooded and possibly a well watered portion of the district. This curious and valuable document, once in the possession of the late Joseph Green Armytage, Esq., of Thickhollins, was a grant from Edward III. to John de Thickholyns, empowering him to cut wood in the Willow Shae, or Shaw, now called Wilshaw, in all probability the site on which the church and a villa have since been erected. It is very interesting to be thus carried back to a period so early as that between the years 1327 and 1377, in the first of which Edward III., began, and in the last of which he ended his reign, and through a vista of so many centuries to get a glimpse at Wilshaw, lying embowered in thick trees, among which it must be concluded from its name, that the willow preponderated. It is also interesting to find that the names of Thickhollins and Wilshaw, have, in so great a lapse of time undergone so little change either in their spelling or pronunciation.
This is the first and only record extant of the country situated immediately contiguous to the two hamlets of Greave, in the township of Netherthong, if indeed, they existed at all at that period. Its present aspect is highly picturesque, as are all the views everywhere to be seen from it. The same distinctive features of wide heath-covered moors and magnificent extent of sky, prevail here as elsewhere on these high hills, and give to the landscape a character of hreadth and boldness peculiarly its own. The sun-sets, occasionally to be observed from it, are remarkable for their richness and beauty — a fact which is attributable to the great distance of the horizon from the spectator.
Such are the natural features of this remote corner of the district. Of the artificial ones that have been added to it, neither few in number nor unimportant in character, it may be affirmed that the patient and industrious pursuit of commerce has in few localities been crowned with greater success, or produced more marvellous results during the last twenty years than in that of Wilshaw, where the erection of a church and infant school, with a house for the minister, the laying out of extensive and beautiful grounds, owe their existence to the genius of well directed commercial enterprise as exhibited in the person of one very spirited individual, Mr. Joseph Hirst, of Wilshaw Villa. This gentleman's woollen cloth mills are situate, one at Meltham Mills, and the other at Royd Edge; he has also other extensive buildings at Wilshaw, adapted to hand-loom weaving, dyeing, woolsorting, &c., &c., and near to these he has erected neat and commodious dwelling-houses for some of his overlookers and skilled workmen.
St. Mary's Church, Wilshaw, was built and endowed by Mr. Hirst, in memory of his beloved and only child, Mary, the wife of Mr. Alfred Beaumont, of Park Cottage, whose early death took place on June the 9th, 1859. The first stone of this edifice was laid by Mrs. Hirst on the 31st of March, 1862, and it was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese on the 27th of April, 1863. The infant school, which forms a part of the building, is a spacious room, well adapted to the purpose for which it was designed, it is furnished with forms for the weekday evening lectures, and is also used as a Sunday school. The daily attendance of infants averages thirty-five, and there are fifty on the books. The number of Sunday scholars is 104, the population of the district is 490. The minister is the Rev. J.S.E. Spencer.
This church is calculated to seat 230 persons, including the school children. The style of its architecture is that termed Romanesque. Nothing can exceed the beauty of the stone masonry without, equalled only by that of the wood work within, the carving of which is greatly admired, while everything connected with the church bespeaks the care and attention bestowed upon it. A handsome east window bears the following inscription :—
And on each of the north and south windows in the chancel these lines are inscribed :—
It would be impossible to withhold a tribute of affectionate respect to the memory of this amiable young lady, suddenly removed from her family and friends by the hand of death, in the 28th year of her age; nor can it be considered out of place here to record her endearing qualities as a daughter and a wife, the tenderness of her sympathies with the poor, and the anxiety she ever evinced in all that concerned their best interests.
In closing this description of the foregoing three portions of the township of Meltham — Meltham Mills, Helme, and Wilshaw, it is a source of satisfaction to be able to testify to the prosperous condition of all, and to the beneficial influence exercised over each respectively by the Messrs. Brook's and Hirst. Nor are they alone actuated by a conscientious sense of duty towards their workpeople, for the same principle operates with the heads of other establishments in the district, smaller in extent, but similar in kind, and to the universal prevalence of this feeling, the general order and prosperity of the township is, doubtless, attributable.
The good carried out by the churches built at Meltham Mills, Helme, and Wilshaw, furnishes ground for much thankfulness, and a satisfactory solution of the old adage, "divide and conquer," for without their agency, the beneficial results now observable, never could have been effected; it being quite clear, that four zealous and conscientious men, each placed in the centre of his work, must necessarily be able to accomplish much more than one, however apostolic and unwearying in his labours.