The Methodist Church is the fourth largest Christian Church in Britain, after the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches and the Church of Scotland. It has more than six thousand churches and a total membership of approximately 330, 000 people. There are Methodist Churches in nearly every country in the world and global membership numbers some 70 million people. It is traditionally known as non-conformist because it does not conform to the rules and authority of the established Church of England.
A group of tutors and students meeting at Oxford University in the late 1720s became known as the Oxford Methodists and the group included John Wesley, Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. In 1735 these three men became evangelical missionaries in America. After three years with the English settlers in Georgia, John Wesley and George Whitefield returned to England and in 1739 built their first Methodist Chapel in Bristol. Wesley and Whitefield also gave sermons in the open-air and travelled the country where they mainly visited poor neighbourhoods. Wesley, who had emerged as the leader of the Methodists, told the people who attended his meetings that if they loved God in return, they would “be saved from sin and made holy”. Wesley also had a lot to say about personal morality and in his sermons he encouraged people to work hard and to save for the future. He also warned against the dangers of gambling and drinking.
By the time John Wesley died in 1791, the Methodist movement had over 76,000 members and, after his death, the Methodists formally separated from the Anglican Church. Membership continued to grow and by 1801 reached 87,000 but the movement was weakened in 1808 when followers of Hugh Bourne were expelled. His followers became known as Primitive Methodists whereas those who remained were called Wesleyan Methodists.
At its heart, the theology of John Wesley stressed the life of Christian holiness: to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Wesley’s teaching also stressed experiential religion and moral responsibility.
Methodist Preachers in the Birstal Methodist Circuit visited Huddersfield and the surrounding villages and began holding services in the Netherthong area as early as 1750. They were held in the open air or in any available cottage and the house owned by John Hardy was licensed for worship in 1766.
The chapel was built in Haigh Lane at Deanhouse in 1769 on a piece of waste land belonging to the Earl of Dartmouth and a small nominal charge was made for the rent by way of acknowledgement. It was approached in front by 40 steps which remain to this day. In the old records it is styled a Methodist Meeting House or Preaching House and the word chapel occurred for the first time in 1772. It originally had four rows of pews in the gallery which provided for 81 sittings, and men and women occupied separate sides as was the custom among the Society of Friends.
The Methodists shared the use of the chapel with the Independents for a period in the early 1770s with each party preaching on alternate Sundays but this arrangement proved unsatisfactory and the Independents moved out and held their services in a cottage until they built Holmfirth Lane Independent Church in 1778.
The first time John Wesley visited the chapel was on July 6 1772 and he wrote in his diary “…at 10, I preached in the new house at Thong “. At this time there was no highway between Huddersfield and Holmfirth and the main road led from Honley Bridge by way of the old Turnpike, Banks and Hagg. At Hagg , he dismounted from his carriage and walked to Deanhouse. After the service , Mrs.Dinah Bates and most of the congregation accompanied him back to Hagg and at Hagg Wood they all gathered round John Wesley and sang –
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.
There are some references that he visited again in 1773 and one rumour is that he had stayed overnight at the farm at Holmroyd Nook and had given two signed bibles to the farmer as thanks. One of the bibles is in the Tolsom museum in Huddersfield but the location of a second bible has never been established. The current owner of the house at Holmroyd has been to the Wesleyan museum in London and has a letter from them stating that there is no evidence that Wesley stayed at the farm.
Some of the old books belonging to Wesley’s chapel gave an insight into the early days of Methodism in the district and one of those books is inscribed “ Register Book left at Black Swan Smithyes Door” and from this it would appear that the first baptism at the Chapel took place on May 29th. 1784 when “ Titus Dinsdale of Honley in the parish of Almondbury was Baptiz’d “ In those days only a small proportion of people could read and write and it is not suprising that the local dialect had its influence on the spelling. Throughout the book the word daughter is spelled “ doughter “, Dean Brook was spelled “ Deign Brook “ and Deanhouse was “ Deignhouse “. Mary was often spelled “ Marey “ and other peculiarities were “ Ellin “ and “ Harriot “. Biblical names such as Ishmael, Phineas, Job, Elijah, Luke, Paul, Eli, Joshua, Abraham, Abel, Cornelius, Dan, Matthew, Hannah and Ruth were common.. Easter was a popular name for girls. The influence of John Wesley was apparent, for one of the earliest entries is of a boy christened “ Wesley “.
