Month: November 2018

Thomas Wardle Gledhill – my great uncle.

Thomas Wardle Gledhill


Ever since I received a photo of my great uncle Thomas from a new-found relative on I’ve been haunted by his gaunt face, staring out. It’s a face that tells of hardship and sorrow so I decided to delve a little more into his background, and perhaps find out if what I was reading in his face was born out by what I could find out about his life.

Sure enough I find that by the date of his baptism at Halifax minster, August 12, 1863 twelve days after his birth on July 28, his mother, Mary nee Peel, had already died. Within 2 years his father George remarried, this time to Charlotte Haigh. The turbulence of their marriage and George’s various prison sentence have been described in my chapter about George. However, Thomas’s middle name has puzzled me for a while now. It surely is a surname, possibly indicative of his ‘real’ father. And then I found ‘the missing link.’ I’ve just noticed that on the 1881 census that when Sarah Gledhill was living at 51 Battison St in Halifax the next door neighbour at # 61 was James Gledhill Wardle. There MUST be some significant connection here. It can’t be a coincidence. So possibly James was Thomas’s biological father. OK. But why does James have Gledhill as a middle name? Argh! The plot thickens. That requires more delving. So I spent an entire evening finding out about the life of James Gledhill Wardle, born in 1843 to mother Isabella who was born in Soyland, Halifax. I traced him from 1861 until his death in 1919 and there’s no accounting for his middle name being Gledhill. I do know that he was christened with that name but none of his siblings have that as a middle name. So I’m none the wiser. Getting back to Thomas Wardle Gledhill George and Charlotte subsequently had two children Abraham, born 1866 and Sarah, born 1868. Did they realize the biblical significance of these names?

By the time he was 8 years old Thomas was living with his grandparents John and Harriet Gledhill at 1 and 2 Regent’s Court, Orange Street in Halifax. This is now a car park though Orange Street still parallels a new road by the Orange Street roundabout. At 61 and 58 years old his grandparents were quite elderly to deal with an 8 year old. Their own children John 18, and Maria 15 were working. John as a drayman like his father, and Maria as a worsted twister.

On Aug 31, 1876 there is a record of Thomas being employed at Crossley carpets, one of 6 children between 13 and 18 years of age who took up employment that day in what was then the largest carpet manufacturer in the world, employing 5000 workers. John Crossley (1772 – 1837) founded the firm at Dean Clough in Halifax. By 1837 the firm had 300 employees and the fourth largest mill in Britain. Following the death of their father, the firm was inherited by his three sons, John, Joseph and Francis.

Francis Crossley (1817 – 1872) was responsible for the company’s rapid expansion throughout the mid-nineteenth century. He pioneered the development of steam-powered carpet manufacturing, which gave the company an enormous advantage in terms of cost of production. Licensing the use of their patents to other carpet manufacturers brought in substantial revenues from royalties alone. Unusually for the time, Francis Crossley operated a policy of paying women equal wages to men for doing the same job. Many of the Crossley family values were inspired by their Congregationalist faith.

By 1862 Crossley & Sons was the largest carpet manufacturer in the world. In 1864 the firm became a joint-stock company, with the primary aim of allowing its 3,500 employees to become shareholders. 20 percent of the company was sold to the employees at preferential rates. They were perhaps the first large industrial employer to profit share with their employees.

In 1868 John Crossley & Sons was the largest publicly quoted industrial company in Britain, with an ordinary share capitalization of £2.2 million (about £220 million in 2014). 5,000 people were employed. By 1872 the company had annual carpet sales of £1.1 million, including exports to the United States valued at nearly £500,000. The buildings at Dean Clough Mill covered 20 acres, where concentration of production at a single site lowered costs.

By the time of the next census in 1881 Thomas was living with the Thomases: his aunt Rachel and uncle George in Milk Street, Halifax. Milk Street was part of ‘the City.’ The City was a densely populated area at Cross Fields bounded by John Street to the south, Great Albion Street to the north, Orange Street to the east, and St James’s Road to the west.

