Oulton St John’s Church

Oulton church choir in the mid-1960s. Back row: Mary Brooke, Edward Marshall, Oulton Hall nurse Vince Byett, Herbert Britton, organist Des Harris, Harold Acaster – also a nurse at Oulton Hall, Wilf Newman – crane driver Girlingstone, Maurice Teet, Robert Rymer, Annie Booth, Rev. Tony Comber. Boys include Billy Parsons, Ian Jackson, Paul Hatfield, John Cyrowski, Clive Marshall, David and Stephen Newman, Anthony Liversedge, Paul Watson, Stephen Cornish, Ian Parkinson, Neil Rymer, Andrew Rymer, Robert Rymer.
Oulton church choir in the late 1950s. The men’s and choirboys cassocks were black which was later changed to blue. The ladies originally wore purple robes then blue ones. Back row: Wilf Newman, Cliff Shillito, Vince Byett, Mr. White, Maurice Teet. Second row: Wilfred Garlick – churchwarden, John Turner, organist Ronnie Carter, Herbert Britton, server Derek Rayner with red cassock, verger George Newbould. Third row: Sylvia Budding, Anne Booth, Annie Booth. Rev. Geoffrey Hamish Mercer, Mary Brooke, Constance Booth, Daphne White. Front row: Peter Sykes, Granville Clarke, Michael Baber, John Hawkins, Gregory Beevers.

Leeds Mercury, Saturday 26th December, 1829.

On Tuesday morning, the ceremony of the consecration of St. John’s Church, at Oulton, by his Grace the Lord Archbishop of this Province, took place in the presence of a numerous assemblage of the nobility, gentry, and other inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhood.

At half-past eleven o’clock his Grace, attended by his suite, arrived from Swillington Hall, the hospitable mansion of Sir John Lowther Bart. where he had passed the night. 

He was received at the north side of the church, by the Rev, the Vicar of Leeds, and a number of other Clergymen, by whom he was escorted to the vestry on the south side. 

His Grace having enrobed he proceeded with his officers in to the west door. 

His Grace then proceeded with usual solemnities, to declare the church to be set apart for ever from all common purposes, and appropriated to the worship of God, according to the rites of the English Church. 

The boundary wall of Oulton Hall estate and the Nookin looking up Leeds Road in 1913. The photographer was standing at the entrance to the main driveway into Oulton Hall. Just behind him and to the left was the entrance lodge, and to the right was the junction with Calverley Road. Just visible opposite the Nookin is the old junction of Leeds Hill and Rothwell Lane. The area in the foreground is now a roundabout.

No. 2 Oulton.
Rothwell Times 21 April 1882. 

The village of Oulton is justly considered a very pleasant one. Certainly on the easterly side its rural character is marred a good deal by yawning quarries and piles of stones and stone refuse which crowd the quarry yards, by the tall heavy looking cranes and low smoking chimneys, the rattling of hoisting chains and water pumps, and the scraping and hissing monotony of sound which comes from the stone cutting machines. 

On the other side however we have a rural village in almost its best style, clean looking, old fashioned houses with a newer structure here and there, skirting pleasant roads and each having its cultivated patch or plot which in some cases reaches the proportions of an orchard or large garden, while field and pasture with a goodly array of fine trees complete the necessary makeup of a very pleasant country village.  

The place is however in no small degree indebted to the extensive park connected with Oulton Hall for much of its beauty. This park bounds the westerly side and stretches some distance beyond, north and south towards Rothwell and Wakefield respectively, and sloping upwards to the west presents a bold and pleasing landscape of green field, plantation and cover.  

The park is walled off from the highway the length of the village on that side, but there are three openings in the boundary wall, one at the “new” lodge being the principal carriage entrance to the park, another giving access to the churchyard, and the third is the “old” lodge entrance now only leading to a private foot road. 

It will thus be seen that the church and churchyard are within the park and in fact the graveyard is only separated from it by a ditch or sunk fence. It may appear to those who hold decided views as to the system of church patronage, somewhat objectionable that the principle of church proprietorship should be emphasised, as it does appear to be, by the church and its grounds being actually part and parcel of the private domains of the patron proprietor. 

But even to some of these the fact will have small importance when they get into the churchyard and feel the influences of the very charming surroundings and the seclusion, not isolation, of the place and see the beautiful sanctuary, which for elegance and graceful proportions is an excellent specimen of a modern village church.  

Such is the locality of the church (St. John’s) of which I am about to speak. The style of the building is pointed Gothic, the building itself is of stone and consists of a highly embellished chancel, nave, aisles, square tower with embattled parapet, and a very graceful spire, the whole showing accurate proportions and careful finish.  

Three Horse Shoes pub opposite Oulton churchyard.