The chapel attracted adherents from a wide area and there were entries from Hillhouse ( in Huddersfield), Sudehill , “ Thirstyland “ and “ Foolstone “ in the parish of Kirkburton.
Account books of the Chapel were very revealing and in the earliest register of baptisms there is the following entry ; “ 1787 Decr. 4 – Pd. To Mr. Brook of Huddfd. Duty for corps burying & 6 baptisms at 3d. pr. Piece “
At a meeting held on October 31st. 1821, it was agreed that “ for the future the Charges for Grave Making should be as following ; all persons under 10 years of age 1s. 6d., for ages from 10 years to 20 years 2s.0d.. For all other persons above 20 years 2s. 6d. These charges appear to have continued for sixteen years, for the next entry states : “ It is Agreed at the Seats Day October 25th. 1837, that an advance of 6d. pr. Grave be allowed for Digging on the above statement.”
In 1814-1815 , 222 sittings yielded £27 13s. per year and the prices of sittings varied, some being 2s.0d. per year, some 2s.6d. and others 3s.0d.
Other snippets of information from the account books are : Consumption of candles for lighting the Chapel were regular entries and during the winter months of 1836 there appeared to be about 2lb. of candles , costing 1s.0d., every couple of weeks.
In April 1837, Godfry Woodhead was paid “ 1s.8d for strings “, and later that year in May he was paid a further 6s.3d. for bass mending and strings.
In June 1839, the price of candles increased to 1s.1d. for two pounds. One of the more interesting entries in 1839 was : “ To Thos.Gledel, 4 ½ Quarts of ale at 1s. 8d. ; 2 quarts of ale Wm.and J. Gill 8d. Also in December of the same year James Sykes was paid 1s.3d. for taking down and putting up the clock. In 1840, Jonas Eastwood was paid 3s.6d. for bass mending and later 2s.0d. was paid to Abm. Fitton for clock mending.
In June 1852 the Treat of the children connected with the School was held and the teachers and children ‘walked out’ to the residence of Mr.Beardsall and sang hymns. The Huddersfield & Holmfirth Examiner in June 1854 reported that the Sabbath school celebrated their annual festival with the children marching in procession through the village and were later regaled with tea and buns.
Unfortunately the account book was confined to pew rents and the last amount recorded was £3. 1s. 3d. for pew rents on October 25th. 1854.
A new book for pew rents was started in 1855, when £2 13s. 0d. was received together with £1 12s. 3d. in arrears. From 1861 the same book was used for accounts and contained no more individual pew rents after 1860. The Chapel was altered to form 2 stories in 1860-1861 and the Sunday School used the lower floor from 1861.
Some additional form of lighting was introduced in 1861 as there is an entry on September 10th. 1861 for Candles, Naptha etc 2s. 7 ½ d. and on October, Naptha 3s. 0d. and candles 7 ½ d. In the same year the anniversary collection was £4 10d. and the proceeds of tea £3 2s. Gas lighting appears to have been introduced in the latter part of 1861, for on December 31st. there is an entry “ Gas Bill 5s 1d.” In April , 1862, there was an entry “ Property Tax 2s. 10d. “
The Chapel, which had been closed for several weeks in 1861 for the purpose of making certain necessary improvements and alterations, re-opened on Good Friday with two sermons preached to a crowded congregation. Mr.J.Woodcock of Didsbury College preached in the afternoon and Rev.M.Johnson of Holmfirth in the evening. In the interval between the services a tea meeting was held and nearly 200 persons sat down. Collections were made in aid of funds and the old debt on the chapel of £310 was completely paid off with several persons in the Holmfirth area having subscribed liberally.
