Kilnhurst St Thomas Church



The beginning of St Thomas Parish church The Ecclesiastical Parish of Swinton included Kilnhurst and quite a large chunk of Mexborough know as Roman Terrace.  This sprawling parish was quite a task for a solitary clergyman with a rapidly expanding population toserve spiritually; responsibility for educational oversight and involvement in civic affairs.  In 1851 a far-sighted cleric by the name of John Levett was instituted as Vicar of Swinton.  John made the move as a promotion from curate at Wentworth where his qualities and talents had been noted.  On his appointment Swinton had acquired its first true Vicar with full authority; since 1817 the position was classed as a perpetual curacy.  Reverend John Levett proved himself to be a very good choice as an eloquent preacher; educational pioneer and a social reformer.  He was fortunate to have a supportive family and was able to gain the ear of the incredibly wealthy Fitzwilliam dynasty.  John was not afraid to take on vested interest and hold his own in an argument when his faith and instincts told him to pursue causes and campaigns.  While regarded as traditional in respect of church matters John proved to be far sighted in unexpected fields such as public health and sanitation.  In 1851 Levett appointed Reverend W. Byres as curate with specific responsibility for Kilnhurst; this was to prove a crucial move in the campaign to bring about stand alone parish status and a church in the village.  Public pressure from residents in the village along with support from the local clergy was brought to bear on the Church Commissioners to make the necessary legal orders to authorise Kilnhurst’s aspirations.  Land was identified and his Lordship at Wentworth was approached for help.  True to form the land required was donated by William Thomas Spencer Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, sixth Earl Fitzwilliam (1815 – 1902); the Earl also contributed £200 towards the building costs.  On 6th April 1858 at 2.00 pm a ceremony was held to mark the laying of the foundation stone of Kilnhurst’s new church.  Aware of the historic occasion afair sized crowd gathered to witness the proceedings.  Large numbers of children pushed and shoved their way to the front to get up close to the dignitaries and to obtain the best view.  Some the children had been dressed by their parents in the best clothes in their possession while others were shabbily dressed ragamuffins who had come straight from playing in the streets or fields.  John Levett opened the proceedings and introduced the special guest Mr John Fullerton, of Thrybergh Hall.  The building contractor stepped forward and presented to Mr Fullerton a special trowel, mallet and plumb to symbolically lay the first stone.  John Fullerton then gave a speech firstly paying homage to the 5th Earl Fitzwilliam who had died on 4th October 1857.  He reflected how the Earl had always been interested in the welfare of the village and had been so instrumental in the foundation of the village school.  Mr Fullerton’s father had been honoured to lay the foundation stone of the school and it was of particular pride to him to carry out a similar duty in respect of the new church.  The crowd were informed that the 6th Earl Fitzwilliam was not able to be present due to a family bereavement.  Mr Fullerton urged the people to attend the church and respect the ministers who would be appointed.  To the somewhat bemused crowd of children he called on them to obtain instruction, learn what was good and cultivate their minds.  Reverend John Levett then gave a response to Fullerton.  He reflected on the importance of the occasion not only for those present but for generations to come.  Looking back at the earliest Christian traditions of the area he made reference to Swinton’s medieval chapel and its replacement with St Margaret’s church.  He publically expressed his wish for an independent Parish of Kilnhurst to be created.  The proceedings were concluded with a hymn, prayers and finally the singing of the National Anthem in honour of Queen Victoria.  Once the dignitaries, assorted hangers on, villagers and crowd of children were clear of the site the serious work of the builders could begin.  The construction work was to go on for a full year.



