The History of the Township of Meltham, Near Huddersfield (1866) by Rev. Joseph Hughes
The occasion of adding a new burial ground to a church for the interment of the dead, and the necessity for it, together with the public observance and commemoration of the second hundredth year of the erection of that church, is an event calculated to awaken many and solemn reflections in the mind, and to recall the memory of years gone by. The design of the writer of this narrative is to give a simple detailed account of circumstances and events connected with Meltham, and to rescue from the devouring grasp of time some of those traditionary and interesting particulars which form the frequent topic of conversation among the aged people of the district. The writer of this sketch is strongly impressed with the propriety of putting on record such particulars, as in a few years these ancient chroniclers of past occurrences will, in all human probability, have disappeared. It is not a fortnight since he visited the house of an old parishioner and made several inquiries respecting the erection of the second church in Meltham. In less than a week after, the old man was numbered among the dead, and this day, December the 2nd, 1851, the minister was called on to perform the solemn office of committing his body to the ground, "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust," in the new burial ground, as the forerunner of the many that shall there rest until the morning of the Resurrection.
Whether Meltham possessed a church during the Saxon and Norman eras, is not known, though every village at the time of the conquest is believed to have had some building of the kind. Spelman, who was not in the habit of making rash or exaggerated assertions, states, that at the time of the Domesday Survey there were no fewer than 45,011 parish churches within the kingdom, whereas the number actually noticed in the Survey does not much exceed 1,700. The only reason that can be adduced for the extraordinary discrepancy in these statements is, that Spelman in his estimate included every one of the churches to be found in the kingdom of England, of which only a mere fractional portion is mentioned in Domesday Book, the precept which directed the formation of that Survey having laid no injunction on the jurors to make any return of churches.
The fourfold distinction of churches, specified in the 3rd Law of Canute, A.D. 1033, seems to import that these sacred edifices in his time might altogether amount to a large number, and it is manifest that during the reign of Edward the Confessor, from 1042-3 to 1066, there must have been a very great increase of what were strictly denominated Parish Churches, it being asserted in one of the laws ascribed to that king, that in many places there were three or four churches, where in former times there was hut one; and if, as is commonly reported, thirty-six churches were destroyed by the Conqueror in order to enlarge the New Forest in Hampshire, this is an argument that they could not possibly he so few in number as the Domesday Survey would imply. An article published not very long since in the "Gentleman's Magazine," gives the names of a great many churches certainly in existence at the date of the Domesday Survey, not one of which was recognised in that ancient record; and it is a curious fact, as observed by Sir Henry Ellis in his General Introduction to it, that only one church can be found in the return for Cambridgeshire, and not one in Lancashire, Cornwall, or even Middlesex, the seat of the Metropolis.
It appears that the jurors in some counties drew up their valuations in a very different manner to that of others. Some returned, as in the Norfolk and Exeter Domesday, the number of sheep and cattle. Others, as in the instances above named, entirely omitted the churches. And it is observable that out of the twenty-nine places with the prefix "church," four only are mentioned as having one at all. Hitherto it has been thought by some, that neither at Almondbury nor Huddersfield was there a church at the time of the Domesday Survey. But if the testimony of Sir Henry Spelman is to be relied on, who grounds his statements upon those made in Sprott's "Chronicles," written about the year 1274, surely such must have been included in the vast number, above forty-five thousand, said at that period to exist within the compass of the Island.
What description of churches these were, is not stated, but great numbers, probably, by far the greatest, were of wood, rude in structure and liable to decay. When such facts as these are taken into account, it can hardly be thought possible that the mother churches of three parishes so extensive as those of Almondbury, Huddersfield, and Halifax, did not form a part of the vast array said to be in existence at the time of the Conquest. But this is a question which cannot easily be decided ; it must therefore be left an open one.
Little is known of the social condition of the village previous to the erection of its church in 1650-51, during the time of the Commonwealth. The population at that period could not have been more than about two hundred persons, for the Register of the chapel during the ten years extending from 1669 to 1678 inclusive, gives an average of only ten baptisms, seven funerals, and little more than one marriage a year — namely, thirteen marriages in the ten years.
