This is the third of three, in an occasional series, about the early history of Hill Lane Baptist Church which celebrates its 175th anniversary later this year.
I finished the second article by mentioning that one of the ministers at Lane Bottom caused so much trouble among an element of the local population, they felt it necessary to burn him in effigy!
This really happened but let me explain. It does not mean anyone was burnt to death like some Christians had been in the early days of the church. An effigy, to make use of my favourite dictionary, is “a statue, image or dummy of a person to burn (or hang) in public”. Clearly, this individual was not the most popular person in the district and in this case an effigy was burnt in public of the minister at Hill Lane Baptist Chapel.
He was the Rev. Richard Littlehales who accepted the offer of the pastorate at Hill Lane in 1868. We know quite a lot about him. He held at least two local pastorates. The first was at Hill Lane and when he moved to Sion, in Yorkshire Street, Burnley, in 1875, he was recognised as a “great preacher, an energetic organiser, a man of drive and enthusiasm”.
His successor at Sion, the Rev. S. Pearce Carey, expressed his gratitude to Mr Littlehales for making the pulpit at Sion one of the “freest in the North, where a man might and was expected to utter, unafraid, his boldest vision of the bigness of the Gospel”.
In Burnley Mr Littlehales was much loved and respected. These two things did not always go together but he was something of an innovator reserving a place, in services, for the children attending. He told them stories from Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” which, today, might not be regarded as a means of involving children, or even attracting their attention, but, before Mr Littlehales’ innovation, children were expected to attend, be seen but, most definitely, not be heard.
He has a solid list of achievements to his name at Sion, which, in his day, occupied a huge building in Yorkshire Street, Burnley. It was Mr Littlehales who inspired the building of, for its time, a splendid Sunday School, in
Chapel Street, next door to Sion. This replaced a “large dark (and forbidding) building” in Basket Street where there was a very large, for its day, corn mill. Anything standing in its shadow, as this building apparently was, would have been dwarfed by the mill.
Richard Littlehales had been born in Shrewsbury in 1839, the son of a building contractor. Because of his poor health he was put to the grocery business but was never happy as a grocer so he asked his father if he could attend Rawdon College, Leeds, where he trained for the pastorate. Hill Lane was his first full-time appointment.
Mr Littlehales’ restless energy can be seen at both his chapels but particularly when he was at Hill Lane. He was appointed in February 1868 but, by August that year, was playing a leading part in founding a daughter chapel in Nelson. It was resolved that a room over, “Hartley Walton’s new buildings in Dial Street (Nelson) be secured as a preaching station”.
This had been talked about for some time but Mr Littlehales saw the necessity for it and got the scheme off the ground. A number of worshippers from Nelson, which was growing very quickly at the time, attended services at Lane Bottom. To do this they had a considerable trek ahead of them and their walk was not on roads, but muddy field paths, from Nelson, though Walverden, Pighole and Lane Bottom to Hill Lane. The countryside might have been nice, as indeed it was, but, in winter, and when it was raining, the trek would have been anything but pleasant.
Incidentally, Dial Street, Nelson, was where the present Admiral Shopping Centre (formerly the Arndale Centre) is now. There is nothing left of it today but, in Walton’s building, Hill Lane opened a mission which grew into Carr Road Baptist Chapel, which was completed by 1875. The building cost the impressive sum of £5,000 to which Mr George Foster, the calico printer of Sabden, contributed £1,000. Half that sum was given by the Quaker textile manufacturer, Edward Ecroyd. In time other places of worship were established at Elizabeth Street and Woodlands Road, both Nelson.
Getting back to Hill Lane, Mr Littlehales saw the chapel there was just not big enough for all those who wanted to use it. The building had been constructed to house a small group of former members of the old Haggate Chapel and, though allowance had been made for some expansion, the building had reached the end of its usefulness in its original form.
