WOODCHURCH: Woodchurch Or Topcliffe Congregational Church History up to 1868.



This early Congregational body owes its origin to Rev. Christopher Marshall, who, whilst he occupied, as minister, the parochial building, formed a spiritual society on the principles of Independency. This church met for worship in Topcliffe Hall, then inhabited by Capt. Pickering, a person in whom Cromwell expressed great confidence. Mr Marshall was "educated partly in Cambridge, and partly under Mr. Cotton, at Boston, in New England." The church record, preserved in copy amidst the MSS. of Mr. Scales, commences Feb. 15, 1653, and seems to indicate the time of the Society's origin. It was probably drawn up by the pastor. The order of ministers was the following :-
  • Circ. 1653. Rev. CHRISTOPHER MARSHALL. In 1654 mention is made of Brother Gleadhill (Gledhill) and Brother Hargreave, as having been admitted members of the community. They will be mentioned afterwards.
  • In 1661, Mr. Nesse was admitted into church fellowship, and in the same year Josias Holdsworth.
  • These names become interesting from subsequent events.*
  • Marshall was ejected in 1662 After this he appears to have resided in his own house at Topcliffe, in the midst of his little flock, to whom he probably preached in secret. The Five-mile Act drove him to Horbury : yet the meetings of his society were not suspended, and Marshall still met with them privately. About this time David Noble was received into communion. The baptism of Accepted Lister took place here May 25, 1671. In 1672, when a Congregational church was formed at Leeds, under the pastorship of Ness, who was then dismissed from the church at Topcliffe, Gledhill*1 and Hargreaves were sent as a deputation to recognise and congratulate the new Society.
  • In 1673, Gamaliel Marsden, who had been twice ejected, once from Dublin at the Restoration, and again from Chapel-le-Brears in 662, joined himself to the little community, and became engaged by the church (1674) as "teacher," his work being to educate young men for the ministry, and probably to catechise the youth of the church. He was a man of sound learning, but not an attractive preacher. In this year Mr. Bailey was ordained pastor, and it appears from his tomb-stone at Morley, was pastor of both congregations, though the Topcliffe register makes no mention of the fact. He died Dec. 6, 1675, and was buried in the Old Chapel-yard, Morley. He was a minister of great influence among the Congregationalists. He established a monthly lecture at Morley (see p. 321). Mr. Marshall died two years before him; but as he is said to have had "a crazy body," it is probable that he was unable to preach much in his latter years. Gamaliel Marsden married his widow.
  • In 1677, mention is made of the dismission of "Jennet, the wife of Nathaniel Slack, dismissed to us by Mr. Larkham."*
  • Mr. Marsden died May 25, 1681. Service was for some time after his death conducted by Mr. Holdsworth (Heckmondwike), Mr. Jollie (Altham), and other ejected ministers.
  • 1684. Rev. THOMAS ELSTON (Frankland's Acy.). He was minister here for thirty-four years. Mr. E. removed to Chesterfield, July 8, 1709, "at the desire and in answer to the invitation of a Congregational church there." He died 1710, æt. 59, and was buried at Chesterfield. His funeral sermon was preached by Rev. T. Whitaker.
  • In 1691, the church record states : "Mr. John Gledhill ad. into our commn. 15 April, and dismissed to a church at Colchester to be their pastor, July 15, 1694." After Mr. Elston's death, the meeting-house was almost deserted. The congregation removed to Lee-fair.
  • Rev. JOHN LISTER was attached, in some way not now discoverable, to this congregation. He died, April 11, 1707, after a short illness, and was buried in the burying-place, Tingley.
  • Oct. 14, 1714. Rev. JOHN RILEY. The number of the congregation was now about 60. Mr. R. died Aug. 19, 1727.
  • Oct. 5, 1727. Rev. THOMAS LAX. Mr. L. was a grantee of the Hewley Fund. He remained till 1736.
  • 1736. Rev. ROBERT HESKETH. He removed to Eastwood, 1749.
  • Leefair was now given up as a meeting-place.

* James Naylor, the Quaker enthusiast, was originally a member of the church at Topcliffe. He was brought before the church on a charge of adultery. The meeting was held at Haigh Hall, in the room called the Lord's parlour. Naylor went afterwards to London, and joined the Baptist church of which Hanserd Knollys was minister, whence he was again expelled.
*1 In a funeral sermon, published by Dr. Harris, 1719, for Mrs. Bathsheba Barker, Gledhill's daughter, he speaks of the eminent piety and holiness of this Gledhill. His daughter, he says felt it a singular honour to have descended from so good a man.
*2 This Rev. George Larkham was minister of Cockermouth till the passing of the Act of Uniformity, when the pursuit of his enemies was so keen as to drive him among his relatives at Topcliffe. In his diary we find the following entries :-

" July 20, 1663. I went from Booth towards Gomersal, in Yorkshire. I came to my Aunt Pollard's on the 25th of the said month.

"Sept. 2. My wife and Thomas, my Bonne, came to Gomersale to my Uncle Pollard's, there to sojourn with me for a time.

" 1666. I took some rooms at Stancliffe Hall, in Yorkshire, Jan. 21. I began to keep house Feb. 1. Sept. 28, I came to Heckmondwike with my family to dwell in the house of one Rich. Naylor. I am to give for rooms xi. 3. per annum."

In the Cockermouth church register is the following explanation :-

" From the year 1662 to the year 1668, the pastor being forced away into another county, viz., into Yorkshire, where he hid himself by yr. advice, counsel, and consent," &c. "The pastor was imprisoned in York city for five weeks' space upon the account of Nonconformity."

Transcribed by Colin Hinson © 2014
from the Appendix to
Congregationalism in Yorkshire
by James C. Miall, 1868.