It is probable that some of the inhabitants, from ancient custom and association, would have still resorted to Almondbury for the rights and privileges of the church, yet, judging from the number of those whose names appear in the Register as having come to Meltham from the surrounding townships for similar purposes, the foregoing average may be considered as a tolerably correct estimate of the statistics of the township at that time.
The earliest intimation on record of the intended erection of a church to meet the spiritual wants of the village and neighbourhood is a paragraph in the will of William Wood-head, a native of Meltham, bearing date the first day of November, 1649, the year in which Charles I. was beheaded. Amongst other things the testator willed and directed, "that John Waterhouse, his brother-in-law, should, out of the rents and profits of property in Saddleworth, pay towards the maintenance of a minister to preach the word of God at Meltham, if there should be a chapel there erected, the yearly sum of forty shillings ;" and immediately after this "some of the chief inhabitants of Meltham expended considerable sums of money in erecting a chapel." This building was completed in the year 1651.
Some of the descendants of William Woodhead state that the active and prominent part he took in promoting the erection of a church in the village of Meltham, was in consideration of the growing age and infirmities of his mother, who was no longer able to go so far as Honley Chapel, the place of worship in her time nearest to Meltham. The foot-road across Harden Clough, which was then generally used by those living at Royd in going to Honley Chapel, still retains the name of "Chapel-gate ;" and it was in traversing this wild path on the Sabbath Day that the old lady, Mrs. Martha Woodhead, the mother of William Woodhead, was occasionally pelted with sods by the idle and mischievous lads of those days; at least there is a family tradition to that effect, and also another testifying to the worthy old lady’s steadfast abhorrence of popery, the introduction of which was then indeed rendered not altogether improbable, as a swarm of Jesuits from France and Italy had come over into the kingdom, and were insinuating themselves into every part of the country. These had followed Henrietta Maria into England on her marriage with Charles I., and were known to he using the most strenuous efforts to re-establish the Roman Catholic religion in the Island. Of this, Mrs. Martha Woodhead was quite aware, and is reported to have said that, much as she rejoiced to see a chapel erected in the village of Meltham, she would rather have it burnt to the ground than that it should fall into the hands of the Papists.
William Woodhead made his will in 1649, and died a bachelor soon afterwards. He was the youngest of four sons. His brothers were called John, Charles, and James. It appears that John and Charles lived at Thornhill, while James resided on his property at Meltham.
To William Woodhead was given as his portion the Dobcross property in Saddleworth, and out of that he piously assigned a certain part towards promoting the worship of Almighty God in his native village.
By this praiseworthy act of his, others among his kinsfolk and neighbours were afterwards "provoked unto love and to good works." In the year 1661, another benefactor was added to the newly erected chapel, as it was then called, namely —John Waterhouse, yeoman, of Meltham, brother-in-law of William Woodhead, whose sister he had married. It was probably owing to such relationship, and to the confidence he felt in this worthy Churchman’s liberality, that Woodhead made choice of him as his heir, and this confidence was not misplaced, for in an indenture elsewhere given, it is recorded that "John Waterhouse, in order to carry out the intentions of his predecessor" in the property, "did grant and convey to certain trustees the lands and cottage-houses in Dobcross for the use of such a preaching minister as should officiate in Meltham Chapel ;" by this act evincing his regard for the memory of his brother-in-law, and his respect for the ordinances of religion. His will, bequeathing the Saddleworth property to Meltham Chapel, was made in the second year of the reign of Charles II., 1661. This worthy yeoman was buried in the chapel yard of Meltham, opposite the lower door. The year in which he died is not known.
In addition to these two bequests a third must be recorded, namely, that of Godfrey Beaumont, of South Crosland, yeoman, who by his last will and testament, bearing date the 31st day of March, in the 14th year of king Charles II., 1672, gave towards the maintenance of the ministers of Honley and Meltham certain lands and messuages lying within the lord-ships of Honley and Meltham, and did vest the same in the hands of certain trustees appointed by him. One very interesting and instructive fact connected with the erection and endowment of the chapel is this, that the first idea of it originated, not with any of the great landed proprietors in the neighbourhood, but with a respectable yeoman of the village, and that to this truly noble class to which he belonged, and of which the country may justly boast, is the township indebted not only for the sacred building, but the various benefactions wherewith it has been endowed, for, with the exception of the Rev. Abraham Woodhead, who was both a scholar and a divine, but who sprang immediately from this body, all the property now pertaining to the chapel was settled upon it by men bearing the honourable title of yeomen,* independent men, residing upon their own landed property, over which they possessed the entire control. To these names must be added that of a fourth benefactor, the Rev. Abraham Woodhead, a nephew of the first promoter and endower of the chapel This distinguished man, some years after its erection, when far removed from his native place, for he resided in London, did not forget its claim on his remembrance, but "devised his lands and houses in the township of Meltham for the support of the minister of the Word of God, that should be there settled, who should officiate at the Chapel of Meltham, and to his successors for ever."
