Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Dewsbury has had magnificent places of worship over the years

Churches of all kind and all denominations have always fascinated me, especially the ancient ones which I never tire of visiting – and I marvel at the sacrifices people made to build them.
St John Baptist Church in Daw Green, Dewsbury, demolished in 1969.St John Baptist Church in Daw Green, Dewsbury, demolished in 1969.
St John Baptist Church in Daw Green, Dewsbury, demolished in 1969.

Margaret Watson writes: Dewsbury people have been fortunate to have had in their midst magnificent places of worship, but sadly, most of them have gone.

I often wonder where all the beautiful relics and artefacts which used to adorn these sacred places have gone?

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What happened to the organs and church bells, the altar cloths, church banners, chalices, candlesticks and pulpits?

Is there an ecclesiastical museum somewhere keeping them safe and preserving them for posterity? I doubt it.

In the past when churches closed down, artefacts like these were distributed among neighbouring churches, but most of these churches have also closed down, so where did these things now go?

Old photographs of church processions show magnificent banners being carried through the streets, all beautifully embroidered by loving hands, but where are they now?

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Fortunately many churches, past and present, were able to record their history in books and booklets, many of which have been passed on to me.

But perhaps the time has come for these to be combined into one book to give the full ecclesiastic history of our town.

I remember mentioning this idea some years ago to the late Reverend Michael Stoppard and he kindly offered to put at the disposal of anyone who would write such a book, the history of all the Methodist Churches in Dewsbury, but no-one came forward to do this.

None of us know what the future holds but at least we know of that which has gone before us, so why not combine all we know about these churches our forefathers built, no matter what denomination, and put them in a book?

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Every week when I look through old Reporter files I come across fascinating stories about old Dewsbury churches – why they were built, who built them, and why they were closed down?

One church in particular which always intrigued me was St John the Baptist Church in Daw Green which closed in 1965.

I remember always confusing it with another church nearby with a similar name – St John ‘s Church, Dewsbury Moor – of which I wrote recently, and which I’m delighted to say is still going strong.

Both these churches were in Boothroyd Lane, both Anglican churches within a stone’s throw of each other, and both bearing almost identical names. So why were there two?

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I did eventually discover that St John the Baptist Church might never have been built but for a disagreement between the Vicar of St John’s Church and one of his wealthy parishioners, Mary Hague, of Crow Nest Mansion.

This talk of a disagreement was never verified by either party, but we do know Mrs Hague paid for this new church to be built in 1884 and dedicated it in memory of her late husband, who was a prominent local magistrate and merchant banker.

She also got her friends to buy the expensive church fittings, and residents in the neighbourhood to buy the church bell.

The rumour, long connected with the church, was that Mrs Hague had had an argument with the Vicar of Dewsbury Moor, and being a wealthy woman, she was able to build a separate church nearby to which she could now go.

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This rumour of them falling out was strengthened by the fact that the spire of her new church was higher than the tower of St John’s Church, which many said had been designed purposely to give the impression of superiority.

Before the church was built, there had been a mission church established in Daw Green in 1880 made of corrugated iron.

The church became known throughout the district as the “iron church”, a name which persisted long after the stone church was built to replace it.

For whatever reason Mrs Hague built the church, everyone agreed she was a charitable woman who had helped many worthy causes in the town.

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Her friends and supporters said she had seen the great poverty in Daw Green and had decided to provide them with a proper church.

The church at the time of its consecration was one of the most modern and well designed of the time with many expensive features.

There was accommodation for 500 people but at a parochial church council meeting in 1940, the treasurer was worried that each of the seats was costing them threepence a week to maintain.

This was just at the outset of the Second World War and the ‘black-outs’ being imposed, were interfering with and restricting socials and other money-raising events.

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He added that although the church collections were £2.10s a week, it was costing £6 a week to maintain the church.

The vicar, the Reverend Lister Booth, said congregation numbers were declining but he congratulated the Mother’s Union on acquiring a beautiful new banner

But the writing was on the wall for this historic little church when the local authority announced it was demolishing most of the houses in Daw Green as part of their slum clearance programme..

Originally the council said that the demolition of St John the Baptist Church was not scheduled for demolition, but soon after they changed their plans, and it was.

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In June 1963, the last service was held in the church and two years later it was demolished.

It took the demolition men little more than a couple of hours to knock down the church tower and spire and the rest quickly followed.

Fortunately, St John’s Church further up Boothroyd Lane, still remains and is very much active within the church community and with nearby St John’s School, who use the church regularly.

This year is the bi-centenary of St John’s, the first stone having been laid on August 7, 1823, and much is planned to celebrate this historic event.