Knowlwood: Concerning Knowlwood, Lancashire

Knowlwood Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1905/330

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by William Dickinson

WHERE is Knowlwood? I don’t think you will find it in any of the best maps of the United Kingdom, so we had better tell you at once. It is on the side of one of the hills which overlooks the valley of Todmorden, on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

In the Lancashire and Yorkshire dialect “knowl” signifies a mountain or hill, and therefore Knowlwood means the wood on the hill. Such there was, but it now is cleared away or nearly so. Houses have been built where grew the oak, pine, and elm, and also many years ago a little chapel was erected for the use of Primitive Methodists.

Our present task is to tell the story of a Church which has passed out of feeble infancy into a vigorous manhood. It is also intended to pay a debt of gratitude by naming some of the worthies associated with Knowlwood Church and Circuit and some who have made a name in wider fields, and received the highest honours the Church can bestow.

It was in the year 1822 that the Halifax preachers found their way into the Todmorden district, and began their labours by preaching in the open air. A small society was gathered, and permission was given to use the scutching room of Smithy Holme Factory as a meeting-place. Immediately after its first settlement the little band of workers were encouraged by the adhesion of Mr. Thomas Lord, a local landowner and farmer, who at once became an enthusiastic official. He gave the site for the building of a chapel, the site chosen being part of his Little Knowl Estate. We do not know of any funds being in hand when building operations were begun, and it may have been the intention of the trustees and members to do a great part of the work themselves. At any rate they quarried a good deal of the stone, and dressed it ready for building and put in the foundations. But notwithstanding the help and influence of Mr. Lord, the young Church found that there were many difficulties connected with chapel building, and for want of funds the work stood still for twelve months. Then Mr. Joshua Stansfield, of Warley, Halifax, came to their rescue and lent the trustees £200, and the erection of the chapel proceeded. It Is not known how much the premises cost in all, but as they were to include two cottages as well as chapel, we are not surprised that the £200 mortgage was not suf?cient to complete the buildings, so the work was stopped once more.

The contractor issued a writ against them, but Mr. Lord came to the rescue and generously advanced the £70 required without security. Such friends were very rare in those days of inexperience and difficulty, and Mr. Lord is therefore all the more worthy of lasting remembrance and honourable mention in the annals of Knowlwood Church.

But their troubles were not at an end. When the people gathered for the opening services they found the contractor had locked the door, and, for some unexplained reason, refused to open it; but the people were not to be baulked thus, and one of their number, Samuel Crabtree, got into the building by going down the chimney. He at once took off the lock and flung open the doors, to the joy of the waiting congregation. At this time, 1826, there were only twenty members, but once in their own house the numbers increased; a Sunday school was commenced; soon the little chapel had to be enlarged and a gallery erected.

In 1835 Knowlwood became the head of a new Circuit, under the superintendency of Rev. John Oscroft, who lived in one of the cottages under the chapel. Up to 1831 the work of the Sunday schools had been carried on in the chapel, and although the desire for a separate building had often found expression, yet the trustees had not seen their way to undertake the further responsibility.

In 1843 and 1845 Mr. Lord generously gave two adjoining plots of land, amounting to 466 square yards.

In 1854 the old school was built, at an outlay of £400, under the superintendency of Rev. G. Herod. The plans for this school were drawn by Mr. John Sutcliffe, now of Great Western Street Church, Manchester, and it was regarded as one of the best schools in the district. June 18th, 1854, was the first Sunday in the school; there were eight teachers and 238 scholars. Of this staff there are still living Abram Crossley, William Crossley, and John Sutcliffe. The work of the school was successfully carried on in this building for thirty-one years.

In 1870 the new church was built during the ministry of Rev. W. Wray. The building of the new church had spoilt the schoolroom, the lower tower of the former having been built in the latter: moreover the need for classroom accommodation was keenly felt, so that the altered conditions of Sunday school work could be met. So in 1885 this work was taken in hand, under the able and wise superintendency of the late Rev. Robert Jones; and the ministry is also indebted to Mr. Jones for the erection of a convenient and cosy “Manse,” which is Circuit property. Mr. Jones’ name is revered by the people to-day for his kind, sympathetic, and loving ministry.