As the Easter of 1859 approached the builders completed their work and removed their tools and construction paraphernalia from the site.  Inspection meetings were held between the contractor and the church officials to ensure that all was correct and of a sound build.  Next came the task of cleaning the building; polishing flooring; ensuring the interior walls were spotlessly clean; all metalwork was burnished; windows washed and free of smears; the new pews shined to perfection; a team of willing volunteers set to work.  Then as the seemingly endless building dust settled on everything they started all over again!  Finally the day of the opening service arrived – Maundy Thursday.  The church was as clean as a new pin and had been brightened with beautiful spring flowers.  As more and more people arrived for the 10.30 am service it soon became clear that a second service would be required.  John Levett, who was still vicar in charge, read the opening prayers.  A new young curate, by the name of H Fleetwood Sheppard, assisted in the service and had the important role of reading out the wording of the licence issued by the Archbishop of York, authorising the opening of the church.  This was a somewhat complex legal document but vitally important and Reverend Sheppard read with confidence and authority.  When it came to the offertory or collection, the congregation were made aware that this would be contributed to the costs of a new vicarage.  A sum of £15 2 shillings was raised from this first ever collection, a handsome sum in respect of 1859 values and from a mainly poor working class population.  At the time of the second service Reverend Sheppard once again played a prominent role.  Visiting clergy on this occasion was Reverend J Aldous of Trinity Church in Sheffield.  Kilnhurst was well served by railway services by this time and the Kilnhurst West station of the North Midland Railway was only a short walk from the new church.  This would have made Reverend Aldous’ journey from the Steel City very easy indeed.  The second collection yielded £6 8 shillings.  The cost of a new vicarage had been estimated at £270 so a good start had been made but there was still a long way to go.  The next major event to be held was the consecration of the new church by Archbishop Longley of York on 5th July 1859.  During this visit by the second most powerful Anglican Churchman in the world, the churchyard was also blessed.  Relatives of deceased Kilnhurst residents could at last have the comfort of burying the departed in consecrated ground in their home village.  The Archbishops’ visit confirmed the title of Consolidated Chapelry of St Thomas – Kilnhurst.  Reverend H Fleetwood Sheppard was to be inducted as the first Vicar of Kilnhurst.  As we already know, the question of where Kilnhursts’ first vicar would reside was being addressed early in the life of the new church.  Work on the dwelling started shortly after the consecration ceremony.  The construction phase was to take some time and go well over the original planned budget; the end result however was well worth the wait.



By 1861 Reverend Sheppard was able to leave his lodgings and move in to a fine house of his own.  Kilnhurst Vicarage was built to a very high standard, faced with locally quarried stone it has stood the test of time.  Internally the walls were constructed with Norfolk reed which acts as an effective form of insulation, keeping in the heat in winter and keeping the dwelling cool in summer.  Kilnhurst had a joiners’ shop trading in the village for sometime prior to the start date of the church and the fine quality beams used in construction may have been a product of that local business.  Certainly the joiner was proud of his work and left his marks for future generations to see.  The floor was made of Yorkshire stone slabs 6 feet by 5 feet and with a thickness of up to 7 inches.  As was normal for Victorian middle class houses, servants quarters were provided for in the attic area, accessed by a special staircase. The house was built on rising ground; this made the provision of water supply somewhat problematic in the days when piped water systems hardly existed outside of the major cities.  Certainly domestic water supply was unknown in this part of South Yorkshire at this time. To reach the water table a well 90 feet deep had to be sunk.  This great depth had to have mechanical assistance to raise the water and a rotary pump was fitted.  One of the first jobs of the day for a servant was to draw up the water which fed into a storage tank in the attic.  Once the tank was full, gravity would feed water to the remainder of the house throughout the day if used sparingly.  So much for the physical aspects of the vicarage; what would we find if we were invited inside once Reverend Sheppard had settled in?  The houses and furnishings of the Victorian middle classes were an expression of their taste and material security.  They were heavily decorated and somewhat cluttered by modern standards.  Rooms were crowed with furniture, art objects, ornate carpets and wall hangings.  Chairs, tables, cabinets and sofas might be of any period and adorned with fringes, guilt, or other ornamentation.  Sometimes owners had particular interests and collections of anything from, books to paintings; pottery to taxidermy.  Meals were prepared and served by servants who brought the food to the table; dinning was a ritual.  Of course the size of the homes, rooms and number of servants depended on an individuals’ income.  But in many ways Victorian middle class people saw to it that they lived lives apart from the unpleasant aspects of the industrial revolution.  What of the man himself – Reverend H Fleetwood Sheppard – first resident of Kilnhurst Vicarage?He was a talented musician; the sound of music would be an almost daily part of life in the vicarage.  Sheppard not only played the music of others but composed his own.  His skills were recognised by a great hymn, ballad and song writer by the name of Reverend S. Baring Gould, whose work included“Onward Christian Soldiers”.  