Reverend A J E Irvin

Rev. Irvin with a group of boys at the vicarage.

The Reverend Arthur John Edward Irvin was the longest serving vicar of Woodlesford. He arrived in 1877 and remained for nearly 48 years until his retirement in 1925. Along with his duties in church he played a prominent part in many aspects of local life and appears to have been admired and respected by all those he came into contact with.

Arthur Irvin came from a family of clergyman who served as country parsons in parishes across Yorkshire. His grandfather, Thomas Irvin, was the incumbent of Hackness and Harwood Dale near Scarborough. Thomas’ eldest son, also called Thomas, started as a curate at Whitby and after several moves, including a period as headmaster of a grammar school at Thornton Dale near Pickering, went on to spend 46 years at Ormesby in Cleveland until his death in 1883.

Joseph, Arthur’s father, also took up the family calling and replaced his father at Hackness in 1826. At Camden in London in 1841 he married Christiana Louisa Massingberd, the daughter of a Royal Navy officer, with whom he had three children. Born in 1848 Arthur was the youngest, after Eleanor, who never married, and Thomas Massingbird Irvin who caught the seafaring bug from his maternal grandfather and qualified as a master mariner. 

When he was 10 years old Arthur was sent away with his brother to Rossall boarding school near Fleetwood on the Fylde coast. Founded in 1844 the school had been set up especially for the sons of clergymen and aimed “to provide, at moderate cost, a classical, mathematical and general education of the highest class.” There he didn’t distinguish himself by winning any prizes but stayed for 8 years lasting longer than his brother who left after only 4 years. His enthusiasm for cricket, which he brought with him to the Woodlesford team, seems to have started at Rossall where he played for two seasons in the school side. 

From school he went to the University of Oxford to study theology entering Pembroke College at the age of 19 in October 1867. He played in two first class cricket matches for the university between 1868 and 1871, one of them against the Gentlemen of England, the other against Southgate. He was a right-handed batsmen and a wicket keeper although his skill with the bat seems to have been fairly limited as 12 was his highest score in those games.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1873 he was ordained at Bradford in April 1874 and was appointed as the curate at Rothwell church. Quite why he chose a position in the West Riding isn’t known but his father had moved to Brotherton near Knottingley in 1856 when he was 8 years old so it’s likely he would have been well aware of the local ecclesiastical job opportunities.

After three years at Rothwell he preached his last sermon there during the evening service on Sunday 8 July 1877. The following Tuesday he was instituted to the vicarage of Woodlesford by the Bishop of Ripon, “vicarage” referring to the position not the bricks and mortar as it was to take a further 15 years before enough money was raised to pay for the imposing building at the top of Oulton Lane. 

From the start Arthur Irvin threw himself energetically into parish life establishing himself not just as a parish priest but as a leading light of the community in many of its social and civic activities.

Just over 6 months after he arrived he helped form the Oulton-with-Woodlesford School Board and was elected as its first chairman. Temporary classes for infants, boys and girls were set up, one of them in a meeting room adjoining the White Hart Inn, and Rev. Irvin laid the foundation stone for a brand new building to accommodate 300 pupils on Stockings Lane on 17 July 1879.

For the occasion he was presented with a silver trowel by fellow board member William Mason, a corn merchant who lived at The Grove in Oulton. Buried underneath the stone was a time capsule in a bottle containing the Leeds Mercury newspaper for that day, a copy of the religious service and a card of the Woodlesford cricket club. Built at a cost of £4,600 the school took less than a year to finish and Rev. Irvin performed the official opening on Monday 1 March 1880 after conducting a short religious service which started with over 200 children singing a hymn to the tune of the “Old Hundredth.”

In September 1879 Arthur Irvin was complaining about the poor quality of the water supply in Woodlesford. Most people got their water from the village well and a fire at a hay stackyard, belonging to farmer William Sissons of Little Preston Hall, was difficult to put out because of the lack of a piped supply.