Entries in 1864 included “ Candles for Preaching 2d. “ : 4s. 6d. was paid to John Fox for stones for bridge. In December 1865, 3s. 6d. was paid to “Workhouse Men for road repairing.” After repairs to the gable end in 1866, the collection at the chapel re-opening amounted to £12 8s. 0d. Meeting rooms were added to the Chapel during 1873-75.
After having served as a bass player for several years, Mr.John Scholfield died in 1867 and it was suggested that an organ be purchased to accommodate the singing. An organ committee was appointed on January 4 1869 and a second – hand organ was obtained and installed and the opening services were held on February 14 1869. The cost of the organ was £17 plus £2 15s. for setting up . The money was raised by public collections. Geo. Hinchliffe was paid 13 s. 0d. per quarter as the organist until September 30 th. 1872 when he stopped playing. In March 1874 an entertainment was given in the Sunday school by a couple of amateurs from Holmfirth in the form of a magic lantern show. The views included the travels of Dr. Livingstone in Africa, scenes from the Tichborne Trial , views from the neighbourhood and concluded with a number of comic slides. The organ recently purchased for the Chapel was ” inaugurated ” in mid-February 1869 and on the Sunday two excellent services were preached by the Rev. W.Sugden of Holmfirth. The sermon on the following Wednesday was preached by Rev. T. Champness and a tea meeting was held afterwards. The collection in aid of the organ fund raised £17.
The committee and teachers associated with the Sunday School held a tea meeting in May 1870 in connection with the departure of Mr.George Harber Woodhead to Australia. After the tea, Mr.John Woodhead of Deanhouse presided and presented a neatly-bound copy of the Holy Bible and a hymn book to G.H.Woodhead as a token of esteem and appreciation for his very valuable services as teacher and secretary.
The Annual Meeting of the branch for 1871 was held in September in the Chapel. The following ministers and gentlemen took part. Rev.J.Bate, A.Level, recently appointed the circuit minister, Messrs. H.Butterworth, J.Woodcock, James Jagger, James Hobson, John Haigh and W.Wilson. Charles Woodhead was in the chair. A party and lecture was given in the Wesleyan school in April 1873 in connection with the ladies sewing machine for the purposes of raising funds for re-building the chapel-keepers house and making other necessary alterations to the chapel premises. About 170 ladies enjoyed the tea after which the company adjourned to the chapel when the Rev.George Kenyon of Linthwaite gave his popular lecture on Yorkshire and Yorkshireman. At the end of the lecture a collection was made after which the proceedings were terminated by the singing of the doxology and prayer. The Annual feast was held in June and the procession was headed by the village Brass Band. The school statistics was that there were 151 scholars, 77 boys and 74 girls, with an average attendance of 94 and these were helped by 15 male and 14 female teachers. There were 55 books in the library and the Superintendent was Mr. John Woodhouse.
At the beginning of 1875 the Wesleyans made an effort to clear off the debts incurred in altering and enlarging their premises by exhibiting a Christmas tree and fancy articles in the schoolroom. The sale was opened by Mr. David Woodhead and when the receipts were added up over £60 had been taken. A museum of curiosities was very attractive and well supported. May of that year was very important as the Chapel, which had been closed for the past few months for making alterations and additions, was opened for Divine Worship. Three sermons were preached to good congregations- in the morning by Mr. Moore Sykes of Huddersfield and in the afternoon and evening by the Rev. J. Jagger of Cardiff who had left the village several years ago to enter the Wesleyan Ministry. Over £21 was raised .The annual missionary meeting was held in September 1876 with John Woodhead presiding. The Rev.V.Tyas read part of the report of the society and addresses followed by the chairman, the Rev.C.Foster and Messrs. Dinsdale, Jagger, Woodhead, H.Butterworth and W.Wilson.A collection on behalf of the society was made at the end of the evening. The teachers and friends of the Sunday School held their annual tea on New Years Day 1877. A large number partook of the food and James Jagger occupied the chair. Addresses were given by the Rev.John Jagger ( Bolton ), C.Foster and VTyas , both of Holmfirth, Messrs. Dinsdale Roberts ( Hinchliffe Mill ), Harpin ( Thurstonland ) , Butterworth and J.Brown. Two months later a tea party was held with a good number partaking of the repast. The meal was followed by a lecture given by T.Dinsdale of Holmfirth ; Mr.A.Boothroyd presided. £5 was raised for funds.