It was built at the beginning of the 19th century, and became a slum area with a higher death rate than the rest of the district. There were an estimated 780 people living in a maze of back-to-back houses, courtyards, dimly-lit shops, and narrow streets. On 27th February 1926, the Ministry of Health approved the demolition of the area. The property was demolished in 1926. The site remained empty until 1938, eventually making way for the bus station and the Odeon. Thomas’s job appears to be ‘printer in carpets.’

In Feb 6 1888 at Halifax Minster he married a widow Ruth Dean (nee Bates) both of Crossfield Halifax, another part of ‘the City.’ Thomas’s hand look very unsteady on his marriage certificate. I wonder if he was literate. The 1891 census finds the family at John Street, another part of ‘the City.’ Thomas is a tin plate worker. They had two children, Willie and Minnie but five years after their marriage Ruth died in 1893 at the age of 30 and a year later on 19th August 1894 Thomas married Sarah Jane Veal at St Thomas’s church in Charlestown, Halifax. Thomas was 31 but at 32 it was a very late first marriage for Sarah. However Sarah had already given birth to a son Frederick Horsfall Veal who was baptized on 12 Nov 1884 at All Souls, Haley Hill, Halifax. That’s the church where my great aunt Lil and her husband Bart are buried and Sarah and I went to find their grave in the summer of 2017. There is no father indicated on the baptism record meaning that Sarah wasn’t married. Presumably Frederick’s biological father’s surname was Horsfall.


Thomas was living in Fleet Street, and Sarah in Pitt street at the time of their marriage. Both streets are in the slum area of ‘the City.’ A year later their first daughter was born, Gladys (18895-1962). 1901 sees Thomas and his family at 10 James Street, also in ‘the City.’ His occupation is given as ‘scavenger’ (corporation) with three children Willie 13 and Minnie 10. Ten years later, 1911, the family are at the same address and Thomas is now a labourer on the road (corporation). Now Sarah Jane’s son by a previous relationship Frederick Horsfall Veal is living with them. He’s 26 and a fish fryer! Frederick went on to become a private, 2nd/6th Bn. in the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment, was killed in action on 3 May 1917 and is commemorated at Arras memorial cemetery in France. From army records I believe he saw action in France, Belgium, Germany and Gallipoli.

10 months later Thomas himself died, aged 54, at 20 Grant Street in the centre of Halifax and is buried at St James’s church in Salterhebble. It’s odd to realise that this man was my grandma Florence’s uncle, her mum’s step-brother, just like it’s so difficult to realise that Thomas’s father, George (of Wakefield jail fame) was my grandma’s granddad. There was always tension at family get togethers between my mum’s mum and my dad’s mum. My dad’s mum lived in a semi and my mum’s mum lived in a terraced house but I was also aware that my mum’s mum thought that her sister-in-law lived ‘above her station.’ I wonder if she knew about George’s prison time and the poverty that affected Thomas’s family.






Thoughts in a Café

The Loom Cafe – art by Chris Mould

The White Rabbit offers his pocket watch to me

As Alice looks on bemusedly.

Bobbins of spun cotton fill the coal scuttle that adorns my table

As jostles for air between cake and cappuccino.

Through glass, spotlessly clean, a crisp winter light pours in,

But, with eyes wide open I dim this light, cloud this glass, drown the music

And I’m in a dark forbidding place, a basement, where deafening thuds,

Piercing whistles and earth-shaking stomps

Transport me to a former time.

I glimpse a young boy, ten years old, flat-capped,

With thread-bare overcoat and scuffed clogs trampling along the shit drenched cobbles

Barely awake, barely cognizant of his surroundings

Where he s dwarfed by buildings so tall

That the sun never reaches the ground

Even in those times when, just for a brief moment,

It penetrates the ubiquitous smog and grime.