It is to the credit of a Church composed of working people that these premises have been erected at a cost of £5,000, and are almost free from debt. The first burden bearers have almost gone, but the influence of the lives and labours of those earnest, godly men who found and served our common Lord in this Church and Circuit will never die. This was demonstrated beyond a doubt by the series of services held in connection with the school jubilee (October, 1904). Indeed few Circuits have raised so many men of sterling worth as Knowlwood.

Not many Circuits can say that they have given to the Church two Presidents, a Connexional editor, Missionary secretary, and President of the National Free Church Council.

The Rev. Thomas Newell, in expressing his regret at not being able to attend the Knowlwood jubilee services, reminded us that the Knowlwood Primitives held services in a cottage not far from his father’s house. They had also formed a class in another part of the neighbourhood. Thomas was invited to go to the class and in this way was brought into contact with Primitive Methodism. The class leader was a local preacher, and in about two years after Thomas became a member, the initials “T.N.“ appeared on the Circuit plan. In due time he was passed on full plan, where he remained until 1845, when he entered the ministry. Speaking at Knowlwood, April, 1895, Rev. T. Newell said, “It was exactly fifty years that month since he left his home at Woodfield, Todmorden, to become a wanderer in the Primitive Methodist Connexion. His mother accompanied him part of the way to Todmorden Station where he took train for Hebden Bridge then walked over Cockhill to Keighley and on to Silsden, which was to be the scene of his future labours.” It was a great disappointment to all the Knowlwood people that  Mr. Newell could not be present at the jubilee, but they pray that his last days may be full of peace and joy.

Summit is in the Knowlwood Circuit. This is the home of Revs. James Travis, John Slater (late Mission Secretary), Barnabas Wild, Abram Sagar, John Fielden, and Dr. Wild, of America. During a mission by Rev. John Standrin, a number young men were brought to Christ, and amongst the number were the named above (see Aldersgate Magazine, November, 1903.) Much could be written about all these brethren, the work of Rev. B. Wild, who is still with us, and Rev. John Slater’s long, strenuous, and fruitful ministry, has made the whole Church his debtor. Rev. James Travis’ fame is in all the Churches. It may be said that it is the wish of the Circuit, and Summit Society in articular, to do something to perpetuate the names of Slater, Travis, and Wild and in order to do this the writer would be glad to receive suggestions.

Mention must also be made of the late Rev. Joseph Sutcliffe, who spent forty years in the Eastern Counties: Rev J.W. Holden, who made a name for himself in Australia; Rev. James Fielden (Congregationalist), Bacup, Rev J.A. West, Goole; Rev James Taylor, who has spent most of his ministry in the north. These have all passed through our Knowlwood School with the exception of Mr. Taylor, who was a scholar in the school at Bottoms in the Circuit.

The Circuit has also produced some laymen of exceptional worth. Abram Crossley, who is still with us as a link to the past, has  been connected with the school and Church for sixty-eight years, and has been superintendent of the school for fifty years. He is one of the most punctual and regular worshippers at all the services. He has also been class leader and local preacher for the same number of years, and though he has had many appeals to enter public life, he has denied them all, so that he may give all his energies to the school and Church.

In 1901 the school authorities showed their appreciation of this “grand old man,” by presenting him with an illuminated address, time-piece, and a life-like photo of himself, of which photo a duplicate adorns the wall of the splendid school-room. Mr. Crossley is still active and young in heart, and we all hope he will continue to attend school as super. In order that his diamond jubilee may be celebrated.

William Crossley has been a member for sixty-five years, and a local preacher and class leader and superintendent of school. Few have been so faithful to the Church as this brother, and it is only on account of ill-health, much to his sorrow, that he had to relinguish the work of the school, class leader, and of an active local preacher.

John Smith is the present Society Steward. He is a devoted class leader, and has served the Sunday school and Church in every department.

