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History behind the chapel on the hill; Celebration of 200 years of Methodist heritage.

Byline: ANDREW HIRST

IT captures the very essence of religion in the windswept Pennines - and now all is revealed in a book.

Almost 200 years ago a small group of people built Gatehead Methodist Church on the hills above Holmfirth.

Mainly miners, weavers and farmers, they responded to the teaching of the Primitive Methodists whose travelling preachers journeyed throughout the country, offering a message of hope, in particular to impoverished rural communities. Now a new book by Holmfirth author Julia Hinchliffe has been published which tells their story. Light On A Hill: The Story Of Gatehead Methodist Church provides a graphic account of the lives of ordinary families living in the Hepworth area during the 19th century and charts the history of the church and the area it serves through to the present day.

The book will be formally launched at Gatehead Methodist Church in Hepworth at 7pm on Friday and everyone is welcome to attend.

There will also be an opportunity to see paintings of Hepworth by Harold Battye whose illustrations are used in the book. Harold studied under Holmfirth's famous watercolour artist Ashley Jackson and the two men were firm friends until Harold's death in 1988.

Dr Margaret Faull OBE, Director of the National Coal Mining Museum for England, will be the guest speaker. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Gatehead Church and copies will also be available from the Tourist Information Office in Holmfirth and from www.amazon.co.uk. Julia moved to Holmfirth five years ago with her husband and two children.

She said: "When we came here I visited several local churches and was struck by the isolated but beautiful setting of Gatehead. As I learned more about the history of the church, I was convinced that it was a story that needed to be preserved.

"In the 19th century the life of the local church was intimately associated with the life of the locality in a way which we have now lost and at Gatehead the lives of the founding families reflect the history of the area.'' In the book she writes: "The site which they chose looks at first glance an unlikely situation for a chapel.

"It is 1,000ft above sea level and there are few houses or, indeed, buildings of any kind in the vicinity even in the present day. "A casual visitor might well wonder where this isolated little church found its congregation. But its position on the turnpike road from Huddersfield to Sheffield meant that access for visiting preachers from these towns was greatly eased while the old road from Barnside to Penistone provided access for local people.

"A daily horse drawn coach service ran from Holmfirth, through New Mill to the train station at Hazlehead, passing right by the field in which the chapel was built.

"But, most importantly, the visitor standing at the chapel can see the farmsteads of all its founding members - the Charlesworths of Upper Nab, the Hinchliffes of Barnside, the Lindleys of Milshaw and the Hirsts of Ox Lee.

"And as they worked on their farms during the week or returned to them from mine or mill, these families would have been able to look up and see the little chapel on the hill, the focus of their spiritual and social lives. "In the early days before the chapel was built, they crossed the valley to each other's houses for Sunday worship and the story goes that they decided to build at the high point where their paths crossed, where the two roads meet at Gatehead.'' Julia adds: "Mining, weaving and quarrying were the main occupations of the men and women who attended Gatehead Chapel and were the occupations of the children too.

"Many families combined these occupations with farming in order to provide for themselves and to barter for goods and services they needed.

"Families would rise before dawn to begin the working day and the click of the hand looms in the upper rooms of weavers' houses kept time with the tap of wooden clogs on the cobbles as mill and mine workers set out for the factories and pits.

"In the winter months the smell of tallow candles permeated the houses as weavers continued working, frequently until nine in the evening.

"As travelling preachers trained local preachers to minister to these chapels, they instilled in them a love and understanding of law, order, freedom and democracy and they taught them how to articulate these concepts in their preaching.

"By so doing they unwittingly equipped them not only as preachers but also as leaders in the burgeoning trade union movement, for as the Primitive Methodist Church entrusted a larger share of its governance to laymen than any other church in the country so it increased their suitability as leaders of the miners and other workers in their struggles for social and political improvements.''

CAPTION(S):

[bar] RURAL COMMUNITIES: Julia Hinchliffe (above) has written Light On A Hill - the story of Gatehead Methodist Church [bar] ISOLATED BEAUTY: This wintry scene underlines the rural setting of Gatehead Methodist Church which is the subject of a new book
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Aug 8, 2012
Words:857
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