A surgeon signed his papers – he’s fit for work.

But he doesn’t stay long, and next time I meet him

He’s a gunner

Taking aim at other young men from factories and farms and homes

Where anxious loved ones await them.

Ishmael returned home,

Was he devastated?

Did he scream in nightmares in the living daylight?

In a gallery above me a striking wreath takes my breath away:

The dead eyes covered with pennies

The kit-box stenciled with numbers

Beyond my comprehension.

Dean Clough Mill, Halifax

My great uncle Ishmael worked at Dean Clough carpets which was, at the time, the largest carpet manufacturer in the world. Today it houses, art galleries and the Loom Café, decorated with Alice in Wonderland paraphenelia.

Remembrance Sunday: Halifax and Blackshaw Head

Remembrance Sunday: Halifax and Blackshaw Head


As The Last Post sounds

A multi-coloured caterpillar stands to attention

Its rain-booted feet silent and still.

Above it towers the church, proud of her coat of black grime

Stares with unseeing eyes at the vast hills that encroach upon her

Threatening to overcome her once dominant position.

Rain pours from the sky and my eyes

As ‘Jerusalem’ resounds as if in irony –

“England’s green and pleasant land.”


Out of the rain now

Into the vast echo chamber punctuated with blood-red bullet points

As a thousand people gather to sing, to cry, to remember

Not just the fallen

But the damaged, in this, the war to end all wars.

As I leave the church the sun peeks out from behind her shroud

And a rainbow arches through the sky

Coming to rest directly over the black tower


In the dark of the evening

A beacon is lit high on a remote hilltop

Here, handbells ring out from a tent

Where poppy quilts and paper gravestones bump elbows with

Hot soup tureens and tea cups. Fussy toddlers and excited canines

Join the nationwide remembrance.

Outside, high above me, in a silent night

The spirits of the fallen soldiers

Shimmer in a cloudless sky,

Remembered but not forgotten.


In honour of Giles Sunderland (1886-1916) a distant relative of mine, who lived in the village of Blackshaw Head, near Halifax, Yorkshire.

Another ancestor with ‘a story’ – George Gledhill

Anna at the font at Christ Church, Sowerby Bridge, Nov 2017

Rachel and I on our first visit, 2015

George Gledhill, my great great granddad was born May 26th, 1837 and baptized at Christ Church, Sowerby Bridge on June 25th along with 22 other children! In 2015 on my trip to England with Rachel we visited the church in order to see where George had been baptized. We attended a coffee morning and were greeted with open arms by the parishoners and the minister, Angela Dick. I was even able to play the organ in the church. Since then the Tuesday morning coffee mornings have become  frequent entries into my diary and I keep in touch with what’s going on at the church. It transpired that one of the ladies I met, who is another person interested in geneaology, is actually a distant relative of mine, through our common Barraclough ancestors.

Christ Church was opened on the 24th May 1821, (my birthday) but its roots go back much further in time, nearly 300 years before, to 1526. In that year a chapel of ease was built to serve the people of the townships of Warley, Norland and part of the township of Skircoat, in the ancient Parish of Halifax. It was situated on low-lying ground just opposite the junction of the Ryburn stream with the River Calder, between a fulling mill to the east and Sowerby Bridge to the west. I’ve recently been to find the site but nothing remains.

At the end of 1828, a mere seven years after the church opened, it was found that the roof of the nave was unsafe. The ridge had sunk eight inches  in the middle pushing the crenellations and upper parts of the walls outwards, on the north side to the extent of four inches. The church was closed for two months whilst the roof was propped as a temporary measure. Repair work eventually began in August 1830, the church being reopened on Sunday, 20th March 1831. So when George was baptised there the church had been in its present state for only 6 years.

