Batley Circuit, Yorkshire
Transcription of Article in the Christian Messenger by Rev. T. Pearson Ellis
BATLEY is situated in the centre of the Heavy Woollen District in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and has a population of about 40,000 Its growth has been rapid and its inhabitants are proud of its achievements. The town is built upon “spurs” jutting out from the Pennine Chain, and the district still bears signs of having once been beautiful. But the march of industry has destroyed the once abundant trees, whilst the beck, at one time a silvery stream, is now degraded into an open drain, reeking of the dye-vat. Warehouses and mills are crowded in the valley, and over all hangs a pall of smoke. It is not surprising, therefore, that the casual visitor sees no beauty in the town that he should desire it.
Whatever may be one’s first impression of the town, one is not long a resident before he discovers that there is much to be admired in the town and its people. The staple industry consists in transforming rags into beautiful fabric. In ordinary times rags came into this district from all parts of the world. Wool, too, comes in large quantities, and the expert mixing of rags and wool, and the subsequent weaving of the product, gives employment to most of the workers. We have heard people speak disparagingly of Batley as “Shoddy Town,” and “Mungo Land,” but one can only smile when he notes that the speaker is clad in garments made out of the material he professes to despise. Being ignorant of what can be accomplished by brains and deft fingers, he does not realise that the smart coat, or stylish suit he wears, has in it some of the old, socks be discarded in disgust a few months before. What was once regarded as waste and useless is here made into excellent cloth, and the process of transformation is as remunerative as it is interesting.
If the place is interesting, and we claim that it is, not less so are the people. They take nothing on trust. “Prove all things” is their motto. The West Riding man is somewhat reserved and discountenances gush, and does not care for flattery. He is hard-headed, independent and industrious. If he does happen to be somewhat blunt in speech he is nevertheless kindly, and is “given to hospitality.” Such being the general character of the people it is not surprising to find Nonconformity strongly entrenched in the district. Of the thirty-three names inscribed on the list of Batley’s Mayors, about twenty of them have been Free Churchmen. In this town the United Kingdom Alliance has some of its most stalwart Supporters, and we have been told on good authority that during the last twenty years wines have been provided at the Mayor‘s Banquet on not more than four occasions.
It might be expected that in such a town as this Primitive Methodism would thrive abundantly. Truth, however, compels us to admit that its growth has been somewhat slow, though in recent years our church has taken its place amongst the most progressive in the town. It is seventy years ago since the first Primitive Methodist Service was held in Batley. A small band of earnest men and women met for worship in a small room in a back street and there formed a Society which became part of the Dewsbury Circuit, and at a later date was transferred with others to form the Heckmondwike Circuit. In 1856, a chapel in Commercial Street, vacated by the members of the M.N.C. who had opened a new church on a commanding site, was purchased. It was a daring venture, for whilst the little heroic band had much faith, funds were perilously short. A Sunday-school was commenced and it is suggestive that the opening of this school marked the beginning of a brighter era.
Just half a century ago the old M.N.C. Chapel was sold, and one on the present site in Wellington Street was purchased from the Congregationalists. Soon after entering into possession, the Chapel was destroyed by fire. Whether it was the “burning zeal” of the members that caused the conflagration we know not, but certainly gain came out of loss. Upon the ruins of the old chapel a beautiful and commodious sanctuary was erected in 1874, at a cost of £4,000. It was a great undertaking, for the members were few and comparatively poor. But the people had a “mind to work,” sacrifice was cheerfully made, and to-day there only remains a debt of £350 upon the property. A lasting debt of gratitude is due to the men and women who shouldered heavy burdens in those early days. When the old chapel was bought they had less than £400 among them. None of them had any social standing in the town, and an old Trustee informed the writer that there was only one “Mr.” (Mr. Mitchell) in their ranks, the rest could only claim the dignity of being addressed by their Christian names. But there were giants in those days. Tradition says that during the building of the new chapel many of the trustees spent more time at the chapel than at home. To no one is more praise due than to William Bowling for the design and workmanship, and no one raised more money for the building of the Chapel. Fine service was also rendered by John Froggat, who not only worked himself, but inspired others with the same spirit. Nor must we forget Squire Newsome, who for years served the Trust as Secretary. We have been assured that not infrequently “Squire” would leave his wife in charge of his office whilst he watched over the building of the Chapel. Those were anxious days, for the financial burden was great, but it was borne without wavering or complaint. In critical days, W.H. Childe, J.P., was a safe and steadfast guide and placed his rare ability upon the altar of service. One of the first scholars in the school, he rejoices to-day in the position our Church holds in the town. Few of the Old Guard are now able to render active service, though David Illingworth and David Boocock still serve as Class Leaders and are Trustees, together with the above-named brethren. But if the Old Guard are unable to undertake tasks as of yore, they have reason to rejoice that their places are being filled by younger men who, whilst honouring the past, believe that the best is yet to be.
