BIRSTALL: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1837.
"BIRSTALL, a parish in the Morley division of the wapentake of Agbrigg and Morley."
"HECKMONDWIKE, is a township in the parish of Birstall, and in the wapentake of Morley, seated in the vale of a small rivulet, 2 miles N.W. of Dewsbury, 9 miles S.W. by S. of Leeds, 9 miles E. of Halifax, 7 miles N.E. of Huddersfield, and 7 miles S.S.E. of Bradford. Heckmondwike is one of the many places in the clothing district of Yorkshire, which, under the influence of manufacturing industry, have become populous and wealthy. It is now rather a town that a village, and ranks next Dewsbury as a principal seat of the blanket and carpet manufactures, for the former of which it has a market, held every Monday and Thursday from 1 till past 2 o'clock, in the "Blanket Hall" which adjoins the George Inn, and is very conveniently fitted up with stalls for the use of the numerous manufacturers of the town and populous surrounding villages.
Its population amounted in 1801 to only 1,742 souls, but in 1831, the township was found to contain 680 acres of land, 600 houses, and 2,793 inhabitants, exclusive of the adjoining village of Mill Bridge, which is in Liversedge township, and swells the population of Heckmondwike and its suburbs to upwards of 4,0000. Though not a handsome town, it presents an interesting scene of activity and industry; for in addition to its numerous blanket and carpet manufactories, it has several large mills and factories engaged in the fabrication of woollen cloth. The CHURCH, dedicated to St. James, was erected by Government, at the cost of 2,574 10s, in 1830, - the first stone being laid on March 3rd in that year. It is a small but neat Gothic edifice with a spire and about 700 sittings, of which nearly 300 are free. The curacy has been endowed with 400 of Queen Anne's bounty. The vicar of Birstal is the patron, and the Rev, Wm Battersby the incumbent. The other places of worship in the town are, - a Methodist Chapel built in 1812, and two Independent Chapels, one at Hill top built in 1763 near the site of one erected in 1701; and the other in the lower part of the town, built in 1784. The Independent ministers are the Rev. Robert Martin, of the Lower, and the Rev. Henry Bean of the Upper Chapel. The Independent or Calavanistic Congregationalists had a small society here as early as 1621, and on the Wednesday after the second Sunday in June they hold an annual religious festival here, called the lecture, which is attended by a great number of their ministers and people from the surrounding parishes; the objects being the arrangement of certain matters relative to the ministry, and the promotion of vital religion. On April 12th, 1829, a fatal accident happened in the Methodist chapel, where, during the time Mr. Dawson was preaching to a crowded congregation for the benefit of the Sunday School, the noise occasioned by the falling of a stove pipe created such an alarm, that the people fearing the gallery was falling, made a simultaneous rush towards the doors, and in an instant, such a scene of consternation and confusion caused as no pen can describe. Those who first gained the narrow passages leading from the galleries, were thrown down by those behind, who, in their turn, were overturned by those rushing from the body of the chapel. In vain did the preacher attempt to calm the tumult, for his voice was drowned in the shrieks of the terrified and the groans of the dyeing. When the alarm had subsided, the most appalling spectacle presented itself; - two heaps of persons unable to rise were piled up at the doors to the height of four or five feet, and five persons were taken out dead; six or seven were removed apparently in a lifeless state, and twenty others were injured. Besides a commodious National School erected in 1833, here is another large school for boys and girls, built by subscription in 1822, and having about 150 scholars, who each pay a small sum per week. In the latter is deposited a Subscription Library, established in 1820, and now comprising upwards of 370 complete works, and supported by 24 subscribers of 21s per annum. The Post Office is at Mrs Hannah Seniors, where letter arrive from Leeds, &c. at past 7 morning and past 6 evening, and are despatched at 5 and past 11 morning."
[Transcribed from White's History, gazetteer and directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire 1837]