Cote Hill. I go along this road every time I go into Halifax and didn’t know that this area was called Cote Hill until I did the research about George

Warley, photo taken 2015, with Rachel

At his baptism his address is given as Warley. Warley is a large tract of  beautiful rolling hills, with a small village on the hill inappropriately named ‘Warley Town.’ Ir’s a lovely little village where the author Phyllis Bentley lived in a house once lived in my Rev Patrick Bronte, father of the famous Bronte writers. On the 1841 (aged 4) census he is living at Coat, now Cote Hill.Cote Hill is the area around the Burnley Road, near Warley, between King Cross and Sowerby Bridge.  With George is  father John, 30, a cart driver, and mother, 25 and 2 younger siblings, Thomas, 2, and James 4 months. Before the next census, in 1851, 4 other siblings were born, Robert, Rachel, David and Nancy.  By 1851 the family is  living at 1 Regent Court, Orange Street, Halifax. Father John is a drayman. A drayman was historically the driver of a dray, a low, flat-bed wagon without sides, pulled generally by horses or mules that were used for transport of all kinds of goods. In 1846 his brother James died, aged 5 and in 1853 his 4 year old sister Nancy died. Two other siblings were born before the 1861 census, John and Maria.

On June 17, 1857 I have him marrying Mary Peel at St Peter’s in Birstall, both George and Mary living at Flush in Liversedge. This just doesn’t seem correct since it’s so far away – well, for those days! Actually I just looked it up and it’s only 8.8 miles from Halifax. Birstall is 3 miles from Flush. Flush is described in Wikipedia as ‘the place where the mills of the woolen industry stood.’ The 1881 census lists the following – all born at Liversedge. I think this proves that it’s a different family in Liveredge – not ‘mine.’ George Gledhill 43, Mary Gledhill 41, Arthur Gledhill 21, Albert Gledhill 17, Thomas Gledhill 7, Elizabeth A. Gledhill 5.

Ancoats, 1904

Henry Street, Ancoats, 1900

George is now an ‘overlooker’ presumably in one of those mills. Samuel Gledhill was a witness, and again that makes me unsure since I don’t have a Samuel in George’s immediate family. 1861 finds the newly weds living as boarders at 15 Henry Street, Ancoats, Manchester. Historically in Lancashire, Ancoats became a cradle of the Industrial Revolution and has been called “the world’s first industrial suburb”. For many years, from the late 18th century onwards, Ancoats was a thriving industrial district. The area suffered accelerating economic decline from the 1930s and depopulation in the years after the Second World War, particularly during the slum clearances of the 1960s. Since the 1990s Ancoats’ industrial heritage has been recognised and its proximity to the city centre has led to investment and substantial regeneration.

In 1861 George is a porter with both wife Mary and himself born in Halifax. 2 years later their son Thomas Wardle Gledhill was born on July 28th. Wardle sounds like an ancestor’s surname but I haven’t  found anyone. Soon after the birth, between July and September of that year Mary died. Two and a half years later George remarried 1865 Dec 18  Register office, Halifax which means that he had moved back to Yorkshire after Mary’s death. His second wife was Charlotte Haigh. I know this is correct because George was a widower, aged 28. He was a drayman. Father John Gledhill was also a drayman Orange Street, Halifax. Orange Street still exists but it’s just roads and car parks. The following year their son, Abraham was born in Rastrick. Two years later a daughter was born in Salterhebble, Sarah who was my great grandma. The census of 1871 see the growing family living at 4 Bath Street,Halifax. I’d found Bath Street in June 2016. It’s adjacent to the station but the houses on it were demolished when the land was bought by the railway. The baths after which it was named were an elegant affair with formal gardens, modeled on Roman baths, a place to be seen, not the slipper baths which were a necessary function of everyday life without bathrooms in homes. Also known as Halifax Baths and Pleasure Grounds, and by the rather boastful title of Greece Fields these

Bath Street today

This imposing building was once Halifax railway station where George worked. When I took this photo the glowing stone and the style of ornamentation reminded me of India

