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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History



We have been fortunate to have located a copy of the souvenir handbook, published as part of the Ropewalk Methodist Church centenary celebrations of 1945.  The following extracts are taken from the handbook which was kindly submitted to us by Mr. Stone of Kellington to whom we are most grateful.



APRIL and MAY, 1945

Ropewalk Methodist Church Knottingley Ropewalk Methodist Church Knottingley

"When we look at the place of worship planned and erected by that society of long ago,
we are conscious of their mighty faith."


This Centenary Handbook has been prepared amid the difficulties inevitable in a time of unparalleled upheaval.  It has not been possible to do all we desired.  But it is our hope that the booklet will be not too inadequate a reminder to the Church of the heritage into which it has entered.

Though these pages have been compiled with the greatest possible care there will be some disappointment that certain people and events are not mentioned.  The fact of our Centenary falling in the sixth year of war has compelled a brevity which accounts for some omissions.  Further, the absence of Minute Books for the years under review has hampered completeness.

We thank most heartily the Rev. R. E. Parker, the custodian of the circuit safe, Mr. T. P. Brindley for the use of books and papers of historical value, some of the older members of the Knottingley Society for their help, and the Ministers who have kindly sent us their greetings.

Sydney W. Chapman


On the evening of Sunday, March 6th, 1791, a small company of people who had gathered for worship in the cottage of Dame Gawthorpe in Knottingley, heard the news that John Wesley had died on the Wednesday previous. They thought of all they knew of their beloved father in God, and even those who had never seen his noble face experienced a sense of loss. The passing of this great man was mourned most of all by the people called Methodists. He had been their own revered leader. The influence of his saintly life and apostolic labours extended to the remotest of the societies scattered over the country. And throughout England on that Sunday night, companies of Methodist people remembered with gratitude what God had wrought through His faithful servant. Perhaps they thought of Wesley's last words : "The best of all is, God is with us," and prayed that God would indeed be with them to maintain His work. So it was on that winter's night in Knottingley as they gathered about Dame Gawthorpe's fire.

The first Methodist preachers had come to Knottingley in the year 1784. They were pelted with mud, and ill treated but in spite of this rude welcome Methodism gained a foothold in the town. Little information exists about the early progress of the society until 1788 when it is known that there were three members besides Mrs. Gawthorpe. The others were - Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Senior and Mr. Mathew Tunningley. These four members met in a class at Ferrybridge with others from Beal and Brotherton.

The small cottage of "Old Dame Gawthorpe" situated at the low end of town was the first meeting place of the Knottingley Methodists, and it was used as a chapel for about fourteen years. Mrs. Gawthorpe was long remembered with affection as a spirited and hearty Methodist.

Many of the facts that now follow are derived from the Pontefract and Castleford Wesleyan Methodist Circuit Record published over sixty years ago, and may, therefore, be regarded as authentic. According to this Record, "the Rev. Mr. Heath is said to have been the first Methodist Minister who visited this town." He preached in Knottingley in the year 1796. By this time the society had grown considerably. There were thirty-three members at the end of the century.

The first chapel was built in 1799, it contained 150 sittings and was situated at the top of Gaggs's yard ; it was erected at the joint expense of Messrs. William Gaggs, Henry Gaggs, Joseph Senior, James Tupman and Richard Frear, and cost them 31. 8s. each. The celebrated Dr. Coke, who had worked with John Wesley, preached here in 1808. It was in this chapel, according to the History and Antiquities of Knottingley, that

"Sammy Hick, the village Blacksmith, after one of his addresses took occasion to inform his hearers that there would be a love-feast at Micklefield on a certain day ; and that he had two loads of corn (his only stock) which should be ground for the occasion. As the day drew near, Sammy, in the midst of a dead calm, took his corn to the mill to be ground, requesting the miller to unfurl the sails. To this he objected as there was no wind, but Sammy strong in faith continued to urge his request adding, "I will go and pray while you spread the cloths." More to gratify the applicant than from any other faith on his part, he stretched the canvas ; which was no sooner done than to his astonishment a fine breeze sprung up, the corn was ground, and Sammy returned home rejoicing. A neighbour who had seen the sails in motion also took his corn to be ground ; but the wind had dropped, and the miller told him he might send to Sammy Hick to pray for the wind again."