John Sutcliffe, now of Great Western Street Church, Manchester, is a product of Knowlwood School. When he was only three years of age he used to accompany his, grandfather, Mr. Thomas Lord, to trustees’ and school committee meetings for company, and also in order to carry his lantern for the return journey. When he was nine years of age the superintendent of the school asked him to go into the school and teach what was then called a spelling class. With his mother’s consent he went. Of the scholars in that class there were two boys who became men of worth, Mr. John Eastwood and Rev. John Fielden, now of Bacup. Mr. Sutclilfe was teacher of the “writing class,” and was the only schoolmaster many of the boys and girls ever had at Knowlwood. In those days there were no star cards to mark the attendance of scholars, so John was also roll secretary, and says that at one time he could have stood at the end of the gallery and on looking round could have marked each scholar that was present without going near the respective classes. He was secretary, and an ideal one, for several years, until his appointment as local preacher interfered with his school duties.

Mr. Sutcliffe dates his membership from March 15th, 1847. He has been a local preacher since September, 1847. He also rendered yeoman service to the Castle Street Society in conjunction with the sainted Abram Binns. Indeed, if it had not been for these two brethren we should not have had our Castle Street Society to-day. Manchester Primitive Methodism is also indebted to Knowlwood for Mr. Sutcliffee and his family.

There are also, as old scholars, Mr. G.H. lngham, who has been associated with the Manchester City Mission for thirty years, and Mr. T.W. South, the Circuit Steward of Nelson (Lancashire) Circuit.

The sketch would be incomplete without naming some who have gone to their reward, such as Joseph Midgley and Samuel Midgley. These men rendered yeoman service to the cause as class leaders, local preachers, and Sunday school workers. They were men of high Christian character. The Midgley family at Knowlwood has continued to the fourth generation, as represented by Mr. Luke Midgley, the present Church organist.

Ned Crossley was a great influence. The late Rev. John Slater attributed his conversion to him.

James Fielden was one of the most remarkable men ever connected with any Church. He was an ideal school superintendent, and he exerted a great influence for good amongst the young people. These men, from 1850 to 1890, worked together in all branches of the Church without a break.

In addition the following are worthy of mention :

Isaac Bolton, known as the saint.

John Horsfall, who was choirmaster for fifty years, and to whom more than anyone else may be attributed the hearty singing of to-day.

Samuel Haworth, who filled all the offices of the Church and school with credit to himself and satisfaction to the Church. His children are still with us.

John Taylor and also Joseph Roberts.

Another was John West, who had an unbroken connection with the Church for fifty years, and who gave his son to the ministry, Rev. J.A. West, of Goole.

Abram Barker, the eccentric. There is a strange story anent his death told by Rev. S. Smith, who travelled the Circuit between 1844-1846. Mr. Smith, in visiting Abram in his last illness, saw that he could not possibly live long; when giving him some spiritual consolation, Abram said in his own way, “I’ll let thee know when I goo.” Mr. Smith was awakened at night by what felt like someone striking him a sharp blow on the side. He said to his wife, “Abram is dead.” He then made a light and looked at the time and afterwards went to the house, and found that the blow was given just at the time Abram died.

Also John Eastwood, whom to know was to love. He left this district early in life, and spent many years at Barnoldswick, in the Barrowford and Nelson Circuit. Then he removed to Burnley and thence to Manchester. These Circuits to this day speak of his genial disposition and generosity. He was chairman for the May Missionary (Morning) Meeting during Rev. James Travis’ term as secretary, and he was looking forward to the honour of taking the chair for the evening meeting, and was desirous that the speakers for that meeting should be his own dear friends who had entered the ministry from his native Circuit, and from the list of names given it would have been no mean platform.

Mr. Eastwood had a strong desire for Primitive Methodism to gain a position in the heart of Todmorden Borough, and was most generous to the new church erected at Victoria Road by Rev. S.L. George. Indeed, if it had not been for Mr. Eastwood, Victoria Road would not have existed. No one could be more devoted to the Church of his choice than John Eastwood, and the Church was always safe under his guidance. His home was always open to the ministry, and no man had a kinder heart or is more sincerely missed by the Church.

It is with mingled feelings that this resumé is closed. Our eyes grow dim as we think of those who are not with us — true-minded, brave-hearted men, who helped to win the battles of the Lord. Their warfare is accomplished, they have won the crown, but as these have fallen from the ranks their places have been taken by others who, inspired with zeal for the glory of God, have pushed on the good cause.



Christian Messenger 1905/330

Note: The 1904 and 1905 Minutes of Conference identify the minister at Knowlwood as Rev. William Dickinson (not Rev H. Dickenson).

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