It is hardly possible for persons now, after a lapse of above two hundred years, rightly to estimate the amount of energy, perseverance, and liberality, it must have required to undertake the building and endowment of a church in a village so isolated as Meltham appears then to have been, nor will these virtues appear less eminent when the circumstances under which they were exercised are duly considered, — the king dethroned and beheaded, Episcopacy superseded, the distraction, misery, and waste attendant upon the civil wars, then fresh in the recollection of all; for it must be borne in mind that the inhabitants of the West Biding of Yorkshire had been deeply engaged on both sides, and that in 1643 Royalists and Parliamentarians were carrying on their unnatural contest not many miles distant from the village. Truly, it may be said, that the walls of the chapel were "built in troublous times," and it is a remarkable fact that there is no record existing of a similar work begun and completed in Yorkshire, at that period. In a letter written in the year 1643, from Bradford, by Sir Thomas, afterwards, Lord Fairfax, to his father, Ferdinando, Lord Fairfax, the first Parliamentarian general, allusions are made to the defence of Ambry, Almondbury, not more than five miles distant from the township of Meltham.
The chapel itself was a small and plain building, consisting of a nave and chancel, having two doors, the upper and the lower, probably both on the south side ; to the former there was a porch, such as exists in many old churches built about that period. The western wall of the nave had a single bell gable, with a bell of 148 lbs. weight. In the body of the church were four arched windows, each window consisting of three lights. The east window in the chancel had four lights. On the erection of a new and more convenient edifice in the year 1786, these were inserted in a cottage built about the same time, nearly opposite to the church, and are still to be seen there.
The floor of the chapel was of mud, after the fashion of those rude and simple times, and was annually covered afresh with rushes at the feast of St. Bartholomew, on the demolition of the rush-cart, in vogue at that period. The village feast was then held on St. Bartholomew’s day, according to the old style.
The pulpit was placed near the north wall of the chapel, about the centre of it. There was an aisle in the middle, and on the south side, ten or twelve pews ; the remaining space was filled with forms. There was no gallery for the singers. They occupied the chancel, and the communion-table stood at the east end. A panel from the old pulpit is still preserved, and is designed for insertion in the present one. It bears the following inscription carved in the wood, "Cathedra Veritatis 1651" — the chair, or pulpit of truth; a most suitable inscription for it, and for every other in the kingdom; and while it is believed that it has never been desecrated to any less sacred purpose, than the making known the way of salvation to perishing sinners, through the all-atoning blood of the Lamb, it is hoped that the same blessed truths which have been proclaimed by its various ministers, from time to time, may continue to be held and proclaimed by the present, and by successive pastors throughout all generations.
It has been observed that the first building had nothing in it to attract the eye, or arrest the attention of the ecclesiologist. It was not built of goodly stones, like the Jewish temple of old; but doubtless many a "living stone," hewn and prepared within this temple built with hands, has been added to that spiritual temple above, " the maker and builder of which is God." The number of precious souls that have been saved by the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments, within the walls of this sanctuary, must remain a mystery till the great day of judgment, "when the sea shall give up the dead which are in it, and death and hell shall deliver up the dead that are in them."
No particulars respecting the old chapel yard have been preserved, beyond the fact that a goodly number of tall trees grew in it — probably ash trees, as three or four of these had to be cut down when the chapel of 1786 was built, and more space required for the foundation.