After sixteen or seventeen years the chapel in Gaggs's Yard proved too small for the growing congregation, and in the year 1816 a new chapel was built. The Rev. Robert Pilter, who was then travelling in the Pontefract Circuit, interested himself in the work of obtaining a new place of worship, and for this and his affectionate pastoral care his name lived many years in the minds of the Knottingley people. This chapel was opened on the 22nd September, 1816 by the Rev. Robert Newton, who preached morning and evening, and Mr. William Dawson who took a service in the afternoon. The seating capacity, including front and rear galleries, was 380 ; and the building cost 747. When the chapel was opened for public worship the old building on the Croft was used as a Sunday School.

As the years went by the society continued to grow.  Regularly increasing attendance made it necessary to enlarge the space for worshippers. During the summer of 1834 the end of the chapel was taken down and fifteen feet were added, making additional room for 120 persons.  The cost of this enlargement amounted to 321, and the chapel was re-opened by the Rev. Mr. Dunn. Anyone who walks along Primrose Hill to-day may easily see the 1816 chapel and the 1834 addition, the whole structure having been converted into dwelling houses.

There is in the Circuit safe at Pontefract a complete list of the members of the Knottingley Society for the June Quarter in the year 1834. A list of the class leaders who shepherded the 234 members is as follows :- William Hall, T.Locker, G.Burton, William Dawson, G.Metcalfe, M.Tunningley, J.Smith, J.Wilson, J.White.

In 1839, the Primrose Hill chapel was again extended and altered at a cost of 100. Also in that year, says the Record, "these enterprising and vigorous people built a minister's house, on which they spent 642, and in the year following they erected the Sunday School at a cost of 515."

The amazing development from that tiny society of four members in John Wesley's lifetime to a society of 234 members in less than fifty years stirs our imagination with the thought of evangelical fervor of the Methodist in those times.  From a cottage to a chapel seating 500 in half a century! When we remember that then Knottingley was smaller than it is to-day, this story of growth and development is all the more surprising.  But this is far from ending the tale.  Alas! that the records are so few. What stories might be told of men and women being brought to Christ and added to His Church. As we look back across more than a hundred years to those who toiled and dreamed that God's Kingdom might be extended here, we are thankful for every remembrance of them.

At this point in our history it seems suitable to insert a cutting from the local newspaper of March 21st, 1908. It is an account of "the early efforts of Knottingley Wesleyans written by John Johnson, tailor. of Island Court there, two years before his decease (some fifteen years ago)" The account is reproduced "in its native style and forcefulness." Mr. Johnson wrote,

"In the year 1814, I entered the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School, the Pottery Hill School being then five years old. From the best information I could get in my day Grandmother Nancy Newton commenced the Sunday School about the year 1799. That was fifteen years before I went to school. She was living in one of the Jail Houses. When she failed the Sunday School was taken to the day school of John Drake. When he died Mr. Isaac Smith from Halifax come to the school to preach, teach and live righteousness.  About the year 1815 Billy Dawson of Barnbow preached in the open air at the end of the school for the benefit of the Sunday School. At that day we went every other Sunday to Fryston Church.  Mr. Ward of Ferrybridge, timber merchant, was the leading man in the Pottery Hill Sunday School at that day. We had two Sunday Schools in Knottingley. When the second chapel was opened in 1816 the old chapel was made into a Sunday School. When the present schools were made in 1839 then both the schools met in them. The Pottery Hill school was well supplied with teachers from Knottingley and Ferrybridge. The low school was not well supplied.

