The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson

Methodist group: A happy group of members of Thornhill Methodist Church pictured on the steps of the old Thornhill Methodist Chapel some years ago. We don't have the names of all of them, but here are the ones we do know: Margaret Woodhead, James Ernest Hibbert, Mary Lee, Mary Pearce, Kenneth Brook, Joan Halstead, Milton Halstead, Sidney Bolton, John Thomas Hampshire, Margaret Bretton, Herbert Hibbert, Corina Hibbert and Doris Woodhead.
Methodist group: A happy group of members of Thornhill Methodist Church pictured on the steps of the old Thornhill Methodist Chapel some years ago. We don't have the names of all of them, but here are the ones we do know: Margaret Woodhead, James Ernest Hibbert, Mary Lee, Mary Pearce, Kenneth Brook, Joan Halstead, Milton Halstead, Sidney Bolton, John Thomas Hampshire, Margaret Bretton, Herbert Hibbert, Corina Hibbert and Doris Woodhead.

Last week I wrote about the closure of Thornhill Methodist Church and how the Christian landscape in Dewsbury has changed over the years.

But there is nothing new about churches closing in our towns, dwindling attendances started in the early 1930s.

Margaret Watson.

Margaret Watson.

Why so many people no longer go to church cannot be easily explained because each individual may have different reasons for stopping.

I have a friend, an old Irish priest, who is convinced it is as simple as people having got out of the habit of going.

He used to say it was the easiest thing in the world to get out of the habit of going to church once you started missing. Not going to church then becomes the norm.

Whatever the reason, we all know that going to church regularly on Sunday is no longer part of family life as it once was.

The life I knew as a child, revolved around going to church every Sunday and taking part in various church organisations, as well as going on Whitsuntide processions.

I think we are going to have to accept that this is not the way our children are going to be brought up any more.

So, now I ask who will be the custodians of our churches before they are reduced to rubble?

Who will protect and make safe the history which is held within them?

There used to be many different denominations in Dewsbury, both high church and low, including Catholics, Quakers, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Unitarians, Methodists, Independents and Baptists.

Much of my early life was involved in going to church and taking part in religious ceremonies among people whose faith I shared.

One of my earliest memories was going with my mother as a child to Benediction services every Thursday night at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Batley Carr.

After the service, mother would leave me sitting in the darkened church porch while she attended the Mothers’ Union meeting in the classrooms next door.

I used to sit there smelling the incense which was still floating in the air around me, and sing quietly to myself all the hymns we’d just sung in Latin, the words of which I never understood.

They’d been sung with such reverence and piety, that to this day I remember every word of them – the ‘Tantum Ergo’, ‘O Salutoris’ and the ‘Adoremus’, which still send shivers down my spine.

To this day, I don’t know what the words mean, and I don’t really need to because I don’t want to lose the mystery or majesty surrounding those words.

I sang them quietly to myself as I waited for mother, and recalling my time sitting there, I now realise what an obedient child I must have been never once complaining about being there alone.

When mother returned, we would run across the road to the fish and chip shop at the top of Batley Carr for a fish cake each (with bits on) which we’d cover in salt and drown in vinegar.

I remember licking off the batter which was still stuck to the greaseproof paper to ensure I didn’t leave a scrap behind. I can still recall the taste as if it were yesterday.

All the way home mother spoke of spiritual things, like how the Mothers’ Union were arranging a pilgrimage to the shrine of some saint or other and were hoping for a miracle.

She had also been engrossed in conversation with her friend, Polly Link, who was the most spiritual person any of us had ever known.

It was Polly who had been urging mother to start a special devotion to Blessed Martin in the hope he would be canonised, the Catholic equivalent of him getting a knighthood.

Although he had been dead many years, many miracles were still occurring in his name, and both my mother and Polly couldn’t understand why he hadn’t already been made a saint.

They wondered if perhaps it was because he was black but never pursued the matter further than that.

Mother had a statue of him at the side of her bed and he did certainly stand out from the other saints who were all white.

Our beliefs in statues and saints were an anathema to many other Christian churches around us who thought we were idolators, but they managed to tolerate us.

All these memories came back when I was sent the photograph above showing a happy group of members of Thornhill Methodist Church which closed last week.

Most are women who belonged to a women’s group at the church, whether it was called the Women’s Sisterhood, or the Mothers’ Union, or the Women’s Fellowship, it didn’t matter.

These were people who gave freely of their time and skills to keep the church their forbears had built open and alive.

They brought up their children to do the same.

Although many churches have closed in Dewsbury over the years, there have been some new ones opened which are thriving.

These are mainly the Evangelical churches which are filled every Sunday.

They must be getting something right. Perhaps we should ask them.

If you have memories of your church which may no longer be with us, please email me – tresham3@gmail.com