Without going into the debate which took place about how Hill Lane’s facilities might be improved, it was eventually decided to build a completely new chapel while retaining the old building as a Sunday School. Mr Littlehales preached a sermon from a text in the book of Nehemiah (Chapter 2 v18), “Let us rise up and build”. It is a reference to the rebuilding of Jerusalem something which those at Hill Lane would have recognised immediately. They would build their own Jerusalem next to their old chapel in Lane Bottom.
This was powerful and inspirational leadership from Mr Littlehales and, on Whit Monday, 1871, the building of the present chapel commenced. The site was given by Mr William Smith, of Cowgill & Smith of Burnley and Nelson, and the stone for the building was quarried from the field opposite.
It is now we come to the remarkable incidents with which I introduced today’s article. Mr Littlehales was fresh out of Rawdon College when he arrived in Briercliffe. He was particularly taken by the Temperance cause and started a Band of Hope at Hill Lane in 1869.
The Temperance Movement was against the drinking of alcohol. It had been started in Lancashire in the 1830s
but excessive alcohol drinking was still a problem in many industrial areas, Briercliffe included. Mr Littlehales was concerned the money spent on drink should be spent on education, especially of children, and the improvement of the living conditions of the lower classes.
At this time, there were several disreputable drinking shops in Briercliffe. One was near Lane Bottom, the “Dog & Gun” at Robin Cottages, where there was what was called, locally, a “whist shop” – a pub that brewed its own beer.
There was another at Slack Farm, above Holt Hill. It has come down to us as “Mon John’s” and there was another in Thursden, the “Thursden Inn”, which once had been very reputable but which, when families started to desert the village in the 1860s, quickly became a place of singular disrepute.
Each of these places was not properly licenced.
They had been pubs before the passing of the 1824 Beer Act and were not regulated in the same way as pubs in built-up areas.
The beer they produced was not regulated, the hours these places remained open were not fully regulated and, worse than that, these pubs encouraged gambling – road bowling, cards, skittles etc. And don’t get the idea the gambling was small time. It was anything but!
At a big event, hundreds of men were present.
They kept look-outs to ensure the police did not intervene.
It was all very highly organised and all very illegal.
Mr Littlehales could not tolerate what was going on within a few hundred yards of his own doorstep. He preached about the evils of drink in his pulpit and word got around he was out to close the Dog & Gun and Mon John’s. When those who frequented those places found out, they made an effigy of Mr Littlehales, dragged it on a cart to the main road near Lane Bottom and pushed it down the gradient from Holt Hill with the effigy alight!
The outcome of all this was that the Dog & Gun and Mon John’s were forced to close. It is understood the Thursden Inn closed voluntarily. Two of the buildings still stand and the one at Robin Cottages became a teetotal country café, the words “CAFÉ” on its eastern gable even when I was a boy. Mr Littlehales had a complete victory and the Hill Lane Band of Hope enjoyed its most spectacular victory.
To round off the story of Hill Lane Baptist Chapel we have to add that Hill Lane was one of the churches instrumental in setting up the Nelson Sunday School Union in 1867, though this did not coincide with the time of Richard Littlehales.
The Union was run, for many years, by a Hill Lane and Cockden-born man, Mr John Heap. He was a self-taught linguist and could speak, and read, Hebrew, French, German, Spanish and Esperanto. In addition, he was also a self-taught musician.
A remarkable man who devoted his life to the education of poor children.
He, along with Mr Littlehales, should be remembered today even though neither did what they did for fame.
Lastly, Hill Lane, though it had no plans to establish a place of worship in Haggate, the place which had the first Baptist Chapel in Briercliffe, did have a presence in Harle Syke. Where Abraham Altham Court now stands, on Duke Street, Harle Syke, Hill Lane, in 1899, built the Tennyson Street Mission. Originally it was a social institute for the men but, in 1907, a Sunday School opened here and, later, the building was used for religious worship.
Though admittedly incomplete, this brings to an end the story of Hill Lane Baptist Church.
I am hopeful I will be allowed to look at surviving historic information held by the church.
If there is anything new to add, and I hope there will be, with the permission of the church, I will let you know.
It would be a good thing to do that work now, during the 175th anniversary of Hill Lane Baptist Church.