In 1898, the Wellington Street Church at Batley, together with those at Gomersal, West Ardsley and Kilpin Hill, were transferred from Heckmondwike Circuit to form the Batley Station. These four places constitute a fairly compact circuit, but one sometimes wonders what principle, if any, was adopted in forming the new circuit. It is somewhat curious that Dewsbury Circuit has two Chapels in the Borough of Batley, one within ?ve minutes walk of Wellington Street Chapel; whilst Kilpin Hill Chapel is nearer Heckmondwike than Batley, and funniest of all, the Heckmondwike Circuit Chapel is situated within Batley Borough. Thus we have three circuits represented in Batley and only two Chapels are in the Batley Circuit. It does seem as if some rearrangement should be attempted to obviate such overlapping of circuits. Having said this one ought to add that nothing but goodwill exists amongst the circuits concerned, and Batley, as the youngest Station, is grateful to the parent circuits, and is seeking, and not without some measure of success, to justify its separate existence.
Gomersal, situated about three miles from Batley, and easily accessible by car, is a pretty village. Here a Society was formed about seventy years ago. The present school was erected in 1860, and in 1872 a neat Chapel with seating accommodation for 250 was opened at a cost of £1,500. The Society has never been large, but the Smiths and the Allotts, with the late Alfred England, toiled incessantly, and the Church owes much to their consecrated zeal. Last year William Allott entered into rest, aged 75 years. He had been associated with the chapel at Gomersal all his life, and as S.S. Superintendent, Class Leader, and Trust Secretary, served it with conspicuous ability and unfailing devotion. The debt upon the property is now only £108.
Sixty-two years ago a few Primitive Methodists who had worshipped for a time with the “Wesleyan Reformers” at West Ardsley, purchased the Chapel from that “Body,” and were received as a Primitive Methodist Society and became associated with what is now the Batley Circuit. It was an old chapel with a rising gallery and uncomfortable pews. Four years ago this chapel was completely renovated. The old pews were removed and pitch-pine seats put in their place and the chapel is now an ornament to the village. There are less than thirty members in this Society, but so earnest and generous are they that the total cost of the alterations, £200, was raised in less than three years, and now the property is entirely free from debt. Much of the credit of this achievement is due to the Society Steward, John Sykes and his wife and family. At West Ardsley we have a fine type of village Methodism. The members are free from narrowness and have the “Connexional Spirit.” Doing their best for their own Chapel, they are always ready to do their utmost for the Church at large. At the last Missionary Anniversary, this little church, composed of working people, sent over £8 to the Missionary Funds, an average of over 5/6 per member. It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with such people, and it is not surprising that preachers usually have a “good time” at West Ardsley.
Kilpin Hill is a Society of about twenty members who worship in an iron chapel which was erected in 1888. For many years this Society has had a hard struggle. This year it has lost by death two of its members. Mrs. Birkhead was the mother of the Society, and its oldest member, and John T. March, was Trust and S.S. Treasurer. These friends, with T.W. Spivey and Mesdames Scott and Booth, were the principal workers in the Church and served it with devotion. There are signs of a quickened interest amongst the people here and with whole-hearted consecration this church may yet become strong and vigorous. There is no debt upon the property, and there is about £150 invested towards building a new chapel in the future.
In reviewing the circuit as a whole, one is impressed with what has been done, but still more with the possibilities of greater achievements. The circuit is in a transition stage; the old is giving place to the new. There are but few old members left, and comparatively young men are bearing the responsibilities of office. These men are well equipped for their work. Their methods may be different to those of their predecessors, but in spirit and aims they are just as noble. In Batley six years ago, a monthly mid-week preaching service was instituted. At this service some of our leading ministers preach to congregations representative of all the churches in the district. At night the visitor lectures, and usually the spacious church is well filled. It was a daring venture, but its success has more than justified the enterprise of the officials. These men realise that whilst it is a grand thing to worship history, it is grander to help in making it.
The circuit is fortunate in having Mr. Thos. Gladwin as its Steward. Quiet, reserved almost to a fault, he is nevertheless genial and tactful, and never was the office filled by a worthier man. Mr. Ernest Childe is the courteous and capable Secretary, with whom it is a pleasure to work. The circuit is yet young, but it has already justified its existence, and the future is bright with hope.
Christian Messenger 1918/236