The two men became firm friends and it is believed that during a visit to Kilnhurst Vicarage, Gould composed “Now the day is over”. Beyond his clerical duties, Reverend Sheppard was active in the formation of Kilnhurst Co-operative Society and the first officers of this remarkably successful society were elected to serve from New Year’s Day 1861.  Kilnhurst Co-op went on the have a membership in the thousands, who enjoyed healthy dividends, and a wide portfolio of retail premises.  Sheppard was to serve the parish until 1868 when Earl Fitzwilliam asked him to transfer to Thurnscoe, another rapidly growing coal mining community.  He was to remain there until 1902 and died at the age of 77.1867 – Music Maestro Please!  The first few years had been a great success at St Thomas’ Kilnhurst.  A fine new church attracted a large, loyal congregation and the vicar was housed in some style.  As we have already established the vicar was a very musical person; the fact that the only music available in church was a small harmonium was something of an embarrassment.  Everyone agreed that a proper church needs an organ to do justice to rousing hymns and encourage hearty singing.  Once again the fundraising operation swung into gear and a list of subscribers put together.  By the autumn of 1867 sufficient funds had been accumulated to purchase a top of the range organ.  The company selected, most likely based on Reverend Sheppard’s musical knowledge and experience, were M H Willis of London.  Willis’ were highly regarded having built some of the largest organs in the world in located in prestigious venues.  The organ was a canopy type with overhead pipes. The bellows were located in the vestry roof.  Only one row of keys were fitted however sound could be augmented through stops and pedals with a coupler.  A special service was arranged to celebrate the installation of the organ on 6th November 1867.  Mr W Staniforth, personal organist to Lord Wharncliffe, was commissioned to play the organ publicly for the first time.  He played to a very full church and the congregation included luminaries such as the Dean of York, the Fullerton family of Thrybergh Hall, and Mrs Otter a wealthy Swinton lady. The organ continued to be used week in week out until 1946 by which time it was in a state of serious disrepair.  By 1948 a new electric blower had been installed and once again the organ was back in use.  In 1958 a bequest from a parishioner established a memorial fund to provide for future organ maintain ace and this fund continues to this day.  A re-tuning is carried out each year by John Clough & Sons of Bradford.  1868 – The first change of vicarIn this year, to much sadness, Kilnhurst’s first vicar left for pastures new.  He was replaced by Reverend H J Cordeaux and by coincidence at the same time Cordeaux Senior (his father) was vicar of Hooton Roberts, just over the River Don.  During the incumbency of Reverend Cordeaux he was called upon to officiate at the wedding of John Fullerton’s daughter.  This was a great society event which was attended by most of the senior aristocracy of Yorkshire. The village of Kilnhurst and Reverend Cordeaux himself would be in the spotlight on this memorable occasion.  Cordeaux remained in Kilnhurst till 1882 when he left to reside in the Midlands.


1882-85 – It’s Getting a Bit Crowded!

1882 began the incumbency of Reverend A P Clayton. Reverend Clayton, like his predecessors, recognised the value that music brought to the act of worship.  On of his innovations was the formation of the Kilnhurst Church Brass Band which could take the message of the Christian church out into the community.  Interestingly he appointed his brother as curate to assist in the many duties that were required in a busy parish.  Reverend Clayton left Kilnhurst in 1888, moving to Ventnor, Isle of Wight.  In memory of his happy and fulfilling time at Kilnhurst he named his house after the South Yorkshire industrial village! The most notable development however during Claytons’ time was a significant enlargement of the church. Increasing attendance at St Thomas’ repeatedly demonstrated that the building was just too small.  In 1861 the total population of the Kilnhurst Chapelry was 1232 (this included residents of 248 houses formerly in Rawmarsh).  Continued industrial expansion increased the prosperity of the village and also the population to take on the new jobs available. On 10th October 1884 a ceremony was held to lay the foundation stone of a new chancel which would extend the length of the church eastwards.  The vicars’ wife, Mrs Clayton, had the honour of laying the foundation stone. Architectural work was undertaken by Mr Roome of Rawmarsh and the building contractor was Mr Bradbury of Parkgate.  The new chancel was designed to be 22 feet wide and 26 feet in length.  A new vestry was also provided 20 feet in length and 16 feet wide, this would be interconnected by a large archway in traditional style.  Polished pine pews were ordered and it was anticipated that around 100 additional worshipers could be accommodated. The construction work was carried out swiftly and completed by 2nd June 1885.  The costs including fitting was around £500.  £410 had been raised, but a further £90 had to be found fast to pay the balance.  White & Son from Rawmarsh decorated the whole church out in readiness for the opening service on 3rd June.  At the opening the Archbishop of York officiated, assisted by the Reverend Canon Wright (Doncaster), the Reverend Canon Bennett (Thrybergh) and the Reverend Sir W Mahon (Rawmarsh).  The clergy of the surrounding areas were well represented in the congregation.  Reverend W Pym (Wentworth), Reverend J Cordoe (Hooton Roberts), Reverend C Foster (Dalton), Reverend T Atkinson (Whiston), Reverend C B Lemione (Mexborough), Reverend T Horsefall (Denaby), Reverend J Levitt (Swinton), Reverend H Partington (Rural Dean of Wath), Reverend Atkinson (Wath), Reverend J Smith (Wath), Reverend T Wright (Ravenfield).  The Reverend A P Clayton and Mrs Clayton had ensured that the church was decorated with plants, flowers and banners for this prestigious event.