Platform at Halifax station today

extensive facilities were developed by Thomas Rawlinson at Coldwell Ing near the Hebble Brook at Lilly Lane. They opened in 1793 on the east side of Hebble Brook. They were the only local public baths at the time. The facilities were said to be the finest and most extensive suite of baths in Yorkshire, including bowling greens, quoits area, shrubberies and landscaped gardens with sculpture, a dining room, shower baths, swimming baths, medicated and sulphur baths, and hot, cold and tepid baths. A membership fee was charged for the use of the facilities. The baths were supplied by fresh-water springs which rose in Greece Fields. The privately-owned baths, which were built of red brick, closed in 1853 and were sold to make way for the railway. This makes perfect sense because on the census of 1871 George, now 32, is  a railway porter. His wife Charlotte, born in  Rastrick is a dressmaker. Their children are Abraham Gledhill 5, and Sarah Gledhill 3.  Samuel Appleyard 26 is a lodger. Their daughter Ann was born in 1875.

However, in the meantime, George was getting up to no good. On 30th April 1879, at the age of 41he was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment at Wakefield prison for threatening Charlotte Gledhill. It’s difficult to read the sentence since it’s buried in the fold of the prison record book but it definitely records that George was issued with a fine of £20 plus something else. At the time George was 5 ft 4 ½” with brown hair. Date of discharge is October 29, 1879. Less than 2 years later George’s name crops up in the Bradford Daily Telegraph on Saturday March 26, 1881:

George Stott, wire drawer, of the same place, was charged with making use of provoking language Charlotte Gledbill, wife of George Gledhill, Battison Road, tending to create breech of peace, on the 19th inst. The defendant was ordered to pay fine of 5s and 9s 6p costs , or in default serve ten days.

On the 1881 census Charolotte is living at 51 Battison road Halifax

Wakefield prison as seen from the railway platform

The prison entrance I got a little too close to.

Battison Street runs vertically on this photo. Presumable #51 would have been situated where the school now is

and  is the housekeeper for William Wolfenden, a 30 year old widower with 3 small children. Note: at #61 Battison lives James Gledhill Wardle!  He is aged 37 of  and was born in  Soyland. He’s married to Mary, 39 of Barkisland. Since George’s son , born 1863, is called Thomas Wardle Gledhill I’m sure there must be some connection but I’ve been unable to trace James Gledhill Wardle on any other documents so far!  On the 4th of July George was again in trouble, this time for being a ‘rogue and a vagabond’ and he’s sentenced to 14 days in Wakefield prison, though he was committed at Dewsbury. This time he’s recorded as 5 ft 6 ¾” with brown hair ‘with a boil mark on the back of his neck.’ He’s listed at being 46 (in 1881). In June 2016, I had successfully, but inadvertently,  managed to get myself into Wakefield’s top security prison. Having learned of George’s incarceration there I wanted to document my visit by taking a photo to commemorate the occasion. I looked around carefully for ‘No photography’ signs but couldn’t see any so I began taking photos of the entrance. Within 30 seconds a prison guard came running out demanding my cell phone! As I explained that there was nothing to say I couldn’t she shepherded me into the prison itself. Yeah! Just what I’d hoped for , but not quite in this way. Explaining myself to another guard he told me it was fine to take photos from across the street, which I duly did. The prison is mainly Victorian, though parts date back to the 1500’s. There’s a mulberry tree in the center of the exercise yard and legend has it that this accounts for the nursery song Her We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.

Meanwhile back at the ranch there is this account of what is befalling Charlotte:

Sheffield Independent – Wednesday 09 April 1873 entitled A Brutal Fellow

George Harris, 23, carpet printer, was sent to gaol for six months, for unlawfully and maliciously wounding Charlotte Gledhill, at Halifax, on the 26th of February. Mr. Wilber- force prosecuted. The man, who lived with the prosecutrix as her husband, had a quarrel with his paramour, and knocking her down, kicked the woman on the legs and face, until her jaw was broken, and her body seriously bruised. It’s obvious that George and Charlotte were living pretty rough, tough lives. I find it very poignant to look into the eyes of Sarah, their daughter, in photographs and know just fragment of her parents’ story.

