Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: 150 years of St Saviour’s Church in Ravensthorpe

MAJOR MILESTONE St Saviours Church in Ravensthorpe celebrates its 150th anniversary this weekend.
MAJOR MILESTONE St Saviours Church in Ravensthorpe celebrates its 150th anniversary this weekend.

Very soon 1,000 balloons will be released in Ravensthorpe to celebrate the 150th anniversary of St Saviour’s Church.

There will also be a brass band concert, an exhibition, a flower festival, and a buffet supper to which all are welcome.

It is going to be a grand affair and members are hopeful that former members who have left the district will return to help celebrate this historic event.

The congregation of St Saviours maybe smaller than it used to be, but what the present worshippers lack in numbers, they certainly make up for in spirit and enthusiasm.

All year, they have been working zealously to make sure it will be a true village affair with something for everyone - young and old alike.

The exhibition will include old parish registers of banns, weddings and baptisms, access to church family records dating back to 1864, and lots of old photographs and memorabilia.

The balloons, will be released on Sunday September 21 at 5.30pm, followed at 6pm by a Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by the Area Bishop of Wakefield, the Right Rev Tony Robinson.

A buffet supper, to which all parishioners and past worshippers are invited, will be served afterwards.

A similar event held at the church over a 100 years ago, was so well attended they ran out of food.

The tea party was served in three sittings in the old Co-op rooms across the road from the church - and the third sitting had to make do with treacle and bread.

But I have been assured on good authority there’ll be no treacle sandwiches at this do - no matter how many people attend!.

St Saviour’s came into being in 1864 at a time when the village had a population of only about 300 and it didn’t even have a name. It was in the parish of Mirfield, just a small area of land sandwiched between Dewsbury and Mirfield, which people referred to as New Town or Little Mirfield.

It wasn’t until 1864 that it was given the name Ravensthorpe, and this happened after a group of businessmen wrote to the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey, petitioning him to identify the exact boundary of an area of land they wished to be known as Ravensthorpe.

That same year, Ravensthorpe constituted its own local District Board, and as the population continued to grow, it developed into a flourishing township and a great centre of industry.

In the early 1800s, there were only three or four dwellings in the village, but by 1864 the population had risen to more than 2,000. These interesting facts are just a few which Kathleen Thornton, a long-time member of the church, has uncovered while researching the history of the village, and which Stuart Hartley, Chairman of Dewsbury Matters has added to.

The history of St Saviours starts in 1857 when a plot of land, described as being near Westtown in the parish of Mirfield, was purchased for the erection of a mill and a number of houses in which to accommodate the 300 operatives who would be working there.

The village didn’t have its own church, and people had to walk across the fields to attend services at St Mary’s in Mirfield.

Two leading churchmen, Mr Charles Wheatley and Mr Edward Balme Wheatly-Balme, felt some provision should be made for the religious needs of the ever increasing population..

In 1860, they arranged for the purchase of a piece of land at the corner of what is now Queen Street. and the first church services were held in a small cottage in School Street.

These occasional cottage services, and the frequent walks through dark and lonely fields, proved unsatisfactory, and as the population continued to grow, it was realised that the land, already purchased in Queen Street for a new church, would no longer suffice .

A much larger piece was then acquired in what is now Church Street, and this was done through the great generosity of the Wheatley family.

In 1863 the foundation stone of a new church, to be called St Saviour’s, was laid, and the final cost of the building church was £1,927.

The church was still in the parish of Mirfield but in 1870 it became a parish in its own right, and the first incumbent was the Reverend William Chantler Whitehead.

The first marriage took place on July 9th that same year, the bride having been one of the first Sunday School scholars.

St Saviour’s is a beautiful church, an example of Victorian Architecture, supposedly in the gothic style of the 14th Century, but, unlike many churches built at this time, it is light and airy.

During later years the beautiful stained glass windows were added, the east end window partly in thanksgiving for the Golden Jubilee and the remainder of it as a memorial to a Mrs Almond.

The window in the Lady Chapel was a thanksgiving bequest from the parishioners for the Diamond Jubilee, and the original alter and pulpit from 1864 can still be found in church.

Over the years, St Saviours became a central part of village life with both the Scouts and Guide packs being formed in 1915.

In addition to the Sunday School, there were Bible classes for men, young men and young women. Also a Mothers’ class, a Mothers’ Union, St Cuthbert’s class for young men and St Mary’s Class for young women.

There was also a Girls’ Friendly Society, an operatic society, sewing class, Anglican Young People’s Association, an Amatuer Dramatic Society, the 101 Club and tennis club.

The list of organisations and groups attached to the church was endless, but it was the Whitsuntide Walks, followed by games in Holdroyd Park and then a trip to the seaside the following day, which are remembered most by many of the present members.

During its long history there have been many major milestones celebrated, including the Golden Jubilee, the Diamond Jubilee, the Centenary and the 125th Anniversay .

There have always been great celebrations to mark these occasions and to give thanks to former worshippers for the many hours of devoted worship and dedicated service they have given the church.

At the Diamond Jubilee in 1901, the church had its first procession through the streets, with the first vicar, the Reverend Whitehead, by then in his 80s, being pushed in his bath chair through the streets by the Scouts.

Many other processions and Whit Walks followed, and records show that the church was always filled with flowers.

The 150th anniversary celebrations will be no exception, and visitors can be assured of a festival of flowers of great beauty.

Both the Festival of Flowers in the church and the A Walk Down Memory Lane exhibition at Dewsbury West Community Centre will show people how Ravensthorpe originated and remind them of the important part the church has played in village life.

St Saviour’s is a joint benefice with Holy Innocents Church, Thornhill Lees, which was recently threatened with closure, but which we are all happy to say is still open.

Both churches now have a new vicar, Father Paul Atkinson who was licensed almost a year ago, having come into the church as a late ordinant.

He and his wife, Tracey, have two grown up sons Alex and George, and thanks to Tracey, the church once again has a small Sunday School. The church still has a very active Cubs and Scouts group which will be celebrating their centenary next March.

Father Paul and Tracey also welcome people into their home for a Thursday evening prayer group.

On September 20 Stuart Hartley will also be giving a talk on the history of the churches and chapels in Ravensthorpe in the church at 2pm.