Dewsbury Circuit, Yorkshire

Begins with a potted history of the UK and Christianity therein.

Dewsbury Wellington Road Primitive Methodist chapel
Christian Messenger 1906/141
Dewsbury Wellington Road Primitive Methodist chapel interior
Christian Messenger 1906/141

Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by E Millichamp

Dewsbury is a town in the West Riding of Yorkshire, situated in a hilly district at the mouth of a deep gorge, the outlet of a brook and the highway from Bradford and the North. The industrial part of the town lies low on a level with the stream, while the residential part is spread over the hills that rise east and west. It has on the whole a pleasant southern aspect, overlooking the valley of the Calder, a river that flows from west to east.

In the ages that preceded the dawn of history it must have been a wild place: a scene of moorland, forest, and swamp. Here trees, shrubs, and flowers grew in wild confusion; wolves, foxes, and other animals roamed at will; birds sang in the woodlands, and fish sported in the bright, clear stream without interference or interruption.

Tribes of Britons, the aboriginal inhabitants, had undoubtedly a settlement here, but as far as history is concerned they lived and died under the cover of a dark night. All that has come to us from the remote past is just a ray of light that appears in the name of our town. The Britons had a god thay called “Deu,” and it is just possible that this God was worshipped here, and that his name has come to us in the first part of Dewsbury.

The Romans invaded the country a little before the advent of Christ in the east. They introduced an advanced civilization. They built cities such as York, Doncaster, and Manchester, and intersected the land with roads, over which they marched their armies and carried on their trade. One of these Roman roads seems to have come by the way of our town. Proceeding from York it came through Ossett, “street side,” and entering this locality down the east hill it passed over the “long Causeway,” and then threading the base of the west hill it stretched on to Manchester and other towns.

The island was governed by the Romans for 400 years. They then withdrew that they might concentrate their forces for the defence of the Empire at home. The Britons, left in a forlorn and helpless condition, were harassed by the wild Picts and Scots, which led to their making an appeal for help to the Saxons. The Saxons after this settled in the country, and became the dominant race. Less civilized than the Romans, they had little liking for the great cities, preferring a freer, rural life. Their towns and villages were simply constructed of stakes, wattle and mud. The poorer people dwelt in houses that had but one room and without a chimney; the smoke from the fire in the centre escaped by the door, or through an opening in the roof. The overlord’s house was of similar construction but was larger, and had the addition of a second room.

One of these Saxon towns seems very early to have been built here, probably on the banks of the brook and near the Roman Causeway. The land in the locality would have to be cultivated for the production of barley, oats, and rye, from which the inhabitants made their bread. As the Saxons were heathen they had idol shrines where they worshipped. The names of their gods have been transmitted to us in the names by which we distinguish our days – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and so on.

The light of the Gospel preached in the country in the days of the Britons had almost faded away, and scarcely any Christian Church remained except in Scotland, Cornwall, and Wales. The people lived in darkness and under the shadow of death; but this was not to continue. Gregory, a Roman deacon, in passing through the Roman market, saw a group of Saxon youths exposed for sale. His interest was excited, and on enquiry finding the country from which they had been brought was in heathen darkness, he decided on a mission. He soon after became a bishop, and sent Augustine, who landed on the shores of Kent in the year 596. Then following this, the mission in the south was extended to the North, beyond the Humber and the Trent. The northern missionary, Paulinus, was recognized by Edwin, King of Northumbria. He then became Bishop of York, and under royal patronage preached the Gospel with such success that many thousands of uncivilized people accepted the faith and were baptized. Idol temples in some instances became Christian churches, and crosses were set up as a symbol of Redemption by Christ.

Paulinus is said the have missioned Dewsbury in the year 627 and to have baptized his converts in the river. A cross was probably erected here as in other towns and villages. Some of these old crosses remain on village greens and in churchyards to this day, and one or two very old ones have been preserved in the Parish Church of this town.