For a long time I’ve been unable to find further references to George. I’d had no luck finding him on an 1881 or1891 census, neither could I trace his death. In November, 2018, I contacted roger Beasley from the Calderdale family history society and he also drew a blank. I decided to obtain a death certificate from the General Registry Office. It was a shot in the dark because there are many George Gledhills but luck was with me because recorded as being present at ‘this’ George Gledhill’s death was his son T. W Gledhill. Since I know that one of George’s sons was Thomas Wardle Gledhill then the death certificate must be from my George. Success! His place of residence at his death is given as 5 Fleet Street, Halifax, a place previously unknown to me – therein lies some more research needed.

Update: May, 2019

Fleet Street was in a part of Halifax known as The City, just north of the town centre. This was a densely populated area at Cross Fields with an estimated 780 people living in a maze of back-to-back houses, courtyards, dimly-lit shops, and narrow streets.

An ancestral distraction – or two!

Did Ishmael read this sign?

Ishmael’s employment record at Crossley Carpets

My needle felted gargoyle

The gargoyle on Crossleys almshouses. I wonder if its a portrait of Joseph Crossley himself.

Cake and a cappuccino in the Loom Cafe

The Alice theme in the Loom Cafe

At Lil and Barts grave, All Souls. Haley Hill, 2017

The first email I found in my inbox this morning was from .  . . .drum roll, please  . . .  none other than the first Wrigley relative I’ve been in contact with. She is the grand daughter of Willie Wrigley, the architect. How wonderful! I responded right away, despite this being – for me – an ungodly early hour! This immediately got me digging through previous emails, ones that I wasn’t sure I’d catalogued precisely and this led me on to Ishmael Nutton, my paternal grandmother’s brother. I have a very, very faint recollection of meeting him at my grandma’s on Thorns Road, Astley Bridge which is where the Denton family gatherings were always held. Ancestry provides ‘hints’ and one of the hints that popped up this morning was this:Here was the very document that showed that my great uncle actually worked at Crossley’s Carpets in Halifax, which was the largest carpet factory in the world. John Crossley built almshouses and a couple of weeks ago I’d visited them and taken a photo of an interesting gargoyle. Just last night I’d finished a felted fabric art piece I’d made from that photo! Back to Ishmael. He’d  been certified by the surgeon to be fit for work. The year was 1901 and he’d be 11 years old. I’d suspected that his sister Lily had worked there. Possibly I’d heard her mention it but for the last few years when I’d visited Calderdale with my daughters we’d usually visited the Dean Clough site which once used to employ 5000 people. Many of the individual mills have been revamped providing art galleries, a theatre, cafes, restaurants, even a cooking school – all of which I’d visited. And now, I find that my great uncle actually worked there. It looked bright and sunny outside with a thin film of frost on the roof tops. It’s half term this week which means my classes aren’t running so off I popped to Dean Clough, just to go and sit in the Loom cafe with its Alice in Wonderland theme, and taken photos of some of the views Ishmael may have known.


