The history of the Heckmondwike congregation is very interesting. Among those who suffered at the ejection in 1662 was Josiah Holdsworth, jun.,*1 educated at Cambridge, ejected from Sutton, and afterwards chaplain to Sir Richard Houghton, of Houghton Tower, Lancashire, then an asylum for persecuted ministers. In the register of Topcliffe he is mentioned as having been received into church fellowship in Dec. 1661, so that he was probably ejected at the Restoration. It appears that about 1672, the time of the Indulgence, he came to reside at Heckmondwike.
His piety, learning, and talents were considered a blessing by many of the inhabitants both of this village and the neighbourhood in general. He preached here with great acceptance, and his word was with power. The people thus gathered together were anxious to enjoy the ministrations of Mr. Holdsworth as their pastor. On July 29, 1674, "some persons in the parishes of Birstall and Batley, and the adjacent parts thereabout," who attended "the ministry of Mr. Josiah Holdsworth, then resident in Heckmondwike, after some mature deliberations and seeking of God, resolved to enter into covenant with him and with one another, and to join in church fellowship, in that way called Congregational; judging it, according to the light God had given them to be the most consonant to gospel institutions,*2 that they might have more close communion, and the enjoyment of all the ordinances of Christ," Mr. Holdsworth preached in a farm-house called "The Swash." Oliver Heywood visited here 1672.
In the early part of Mr. Scott's ministry, and, it is probable, in imitation of the "prophesyings" and "exercises" which had been familiar to our Puritan forefathers, the "Heckmondwike Lecture" had been established. This institution was ostensibly associated with the anniversary of Mr. Scott's Academy, of which we have spoken elsewhere, and was the occasion of gathering together the ministers of the vicinity for mutual intercourse and conference. A double lecture was part of the programme, and sermons were preached by men of eminence in the adjacent districts. At a time when such gatherings were rare, the opportunity was one of considerable importance. The sermons were usually of peculiar excellence, and at the dinner which followed matters were discussed which involved the interests of the Congregational body. In process of time, a minister was scarcely accredited until he had passed the ordeal of preaching the Heckmondwike Lecture. So great was the interest excited in the neighbourhood, that at length a "wake," or "fair," was originated, and still continues. The lapse of time, and the more frequent gatherings of modern times, have somewhat diminished the glory of the great occasion. But it still continues to be an interesting convocation, no longer confined, indeed, to one congregation, but divided among the bodies which have sprung from the parent stock.
- Nov. 5, 1674. Rev. JOSIAH HOLDSWORTH was set apart as the first pastor. He was dismissed from Topcliffe, Aug. 24, 1674;*3 but he often preached at the old place when it was without a pastor. In 1682 the congregation was only able to meet at night. Mr. Holdsworth died in 1685, aet. 46. Calamy speaks of him as "a man of great piety, sincerity, strictness, and industry for the good of souls, and blessed with abundance of success. He was much beloved, and is still spoken of with great respect." He was buried at Topcliffe, but the tombstone exists no longer.
- 1686. Rev. DAVID NOBLE. This minister was a Scotchman, born at Inverness. His classical attainments were considerable. He became a member of the church at Topcliffe April 8, 1688, where his name occurs as a subscriber of 2s. 6d., and he opened a school in Morley. Among his pupils were the two sons or Oliver Heywood, who boarded in the house of Thomas Dawson, probably father of the Morley minister. To this seminary Joseph Lister sent his son David (1673). Noble afterwards became chaplain to Woolhouse, Esq., of Glapwell, Derbyshire, and he preached there and at Sutton. In 1681, after the ordination at Sheffield of Rev. Timothy Jollie, the ministers present were requested to examine the credentials of Mr. David Noble, with a view to the ministry, He prayed and preached "very profitably," and was afterwards ordained by two ministers, Reynolds and Whitehouse, Nottingham. Five years after he was invited by the church at Heckmondwike to the vacant pulpit, and was dismissed from Topcliffe Jan. 19, 1686. A second chapel was now built in Chapel-fold. The success of Mr. Noble rendered the erection of a third requisite, opened Nov, 9, 1701, on a part of the present site. Noble was a great student of prophecy. He published "The Visions and Prophecies of Daniel Explained, 1700," and left behind him a large treatise in MSS. on similar subjects. He died Nov. 26, 1709, and was buried at Dewsbury.*4
- 1710. Rev. JOHN KIRKBY. He was admitted to the church and chosen its pastor July 5, and was soon after ordained. He is mentioned as a recipient of £3 from the Hewley fund in 1728 and 1729. He had a school in White Lee, Heckmondwike, to which Joseph, afterwards Dr. Priestley, the son of one of his members, and grandson of one of his deacons, Joseph Priestley, of Fieldhead, was sent. This youth, after the death of his mother in 1840, was taken up by his aunt, Mrs. Keighley, belonging also to the church at Heckmondwike. Her husband was distinguished "for his zeal for religion and for his public spirit;" but he died soon after. Dr. Priestley speaks favourably of his tutor's abilities, and bears this honourable testimony to the state of things at Heckmondwike :"Though I saw reason to change my opinions, and found myself incommoded by the rigour of the congregation with which I was connected, I shall always acknowledge with gratitude that I owe much to it. The business of religion was effectually attended to in it. We were all catechised in public till we were grown up, servants as well as others; the minister always expounded the Scriptures with as much regularity as he preached, and there was hardly a day in the week in which there was not some meeting of one or another part of the congregation. On one evening there was a meeting of the young men for conversation and prayer. This I constantly attended, praying extempore with others called upon. At my aunt's there was a monthly meeting for women, who acquitted themselves in prayer as well as any of the men belonging to the congregation. The Lord's Day was kept with peculiar strictness. No victuals were dressed on that day in any family; no member of it was permitted to walk out for recreation, but the whole of the day was spent at the public meeting, or at home in reading, meditation, and prayer, in the family or the closet." The tombstones of the Priestley family still exist at the upper chapel.