1888 – Public Health and Mortality Concerns

1888 Rev Phillip Houghton

When Earl Fitzwilliam presented the living of Kilnhurst to Reverend Philip Houghton MA in 1888 the village had a population of 2029.  Much of the housing was in an appalling state and mortality rates were very high especially in babies and children.  Reverend Houghton could appear somewhat aloof to some of his flock.  He had a living of £205, a nice vicarage to live in and soon after arrival in Kilnhurst he married the sister of the vicar of Masbrough.  It would be easy for a cynic to claim that Houghton was cocooned from the grim life lead by most of the population of Kilnhurst. He was however a deeply sensitive man well aware of the unbearable, squalid conditions of workers and their families.  Many people in the village lived in back to back houses, or tenements, close to industrial units.  Often single family dwellings were broken up into apartments sometimes with only one room per family.  Whether housing was old or new, it was generally poorly built.  Old buildings were allowed by landlords to fall into disrepair; new houses, constructed cheaply, decayed quickly. Water often came from an outside tap close to a toilet which could be shared by several houses.  The life of a working class wife and mother was hard.  Lack of cheap contraceptive devices and belief that these devises were immoral helped to keep women pregnant through most of their childbearing years.  It was no wonder that infant and child morality was at such an obscene rate.  Typhoid and other epidemics fell upon the village from time to time and victims were confined to their own homes unable to meet the costs of treatment.  In 1893 Reverend Houghton wrote to the local authority of his experiences and concerns of the state of much of the accommodation in Kilnhurst.  “The number of deaths in the parish for the year 1892 was 70, which on the basis of the new census the rate of 22 per thousand living.  This is not much higher at which the deaths occurred the results are not satisfactory.  Take for instance the last three years.  In 1890 the number of deaths of infants under one year was 23 out of a total of 63, or 36.5% of the whole; for 1891, the figures are 28 out of a total of 73, or 38%, in 1892, 28 out of a total of 80, or 40% of the whole number.  That is a higher percentage than prevails generally.  The rate of infant mortality in this parish is higher than the general rate in Yorkshire and other parts of England.  If this be so, in my judgement a sufficient cause is to be found in the want of more sanitary conditions. Back to back houses, un-flagged streets, overcrowded dwellings, insufficient accommodation, and last but not least, impure air from a polluted river, are all elements of danger to the health of the community. With some of these points we cannot deal with individually, but we can help toform public opinion.  We may have Local Boards which are alive to our in-sanitary dangers but which from lack of public support might be unwilling to put in force the powers conferred upon them by Acts of Parliament, and the greater the number of persons who take an interest in these matters the stronger their hands will be for action.  I am convinced from my own experience that the sanitary conditions of each house need constant vigilance on the part of the occupier, everyone at least who is an householder, to keep watch as far as in him lies upon the sanitary conditions of his own house and his own immediate neighbourhood”.  Improvements to the church heating system were undertaken in the 1890’s.  Originally the church had been warmed from an under floor fireplace with heat being transferred by pipes beneath the floor.  This was replaced by a gas system which also provided lighting instead of having to rely on candles.  Houghton was to remain as minister until 1905.  During his stewardship, in 1894, the patron of the parish changed from Earl Fitzwilliam to Queen Victoria, her heirs and successors.  This would mean that all future clergy would be appointed by the Crown and would require a letter patent from the monarch. Reverend Houghton gave a final impressive sermon just prior to his departure for greener pastures in Sussex – “Many changes have taken place since 17 years ago when I first commenced my ministry among you.  Those who were then boys have grown up to be men, those who were then girls have now passed girlhood, and are now mothers with families.  Those who were in the prime of life have advanced like myself in years, some have grown old and some, who were then young and strong, are tottering.  There are two things, however, which have not changed.  Your spiritual life is exactly the same as when I came, although there were some who were formerly members of the church who have grown cold.  