Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Thornhill was once bigger than Dewsbury and had its own castle and town hall

The “old” Thornhillers I spoke to knew everything there was to know about their village and it was from them I was able to learn of its impressive history.

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 7:00 am
Thornhill Edge: Back when there were chapels and churches on nearly every corner. This was taken in Albion Road and the chapel pictured was probably Thornhill Independent Methodist Church. Picture kindly loaned by Christine Leveridge.
Thornhill Edge: Back when there were chapels and churches on nearly every corner. This was taken in Albion Road and the chapel pictured was probably Thornhill Independent Methodist Church. Picture kindly loaned by Christine Leveridge.

Margaret Watson writes: When I first joined the Reporter in 1958 one of the districts I was given to cover in search of stories was Thornhill.

Easier said than done considering it was the only part of Dewsbury I’d never visited and where I didn’t know a soul.

I was given a list of “contacts” to call on every week to find out who had conducted the Sunday services at all the churches and chapels.

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Also who had entertained at the working men’s club and who had won prizes at the Darby and Joan whist drive.

Yes, this was the stuff readers were interested in because according to my editor it was names that sold papers and the more I could get the better.

It all seemed a bit boring to a young teenager like me but I took on the challenge and wondered if Marjorie Proops on the Daily Mirror had started out like this.

Every Wednesday I caught the bus to Thornhill and spent all morning walking through the village, knocking on doors and reading notices and posters in shop windows.

I made my journey back to Dewsbury on foot in the hope I might pick up a good story along the way, and sometimes I did.

Part of my job also included visiting local churches and chapels to find out who had died that week.

This gave me the opportunity to call on relatives to get details for our obituary column – yet more names to please my editor.

I was often asked if I wanted to see the body which was respectfully laid out in an open coffin in the front room.

Of course, I always said yes because it would have been rude to decline, and I always remembered to say how nice they looked.

I’d heard my mother say this often enough when she went to view the bodies of those recently deceased, often taking me with her.

Another part of the job was calling into all the pubs and clubs, schools and shops and post offices throughout Thornhill and Thornhill Edge.

It wasn’t long before I realised there were two types of people living in Thornhill at that time.

There were the “old” Thornhillers, whose families had lived in the village for generations, and the “new” Thornhillers, who had just moved in.

They had come from slum clearance areas like Eastborough, Springfield and The Flatts, and re-housed on new estates in Valley Road, Foxroyd and Thornhill Edge.

The “old” Thornhillers I spoke to knew everything there was to know about their village and it was from them I was able to learn of its impressive history.

They told me how Thornhill had once been bigger than Dewsbury and had had its own castle and town hall.

The castle had once stood in the midst of extensive parks adorned with romantic woods, and titled lords and ladies had lived there.

The gardens had stretched down to the banks of the Calder, and at the north-eastern corner of the moat stood one of the largest Spanish chestnut trees in the north of England.

My memories of old Thornhill were revived some years ago when I was shown a copy of an ancient review taken in 1821 of all the towns and villages in the West Riding, including Thornhill.

It stated that the rector of the church at that time had been the Reverend M Dixon, and the steward to the Lord of the Manor was Mr William Toone.

A boarding school in Rectory Park was run by Mrs W Wilks, and there was a brewer in the village named John Fearnley.

A local victualler, Richard Lodge, ran the Savile Arms and also acted as the parish clerk.

The book was loaned to me by Mr Alan Melling, who at the time, was trying to trace some of his family who had lived in the village some 150 years ago.

They were the Ramsden family, who, in the early 1800s, had broken away from the Methodist Church and formed their own Independent Methodist Church in Thornhill Edge.

One member, David Ramsden, who was the founder of the Independent Methodist movement in this area, was tragically killed in the Combs Colliery disaster of 1893, as were several other members of his family.

Most of these were local preachers in the Independent Methodist movement and their deaths brought an end to the Ramsden’s connection with the movement.

However, the work they had started in Thornhill was carried on by other Methodists, and reports of their services can still be found in old Reporter files.

Why the Ramsden family, who were staunch Methodists, decided to form their own movement, no-one seems to know.

But they were not alone in breaking away from the established Methodist Church, because many others followed them and built churches in the district.

One of these was believed to have been in Brook Yard, another at the top of Judy Haigh Lane, and a third, The Gospel Pilgrims, in Thornhill Edge.

In 1867, this particular church was renamed The Christian Brethren, later to be renamed the Church of the Good Shepherd, which I understand would later be converted into apartments.

The first stone for the first Independent Methodist Church was laid in 1842, but prior to this date members had met in a house in High Street.

Some of these churches I would later have the privilege of visiting and reporting on events there but sadly, like so many other churches in Dewsbury, they eventually closed down.

Throughout my 60 years reporting on events in the town, I know that every village here has a rich history which many of those now living there know little of.

In the coming months, I hope to try and remedy this by relating more about the history of our villages.

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