Zoom talk by: John Lyte
Notes by: Stephen Miller
John LYTE, chairman of a local Family History Group, and ancestral link with Henry Francis LYTE (composer of “Abide with Me”) thrilled the 12 attendees with his talk on “Saving Chapel Row”
John bought a derelict property in Briestfield (between Huddersfield and Wakefield) and over a period of several years restored it and researched the history of the property and those that resided there.
Briestfield is a medieval village, whose name derives from the coal fields which surround it. It was first mentioned in the Doomsday book of 1066, showing a value of £2. The name is formed from the word ‘Brere’, meaning a tongue of land between two rivers. In this case Howroyd Beck and Briestfield Beck.
2oo years ago, it was a thriving industrial village, primarily a coal mining area. Although some weaving mills were sited nearby. Brierfield was also in the heart of the land occupied by the luddites, where they met prior to the attack on Cartwright’s Mill in 1812; two of the luddites were later hanged at York for their activity.
John’s wife Joan, narrated how they moved to the area and how they came buy the derelict cottages, known as Chapel Row. The sign read ‘For sale fine row of cottages ripe for renovation’. Three months later, the for-sale sign was still there so they decided to purchase it. Inspired by a friend Stuart, who was building his own house, they set about buying a renovating the cottages. They were in a poor state of repair, collapsed chimneys and roof, no gas, water or an electric supply. The row of cottages had been ear marked for demolition. Although they could not afford professional assistance from people in the trade, or find a tradesman willing to undertake the job they set about the restoration project themselves. After all, their friends Stuart stated, “Nothing a little TLC will sort out!”. Although it would not be for a further ten years before they could reap the rewards.
The cottages are listed on an 1849 enclosure map as being owned by Sir George Amytage, who also owned the majority of the surrounding land and properties. At that time a number of stately homes were also in the area: Blake Hall, Denby Grange, Overthorpe Hall and Whitley Beaumont. Due to changes in legislation and tax on death duties became a catalyst for change in Briestfield and the neighbouring stately homes. Demolishing was a viable option to paying the dues, to which the above four stately homes succumbed. In another effort for releasing capital, the family sold the land and properties and invested the proceeds. Compounded by the Public Health Act of 1875, ‘Sanitary Inspection’ of the property, and the Housing Act Order 1919 to provide a ‘trap to sink waste pipe’ and other repairs directly led to the property being condemned between 1935-1938. All residents were forced to leave. “Chapel Row was no longer fit for human habitation”. By the end of 1938 all residents had been evicted and rehoused by the council.
John then showed us a series of slides that revealed how they restored the property. Treating his audience to builder’s terminology:
- Local Yorkshire Grit Sandstone was used which was parallel punched (Grooves in the Stone)
- Repairing bulges and holes and how ‘through’ stones work
- Acrow probs and RSJ – Reinforced Steel Joist
- Corbelling – Fixing lead flashing
- Topping out Ceremony
- House built in a Mullions Style (Style used by properties in which weaving took place to maximise lighting into the property, usually on upper floors)
- Toby the dog and how his wife Joan pointed the entire house!
The project took several years and involved calling on friends to assist in their spare time. Geoff did the plastering in 12 months; Roy did the roofing in 5 years and Harold did the electrics over a 9-month period.
But what about the villagers who lived at Chapel Row?
In 1938 The row of four cottages contained:
- Robinsons: George, Amy, Miriam, Joe, Frederick and Ami
- Butterfields: Johnny, Nellie, Cicely, Eric, Phyllis and a toddler that was run over
- Briggs: Harry, Margaret, Colin, Stanley, Maureen and Jean
- Pettys: Nellie, Hubert, Jim, Harry, Dick and Jack
Some of these residents returned to visit the house after it was completed.
There was a Methodist Chapel in Briestfield, known as the little Chapel on the Hill. Built in 1825 at a cost of £350, the smallest in the West Riding. Briestfield was at the forefront of early methodism in the Dewsbury area. It is noted in historical records, as early as 1744, preachers came from Birstall to preach at there. The first known Methodist was Ruth Blacker, who lived in the adjacent farm to Chapel Row. She was beaten by her husband and persecuted by the local villagers. She clung resolutely to her faith and live, until she died at the age of 80 years. Eventually other villagers converted to Methodism, In the early years, and prior to the existence of the little chapel, meetings were held in different houses, especially the row of houses next to Blacker Hall Farm, later known as ‘Chapel Row’
It is said, that during John Wesley’s travels of the area he referred to the inhabitants of Briestfield as “A wild and more fearsome people I never did see.”
John Wesley adopted the “Scallop Shell” as his church emblem. The Lytle family managed to save a scallop stone from a Chapel in Heckmondwike and incorporated it into the front porch of their property. A traditional emblem of St. James, the scallop shell became popular with pilgrims on their way to the shrine at Santiago Spain.
Ann Pickles lived in the end cottage between 1857-1933 prior to leaving at the age of 97 years. Married to George Pickles in 1856 she went on to bring up 14 children. She attained the aged of 60 years before she could read and never learnt to write. She appeared in an article in the ‘Dewsbury Report’ of 1935 which detailed her remarkable life and described her 99th birthday. Ann resided with her daughter Hilda and son in law until her death aged 100 years.
John provided details of the census years and the large families that occupied these single room per storey dwellings.
Ann’s eldest son Aaron became a national celebrity after an article was published in the newspaper that stated he was the oldest working miner aged 80 years. The story attracted the attention of Wilfred Hill, a self-made millionaire of Brylcreem fame, who provided Aaron with a pension for life of £13 a month, which allowed him to finally retire.
Another of Ann’s sons Stanley, died 4th July 1893 in the Combes pit disaster, alongside 138 men and boys. Of the 139 killed, 4 were residents of Chapel Row.
Her youngest son George Arthur was killed in 1917 aged 33 years. He is commemorated in the Roll of Honour WW1 1914-1918 1053. He married in 1906 Mary Ann Buckley, and together they had a daughter whom he never got to meet.
The history of Briestfield and its inhabitants is still being researched, but the descendants of the residents of Chapel Row means the story is still unfolding.