The Saxon rule, including the time of the Danish ascendency, lasted about 500 years, and was then swept away by the conquest of the county by the Normans. It left its memorial in the name of our town formerly written Deusberia. The Saxon “burg” for town affixed to the Britsih “due” for god making Dewsbury, viz., Godstown.

The Norman Conquest marked the beginning of a new era. These hardy adventurers inherited from the Romans an advanced civilization. They introduced an improved government, and all over the land there sprang up baronial castles and fine large churches for divine worship. The Saxon church that stood in Dewsbury, built of wattle and mud, gave way to a more pretentious building of stone, and the place became such a powerful ecclesiastical centre that the Church here was regarded as the Mother Church of other Churches for many miles.

The intervening years between the times of the Normans and the rise of Methodism we shall have to pass over. We may suppose that John Wycliff, who was a Yorkshireman, sent his itinerant monks this way, and perhaps he came here himself, but if so no record has been preserved. Nor do we know how the life of the place was affected by the Reformation, and by the early Nonconformists such as Brown, Cromwell, and Bunyan, or by the Act of Uniformity, the Five-Mile Act, and the Conventicle Act.

What we do know is that the ages have brought a great change over this locality. From forest-crowned hills, from field and swamp, it has been transformed into a large centre of industry and trade. The wild woods have disappeared; the blackbird and the thrush have been silenced; the flowers that once grew on the sunny slopes have ceased to bloom, and the sport of the angler on the banks of the river and brook is a thing of the past. In the centre of the town we have the Municipal Hall, the Market, and shops of a variety of kinds. Then rising from the level to higher ground, we have the Infirmary, Technical School and a Grammar School, the Union, Museum, and a fine park, procured for the public at a cost of £10,000. The town has also a Free Library and Public Baths, but great as all these are they are dwarfed and eclipsed by monster blanket and cloth mills, some of which are said to be the largest in the world, employing thousands of people, and supplying markets of almost every clime and land.

The population of the Parliamentary Borough, including Batley and other places, is 70,000, whilst that of Dewsbury is 29,000, provided for by about thirty places of worship, mostly large, some seating over a thousand hearers. Of these one is a Roman Catholic Church (St Paulinus), seven are Anglican, three Congregational, four Wesleyan, two New Connexion, two Baptist and one a Primitive Methodist. Besides these there are several Mission Halls and a Meeting House belonging to the Society of Friends.

We have consulted a book written by an old Wesleyan, and find that the first Methodist service was held by John Nelson, of Birstal, in the house of a blacksmith that stood on ground now covered by the Free Library. A chapel was opened by Peter Jaco, on Daw Green, in 1762. Wesley himself preached here in 1764, and states that he had a congregation that filled the Meeting House at five o’clock in the morning. He is said to have spoken of Dewsbury as one of the pleasantest towns in England, and we have no doubt but that it was, but it has since that time suffered from chemical works and smoke from thousands of fires in factory, forge, and home. Wesley preached here several times in subsequent years. A second chapel was built in a more central position in 1784, and it is said that the sainted John Fletcher, who secured his equally sainted wife from this part, was present at the opening. Other chapels have followed, opened by William Dawson, Dr. Beaumont, and others.

Primitive Methodism was planted here about the year 1818. The pioneer preacher as far as we can learn was the Apostolic William Clowes, one of the founders of the Connexion. He preached in the house of a Mr. J. Boothroyd, at the west end, on Nov. 26th of the above year. On a subsequent occasion he records that on his way from Leeds (nine miles) he held a camp meeting on Tingley Common, with six praying companies, in the afternoon. Then coming on here he held a service on Daw Green in the evening, and had some fruit. In connection with a service he held here some time after he says he had a Quaker present who remarked at the close that the best part of his preaching was the exhortation he gave before he took his text. John Coulson, a fellow-labourer with Clowes, writes of opening out at Dewsbury, but neither, so far as we can find, say anything about the formation of the first society: this lies concealed amidst the mists and shadows of the time.

