A Methodist from Woodlesford was one of nine trustees who put their names to the deeds of the first Rothwell chapel in 1764. He was called Robert Fletcher and probably also held religious or “class” meetings for a dozen or so people in his house.
Twenty years later John Batty, in his History of Rothwell, recorded that Rev. Samuel Bradburn, known as the “Demosthenes of Methodism” due to his powerful eloquence, preached at Woodlesford on 30 April 1784.
In the years that followed Woodlesford became a regular calling point for preachers in the Wakefield circuit. Amongst them was Rev. Joseph Entwistle who had known John Wesley when he was a boy. In 1794 he recorded in his diary that he held successful services several times that year:
“Tuesday 15 April. Had a blessing season at Woodlesford at night. Continued in prayer near three hours after preaching, and God was remarkably present.”
“Tuesday 27 May. Preached at Rothwell again this morning at five. The congregation was large and attentive. Spent most of the forenoon visiting persons who had lately been awakened, and sick persons. My head was like a flame of fire all day. In the evening preached at Woodlesford in a large barn. I think upwards of 500 persons were present. I think good was done.”
The first chapel was built in 1817 on land donated by William Oddie, one of the brothers who owned the Woodlesford paper mill. The small, plain square stone building, the first for religious worship in the village, stood on the same site as the present chapel. Inside was a gallery enclosed with iron railings.
At the opening the owner of the Woodlesford pottery presented to the stewards three blue “lovefeast” mugs with the inscription “Woodlesford Chapel 1817.”
In 1881 the old chapel was rebuilt at a cost of about £300. Alterations were made in 1896 and before the First World War the interior was improved, the pulpit was raised and the choir seats were altered.
A piece of land adjoining the chapel, for use in further extensions, was presented to the trustees by Samuel Dalton in 1887. He was a former railway signalman from Lincolnshire who had worked in the Woodlesford signal box and married the daughter of William Capes, a retired seaman and owner of Capes Fold which later became Oakdene Yard. William and his wife ran a grocery shop at the bottom of Church Street and Samuel appears to have left the railway to help in the business and inherited their land after the death of their daughter in 1886. Within a year he had remarried and moved to Stourton where he and his second wife ran a grocery and he was an insurance agent.
One of the leading members of the chapel congregation was John Smith. Born in Swillington in 1824 he started out as a potter but later became a grocer and pottery dealer. Outside the shop he was busy as a chapel steward, class leader, and Sunday school superintendent but was largely remembered for his musical activities as choirmaster and as a double bass and harmonium player.
Another stalwart was Thomas Bilton, a master blacksmith on the Lowther estate. He was a teacher and superintendent in the Sunday school for 55 years until just before his death, at the age 87, in 1883.
Starting in 1820 the school was held for many years in what was known as the “Alma” school room, although it’s not clear exactly where that was. On 13 June 1870 the school’s jubilee was celebrated, each scholar receiving an inscribed bible, the gift of Mr. Bilton. From 1894 the classes were held at the board school on Highfield Lane with stone mason John Henry Langstaff acting as secretary and quarry labourer Thomas Worrall as teacher.
Other family names associated with the chapel in the 19th century were Stead, Arundel, Birdman and Wigglesworth.
From 1872 the chapel women met regularly at a sewing meeting. One of its leading lights was spinster Jane Beaumont, a dressmaker who lost her parents when she was young. She came to Woodlesford from Dalton near Huddersfield with her father’s brother and sister who never married. William Beaumont was a commercial traveller for Bentley’s brewery and after her aunt and uncle died Jane took in lodgers including in the 1880s the village bobby, Amos Clarke.
Jane Beaumont was extremely proud of the fact that her grandfather, a woollen spinner, had heard John Wesley preach at Cown’s Chapel near Huddersfield. She was 87 when she passed away in 1919.
Other leading members of the sewing meeting were Miss Sheard, Miss Whitehead and Mrs. Armitage.
One of the more prosperous members of the Woodlesford congregation, and first on the list of trustees in 1913, was Hunslet born Thomas Waide, a printer and carton manufacturer. He was the son of William Waide, a master cooper from a Mickletown farming family. After moving his business into Leeds by 1881 he employed 16 men and two boys at his cooperage on Crown Point Road near Tetley’s brewery. Known as Waide & Sons they made all kinds of barrels and brewing equipment as well as water casks, tubs and butter churns for farmers.