This prompted Rev. Irvin to put pen to paper in a letter to the Rothwell Times: “It has been ascertained that even for drinking purposes the present supply is altogether inadequate to meet the demand. The village pump is frequently out of order, (it is at present without the handle), and at any time the water is not drawn without much labour. The impure state of the other wells in use is plainly revealed, even after filtration, by the microscope.”

He went on: “Judging from the usual effects of impure water, the village has probably to thank the past rainy season for the prevention of an outbreak of fever. Perhaps also the scarcity of good water maybe some excuse for the super abundant supply of beer offered to the men engaged in subduing the flames in the stackyard on Tuesday last.” In the event it took until 1890 before a reservoir was built on Rothwell Haigh near to the John O’ Gaunt hotel which greatly improved the supply.

One of those who welcomed Arthur Irvin to Woodlesford was the church organist, joiner and carpenter Walter Lockwood, who would still be there when the vicar retired. Their joint love of music led to the formation of the Woodlesford Choral Society in December 1878 with Rev. Irvin becoming president.

The society brought its first season to a close with a soiree at the Two Pointers Inn the following May. About 40 ladies and gentleman sat down to a substantial tea laid on by the landlord, John Craven, after which they adjourned to the gardens to sing Brinley Richard’s glee “Let the hills resound,” which was “well rendered by the practical members.”

All Saints’ church at Woodlesford had been built in 1870 at a cost of £4,000 with much of it coming from the brewer Henry Bentley. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough left over for a vicarage and the first vicar, Cambridge graduate Charles John Hussey, and his wife Emily, had been lodgers when they arrived in 1870. They eventually moved into a house with a garden although it’s not clear where.

When he arrived Arthur Irvin lived alone with a housekeeper, Sarah Baines from Rothwell, and again it’s not clear precisely where, although in the 1881 census the house appears to be close to Eshald House, the Bentley mansion, so it could have been the gate lodge in the grounds or perhaps one of the brewery owned terraced houses on Eshald Lane between the house and the railway.

The close proximity and patronage of the Bentleys proved to be a good thing for Arthur because he was soon in love with Henry Bentley’s eldest daughter and he and Jeannie Constance, who was 9 years younger than him, were married at All Saints’ by George Heberden, the vicar of Rothwell, on 20 July 1881. Also there to lend a hand were two other clergymen, Arthur’s cousin, Rev. Alex J. D. D’Orsey, and Rev. Canon Lodge, Rural Dean of Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire.

Over the next ten years Arthur and Constance were busy both in the parish and at home. By 1889 they had five children. The eldest, Henry Massingberd Irvin, was born in 1883, followed by Constance Gwendoline, Rhoda Violet, Arthur Edward, and finally Agnes Mary who, sadly, appears to have had some form of disability being labelled as an “imbecile” in the 1901 census when she was 12 years old.

The lack of a purpose built vicarage proved to be something of a problem and for the first ten years of Rev. Irvin’s incumbency he lived at five different addresses.

One of them was owned by Dr. Robert Hollings of Wakefield who had spent his childhood in Woodlesford and had inherited the property from a relative. With the help of Lady Lowther of Swillington Arthur Irvin had rented it and, probably with some embarrassment, found himself in court in Wakefield in November 1886 charged with owing £33 for “rent, damages and dilapidations.”

Sir Charles and Lady Lowther were called as witnesses but they were living at Wilton Castle near Redcar. He was 83 years old and had been blind since infancy due to an attack of scarlet fever. Isabella, his wife, was three years younger but also infirm and deaf and what was called “a misunderstanding” meant they failed to appear in court and were fined £10 each by Judge Greenhow.

Perhaps it was a ploy to delay the case which was adjourned for a month because over the next few weeks Dr. Hollings and Rev. Irvin reached an understanding and settled their differences out of court. The fines, however, were still outstanding. After hearing from their lawyer who said the Lowthers “had not the slightest intention to set the court at defiance, but owing to their advanced age and infirmities they could not attend,” the judge forgave them and cancelled their fines, remarking “that he never supposed Sir Charles and Lady Lowther would have acted disrespectfully to the court.”