A society was certainly instituted about this time, and the place formed a part of Leeds branch of the Hull Circuit. The work in the neighbourhood must have developed with amazing rapidity, for in 1824 Dewsbury was made the head of a Circuit. This fact is stated in the “History of the Connexion,” and is confirmed by a plan that has been loaned to the writer bearing date 1825. J. Fenton and J. Cook stand at the head of this plan as the ministers, and following these are seventeen local preachers. J. Bedford, a brother who stood a preacher on trial, and held official position in the society for many years, is remembered by some of our older people, and from a likeness we have seen we judge he was a man of great strength of character. A niece, whom he brought up, married a Mr. Laycock who, with his wife, wielded considerable influence, and are represented to-day by their two daughters. The places preached at as given on this plan of eighty years ago are: Dewsbury, Heckmondwike, Batley, Mirfield, Birstal, Gomershall, Hightown, and some others of less note.

It seems however that the Circuit had been made prematurely, for after four years it reverted, in 1828, to Leeds, and remained a branch under the jurisdiction of Leeds First Circuit for a number of years, for not until the year 1857 have we any record of its again becoming an independent Circuit.

At this time, as we older people remember, there was agreat revival all over the land. It appears that this station shared in this, and reaped a glorious harvest, so that it was able to recover lost ground and become again a Circuit, with Rev. G. Normandale as minister. It had two places in the town – Daw Green and Eastborough, and none other places; of these Heckmondwike, Batley, and Mirfield have since then become heads of Circuits and are doing well.

In the year the Dewsbury Circuit became self-supporting it had 332 members. These increased from year to year till, in 1870, the membership stood at 847.

The present chapel in Wellington Road was built in 1866, at a cost of about £6,000, and has accommodation for near a thousand hearers. Following the opening of this chapel, and the concentration of the two town societies here, the cause had considerable prosperity, and in 1877 there was a membership of 207. This level, we regret to say, owing to secessions, was not maintained, and at one time the membership melted away to little over 100. Some of the old members that formerly belonged to daw Green and Eastborough, with others, stood firm, and laboured on and not in vain. The expenditure on Wellington Road Chapel was not met to any considerable extent by the sale of the old chapels, hence there remained on the property a heavy debt, involving struggle and strain. The liability at the present time is £1,000. The Superintendent, the Rev. J.P. Mossop, supported by his energetic wife, and a staff of indefatigable workers, are trying to reduce this and have a cheering prospect of success.

Our people are proud of their chapel, and the services, led by a splendid organ and an efficient choir, are bright and attractive. The Sunday school keeps hold of the young men and young women, who are all of a character that is a credit to our Church. The ordinary services are fairly well maintained. The Circuit has four other places, and in addition to the minister there are two supernumeraries, J. Leadley and the writer, sixteen local preachers, and 331 members.

With a few more words we bring our story to a close, and we wish it were more complete. If the old hill that like a sentinel stands at the back of the town had intelligence and the sense of sight, hearing and the power of speech, we might get a more complete story. What storms have swept over his head! What dynasties of mankind – British, Roman, Saxon, and Norman have risen and fallen at his feet! What a panorama of human tragedy and comedy has passed before his eyes! What saintly men, such as Nelson, Wesley, Clowes, and Coulson, have proclaimed the good news of salvation in his ears! What thousands of redeemed souls have sung the glad song of dying love and free grace as they passed over this hill to and from services held in the towns and villages round about! We trust this old hill will witness even greater things than these, and that his heart of stone will be touched and thrilled with the joy and gladness that shall come of the reign of Christ for a thousand years. Then when the tide of human life shall have ebbed for ever away, he will stand alone as at the beginning without friend or foe. May the writer, and the reader appear with the redeemed from among men, without spot, or stain, or any such thing.


Christian Messenger 1906/141

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