- The following extract is from Rev. T. Scales' MS. life of Rev. James Scott :-
- Speaking of Mr. Kirkby's incapacity through increasing infirmities, Mr. S. proceeds-" The church, finding it difficult to obtain suitable supplies for the pulpits, appointed six of its own members, esteemed for their piety, knowledge, and experience, to conduct the public worship of God's house, by prayer and the reading of the Holy Scriptures. This was done so efficiently and satisfactorily, that the congregation was kept together for more than a year, and increased rather than diminished during that period. They obtained the occasional services of ministers known to be evangelical; amongst whom was the Rev. John Pye, of Sheffield, the maternal grandfather of the late Rev. John Pye Smith, so justly celebrated for his extraordinary attainments and skill in Biblical literature and criticism. On one of these occasional Sabbaths the congregation was favoured with the services of Rev. Alvery Jack son, an excellent minister of the Baptist denomination, and pastor of a church at Barnoldswick, in Craven. He was a friend of Mr. Kirkby, their minister, and had learned from him their destitution as a church, and felt much concerned on their behalf. He selected for his text Rev. xiv. 6, "And I saw another angel," &c. When he had concluded his sermon, Mr. Jackson said to the congregation that he had good news for them; that he knew a faithful minister who would suit them, and that he was the only minister he had met for many years who was well qualified to minister to such a people. He alluded to Mr. Scott, then at Tockholes, whose neighbour and friend he had been during the whole period of his ministry in Horton, and whose worth he had the best opportunities of knowing and appreciating.
- They had lived on very intimate terms, often visiting each other, and preaching for each other-" par nobile fratrum." It was such an introduction and commendation as Paul might have given to his son Timothy, or to his brother and companion-inlabour and fellow-soldier, Epaphroditus. (See Phil. ii. 19-25.) Under the impression produced by the testimony of Mr. Jackson, the people selected two of their brethren, and sent them over to Tockholes, where Mr. Scott was then settled, that they might hear his preaching, and by free conversation with him in private, form an opinion of his character, his doctrinal sentiments, and ministerial qualifications, and, if satisfied, might give him an invitation to visit Heckmondwike, and spend a Sabbath among them. The messengers deputed on this service were highly gratified with all they heard, and invited Mr. S. as they had been authorized. This appears to have been Nov. 12, 1752. His text was Acts x. 29 : "Therefore I came to you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for; I ask, therefore, for what intent ye have sent for me." In this sermon he made known what they must expect from him should he become their minister. He did not obtrude himself; he was sent for; their application appeared to justify his undertaking the journey; he came without gainsaying. The purposes were important, and he accordingly laid before them the duties he should hold himself bound to discharge.' The sermon made a powerful impression.
- Nothing, however, was done hastily. A correspondence ensued between Mr. Scott and Mr. Priestley, one of the deacons. Mr. S. seems to have regarded the public exhortations of the "gifted brethren" with some uneasiness. But the mention of difficulties only increased the eagerness of the people to obtain him, and at a church meeting Feb. 5, 1753, he was unanimously invited to become their minister. The next day Mr. Kirkby, the enfeebled pastor, signed an earnest request that Mr. Scott would be deterred by no difficulties arising out of the lay agency, and bearing testimony to the readiness of the people to promote the comfort of their minister. But Scott still hesitated, and the people employed the advocacy of Rev. E. Hitchin, of White Row, London (whose relatives resided near) and Rev. J. Pye, of Sheffield, to represent their case, and to urge the acceptance of the invitation. But not until a letter arrived from Thomas Armitage, a ruling elder, one of "the gifted brethren" who constituted his difficulty, did Scott see his way clear to accept the invitation. This he did about the beginning of 1754. On Feb. 14, the aged Mr. Kirkby died, and was buried near the meeting house, aet. 77. He was pastor nearly forty-four years. He had seven sons and six daughters. His sentiments were probably a little Arianised. Mr. Scott removed from Tockholes on May 29, and the 30th was set apart as a day of fasting and prayer, in acknowledgment of the new relationship. The whole affair had been sixteen months in agitation. So earnest, faithful, and experienced a pastor as Mr. Scott was a great gain to any church, especially when Evangelical preachers were extremely rare.