In May of the same year, to coincide with the Whitsuntide Festivities, the Huddersfield Examiner and West Riding Reporter devoted a whole page to give details of all the local ‘independent’ churches which included the names of the Superintendents and the number of scholars and teachers and a report on their processions. For Netherthong Wesleyan SS, the Superintendents were John Woodhead and Robert Cousen and there were 69 scholars, 30 male and 39 female. The teachers totalled 23 with 9 males and 14 females. There were 113 books in the library. The teachers and scholars met at the schoolroom and preceded to the Deanhouse Workhouse headed by the Netherthong Brass band. They carried on to Thongsbridge, Hagg and Deanhouse before returning to the school for tea after which they went to the Deanhouse cricket field for games.
April 1879 was a very special occasion as it was the month of the annual tea and prize giving for the Sunday school. 240 people sat down for the tea and afterwards a crowded meeting was held in the chapel presided over by E.Jacobs of Garston, Liverpool. B.Oldfield, the secretary, gave his report and said that the school had 29 teachers and 244 scholars. The great event of the evening was the distribution of prizes of new books and were based on attendance. 31 scholars who had attended 90 times were awarded 3rd. prizes. 2nd. prizes went to those with an attendance of 100 times. The 19 scholars who had attended punctually twice every Sunday during the whole year received 1st. prizes. In addition there were special prizes for those who had attended for not less than five years. Ada Broadhead, M.Roberts, Mary Roberts, Sarah Seymour and Richard Seymour achieved five years. J.Broadhead, J.S.Dyson, F.W.Dyson and Ada Smith attained six years. Giles Parkin, S.Smith and Marian Taylor excelled with seven years each. But they were all eclipsed by the remarkable record achieved by Lydia Taylor who, during the previous eight years, had never been absent , morning or afternoon, and had only been late once but that was only for a few seconds. A few months later on Whit Monday teachers and scholars met at school and marched round the district accompanied by the Netherthong Brass Band. On returning they were provided with refreshments before adjoining to a field for games with the band playing at intervals. The superintendents were Messrs. John Woodhead and Robert Cousen and there were 29 male and 29 female scholars and 8 male and 14 female teachers. The average attendance was 37 and there were 120 books in the library.( the figures for the number of scholars and teachers are considerably at variance from those given in the previous paragraph ?? ). In a break from tradition the annual festival for 1883 was held on Whit Saturday instead of Whit Monday and, for the first as far as I can find out, the procession was led by the Wooldale Brass Band. The format was as previous. The Superintendents were Charles Woodhead and Robert Cousen. There were 53 scholars, 19 male and 34 female and 19 teachers, 7 male and 12 female. The average attendance was 32 and the number of books in the library was 176.
Miss Martha Woodhead became voluntary organist and, on her death in December 1885, it was suggested that it would be a graceful act to erect an organ in the chapel to her memory. As signs of dry rot had appeared in some of the pews, it was decided to have the interior entirely reconstructed and modernized and the new organ was erected in the north-west corner. It cost £165 3s. 6d. and the overall cost for all the work came to £432 7s. 9d..
At Whitsun 1869, teachers, scholars and friends assembled and met with the teachers and scholars of the Wesleyan Free Church and walked in procession to the Workhouse where they sang songs and hymns for the inmates. As the weather was wet, the march round the village was cancelled and the schools separated and went to their own schoolrooms for tea, buns and oranges. The Shelley Brass Band were engaged and gave a few selections of music in each school.