Billy Dawson complained to Mrs. Gaggs and Mrs. Billbrough that they wanted teachers for the low school. They recommended at once a public tea and then invite teachers for the low school. It was made known that a public tea was to be held in the old Wesleyan Chapel.  The women in Gaggs's Yard entered into the tea question with all their might, and the women made it a great success. It surpassed all expectations. This was the first public tea held in Knottingley. It was about 57 or 58 years since I have been at the tea ; place small and filled to extreme. Names of the superintendents: G.Sefton, W.Brears, J.Burnett, Wm.Nicholson, T.Shay, Wm.Dawson, J.F.Cawthorn, G.Bramham, R.Garlick, J.F.Wilson, J.Ballance, Jos.Rainsforth. I learnt to write at the Pottery Hill Sunday School on Calais Sand.

We learnt the Wesleyan Methodist Catechism, we had to commit it to memory. It is one of the best works we have in our society. When I was 23 years old I was examined by the Superintendent of the Pontefract Circuit on Gospel Doctrine, but for the catechism I should have been lost. This catechism is now neglected, schools hours shortened, scholars rule. This is a clear sign of a growing democracy in school or town.

After this quaint historical fragment, it is time to say something of the present chapel whose centenary we are now celebrating. Delving in the Circuit Safe, we found a Deed dated 20th December, 1844, relating to the release of a piece of ground situate at Knottingley. This piece of ground in Tenter Balk Road is the site of the present chapel and graveyard. The old name has, of course, been replaced by the one in use to-day - Ropewalk. The land passed from the ownership of John Senior, Lime Burner, of Knottingley to the trustees of the Methodist Chapel at Knottingley for the sum of 200. The names of the trustees at that time will be of interest. They are as follows :-

William Moxon Malster Pontefract
William Shaw Bone Merchant >Knottingley
Isaac Smith Assistant Overseer Knottingley
James Wilson Grocer Knottingley
Joseph Hill Surgeon Knottingley
John Cheesebrough Lime Burner Knottingley
Thomas Cliff Carpenter Knottingley
John Arnold Master Mariner Knottingley
George Metcalf Joiner Knottingley
Joseph Barr Cawthorne Grocer Knottingley
John Phillips Grocer Pontefract
William Shirtliff Draper Pontefract
Richard Moseley Coal Merchant Pontefract
Leethem Reynolds Farmer Womersley
Thomas Holmes Joiner Ferrybridge
Robert Nelstrop Butcher Ackworth
Thomas Coulson Farmer Darrington
Henry Kidson Farmer Birkin
John Poskitt Farmer Beal
James Bennett Farmer Stapleton
Richard Harrison Farmer Thorpe
Thomas Walker Farmer Badsworth
John Ballance Willow Merchant Knottingley
Joseph Senior Farmer Darrington Leys

The Superintendent Minister, whose name also appears on the Deed, was Richard Heape.

A very old envelope in the possession of Mrs. Arthur Link states that "Mr. Carter laid the first stone for a new Methodist Chapel on the 20th of March, 1845." No further details of the stone laying ceremony are known to us. A complete account of the building, now in the Circuit Safe, gives us the names of all the subscribers and all the contractors. The architect was Mr. Simpson.

The Minister in charge of Knottingley when the Foundation Stone was laid was the Rev. William Jackson, and according to the Record, it was chiefly through his instrumentality that the present beautiful and commodious Chapel came to be built. Mr. Jackson left while the building was in progress, and was succeeded in September 1845 by the Rev. Richard Brown. Mr. Brown would therefore, have the thrill of watching the progress of the building, and it would be his happy duty to prepare for the opening services. A special minutes in the Building Account, records the gratitude of the Trustees for the very active and efficient part Mr. Brown took in superintending the various duties connected with the building of the chapel.

June the 11th, 1846 must have been a wonderful day for the Methodists of Knottingley. It was on that day that this fine structure was opened and dedicated to the glory of God. The preacher was the Rev. Dr. Robert Newton and the collections amounted to more than 88. On June 20th, the Rev. James Carr conducted the services and the collections were 108. A Ladies Bazaar raised 300, and public subscriptions 1,058. The cost of the chapel was 2,388.