The building completed, the next thing that occupied, and, owing to the unsettled state of public affairs, perplexed the minds of the promoters of this good work, was, how to get it duly consecrated for the purpose of religious worship. Episcopacy had been proscribed, and Presbyterianism substituted, as the established form of church government. It was therefore improbable that any English bishop would be found willing to expose himself to the penalty of the law, by exercising in public, his episcopal functions at that period, and this was a fact the promoters knew only too well. Yet, notwithstanding the restrictions of the law, and the intemperate zeal of the party then in power, the inhabitants of Meltham still adhered to their principles as Churchmen, even in a time of so much public distraction; and loath to see their "work and labour of love" left incomplete for want of consecration, applied, in this dilemma, to Henry Tilson, Bishop of Elphin, in Ireland, who had been driven from his see by the troubles prevailing there, and was at that time residing near Dewsbury, and solicited his attendance to consecrate their newly-erected church with the church yard.
The Consecration Deed, or rather the Report of the proceedings which took place on that occasion, signed by the Bishop of Elphin, is still in existence, and is thought to be the only document of the kind ever drawn up and preserved. It specifies that the chapel was consecrated on the 24th day of August, 1651, being the feast of St. Bartholomew, after whose name it was called, and on which day the village feast is annually held, which, according to the new style, is now the 5th of September. For the preservation of this interesting record, it is supposed that the public are indebted to the Rev. Christian Binns, the first Curate of the chapel, who had received ordination at Bishop Tilson's hands, October the 3rd, 1650, in Emley Church. The document is entitled "A Correct Copy of the Deed, or rather a Report of the Consecration of Meltham Chapel, August 24th, 1651," and is as follows :—
Any one turning to the various portions of Scripture indicated by the figures above given, cannot fail to perceive how exceedingly appropriate their choice was for that particular service.
The report of this simple and yet dignified ceremony, with the good Bishop’s comprehensive prayers on the occasion, brings the narrative of the erection of the first chapel to a close.
For 135 years, Sabbath after Sabbath, the fathers of the village assembled themselves together within its sacred walls, to worship the God of their fathers, according to the ritual of the Established Church. Nor can it be doubted that the blessing promised to all them that seek Him, in his public ordinances, was there vouchsafed. For "he is a God hearing and answering prayer."
In recording the benefactions by which Meltham Chapel was endowed, we must commend to the grateful remembrance of the inhabitants of the village, the names and memories of those who, in providing for the spiritual instruction of their own generation, did not forget the wants of those who should hereafter be horn, but, out of the substance wherewith God had blessed them, set apart a portion for the maintenance of religious worship, in the Chapel of Meltham, according to the rites and usages of the Church of England, for ever.
The Perpetual Curacy, or Chapelry of Meltham, was endowed with, and by means of, divers charitable gifts and donations, from various benefactors. By an Indenture bearing date the 8th day of October, in the 13th year of the reign of King Charles II., and made between John Waterhouse, of Meltham, yeoman, of the one part; James Taylor, of Meltham, Anthony Armytage, of Thickhollings, Abram Beaumont, and Thomas Beaumont, of Meltham, of the other part ; after reciting that William Woodhead had devised property in Saddle worth to John Waterhouse, subject to a rent-charge of forty shillings to be paid to the minister of Meltham already referred to, it was by the said Indenture witnessed, that the said John Waterhouse, in order to carry out the intentions of his predecessor, did grant and convey to the already-named trustees the lands and cottage-houses in Dobcross, for the use of such a preaching minister as should officiate in Meltham Chapel, the said trustees reserving a rent-charge of three pounds to be paid from the rents and profits of the lands and cottage-houses, to John Waterhouse and his heirs for ever.
There is also another Indenture bearing date December the 21st, 1721, made between Joshua Beaumont, of the one part, John Armytage, of Thickhollings, Abram Radcliffe, junr., James Taylor, and Joshua Beaumont, junr., of the other part, after reciting that Abraham Woodhead, late of London, by his last will and testament, bearing date the 8th day of June, 1675, did devise lands and houses in the township of Meltham, heretofore in the possession or occupation of his uncle, James Woodhead, to Edward Taylor, eldest son of James Taylor, of Meltham, John Armytage, of Thickhollings, Abram Beaumont and Joshua Beaumont, of Meltham, in trust, that they should pay from the time of his decease, out of the yearly profits of the said lands, a rent-charge of five pounds per annum, which yearly sum, for the first six years after his decease, was to be paid through Mr. Edward Perkins to the said Abraham Woodhead’s niece, Adriana Woodhead, then in Holland; and, after the expiration of the six years, to John Woodhead, then of Thornhill, son of Abraham Woodhead’s uncle, Charles Woodhead, for the life of the said John; and after his decease to the heir male of the said John, and so on successively during their natural lives only; and did order that the fore-named trustees should pay the residue of the yearly rents of the said lands, to the minister of the Word of God, that should be settled and officiate at the Chapel of Meltham, and to his successors, for ever. The remaining part of the Indenture specifies the appointment of trustees.