The first record of a choir trip is on August 31st.1886 when the following entry was made “ Chapel Choir ( Picnic ) £3 0s.0d.. The next year they went to Wentworth for £2 7s. 0d . By 1906 the choir trip expenses had increased to £5 but in the following year their trip to Chester cost only £2 8s. 0d. On November 4th. 1890 was the entry ” John Hinchliffe organist £5 5s 0d “. Coke was apparently very cheap in 1892 for an entry on February 4th. that year states ” 5 Load Cinders & leading for Oct. to Dec. 3s 9d “.
The account book ended on January 23rd. 1915 with the entry “ At this date Mr.B.J.Littlewood resigned after discharging the duties of treasurer to the Trustees for a period of sixty years. The trustees gratefully acknowledge his services and the balance of £14 0s. 5d. was handed over by Mr. Littlewood to the new treasurer . Signed, Walter Wagstaff. “
The very first edition of the Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner was issued as a weekly on Saturday, September 6 1851 , price four and a half pence. In the September 27 issue it reported that a Missionary meeting had been held with the chair occupied by James Jaggar. The meeting was addressed by Revs. T.Garbutt and B.Firth and Messrs. J.Woodcock, G.Woodhead and J.Taylor with the collection was in aid of the Mission Society. The same month there was a meeting in the Chapel of stewards, local preachers and leaders in connection with the Reform Wesleyans. Joseph Cuttell was voted into the chair and the financial statement was very good with a balance of £6. During the meeting a very important resolution was passed, not without considerable opposition, that local preachers should administer baptism and the Lord’s supper. The meeting was adjoined for tea provided by friends of the cause and afterwards was opened to the public. January 1852 was their Tea Party with 80 of the teachers present. John Woodhead was in the chair and Messrs. Sykes, Dearnally, Cuttell, C.Hobson and J.Jaggar addressed the meeting, The next reported annual meeting of the Missionary Society was in September1857 under the presidency of James Jagger. Addresses showing the progress of missionary labours in foreign lands were given by Rev. H.Davison and A.Learoyd as well as Messrs. Woodcock, Taylor, Wilson and other friends.
In 1891 several Temperance meetings were held in the Wesleyan school and the lecturer was Fred Sykes.The following year in February Mr. Ottwell Binns “ Joyful News “ an evangelist who was stationed at Netherthong Wesleyan Chapel gave the first of a series of services for men. The subject was “ some problems of today – nature, life and the future “. A second service was “ Does an unprincipled man succeed ?”
In April 1902 there was a 2 day sale of work in the Chapel. There was a large attendance and £150 was raised.
In April 1905 the older scholars from the Sunday school provided a Drawing Room concert. Mr. & Mrs. Singleton were host and hostesses. There was a full programme and, during the interval, Mr. Walter Shore gave a recital of gramophone selections and Mr. Charles Briggs was in charge of the galvanic battery. There was a good attendance and £5 was raised.
January 1907 saw the Sunday school annual tea and meeting at which Mr.T.Mosley, the school secretary, presented the annual report. There were 80 students on the books plus 19 teachers and officers. The following month there was a drawing-room concert in the schoolroom which had become an annual event. The Rev. Clement Reader and Mrs. Reader were the hosts. The choir provided all the entertainment and gave a large varied programme.
In June the school feasts of the Wesleyans and the Methodist Free Church were combined. The scholars met at 2pm and headed by the Holme Prize Band walked in procession. The route taken went first to the Workhouse where they sang for the inmates and Mr. Heastie , the Master, thanked them and said it was now 23 years since they had first started visiting. The procession continued onto Deanhouse, Hagg , Thongsbridge and back to Netherthong. They had a good tea and each scholar was presented with a cake and an orange and the rest of the evening was spent playing games in a field at Deanhouse, kindly lent by Roger Shaw.
