Historical notes of Sowerby
- Sowerby Congregational Church was founded in 1645 and was the oldest established Congregational Church in Yorkshire.
- At Sowerby Congregational Church before the advent of the church organ, the hymn singing was accompanied by Violin, Cello, Clarinet and a Bassoon.
- The first Congregational Chapel which was opened in 1720 was an exceedingly modest building. There was only one pew and that was square in shape with green cushions, occupied by a Mr Lea who appeared to be somewhat wealthy, and was highly esteemed. The rest of the people sat on benches. The ground floor was not boarded, and for their own comfort the people supplied matted straw, or a rug or mat on which to put their feet.
- Sowerby Congregational Church was started by a group of “dissenters” from St Peters Church Sowerby. After a little while a small group left and set up a Quakers meeting house in Quarry Hill, much later another group with a disagreement left to set up Steep Lane Baptists, later still a further group left to set up Rooley lane Methodists and from there a last group left over a temperance problem and started up Providence Methodists Church. Quite how Boulderclough New Connexion started is not known to the writer.
- The future Archbishop of Canterbury, John Tillotson received his early, “Nonconformist” religious education at Sowerby Congregational Church.
- Some reasons for building a new St Peters Church: “the chapel yard or burying ground is so small that many of the dead are buried in the aisles and under the seats within the said chapel and the corpses of persons lately buried in the chapel yard are frequently mangled while digging to make room for others, to the great detriment and nuisance of the living.”
- The final cost of building the present St Peter’s Church in Sowerby was £2,909 12s 8¾d.
- The first two Churches were built 30 yards to the North of the present Church, access being from Stocks lane through “The Church Stile”.
- Sowerby was mentioned in William the Conqueror’s Domesday book of 1086.
- The Forest of Sowerbyshire stretched from the rivers Ryburn and Calder to the Lancashire border.
- Sowerby Ramble is a stretch of land a few yards wide that went from Mytholmroyd to Stoodley glen, 500yds East of where Stoodley Pike now stands It was a fenced piece of land in the Erringden deer park that prevented deer etc from drinking in the river Calder and is marked out with standing stones with an S on them.
- The Sowerby postman Levi Haigh delivered his letters on the same walk around Sowerby for 36 Years. Besides being a postman he was also a prolific poet with several publications to his credit.
- At the end of April 1650 Abraham Wilkinson and Anthony Mitchell, both of Sowerby, were the last men ever to be executed on the Halifax Gibbet. Their crime was stealing 16 yards of russet coloured Kersey and two colts, one black & one grey.
- Sowerby, Hubberton, Steep lane and Boulderclough had a total of 23 shops and retail outlets in the 1940’s: Two butchers, Greengrocers, Two bakehouses, Co-op, Post Office & General store, Radio Relay shop, Cobbler & shoe repairer, Fish and Chip shop. Farmer for milk, Four cottage based shops in the out districts. A Joiner/Undertaker and 2 Painters & decorators and 5 public houses.
- Beechwood estate had a further six outlets.
- Elkanah Horton, (son of Joshua Horton of Sowerby Hall) lived at Thornton and was buried at Sowerby on January 28th 1729. By his will he provided six almshouses for three poor men and three poor women of Sowerby, who had to be over the age of 60 and preferably single, these were refurbished by John Rawson in the 1800’s to accommodate four singles over 60 and two married couples.
- Haigh Farm stood on the south side of Towngate until demolition in the 1950’s. It was found to be a very ancient structure with an aisled barn. The building was carefully demolished, the beams numbered and the whole structure was gently removed to the Beamish Museum where it was carefully stored, AND LEFT TO ROT AWAY.
- Body snatchers? On the 2nd of January, 1736, John Coggan was interred, but his ashes did not rest in peace, for at that time the sexton was in league with some resurrectionists and "Coggan was stolen out of his grave by the sexton and some others and was anatomised and turned into a skeleton."
- Two Grammar schools are recorded as having operated in Sowerby, the earliest one being in Stocks lane on the RHS going down approximately opposite the Church stile Inn, It was founded under the will of Paul Bairstow dated March 31st 1711. The second one was on the LHS at the bottom of Rooley lane, now domestic dwellings.
- There was an abattoir behind the butchers shop in Towngate, the ring in the floor to tether the animal ready for slaughter was still there a number of years ago.
- Swamp dam at the end of Finkle Street was used by the railway company to keep the water troughs between the track full, (to enable the trains to pick up water whilst on the move) there was an enormous cistern at the side of the bridge near Wood Lane Hall to control the flow of water to the troughs.
- In 1686 the constable of Sowerby paid eight shillings and five pence for the erection of a “ducking stool” at Stirk Bridge “to punish” scolding wives, brewers of bad ale and those who used light weights or short measures.”
- Of the 63 criminals executed on the Halifax Gibbet seven are recorded as coming from Sowerby.
- Whipping posts for vagrants were in vogue in the mid 1800’s. The public stocks continued until 1858 when the last case at Sowerby Bridge was a man known locally as Bacca Jack. He was incarcerated for six hours. Was he from Sowerby I wonder?
- In 1306, Roger, the Vicar of Rochdale was fined 20 shillings for hunting and killing deer in Sowerbyshire.
- The Ancient Order of Henpecked Husbands was formed in the 1890’s as a rambling society, by 6 Methodist preachers who met in an empty cottage in Cragg Vale. It gradually faded but was revived and relocated to Boulderclough Methodist Chapel. the meetings were held in “secret” but everyone knew that the group met every Easter Monday for the purpose of “having a real jovial time, free from the care of the apron strings”. The club was disbanded in the mid 1970’s.
- The Sowerby branch of the Sowerby Bridge Industrial Society was opened on February 20th 1863.
- The Stansfeld family, late of Field House can trace their ancestry back to the Norman Conquest.
- John Watson the famous local historian reported that a cache of silver coins had been found in Sowerby, there were two reports as to where they were found one was a little way above the town, the other a little below town but it transpired that the latter was correct. Studying old maps it has been found that the “Silver Fields” as they were known is along Fore Lane avenue very near to where the Beechwood Minimarket/Post Office now stands.
- Prior to the Sowerby New Road being built in the 1920’s, Fore lane stretched from Church Stile Inn to the top of Quarry Hill. There was no road connection to Sowerby Bridge below the present Beechwood bus stop, this all changed in the 1920’s when the road from Sowerby Bridge to Sowerby was re-routed to avoid Quarry hill (which was very steep, cobbled and very narrow) and widened past Lower and Upper Gaukrodger to the Beechwood bus stop and on to Sowerby, re-naming the new route Sowerby New Road. Just as a matter of interest there was another route to Sowerby and it was up Back lane, now called St Peter’s Avenue.
- Sowerby workhouse was situated at Lower Bently Royd at the top of Cemetery lane. It was recently demolished to build some new houses on the site.
- There was in existence a rough stone column, nearly six feet high, called the Standing Stone situated on Long Causeway (in the Steep lane area). John Watson mentions this column and says it might have been an idol of the heathen inhabitants or the burial place of some great person. This remarkable specimen of antiquity was ruthlessly destroyed and broken up in the 1830/40’s and the stone used for two cottages, which were built on the site.
- Ernest Cockroft, a local entrepreneur, ran a transport business in Sowerby from Behind The King’s Head Pub, the slogan on his bill heading was “The roads are yours, Use them”. He gave his trade (also on the bill heading), as Ernest Cockroft, Nest mat maker. Some people had strange trades.
By John Kerridge