The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Fond memories of St John’s Church

Thousands of families from agricultural areas migrated to Dewsbury during the Industrial Revolution seeking work and a better life.

Wednesday, 29th July 2020, 9:00 am
Sepia scene: An old photograph of Staincliffe Road, Dewsbury Moor, taken in 1900 when the Smith family, the subject of this column, lived there. I wonder if the bungalow pictured on the left-hand side, is the one Nora Smith referred to? And, is the church in the distance, St John’s Church where she worshipped? Or is it Staincliffe Church?
Sepia scene: An old photograph of Staincliffe Road, Dewsbury Moor, taken in 1900 when the Smith family, the subject of this column, lived there. I wonder if the bungalow pictured on the left-hand side, is the one Nora Smith referred to? And, is the church in the distance, St John’s Church where she worshipped? Or is it Staincliffe Church?

Among them in the early 1800s was a family called Smith from Darton who found work in local mills and settled in Dewsbury Moor.

It is this family I am writing about today because I have come into possession of letter detailing the years they lived here.

From generation to generation the Smith family and their descendants worked as loom operators at two blanket mills in Dewsbury Moor – Crabtree’s and Walker’s – and they also worshipped at St John’s Church.

Margaret Watson.

Some years ago, the church received a letter from Mr Terry Price, a descendant of the Smith family, on the death of his mother, Mrs Nora Price (nee Smith).

Included in the letter were treasured personal mementos of her years at the church she had loved and also memories of her life in Dewsbury Moor.

I publish the letter in full because it contains some historical facts regarding the Bronte sisters, who were living in Dewsbury Moor at the time when her grandfather was a child.

Mr Price, In his letter to the then Vicar of St John’s, the Reverend Kathy Robertson, wrote:

“I have put together a few items regarding St John’s Church, Dewsbury Moor, which my mother kept during her 95 years of life.

“I also include stories she passed on to me at various times which hopefully will be of some small use to the church of which she was an avid attender.

“My mother’s name was Nora Price (nee Smith) whose family moved to Dewsbury Moor from Darton in the very early 1800s.

“They lived in various properties in Dewsbury Moor, including Tanners Row, Knowles Hill Road, Beckett Terrace, Wroe Street, Staincliffe Road and School Lane.

“The first property was in the old fire station at the end of Staincliffe Road, and they were the first family to move into this road.

“Later a new road was opened around the corner from the fire station, which was named after her family - Smith Road.

“I don’t know whether the road is still there under this name, but her family’s main residence was in School Lane.

Half-way up, on the right, was a block of four terraced houses.

“Just below these on the left in School Lane were two old cottages (now demolished), one of which was occupied by Anne Bronte, one of the Bronte sisters, and her friend.

Charlotte was a teacher but so was Anne. She taught my grandfather, who paid half a penny for two mornings a week, or two pence for a full week.

My mother had his maths book with every sum ticked correct and signed by her.

“When the cottages were demolished, the council agreed to erect a plaque stating that one of the cottages had been the residence of one of the Bronte sisters. I don’t know if this was ever done.

“My mother and her mother were very religious, as were other family members, and they attended St John’s Church.

“They also attended Sunday school at Leeds Road Baptist Church and St James’s in Heckmondwike.

“From being a young girl to a teenager, my mother attended St John’s, until she moved down south in 1939 where she married and settled down.

“She left behind many family members in Dewsbury Moor, many who are buried under the name of Lister in St John’s churchyard, and also many more in Dewsbury Cemetery under the name of Smith.

“Her family worked as loom operators in blanket mills in the area, one of which was “Crabtree’s” and another called “Walker’s”.

“I remember my mother saying they had to wade knee deep in the snow across the fields to get to work in those days and had to stay in their wet shoes until they got home at night.

“My mother remembered being best friends with the daughter of the owner of a small sweet shop on Heckmondwike road along from School Lane. They had a new bungalow built further along the road.

“Walker’s blanket mill in 1938 closed and relocated to Witney in Oxfordshire where the firm built a row of terrace houses solely for the workers from Dewsbury Moor, who were going with them, including my family.

“This was where I came onto the scene, and learnt all about Yorkshire, and I visited Dewsbury many times with her.

“I now live in East Yorkshire and it is only a half-hour drive to Dewsbury Moor, which I have since visited many times and am saddened by the change, especially the vandalised cemeteries.

“Although walking through the places where my family walked all those years ago brings on a lovely feeling which pushes the other thoughts into the background.

“My mother once told me that she and her parents never really settled “down south”.

“Now her treasured possessions of Dewsbury Moor, the place she loved, and the church where she worshipped have come home to rest.”

Mr Terry Price, son of Nora Price (nee Smith)