The Nostalgia Column with Margaret Watson

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

LAST week I wrote about the many churches which are closing in Dewsbury and suggested that perhaps now is the time for all churches, no matter what denomination, to be united under one banner – Christianity.

In 1967 a meeting was called in Dewsbury appealing for exactly this, and it was wonderful to see all the churches of all denominations attending it.

CONGREGATION: Members of St Marys Church, Savile Town, gather outside the building. The church was closed about 50 years ago. Photo loaned by Stuart Hartley.

CONGREGATION: Members of St Marys Church, Savile Town, gather outside the building. The church was closed about 50 years ago. Photo loaned by Stuart Hartley.

There are many still living in Dewsbury who will remember it.

People from churches across the town had suspended their normal evening services to be there and they flocked to the town hall in great numbers.

Some came on foot, others in cars, and many in the five specially-commissioned buses bringing people from areas such as Thornhill, Ravensthorpe and Earlsheaton.

Long before the service commenced, all 900 seats in the Victoria Hall were taken and some swift rearrangements had to be made to accommodate the crowds still flocking in.

The choir was moved from the front rows on to the platform, and trellising was removed from the back of the platform to accommodate even more people.

There were 170 people of all denominations and ages in the choir, but even after they had vacated their chairs, there still wasn’t enough room for the crowds continuing to pile into the hall.

Dewsbury Town Hall had never seen the like as more and more chairs were brought in, but still people were having to stand wherever they could, some sitting on the window sills.

Eventually people had to be turned away because there wasn’t an inch of space to accommodate them.

Mr C M Jones, a Methodist local preacher, who gave the address, opened with the following remarks:

“I believe we are making history tonight, for not since the 16th Century has a body of people got together in this way in this town.”

The service was led by the Reverend S M Jones, vicar of St John’s Anglican Church, Dewsbury Moor, and the lessons were read by Mr J Rock (Roman Catholic) and Mrs E Harman (Congregational).

Mr Jones said: “We acknowledge with shame the harm done to Christ’s cause by our unhappy divisions.

“For 400 years we could not come together as one but now we can, and I hope we are conscious of this momentous occasion.”

On the front of the Victoria Hall was the coat of arms of Dewsbury with the Latin inscription Deus Noster Refugium et Virtus – God our refuge and strength.

Mr Jones pointed to it and said it was to their shame that the Christian church today had hundreds of divisions.

He asked them to pray for the day when all the churches would come together, think together and try to understand each other.

“When you understand people, you will love them and when you understand and love them, you are part way to unity.”

One of the psalms sung by the choir was in a Roman Catholic setting with the antiphon of alleluias from the congregation resounding through the hall until one thought it must be heard all over Dewsbury.

Who could have thought that night in that hall that 50 years later most of the churches represented would no longer be with us?

When I look back through old Reporter files, I realise that we who are here today will never be able to repay the debt of gratitude we owe to the many men and women from Dewsbury who gave freely of their time and money to build churches, hospitals, schools and charitable institutions.

Most of them were ordinary men and women, some uneducated, who came together to form groups which helped alleviate some of the poverty and ignorance which existed in Dewsbury, long before the Welfare State was introduced.

The institutions they formed are nearly all gone, organisations like the Friendly Societies, the charitable trusts, the co-operative societies, working men’s clubs, and, of course, churches of all denominations.

Now most of those churches are closing because of dwindling congregations and lack of money to look after the churches their forefathers built.

One cannot help feel that if these churches of all denominations had come together and shared their beliefs and buildings, things could have been better.

A wonderful example of this kind of sharing can be found at the Longcauseway United Reformed and Methodist Church in Dewsbury which is now home to three churches.

When Central Methodist Church closed down some years ago, its members were made welcome at Longcauseway.

More recently, when Highfield Congregational Church closed down in Earlsheaton, their members were also welcomed at Longcauseway, and I know these three Christian families are very happy worshipping together under the same roof.

The photograph above shows the once vibrant church of St Mary’s in Savile Town which had its own vicar, vicarage and church school.

This church closed down many years ago, as did the Methodist Church which had its own resident minister and huge Manse in Orchard Street.

We all have our own ideas as to why this happened, and the arrival of the Asian community in Savile Town, coupled with the movement of Christian families to other areas, certainly played a part in it, but if we are honest, some of these churches were already in decline.

The fact is that people have stopped going to church, for whatever reason, in great numbers as they once did, and the writing is on the wall for the closure of other churches in the district.

The future of Holy Innocents’ Church in Thornhill Lees is not secure, and several years ago it was ready to close its doors for good.

Sadly, when that church goes, there will be no Christian presence in Savile Town and Thornhill Lees, just as there isn’t now in Earlsheaton, and one is left wondering which church will be next?

If you have memories of some of these churches which are no longer with us, or photographs, please contact me at tresham3@gmail.com and I can write about them and their history.