The Sunday school anniversary services were held in August 1908. F.Mellor was on the organ and the conductor was Mr. H.Fisher. On the Bank Holiday Monday the choir had their annual trip and went to Southport and enjoyed themselves on the sands, the fun fair and the Botanical Gardens.
The Annual joint festival with the United Methodists was once again held in May 1910 and the procession was led by the Hepworth Silver Prize Band. 60-70 members went on the annual choir outing to Lincoln in July.
In January 1913, the annual New Year’s Party for the Wesleyan school was held and there was a good tea and lots of speakers. In March the married men connected with the Chapel embarked on a new venture by providing a public tea and a variety concert with Mr.J.Woodhead presiding. It was a great success and a profit of £18 10s was made. May saw the Annual School Festival of the combined Wesleyan and United Methodist Sunday Schools. The procession headed by Honley Prize band visited the Workhouse, Deanhouse village, Hagg, Thongbridge and returned back to Netherthong. The workers and scholars were entertained at their own schools before all going to a gala held in the old cricket field at Deanhouse. In August all the teachers and pupils had an enjoyable trip to Gunthwaite Hall. They travelled in 4 waggonettes supplied by Herbert Booth of New Mill.
A large company of teachers and congregation assembled to mark the impending marriage of Luke Roebuck and Miss A.Hellawell.
The Wesleyan Choir outing by train to Bridlington took place in August 1914. The Foreign missionary anniversary connected to the Chapel took place in November with a meeting on the Sunday and Tuesday giving a detailed report on the missionary activities in China.
In February 1915, Mr.B.Littlewood relinquished his post as chapel steward on reaching 85 years after holding the office for 65 years. The Foreign missionary anniversary was held in November with the Rev.Taylor who had spent 8 years in North Ceylon giving a talk on his time with the Tamil people. Rev.Doughty, as the secretary of the foreign mission, presented the annual report and said that in spite of the war , the year had been one of great blessing in the foreign field. The total proceeds of the evening were £20 1s 5d.
In May the children of the primary department of the Sunday school made gifts to present to the Holmfirth Military Hospital. They consisted of 36 eggs, a cake and 1s 7d in cash with a card inscribed ” A gift of love to our brave soldiers. from little primary children, some of whose fathers are soldiers too.”
January 1916 saw the Wesleyan New Year Gathering in conjunction with the Sunday school. The foreign missionary anniversary in November had a talk on missionary work in India.
A tea and concert was held in March 1917 at the Sunday school in aid of the school renovation fund. There was a large attendance and £7 5s 1d was raised. May was the anniversary of the Chapel and the afternoon service was conducted by Rev.W.Doughty and by Rev.J.Keddie in the evening. Mr.J.Green was the organist for the singing.
The New Year’s gathering in 1917 of the Wesleyan Sunday School was a great success. After the tea and speeches, the scholars gave a pleasing programme with recitations by some of the adults and at the grand finale prizes were presented to the successful scholars.
August 1917 saw the annual services for the Sunday School with the Rev. E. Johnson of Holmfirth delivering two powerful sermons. The choir, with Mr. J.Green at the organ, were a great success and they achieved a record collection of £10 7s.
In September in conjunction with the Wesleyan Chapel a garden party took place in a field in New Road kindly lent by Mr. Woodhead. The attractions included a cricket match between the ladies and gents. After the game and the tea, everyone played games including running races, obstacle races, egg and spoon, threading the needle and slow racing. The profits were £3 15s which went to the organ improvements fund.
In January 1918 the Chapel organized a social and an American Fair and Café were some of its features. The receipts of £5 were given to the Patriotic Society.
March saw the anniversary of the Chapel and there were sermons in the afternoon and evening by Dr. Brown of Dewsbury. Music was provided by the choir and the collection raised £ 16s.
The next report about the Chapel in the Express for 1918 was about the Harvest festival in October. There was a good attendance and £5 6s 8d was raised in aid of the trust fund. In November a memorial service was held at the Wesleyan Chapel in memory of Private Harold Brackenbury who had died on October 1st. from wounds received in action in France
The start of 1919 saw the New Year annual gathering. It was very enjoyable and after tea the prizes were presented to the successful scholars. In recognition of having been connected with the school for 20 years, bibles were presented to Florence Shore and Private Henry Swallow who had just returned from being a POW.
