A Meltham church is to hold a flower festival this weekend … with extra special significance.
For it also marks 150 years since St Mary’s Church opened – and the arrangements tell the tale of the tragic story behind why the church was built.
It was constructed and named by parents mourning the loss of their only child Mary.
In the early 1800s, Thomas Hirst and his wife, Mary, had 14 children.
One of his sons, Jonas Brook, founded the once famous cotton thread mill at Meltham Mills.
With all those mouths to feed Thomas farmed his own land at Lower Greave and to bring in some extra money he started up a woollen manufacturing business.
He provided the materials which people wove into pieces in their own cottages.
His fourth son, Joseph, was born in January 1805 and in 1831 when he married Eleanor Ramsey they were given an old disused stone quarry. It was here that Joseph started to build his own little empire – the village of Wilshaw and the land around it.
His business gradually grew larger and he built a mill in Wilshaw, a big warehouse, weaving rooms for 18 broad looms, a counting house and a row of cottages for his workers. He then concentrated on manufacturing pieces in bulk for the rich Huddersfield market.
By 1842 when he was 37 and his only child, Mary, was 10 years old his schemes were prospering so much that he needed to expand and he found a place to rent at Meltham Mills. The operation just grew and grew.
These days only the gates post now remain on the spot where the mill once stood. The chimney was demolished in 1948.
By 1851 Joseph had established a sound reputation for the quality of his cloth and his honesty as a businessman. He exhibited samples of his wares at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace and in Paris where he received a gold medal.
In 1853 he extended his producing powers again by renting a mill at Royd Edge. He went on to buy it and enlarge it considerably and had a great reputation throughout England and many parts of the world as a first class fancy woollen manufacturer.
But tragedy struck when his daughter, Mary, died in childbirth in June 1859 – just a year after she married – and was buried in the churchyard at Meltham Mills.
Joseph and Eleanor decided to build a church at Wilshaw and had a special mausoleum in the churchyard and Mary’s body was exhumed in the dead of night and taken to its new resting place in the mausoleum where Joseph and Eleanor were also eventually interred.
Before their deaths they continued the good works that had been their way of life.
They donated money to churches and schools and built almshouses.
In 1871 Joseph purchased Upper Greave, which had been a tiny hamlet of 10, and St Mary’s Court was built by Joseph in 1873 and named after his daughter. They are replicas of houses seen by Joseph when he exhibited cloth at the Crystal Palace in 1851. Eleanor had another idea for a memorial to her daughter and in 1879 six almshouses were built near the church.
The church building is Romanesque in style with a central porch, bell tower and spire, which separates the church from the Sunday School and the church house.
And inside the church porch are two marble busts of Joseph and Eleanor Hirst.
Eleanor lived until 1881, some seven years after her husband’s death and as they had no direct descendants to take over the woollen business the mill closed but the name of the Hirst family will always live on.
l The flower festival will be at St Mary’s Wilshaw from Friday to Sunday – and the flower arrangements tell the tale of the church’s history. It is open on Friday and Saturday from 11am to 6pm with free entry and at 7.30pm on Saturday there is a concert with the musical Wood family, who live in Wilshaw. Tickets cost £5. On Sunday there is a church service at 11am until noon and then the flower festival is open again from 1pm to 5pm with free entry.