It’s likely the Irvins had given up renting from Robert Hollings to move into Eshald House following the death of Constance’s father at the beginning of August 1886. By then the Bentley family had become wealthy and after the death of his wife in 1882 Henry Bentley had been mostly living away in Norfolk and London. His son and second daughter both married in 1886 leaving the mansion empty and available as a temporary home for the growing Irvin family.

It’s not clear who owned Eshald House at that point. It could have been inherited by Constance’s brother, Harry Cumberland Bentley, or may have been owned by the brewery which had become a limited company in 1880. Whatever the case it wasn’t to become a permanent home for the Irvins and fund raising for a vicarage continued with a two day bazaar held there in April 1887. 

By then it was estimated £400 was still needed to add to £1,400 which had been collected over the previous five years. With his difficulties in court forgotten Sir Charles Lowther was invited to open the bazaar and amongst the notables and their wives from the surrounding area were: Philip Yorke Savile, Rector of Methley; Charles Frederick Hoyle, general manager of the brewery; Rev. Frederick Fawkes, vicar of Rothwell, and Charles Ernest Charlesworth, colliery owner and a director of the brewery.

North transept window in Woodlesford church in memory of Henry Bentley.

When the census was taken just after Easter 1891 Henry Berry, the founder of the Hunslet based hydraulic engineering company, which still bears his name, had moved into Eshald House with his extended family so the vicar must have been forced into another move. Again the whereabouts of what must have been his seventh address is unknown as the Irvins were on holiday and recorded as visitors staying at the St. Kitts guest house in Filey.

The family were back home a month later for what must have been a very poignant moment for Mrs. Irvin – the unveiling, on Ascension Day, of two colourful stained glass windows in the north and south transepts of All Saints church in memory of her mother and father.

Made by Powell Brothers of Park Square in Leeds they were described as “very handsome windows, which certainly add considerably to the beauty of the church.”

The north window, dedicated to Henry Bentley, portrayed Christ’s appearance to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. The south window, in memory of Jeannie Bentley, showed him immediately before his Ascension saying: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Plan showing the site for the new vicarage on 2500 square yards of land donated in 1891 by Edmund and Isabella Mary Calverley of Oulton Hall.

Finally in 1892 building work for the new vicarage started in earnest. The foundation stone was laid on Thursday 19 May by Isabella Mary Calverley of Oulton Hall and a few months later the Irvins had their new home. The cost had risen to £2,300 with the building design coming from another leading citizen – Robert John Smith, an architect, land and mineral agent who lived on Alma Street. He was also clerk to the school board and chairman of the Hunslet Board of Guardians and the Hunslet Rural Sanitary Authority, which both included the township of Oulton and Woodlesford.

In 1895 Rev. Irvin became a member of the Hunslet Rural District Council and his name occurs frequently in reports of the council’s meetings. He was also a Guardian of the Poor for the Hunslet Union which opened a new workhouse on Rothwell Haigh in 1903. It was later renamed St.George’s Hospital.

On Rev. Irvin’s retirement there were three other long serving members of the church community. Joiner Walter Lockwood had been organist for 51 years and two choristers had been in the choir for 46 years.

After he left Woodlesford Rev. Irvin and his wife went to live at Oxford and then at Old Basing near Basingstoke in Hampshire where his eldest son had become the vicar in 1932. He died, at the age of 97, in 1945.

The first occupants of Woodlesford vicarage were Rev. Arthur Irvin and his family. One of the contractors was the church organist, Walter Lockwood, who was a joiner and carpenter. The others were E. Ripley – bricklayer and mason; J. Season – slater; J.Woffenden – plumber and glazier; R. Brenton – plasterer; A. & G. Barker – painters and decorators.