To these bequests must also be added the endowment by Godfrey Beaumont of the Chapels of Meltham and Honley.
To all Christian people to whom this present writing Indented shall come to be seen, read, or heard. Wee, the ministers of the Chappell of Meltham and Honley, in the Parish of Almondbury and County of Yorke, send greeting in our Lord God Everlasting.
Whereas one Godfrey Beamont, late of South Crosland within the Chappelry of Honley aforesaid, Yeoman, By his last Will and Testament bearing date the last day of March in the 24th year of King Charles the Second, and in the year of our Lord, one thousand six hundred seventy and two, amongst other things Gave and Granted towards the maintenance of the ministers of the Chappells of Meltham and Honley aforesaid, certain Messuages, Lands and Tenements with app’tenances, within the Lordships and Chappelrys of Meltham and Honley aforesaid, and Netherton and South Crosland aforesaid.
And no Terrier, Survey, Inventory or Note of all or any of the said Messuages, Lands and Tenements with the app’tenances, hath as yet been presented and Regist’red in the Bishop’s Registry at Yorke, now know yee that wee, the ministers of Meltham and Honley aforesaid, and Chappel wardens of the said Chappells, and other principall Inhabitants whose names are subscribed, belonging to the said Chappells and Chappelrys, doe make and present this our Terrier, Survey, Inventory and Note as a true Terrier, Survey, Inventory and Note of all the said Messuages, Lands, and Tenements with the app’tenances in manner and form following, That is to say, one Messuage and Tenement with all Lands, Closes and hereditaments to the same belonging, with all app’tenances aforesaid, and now in the tenure and occupation of one John Thorpe or his assignes.
Alsoe, part of one Messuage and Tenement situate lying and being at Netherton in South Crosland aforesaid, as the same is now divided by the name or names of one Dwelling, on the south and the entry thereof, the two South Chambers, the South Parlour, one other Parlour on the East. One Bame or Lath joining to the Lathynge, One South Garden, and all that close called Lathynge, One other close called Stannynge Platt. One other close called Scarr Close, and the South halfe part of the fould, and the halfe p’te of one Orchard undivided. And alsoe four Closes of Land called the Lane inge, the George Crofte, ye Litle pellet royde and the great Pellet royde, now made into two Closes, and also two Closes of Land and Meadow called Green Holme and Intake.
And alsoe three Closes of Land called the Stubbing, the Longroyds and the Green Holme, and one other Close called the Overstanding Platt, with all th app’tenances to all and severall the said Messuages, Lands, Closes and hereditaments, belonging or of right app’taining, with the app’tenances situate lying and being in Meltham and Honley, Netherton and South Crosland aforesaid, and now in the severall tenures and Occupations of the said John Thorpe and Joseph Haighe and George Haighe or their assignes.
All which said Messuages, Lands, Closes, Tenements, Hereditaments with app’tenances, Wee doe now find to he of the yearly value of Thirty and four Pounds per ann — over and above all charges and reprises—to become yearly due and payable for ever, for and towards the maintenance of the Ministers of the Chappells of Meltham and Honley aforesaid, and which said Messuages, Lands, Closes and premisses with app’tenances were, by the said Godfrey Beaumont in his said last Will and Testament, Devised to Anthony Armytage, Abraham Beaumont, Joseph Haighe and Lawrence Manknell, Yeomen, and their heirs as Feoffees in trust to and for the uses aforesaid. And this wee doe make and present as a true Terrier, Survey, Inventory or Note of all the said premisses with app’tenances, in two partes, One parte thereof to be transmitted into the Bishop’s Registry at Yorke, and the other parte to be kept by John Armitage of Thickhollins in Meltham aforesaid, Yeoman, with the writeings to the Premisses belonging.