In March there was a concert at the Sunday School under the presidency of Mr. Wagstaff which realized £5 for trust funds The following month there was a special musical service with selections of music rendered by the Holmfirth Wesleyan Choir.
In May the young people associated with the Wesleyan and United Methodist Sunday schools once again took part in their annual festival. A procession, headed by the Honley Brass Band, went first to the Deanhouse Institution and then Upper and Lower Oldfield, Deanhouse and Netherthong stopping at various points to sing hymns. Tea was provided in the respective schools followed by a gala held in beautiful weather. Several of the returned soldiers took part.
The Annual church choir outing was held in July and 18 members visited Liverpool and New Brighton. The Sunday School anniversary took place in August and there was a very large congregation at all three services which were conducted by J.Roberts J.P. with Mr. J. Green on the organ. £12 was collected for funds
September saw the mission anniversary in conjunction with the Chapel. On the Sunday morning there was a temperance sermon and in the afternoon a report on missionary work in West Africa. On the Tuesday the missionary spoke of his experiences in Mysore, India. The proceeds of £20 went to missionary relief.
1920 started with the Sunday School holding its New Years Gathering. Mr. W.Wagstaff presided at the meeting and Mr. Joe Settle presented the annual report. A public tea was provided, after which there were songs and the presentation of prizes to the children At the end of the month the Young Leaders Union connected with the Sunday School promoted an enjoyable social gathering in the schoolroom with Miss Cousen presiding.
In June the Annual Sunday School Festival in connection with the United Methodists was held to the normal format but after the procession and teas the gala had to be cancelled due to bad weather.
July was an important month as the Sunday School opened after renovation, the expenses amounted to £70. A large group had tea with the trays presided over by old scholars with young ladies acting as waitresses. Mr. James Hoyle, a former teacher at the day school, told stories of the early days of the Chapel and the school. He was one of the original 10 scholars who attended when the present school was opened in May 5 1861 and he said the number of scholars had increased over the years to its present level of 140.
As I have just mentioned Mr. James Hoyle in the above paragraph, it’s appropriate here to include an article, reprinted from the Holmfirth Express of February 25 1939, received by them from Mr.J.H.Hoyle dealing with some of his memories of the chapel and school as a lad from three years of age to being twenty years old. He said he had had the privilege of attending service in the chapel as it stood when Wesley preached in it , and was also one of the ten scholars present at the opening of the Sunday School. I have copied it exactly as printed and some of the punctuation might seem rather archaic.
In his own words “ It was one of Wesley’s chapels, and as a young lad I was taken there regularly to the services. At that time the building remained structurally the same as it was when Wesley preached in it soon after it was built. There it has stood for close on a century, a striking and not uncomely structure of grey gritstone sturdily perched on the steep edge of a narrow glen and looking across towards the village crowning the nearby hill, the foreground of the view being formed by the trees of a little plantation, at the bottom of which murmured the clear waters of the brook, as, fresh from their labours on a neighbouring waterwheel, they sought rest and quiet in the pond just below. How many thousands of Methodist worshippers belonging to the ” Old Body ” have descended the almost precipitous slope of that hill from the village, down the gentler slope beneath the trees, across the large stone flags that spanned the brook, and then ,by an arduous climb up the long flight of ” catseps “, have reached the body of the chapel ( now the Sunday School ). What fun and valuable exercise for lung and limb those steps gave us boys! The older people did not seem to regard them with half our friendliness : but what could they expect? They never ran races down them, or even up !