The tower block where Auntie Lil, Ishmael’s sister lived and the spire of All Soul’s where she is buried, with the mill complex in the foreground

In the first photo the original cobbled street leads to the mill complex. The spire of All Soul’s church towers above the blocks of flats. My Auntie Lil and her husband Bart lived in one of the flats and I visited her there. They are now buried in All Soul’s cemetery and Sarah and I managed to find their grave last summer, 2017. The mill complex is also the place where I bought my



Anna at the lego model of the mill complex in Nov 2017

Anna in the Loom Cafe

Sarah in 2017 finding her comment from 2016  in the visitors’ book 

current digital piano from! I took a brief look in the book shop and found cards created by Valerie Wartelle. I did a day workshop about felted fabric with her in Hebden Bridge last winter. Through the Crossley Gallery to the Loom cafe where I was the only mid-morning customer –  a perfect place to collect my thoughts about Ishmael and others who had returned from WWl  but how their experiences had affected their lives and that of those close to them can only be imagined. Last  night I’d watch a rerun of one of the episodes from Blackadder set in the trenches, and in the Loom cafe I find fliers for the upcoming production next week in the Viaduct Theatre in the mill. Yes, you’ve guessed it. It’s Blackadder!


My Thoughts in a cafe

The White rabbit offers his pocket watch to me

As Alice looks on bemusedly

Bobbins of spun cotton fill the coal scuttle that adorns my table

And jostles for air between  cake and cappuccino

Through a glass window, spotlessly clean, a crisp winter light pours in,

But, with eyes open, I dim this light, cloud the glass, drown the music,

And I’m in a dark forbidding place, a basement, where deafening thuds, piercing whistles and earth shaking stomps

Transport me to a former time.

I glimpse a young boy, ten years old, flat capped, threadbare overcoat and scuffed clogs tramping along the shit drenched cobbles

Barely awake, barely cognizant of his surroundings where he is dwarfed

By buildings so tall the sun never reaches the ground

Even in those times when, just for a moment, it penetrates the ubiquitous smog and grime.

A surgeon signed his papers – he’s fit for work

But he doesn’t stay long, and next time I meet him he’s a gunner

Taking aim at other young men from factories and farms

And homes where anxious loved ones await them.

Ishmael returned home. Was he devastated?

Did he scream in nightmares in the living daylight?

In a gallery above me a striking wreath takes my breath away.

The dead eyes covered with pennies,

The kit box stencilled with numbers

Beyond my comprehension.


After my cappuccino and cake I wandered around the galleries for a while and my eye was taken by a new exhibit. Well, that’s a mild way of putting it. I was stunned by it. The subject was wreaths, which, in my books, didn’t sound too interesting, but these celebrated the living, the dead, the lost. One included display included objects that mothers attached to babies they left on charity doorsteps. Another was a wreath wrapped around a hanged man. The one that took my attention was one about a fallen soldier, including family photos, and old pennies to close his eyes. The kit box supporting him listed the number of people killed and wounded in WWl.

On Giles’s trail again – this time at Blackshaw Head chapel

In the memorial book


Thiepval memorial, France

I’d discovered that Blackshaw Head chapel where Giles Sutherland is named on the WWl memorial is open occasionally but when I used the ‘contact us’ page on the website I hadn’t got a response. Anyway, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing I received  welcoming invitation from someone called Roger who told me that the chapel would be open this morning for an arts and crafts class and I should ask for Dot. The morning dawned bright and sunny so I took the bus up to Blackshaw and arrived at 11.30, in time for the start of the class. My heart sank, however, when both doors into the building were well and truly locked, so I walked around to the back for the chapel, where an extension has been added and sure enough that door was open. I headed for a room from where I could hear voices and found half a dozen ladies just getting organized for a craft workshop. “I’m looking for Dot.” “I’m Dot, and you must be Heather. Roger said you might come. Bye ladies. You’ll have to manage the class without me. I’m going to show Heather around the chapel,” and with that settled we were off. Dot was the most wonderful raconteur, and before I knew it an hour and a half had passed by!

The incomparable Dot

WWl memorial from the chapel balcony window – with the Erringden Grange’s model farm walls in distance

Ladybird on the quilt

Magnificent pine pulpit

This bible in the pulpit dates from 1901

It turns out that Dot is an honorary life member of the Hebden Bridge Historical society – of which I am a paid up member! It’s the only branch of the Literary and scientific society that still exists. An early founding member and secretary was none other than one of my Gibson ancestors. “Ah, Eddie Binney Gibson,” said Dot without a moment’s hesitation. I told her that I’d ‘found’ the birdbath in his memory in New Street gardens. She knew all about it –  of course she did!