The church was built about 52 years ago, although its cleanly appearance and imperviousness to weather would lead to the supposition that it was not half that age. There is, however, a somewhat depressing monotony about the churchyard, which the presence of trees in variety and the appearance of neatly kept pathways, fails to relieve; a monotony arising from the exact uniformity in shape of the gravestones, which we had with very few, and I presume, allowed exceptions, are headstones precisely alike in style.  

This is certainly a result of private proprietorship, and will perhaps not commend itself to the approval of everybody.  At the same time (and this is something to be said in favour of the seeming arbitrariness) we escape the incongruous variety in monumental display which is often seen in graveyards, and does much violence to our sense of good taste.  

And now as to the services at this temple of worship.  The incumbent is the Rev R.H. Hamilton M.A,, who I believe is the third holder of the living, and has been in possession for a period of approaching 40 years.  Such a long service at one place would in the case of the minister of a dissenting community, a community having the power of free choice and changing selection – be the highest testimony to the preacher’s ministerial capacity and worth, but in the case of a clergyman of the established church it has no such meaning, except in a negative sense. 

It is also no evidence of successful ministration or of appreciated pastoral work, although on the other hand, a term of residence and performance of clerical duties extending over such a long period, must have its influence, depending no doubt as to the kind and extent, on the personal and official characteristics of the clergyman in possession; and it cannot be denied that Mr. Hamilton’s undoubted kindness and consideration for all have deserved and obtained for him long ago general respect.  

Another view with Oulton churchyard on the left. Wilkinson’s sweet and tobacco shop has long since been demolished to make way for the Three Horse Shoes car park.

There are no high church proclivities manifest either in ceremonial or altar decorations, nor in any other form; in fact, “ritualism” has no place or part here, and that is something to say in these times, when the pageantry and parade of papal worship, together with some of the doctrinal heresies are imported into not a few of our village churches, and by their specious fascinations obscuring the simple service of the “Prayer Book.”

The choir is a mixed one, consisting of male and female voices, thus partaking more of the character of former than a later-day church choirs, with the exception that the services being greatly “choral”, its functions are more important.  

The “ancient and modern” collection of hymns is used, and of the choir it may be further said that it does its work creditably, and of the organist that he supports the singing effectively on an instrument of fair capacity, but which I believe has been in use as long as the church.  

The efforts of the choir would, however, be still more successful, if, instead of being placed with the organ in a loft just under the roof, the more the modern arrangement which places organ and choir in the chancel were adopted.  

There seems to be a want of proper affinity between choir and congregation on the present arrangement.  With respect to the preaching, great allowance must be made for Mr. Hamilton’s naturally delicate constitution.  His voice is weak, thence not far reaching, and the enunciation is in sympathy with the voice, so that it requires close attention to catch much of what he speaks from the pulpit, and there is therefore but slight chance of much impression being made as a consequence of oratorical effort or power of exhortation. 

Parish councillor Benjamin Wood Higgins is sitting fourth from the left on the first row of the adult choristers at St. John’s church, Oulton. Six of his sons were also in the choir. This photograph was taken in the Edwardian era at some point after 1903 during the incumbency of Rev. Walter Robert Capel-Cure who is seated sixth from the left. Also in the choir during this period were the Oulton schoolmaster and parish councillor Ernest Boothroyd, the Woodlesford schoolmaster Henry Parkin, Arthur Maundrill, George Mirfin Abbey, Walter Poole, Willie Rhodes, Jim Barber, Tom Coope and a man by the name of Morley. The verger was John Poole.

The acoustic properties of the building are not good, the words delivered being too much lost amid the spaces of the vaulted roof.  This is another matter to be considered in Mr. Hamilton’s favour.  

The sermons, which have also the commendable merit of brevity, are practical, admonitory and exhortative, rather than profound, or elaborately persuasive, and if they were delivered in a small building where they could be heard without much effort either on the part of the preacher or congregation, they would no doubt be more effective.  

Taking things as they are, however, if Mr. Hamilton would discard the manuscript, and talk to his hearers in the more direct way of extemporaneous preaching it would be a decided advantage to preacher and congregation.  I have already said he is held in general esteem, and it may be further said in the words of a clerical poet:

No haughty virtues stir his peaceful mind, 
Nor urge the priest and leave the flock behind.
He is his Master’s soldier, but not one
To lead an army of these martyrs on.

And again he is:-

Free from all evils which disturb his mind, 
Whom studies of vex and controversies blind.

The people go to church Sunday after Sunday summoned by the sonorous single bell which the tower contains, and which is by no means calculated to excite cheerful emotions in their minds; they like the beautiful church, the quiet services and the pleasant surroundings; they enjoy the singing or such of it as they can heartily join in, and they feel that they have, in going performed the Sabbath duty.  

Let us also hope that many of them, come away conscious of some spiritual elevation and moral advancement, and of those are the quickening and consolidating influences which are expected to be prime results of a regular attendance at the place of public worship to which habit of conscientious preference leads us.

Oulton churchyard showing some of the gravestones which the anonymous Rothwell Times correspondent complained about in 1882.