When we look back across the hundred years and think of this project, we are bound to conclude that Methodism in Knottingley was flourishing. When we look at the place of worship planned and erected by that society of long ago, we are conscious of their mighty faith. When we look from within upon those four walls, we know well that the work of God must have prospered greatly in those days. The seating capacity of the chapel in its original form must have been over 1,000, and there is good reason to believe that the people of Knottingley attended in something like that number. Mrs. Tasker, who passed on in 1944 at the age of 86 years, could look back seventy-five years, and her earliest memories were of flourishing congregations. There are yet members living who can remember when the pews at the top of the gallery were 'rented' and occupied. One of these pews, which holds sixteen persons, was used by a family of fourteen.

There is not the slightest doubt that the society was very strong in the earliest days of the present chapel. Under the blessing of God the little band which began in John Wesley's day had been the seed of a society of between two and three hundred members when this building was erected. In those days the tests of membership were very severe, so we can form some idea of the powerful church that had grown up in the town. Members were those who attended the class meetings regularly and as a matter of course were unfailingly in their pews on Sundays. Besides the members a century ago, there would be some hundreds of adherents.

In the possession of the Knottingley Trustees there is a Wesleyan Preachers' Plan of appointments in the Pontefract Circuit for 1845-6.; The head of the Circuit in those days, as now, was Pontefract. The Circuit had thirty-four preaching places, including Castleford and Methley as well as the area covered by the Horsefair Circuit of to-day. It is significant that the second place in the Circuit was Knottingley.

At that time and, there is good reason to believe, since then to the present day, the Knottingley Society was well represented in the Local Preachers' Meeting. The names of the local preachers living in Knottingley a hundred years ago are as follows:- (No initials are given on the plan so we can only give surnames) Messrs. Smith, Cheesebrough, Gooderidge, Maidment, Longstaff, Arnold, and 'on trial' Mr. Coward. Knottingley supplied one sixth of the staff of local preachers for the whole Circuit. Later in the nineteenth century there was a time when out of a total number of 32 local preachers, no less than 8 were members of the Knottingley Church.

Once again we have to refer to the Record to see the events of the years. In 1855 and organ was put into the chapel at a cost of 219, and paid for by subscriptions of 136, and collections taken when the Rev. W. M. Punshon preached (32), the Rev. David Hay (36), also by a Bazaar at which 15 was raised. The next movement was in 1858 when 226 was spent in the erection of a clock and the plastering of the outside of the chapel. Most of the cost amounting to 226 was covered by subscriptions. Some six years later it was said that the chapel must be painted, cleaned and repaired. This scheme cost 350, and the amount was paid off the following year by subscriptions 225, a bazaar 50 and sermons by the Revs. John Gostick, John Baker and John Rattenbury, 75.

In those days the society must have been at the height of its powers. Complete records are, unfortunately, not available, but it is known that in 1861 there were 339 members. What an influence for good they must have been in the town! And what services of praise and prayer they must have enjoyed in the very sanctuary where we worship to-day! The thought of the heritage and tradition into which we have entered should be a source of pride and inspiration to us.  A glance at some of the memorial tablets should stir up in us a zeal for God's house. Look, for instance, at the wall on the right behind the pulpit, and you have a direct reminder of the very brginning of the Methodist cause in Knottingley, a reference to one of the first four members. It reads:-

In memory of Mathew Tunningley, who died March 28th, 1844, aged 81, and is interred near this Tablet. He was 57 years a member and 53 years a class leader in the Wesleyan Society. A man of good character and deep piety.

Or look on the west wall, and you will see these words:-

In affectionate remembrance of William Shaw, who died December 5th, 1860, aged 69 years. He assisted liberally in the erection of this sanctuary and was a constant worshipper within its walls. His piety was more expressed in deeds than words, and in him the church lost a valuable helper, and the poor, a never-failing friend.

In 1878, the chapel was thoroughly renovated at a cost of 515. A Grand Bazaar held in the Town Hall more than covered the expense. Still quoting from the Record - "The last scheme inaugurated by this wonderful people was the building of a handsome minister's house in 1879 at a cost of 1,291." And on this triumphant note the Old Circuit Record which has done us so much service ends.