The chapel’s classroom reminded me so much of Affetside Sunday school that I attended both on Sundays but also doubled as the two room classroom where I went to school until I was eleven. Even the screens with the class upper panels were the same –  and the row of hooks on the wall for hanging your coats. The chapel itself was smaller than Affetside but it had a balcony but the layout and just the feel of the place was very familiar. The woodwork is highly polished and quite ornate. I thought it was walnut but Dot assured me it is pine. Like Affetside the pulpit is a very ornate affair. It had an applique banner that the arts and crafts ladies had made and three ladybirds were featured. An improvised roof had been added to the lower floor to help conserve heat, but Dot explained that for special services, especially at Christmas the plastic sheet is taken off and it’s standing room only. In the vestry is a book. There’s no record of the name of the author but it’s a recent book, with half a page about each member of the village who was involved in WWl. Here I found a couple of paragraphs about Giles, all of which, I was comforted to know, supported my own research and just added a couple of facts. From the gallery I could see the War memorial in the cemetery below, and also look across the valley to Stoodley Pike. I mentioned that I hiked up to the Pike on Sunday. “Did you go through Horsehold?” dot asked. “Yes, the first farm at the top of the hill from Hebden Bridge.” “My husband grew up there,” said Dot proudly. We chatted about the big farm further on, the one that had been part of the model farm, Erringden Grange. I’d taken photos of this farm complex before. It turns out that her husband’s family had lived there, but now it’s occupied just by one lady.

Having fun taking photos through the cut glass door panels

At one time the chapel’s roof leaked badly and services were conducted in a classroom -“like the Black Hole of Calcutta” Dot said. The church was going to close its doors forever, just like all the hilltop chapels around Calderdale – Highgate and Slack (built by my Wrigley ancestors) being two that closed. So Dot and a lay preacher, Roger, had decided to do something to keep it open and they spear-headed the fundraising that renovated the building. I asked if they’d been given special funding like the Octagonal chapel in Heptonstall. I mentioned that I’d once had a lovely chat with the lady who does the flowers in the Heptonstall chapel. “Oh, Jesse?  That’s my sister in law.” “No. We’re not a listed building.” I was surprised. “Well. I knew the man who was going around doing the ‘listing’ and the doors to this chapel were locked that day. It looks austere and dull from the outside so he didn’t list it. Thank goodness! If we’d have been Grade 1 or Grade 2 listed we wouldn’t have been able to do all the things we have done – like build the extension on the back.” As we chatted a man came in to collect some posters and as Dot explained why I was there he invited me to a special celebration of the people of Blackshaw who returned from fighting in WWl but then had to deal with ‘a living hell’ for the rest of their lives. He introduced himself as Tim, and he also told me about A  Beacon of Light  that’s going to be lit on Great Rock above Eastwood featuring a handbell choir on the evening of Armistice Day. “I’ll see if I can arrange transport, if you need it” he offered. When he’d gone Dot explained that ‘Tim’ is none other than Mr Timothy James Pitt, Vice Lord Lieutenant, one time High Sheriff of West Yorkshire whose  interests include ‘country pursuits, classic cars, gardening, golf, breeding Alpacas.’

View from the balcony

Beautiful stencil-work that Dot has lovingly preserved. Originally all the walls and ceiling were covered in stencil-work. A stencil artist has offered to redo it for free.

View from the pulpit

Old cobbled cart road

On the walk home I took photos just to show what an isolated  community Blackshaw Head is.

Looking over to Slack


In the middle of March, 2020, when the government ordered everyone to stay at home because of the Corona Virus I read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. Much of it is set in Thiepval where Giles was buried. What a long way from Blackshaw Head.