- 1754. Rev. JAMES SCOTT. His recognition took place June 30. His ministry was well received, and soon proved abundantly useful. (Of his Academy we have spoken elsewhere.) "As a faithful minister of Christ," says Rev. H. Bean, "he was instant in season and out of season; and he saw that the pleasure of the Lord prospered in his hands. The church increased and the congregation enlarged, until the chapel, built for Mr. Noble, could not contain the anxious and listening multitudes who came to hear Mr. Scott, for he was beloved by those who knew him, but he lived in the affections of his own people."
- Mr. Scott, however, did not arrive at this happy conclusion without many severe struggles. His apprehensions from "the gifted brethren" turned out true, and two of them rendered his ministry, soon after its commencement, a bed of thorns. The Sandemanian heresy greatly troubled the members, till at a church gathering held Nov. 5,1759, four of the members withdrew, and set up a meeting in the village of Ossett, with Thomas Armitage as their preacher. After six years, their congregation was dissolved.
- On Nov. 29, 1761, a new and more commodious chapel was erected. This was subsequently enlarged by additional galleries or "lofts," as they were then termed.
- Mrs. Scott, who was a woman of some property, died 1763, æt. 63, and was buried in the chapel-yard.
- Mr. Scott is said not to have been a man of extensive erudition, but a profound divine and a masterly expositor. His addresses at the Lord's Supper were unusually powerful. Till his last illness, his health was extraordinarily good, and he had never during his ministry been suspended from preaching by illness. At length he entirely lost all appetite for solid food. He died Jan. 11, 1783, in the thirtieth year of his pastorate. His funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. Jon. Toothill (Hopton), his pupil and friend, and was published (see p. 279). Mr. Scott's residence was at Southfield.
- 1785. Rev. WILLIAM BOOKER. His course was short. On April 12, 1786, "he left the pulpit before the sermon, and never preached again as the pastor of the church." A division took place, and the Lower Chapel was built for his ministry.
- 1786. Rev. OBADIAH BENNETT. He continued five years and a half, and resigned April, 1792.
- 1794. Rev. THOMAS HALE (Oswestry Acy.), from Greenacres. "I have often heard," says Rev. H. Bean, "that during his life he felt discouraged because his labours were not followed with a greater amount of success. For a long time after his death, seldom were persons received into this church who did not make honourable mention of his name, while most of them acknowledged that they had either received their first religious impressions, or had derived spiritual advantage from his ministry; thus proving that the extent of a minister's usefulness is not known to him in this life." After a pastorate of twenty-seven years, Mr. Hale died May 17, 1821. Rev. J. Jackson (of Green Hammerton) was next invited, but declined.
- 1822. Rev. HENRY BEAN (Idle Acy.). Ordained Sept. 1, 1824. Revs. Messrs. Waterhouse, Vint, Hudswell (Morley), Parsons (Leeds), Jos. Cockin, and Jas. Parsons being engaged in the services. During thirty-eight years Mr. Bean was the faithful, laborious, and earnest minister of an increasing congregation, where, as Mr. Parsons said in his funeral sermon, he made no enemies and lost no friends.
- A new and greatly enlarged chapel was erected in the year 1844, the foundation-stone being laid by Miss Parsons, of Staincliffe Hall. To this were added new day and Sunday-schools, 1858.
- Mr. Bean died 1862. For two years the church was without a pastor.
- 1864. Rev. ALLAN MINES, B.A. (London Univ. and Springhill Coll.), the present minister (in 1868).
* Aided by Rev. A. Mines, B.A., and J. B. Oldfield, Esq.
*1 His father, Rev. Josiah H., was ejected from Poppleton, York. Ob. at Wakefield, 1677, aet. 75.
*2 Marsden (Topcliffe), Bailey (Morley), Whitehurst (Horton), were present at these proceedings.
*3 The following entries appear about this time:-" ' Given to Ab. Nailor towards his charge at Sessions, 00. 05. 0. 0.,' 5s.; paid down for releasing the pastor from the hands of Mr. Ashburne, £1 6s. 8d.; laid out for meat on the fast-day, is. Id.; laid out at the ordination of Mr. Noble, 9s. 8d,; for an hour-glass, 1s."
*4 The Northowram Register contains the following entry :- Mr. Atkinson, a schoolmaster in Heckmondwyke, (died) Nov. 19 (1706), aged 83. An old disciple, and cast on the town some months before; had 20s. from our people a few weeks before his death."