Thomas was born in 1854. He must have acquired some of his business ability from his father but decided not to follow him and his two older brothers into the coopering trade. After serving an apprenticeship with a Hunslet printer he set up in business in 1878 with a fellow former apprentice, Alfred Harrison, using a secondhand press in a cellar at Leeds Bridge End. Eleven years later they expanded by moving to the Alexandra Works in a former clothing factory at Darlington Street off Kirkstall Road where they specialised in printing labels for chemists’ bottles.
In 1879 Thomas married Sarah Ferguson, the daughter of a stuff presser from Bramley. They lived at first in Northcote Place in Hunslet, but as the family and business grew in the late 1880s they moved out of the dirty and noisy city to Rose Villa at Methley from where Thomas could easily commute into Leeds by train.
They moved again, in about 1894, to the much larger Applegarth House at Woodlesford and ten years later had a family of three sons and eight daughters. Tragically though Sarah died just two days after the birth of their last child in January 1904 and Thomas was left a widower.
Leaving the younger children in the care of his older daughters Thomas seems to have thrown himself into his business and chapel life even more vigorously, separating from his partner in 1908. Staff and family alike remembered him as a Victorian authority figure but with a sense of humour. His sons joined the business as apprentices, as well as three of the girls for a time, all of them travelling into Leeds Wellington station from Woodlesford with their father, accompanied by his Gladstone bag. From there he often took an express to London for sales meetings with customers.
During the First World War the eldest sons, William and Edward, served in the army with Edward being awarded the Military Medal in 1915 for “gallantry in the field.”
Applegarth House was a regular venue for the summertime quarterly meetings of the Rothwell Methodist circuit. Writing in his history of the local chapels in 1913 Andrew Marshall, proprietor of the Rothwell Times, wrote: “Mr. Waide and his courteous daughters have been most lavish and attentive in their efforts to make this one of the gladest days of the year.”
Thomas Waide was 78 years old when he died in 1932 and despite moving away his children kept up the connection with Woodlesford chapel for many years. All of them were still alive when the 150th anniversary took place in 1967 and several of them returned for the celebrations in the newly repaired chapel which had been neglected after the Second World War due to falling membership.
The printing firm was still going strong at that point employing over 200 people with Edward Waide as chairman. Recalling the days when his father “shepherded his brood” down Church Street to Sunday services he told a newspaper reporter: “I am afraid we were a lot of hooligans. We sat in a box pew at the back of the church and generally one of us had to stand in the aisle as punishment for misconduct.”
He also recalled the local parsons, many of them young and learning their trade, thundering out their sermons from the pulpit. “Father was a religious man and stood no nonsense. I remember he once stood up and told a preacher to talk sense or give up. That was the atmosphere of the church when I was young.”
Other chapel trustees before the First World War were: Rothwell born coal merchant James Hargreaves who lived on the Harrogate Road in Leeds; his nephew Walter Hargreaves, a county councillor and managing director of Henry Briggs Son & Company Ltd, owners of Water Haigh colliery; Walter’s son Dennis Walter Hargreaves, manager of the pit who lived at Albert House on Church Street; John Thomas Lygo, a clerk of works for the Midland Railway; James William Dinsdale, an inspector on the Aire and Calder Navigation who lived in a house next to the canal bridge; John Abbishaw of Lofthouse, a clerk administering the old age pension in Rothwell; Jabez Richard Seanor of Rothwell, owner of the former paper mill at Woodlesford where firelighters were made; his son Arthur William Seanor, manager of the factory; Charles Ernest Baxter,a farmer at Newsam Green; butcher and chapel organist Thomas Hutchinson; Tom Jones, the undermanager at Water Haigh colliery; quarry blacksmith Joseph Witchell whose son Joseph Samuel Witchell was a lay preacher; and Swillington farmer James Hutton, also a chapel organist.
This page is adapted from “A History of Wesleyan Methodism in the Rothwell Circuit” by Andrew Marshall, published in 1913; and from “Waide’s 100 Years, 1878 – 1978” by Ewart Waide Clay, editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, Thomas Waide’s grandson.