In Testimony whereof unto both ptes of this our present Terrier, Survey, Inventory or Note of the P’misses with App’tenances, Wee have set our hands the ninth day of May, in the first year of our Sovereigne Lord James the second, of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith &c. Ann: Dom : 1685.
Wee, the Ministers, Chappelwardens and other principall Inhabitants, Doe believe this to be a true Terrier, Survey, Inventory or Note of all Endowments late given to the said Chappells, except what the sd Chappells were endowed withall at their first foundation.
|Impd. Paid out of William Woodheads Lands lying at Heyside in the Parish of Oldham and County of Lancaster as a Rent charge P. A.||1||0||0|
|Paid out of Lands lying in Meltham in the possession of John Woodhead a Rent charge of £4.12.0 per ann.||4||12||0|
|Paid out of Lands lying in Saddleworth in the possession of John Wood a Rent charge of £3.15.0 per ann.||3||15||0|
|Paid out of Lands lying at Nether ton in the possession of Mr. Josh : Haighe the yearly rent of||8||5||6|
|Paid out of Lands lying in Meltham in the possession of Joseph Thewlis ye yearly rent of||4||15||0|
|Paid as Chappel Wage and Surplis fees £10.10.0 per ann.||10||10||0|
The error in the above certified value of the living of Meltham, has most probably arisen from the carelessness of a former transcriber who has overlooked an "item," but the sum of £34 3s. 6d., may be regarded as the correct total, and not £32 17s. 6d., as the figures in the aggregate give the amount.
On the chalice or cup:
On the flagon:
On the Salver:
It should be observed that the first chapel at Meltham, was erected as a "Chapel of Ease," in the parish of Almond-bury, for the ease of the parishioners in the neighbourhood, who resided at too great a distance to attend the services at the parish church. The law required for the chapel in that capacity, no resident minister or incumbent, as it could be served by the Vicar and his curates from the mother church. There can be no doubt, however, that the intention of the promoters of its erection was, that it should become a "Parochial Chapel," with a permanent minister or incumbent of its own, and consequently less dependent upon the parish church. This is clearly evinced by the foregoing original documents; for Bishop Tilson, in his account of the consecration, speaks of it as a "Parochial Chapel," and in the Terrier it is evidently presumed that it possessed a minister of its own.
But it does not appear that the measures necessary for constituting it into a "Parochial Chapel," were ever adopted; so that it continues still to be in reality a "Chapel of Ease," without a legally assigned district or boundary. Hence every minister of the chapel, in signing the registers and other official documents, described himself, not as perpetual curate or incumbent, but simply as "Curate." And when, on the decease of Mr. Armitstead, in 1828, a dispute arose as to the right of patronage, and considerable excitement on the subject was manifested, the question was referred to the Archbishop of the province, to whose diocese the parish of Almondbury then belonged, who decided the case in favour of the Vicar. By that decision his grace proved that the chapel of Meltham was then a "Chapel of Ease," which could still be served by the Vicar and his curates from the parish church. And it may be added, that in a legal opinion given within the last few months, a similar or corresponding view is taken of this point.
It is much to be regretted that Meltham, being the mother church of the valley and one of the three old chapelries in the parish of Almondbury, should have hitherto remained in its present anomalous position, without parochial independence and a legally assigned boundary, whilst the ecclesiastical districts of Holmbridge, Linthwaite, Lockwood, Meltham Mills, Netherthong, Upperthong, and South Crosland, all of recent date, should have been formed into "New Parishes." It was the intention of the late Vicar, had his life been spared, to have taken the requisite means for constituting Meltham into a distinct parish and a vicarage, which, it is earnestly hoped, will yet be effected.
How many of the ministers who served Meltham chapel previous to the year 1829, resided within the township, cannot now be ascertained. Some of them are known to have been non-resident, as will be hereafter shown. But since the decease of Mr. Armitstead, the services of a resident minister have been found necessary; the increase of the population and the consequent additional duties devolving upon him, rendering his constant presence indispensable.
Though the foregoing description of the Rushbearing applies primarily to the ceremony, as it was usually observed in the Graveship of Holme, yet it is found, upon due inquiry among the aged residents in Meltham, to be an exact delineation of its observance as it was also practised in this township. The last instance of the Rushbearing, of which any record exists, took place in Meltham about eighty years ago.