Once inside the chapel, however, and we were on our best behaviour : and even this came at no very great hardship during some parts of the service, as for example, when the old ” Bass player ” who could make his cello talk, was leading the choir, and even after he had left us, to join the orchestra of heaven, when the new organ was on its best behaviour ,too. Some of those hymns and anthems echo and re-echo even yet. Anniversaries and other special occasions usually went with a swing, but it might be somewhat different at times. Ordinary services were not always as attractive. In those days it was customary for the preacher to read out the whole of the first verse of the hymn to be sung , and when the opening hymn began ” Come on my partners in distress ” and the world was repeatedly referred to as ” This vale of tears ” or “This waste howling wilderness “, little roomwas left for enthusiasm. In the course of the year there were three special occasions connected with the Sunday School.
On New Year’s Day was held the annual meeting, which began with a tea, bountifully served in true West Riding style. This was followed by a meeting, enlivened by speeches from teachers and others, of whom some at best were not born orators, but the breakdown of a speaker did not damp, but rather intensified the enjoyment of the audience. Whitsuntide was certainly the crown of the year for the scholars. To watch them assemble for morning school on Whit Sunday was a fine opportunity for studying the effect of dress on an individual, and possibly on the adult mind. The girls, in all the glory of new summer finery, their faces beaming with pride and satisfaction, tripped gaily to their places, giving no evidence of any desire to avoid observation. The boys, on the other hand, just sneaked in , looking half -ashamed and wholly uncomfortable. In the evening, instead of a sermon, the scholars gave recitations, in which they had recieved careful training. These were fully appreciated by admiring parents and friends, and were not to be despised as an introduction to poetry and correct expression.
Whit Monday was the day of the schoolfeast. Led by a brass band, teachers and scholars walked in procession round the neighbourhood, stopping at various points to sing their special hymns, and occasionally they received an orange or some sweets. Tea and buns were served in the schoolroom, and each scholar was presented with a specially large and rich bun – the ” School Feast Cake ” – to take home. Then, whilst the room was being cleared and re-arranged, there was a short interval for games, but little room in which to play. After this a meeting was held with speeches and selections by the brass band that easily filled the comparitively small room chock full of music, the whole ending loyally with ” God save the Queen “. Later in the summer the anniversary, almost a second Whit Sunday as far as the dresses of the girls were concerned was held. The music was carefully rehearsed for weeks beforehand, and not unfrequently included new tunes by local musicians, and it would be difficult to say which aroused most interest, the music or the amount of the collection, but some of these new tunes could have been heard years after the last penny of the collection had been spent.
Some of Methodism’s finest men visited us at times. Thomas Champness was no stranger and to hear him at his best speaking from the text, ” The people had a mind to work “, was a privilege long to be treasured. Frequently the pulpit was occupied by a young man, then in his teens,who afterwards became President of the Conference, and few, if any , finer sermons were ever heard in the chapel than one of his on the text, ” He shall save His peoplefrom their sins “. A service of a kind rarely witnessed in a Methodist chapel was held one Sunday morning. After the usual hymns, prayers and lessons the announcement was made, ” The Sacrament of Baptism will now be administered.” The good superintendent minister, the Rev. Joseph Entwistle, began to descend the pulpit steps,but nowhere could be seen any sign of a beautifully embroidered christening robe, nor could we hear the faintest squeak of protest from some little mite that had not been duly consulted. How could there be a christening without a baby? But we were not left long to solve that problem. The answer was at hand. Slowly down one of the aisles and across to the communion rail came one of the leaders of that little society, closely followed by his wife. who took her place at his side as she had done on many trying occasions before. He was a man to whom all the rights and privileges of Christian worship and Christian fellowship were precious, and it had troubled him much that after diligent searches no record of his baptism could be found, and he had resolved that this omission should be remedied. So the strong man became as a little child, and was baptised in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost in the presence of that congregation, among whom were some of his own children. And though it is now more than seventy years since I witnessed this event I have never seen a similar ceremony. Not that it could be expected as it was my own father who I saw baptised “.
Mr. James Henry Hoyle is the son of the late Mr.Amos Hoyle of Thong Bridge and is best remembered as a day school teacher at Holmfirth Wesleyan School.