St. Peter’s Church, Hartshead

 

Although this church lies on the very border of Calderdale with Kirklees, its status as an integral part of the ancient parish of Hartshead-cum-Clifton means that its associations with the region are strong enough to warrant its inclusion here. It is one of the oldest churches in the district and a place of worship is first recorded at the site in 1120 when the Earl of Warren granted it to the Priory of Lewes, although it was possibly the location of an earlier Saxon chapel. Although the church was extensively restored in 1881, the chancel arch, west tower and south door are believed to be remnants of the 12th Century Norman structure.

Arguably, the church’s greatest claim to fame is that Reverend Patrick Brontë, father of the famous literary sisters, was incumbent here between 1810 and 1815. The Luddite attack on Cartwright Mill at Rawfolds occurred during his tenure and his memoirs from that period provided his daughter Charlotte with material for her novel “Shirley”. Although Brontë was an opponent of the Luddite movement, it is said that one night he witnessed some of the men killed during the failed assault receive a surreptitious burial in the south-eastern corner of the churchyard and did not intervene. There is still a space where their unmarked graves lie.

It was a curious local superstition for Hartshead folk to hold a vigil in the porch of the church every year on St. Mark’s Eve (24th April) from 11pm to 1am. The vigil had to be carried out for three years in succession and on the third year, the watchers were supposed to witness the spirits of all those who would die in the year ahead process into the church. It is said that if anybody whose name was mentioned as amongst those seen on St. Mark’s Eve fell ill during the course of the following year, they often despaired of recovery and some are actually supposed to have died as a result of their anxiety arising from such gossip.

Given the proximity of Kirklees Park and the long association of the Armytage family with the church, it is unsurprising that a couple of Robin Hood legends have attached themselves to it. It is said locally that he cut his last arrows from a yew tree in the churchyard, the dead trunk of which can still be seen standing there today. Meanwhile, the Yorkshire Robin Hood Society has suggested that the original stone from his grave — recorded by Nathaniel Johnston and others in the 17th Century but which some believe vanished from the grave site long ago — may be the medieval slab inscribed with a simple Calvary cross lying next to the south-east door of the church. However, this has been disputed.

Just to the north of the church, now almost entirely concealed beneath a hawthorn tree, lies the Lady Well. The origin of the name is likely to be Our Lady’s Well, referring to the Virgin Mary, which suggests it was once an important holy well used for baptisms in the earliest period of Christianity in England. Local historian H.N. Pobjoy thinks it possible that the 7th Century missionary and first Archbishop of York Paulinus may have performed baptisms here and like many such wells, it was probably regarded as sacred long before the arrival of Christianity. It’s presence certainly attests to the antiquity of worship around the site of the church.

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This church is also on the ley line which runs through Kirklees to Castle hill at Almondbury, which can be seen directly across the valley. The other ley lin runs from Alegar Holy Well, now concreted over by the garage at the bottom of Alegar Street Brighouse, to the Nun Brook at the Three Nuns. Perhaps the let line runs further, but I have an ordinanace survey map which clearly shows it, and the Robin’s Grave is in the middle, therefore making it, if you believe in ley lines that is, a very hot spot!

    I have also been told that the Bronte House at Hightown is haunted, its within walking distance of the church, the two eldest Bronte girls, Maria and Elizabeth who died young, were born there.

    barbara

    • Whilst I accept the idea of ley lines as Alfred Watkins originally suggested them in The Old Straight Track – landscape alignments between sacred sites of a similar vintage – the idea of them as conduits for some invisible geomantic energy has never really convinced me.

      I’m very familiar with the Bronte House at Hightown. My uncle’s band used to rehearse in an attic there and he would often tell me the ghost stories. He even once took me on a “vigil” there when I was about six years old. I recall trying to lure the ghost out using a KitKat as bait!

      I’d actually always assumed that the haunting there was just one of the many stories my uncle used to make up in an attempt to scare me senseless. I’m most interested hear that there is actually a tradition concerning it which other people are familiar with.

  2. I would be very interested to know your source for the St Mark’s eve vigil myth, as it is very similar to the myth surrounding the Llangernyw recording angel story which I have been looking in to recently:

    http://wyrduk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/llangernyw-yew-gwytherin-and-gwrych.html

    Great blog btw, I walked to Robin Hood’s grave yesterday after reading your entry about it. I’ll definitely be after a copy of your book – all of the modern drama around it is almost as interesting as the relic itself!

    L

    • Many thanks for your kind comments about my blog, Layla; and for directing me to yours, which I’m now avidly poring over. I shall have to try to fit in a visit to Llangernyw when I’m next in North Wales. It looks like a very intriguing site.

      Porch-watching on St. Mark’s Eve in Hartshead is mentioned in Philip Ahier’s “Legends & Traditions of Huddersfield & Its District” Vol. 1, Part 4, p150. It’s a very scarce publication these days but they hold a copy in Huddersfield Local Studies library if you want to consult it directly.

      I hope you enjoy Grave Concerns!

      • I shall pay a visit to Huddersfield then, thank you for the info.

        Llangernyw is well worth a trip, especially if you can go at night and if you like megalithic stuff too there’s a very nice chambered tomb at Capel Garmon, just a few miles off towards Betws-y-coed.

        I think your dad and my husband Phil had a correspondence at some point recently btw!

      • Ah yes, I can imagine they would have many interests in common! Regarding the Ahier book, to be honest, I don’t think it says much more than I wrote here and if you can’t be bothered with a trip to Hudds, then I can probably just type out a transcript for you as I have a photocopy of the whole tome. Let me know if you want me to.

  3. That would be great if you have time, don’t feel obliged to copy it out if its a vast tract though, I’m just starting to transcribe a country life article about Mary Bateman and it’s slightly filling me with horror (read: boredom).

  4. The Bronte house in hightown is beautiful my friends grandmother lived there when I was a child I refused to sleep over mind 🙂 I love the fact I have look around every nook and cranny in that house when its tied to history as it is

  5. My Grandparents lived at a house which is a the very top of Ladywell Lane.
    I remember as a child staying there and feeling a sense of ‘not right’
    I was often told about footsteps going across the upstairs floor when nobody was up there,also a rocking chair doing its own thing downstairs too.
    My Grandad used to help out at the church,his main work was at a wire mill that still stands today albeit derelict at Brighouse Basin.


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