Just twenty years later the work of renovation was once again deemed necessary. The original pews and pulpit were removed, the vestibule was made, and the present pulpit and pews were fitted. Few people can now remember the old 'double-decker' pulpit, and unfortunately the information we have concerning the re-seating of the chapel is very meagre. The total cost of this scheme, for which the Rev. John S. Fordham worked hard, was 866. When the chapel was re-opened the preachers were the Revs. T.T. Lambert, Frederick Green and A. Bishop. A bazaar held in 1897 raised 291, and one in 1898 236. Subscriptions amounted to 191. The Chapel Stewards at this time were Mr. C.E.Maude and Mr. J.F.White.

Ropewalk Methodist Church Knottingley Ropewalk Methodist Church Knottingley

Early in the present century the Sunday School was built on a piece of ground adjoining the chapel. This land had been acquired for the Methodist people by the foresight of the Rev. Henry L. Barton whose ministry in Knottingley began in 1887. The foundation stones of the Sunday School were laid on June 20th, 1907, and the fine and useful building which rose up was opened on March 12th, 1908. A grand luncheon was held that day in the Town Hall presided over by Ald. S. Thrippleton (Mayor of Pontefract) and the visiting minister was the Rev. Robert Culley who had formerly been a minister in the Circuit. The Rev. J. Albert Dixon was in charge of Knottingley at this time. Some of our present day members had a share in this project and can tell of the sacrifices and labours that lie behind the erection of the Sunday School. The principal subscribers were:- Mr. and Mrs. J.F.White, Mr. W.Bagley, Mr. and Mrs. Hives, Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, the Misses Peckitt, Mr. and Mrs. Wetherall, Mr. E.L.Poulson, Mr. and Mrs. C.E.Maude, many friends who are still living also subscribed. The total cost raised by subscription was 1,055. A bazaar realised 638. The complete cost of the scheme was 2,966. Thus it is clear that the members of forty years ago were following in the steps of their enterprising fore-runners and showing a lively zeal for the work of God. The Sunday School is worthy to stand beside the old sanctuary, and perhaps no higher praise can be given.

The chapel was renovated again in 1924, and by this time the original windows needed to be replaced. A scheme was commenced under the energetic leadership of the Rev. Philip H. Taylor, and through the initiative of the Chapel Stewards and Trustees a splendid piece of work was done. Those who have been inside the chapel in the last twenty years are familiar with the result. Friends were invited to give memorial windows to replace the old windows of 1846, and the fine hand-painted glass screen at the back of the chapel was added. The screen was the gift of Mr. William Bagley in memory of his wife. The windows which were the gift of good friends of the church bear the names Birdsall, Bramham, Brook, Brown, Burton, Coward, Hollingworth, Martinson, Masterman, Morrell, Morris, Poulson, Schofield, tate, Taylor, Wilson and White. When the chapel was re-opened on April 3rd, 1924, the pulpit Bible was given by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Link, and the font by the Booth family.

A Roll of Honour with the names of those belonging to the Church who gave their lives in the last war is affixed to the wall on the left of the pulpit.

In 1929 the electric fittings were installed in the chapel by Mr. Charles Braim and family "to the glory of God and in loving memory of Agnes Ann Braim"

The white memorial clock "was dedicated to the glory of God on the 23rd of April, 1936, and is the gift of Mrs. John Mollett, of London, and Mrs. Elizabeth White, of Harrogate, in loving memory of their parents, John F. White and his wife Elizabeth whose generous and fruitful service in association with this Church and Sunday School is gratefully remembered."

Without doubt there will be many things of interest to friends of Ropewalk Methodist Church which find no place in this sketch history. Nothing that we have in our records has been deliberately omitted save details that would have been burdensome. If anything worthy of note occurred during the century which is not mentioned the reason is that no authentic record of it exists or is available.

Reproduced from The Ropewalk Methodist Church, Knottingley
Centenary Souvenir Handbook, 1945

Souvenir Handbook Submitted by Mr. Roy Stone, Kellington


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