There are others who have become members who formerly were outside, I am thankful to say.  Seeing that this will be the last occasion upon which I will preach to you, I thought I might try in the few minutes I have at my disposal to point out a few things I have endeavoured to teach you through all these years.  I should not like anyone present to say that they have been coming more or less to the church all these years and they really did not know that they had learned anything.  I cannot express all I wish to say in one sermon, and I hope you will not judge one man by one sermon nor by 20 or 200 sermons for the matter of that.  I know it is a very common practice to judge ministers in that way.  You ought to work with your ministers and help them and sympathise with them.  You ought to find out what sort of man he is outside and not go to the church and say “What do you think to that?”  One great line of teaching I have tried to impart is that God is a God of law.  There are spiritual laws as well as natural and moral laws.  If this church had not been crowded every Sunday during the past 16 years, even more than it is this evening with eager, anxious listeners owing to insufficiency of power and want of grace, which I ought to have from God, you might pardon it and forgive it for His Son’s sake.  You all ought to help your clergymen and not stand on one side and say it has nothing to do with you.  Before I leave, I wish to thank especially those who have helped me, the Sunday School teachers, the district visitors, the members of the choir, or any who have helped me in my difficult task.  I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.  I wish to acknowledge the help I and the church have often received, and to thank those who are called non-conformists, men and women who I am proud to reckon as my friends, and to who I owe a great debt of gratitude for the sympathy they have so often given me when those who I had expected to stand by men were not there.  Of course, I have my own convictions, or else I should not be a member of the church.  Every man has a right to his own opinions, and I have never moved from that place, at least I trust I have not unwittingly said a word to wound the mind and conscious of anyone who differed from me in the matter of religion.  Though I do not like this idea of a separation from the church as I think is a weakness and not in accordance with the will of god; I live amongst all those who call themselves by a different name in this village, but whose prayers I have relied upon, and who have often helped me in difficult times.  I also want to say that if I have caused people pain unwittingly by speaking the truth, you can take my assurance that I did not mean to eliminate them from God or His Church.  A minister’s duty is to speak the truth, and sometimes in doing so they run the risk of losing the friendship or an acquaintanceship which might have ripened into friendship.  My duty is to tell you the truth, if I have failed to pour with it a sufficient amount of love then may you forgive it, and God forgive it.  It was done for your own salvation, for your own spiritual health, and what was meant to be for your benefit.  I think I have a right to speak to you in such a way, because I have been with you so long, longer than the vicar into whose shoes I have stepped.  This pastorate could never be repeated in my life, though it is possible that god might spare my life for as many years as I have been with you, but I will never again have the years of strength and enthusiasm I possessed when I came amongst you.  I will never be able to work so hard for any other people as I have done for you, and therefore I have a right, I think, to ask you to stand fast in the Lord, and not be moved from the light and from the life of God.Many will remember me as having baptised their children and of praying that they might become faithful servants of the church.  Are you doing your part to see that the prayer is answered?  Others will remember being confirmed and married.  If there is anyone I did not visit when they were sick, it might have been because I did not know of it.  There are others who whom I have stood by the graveside, one of the saddest moments in the lives of all when all that was dear of someone they had loved is put of out sight in the cold, dark earth, and they realise they were gone.  Some of you, I know, think I have been cold, and I have been told I am a cold man, because I have not gone round and spoken to the mourners; but I can tell you that there have been few funerals during the 17 years I have been here – very few I am thankful to say – where I have not visited the person who had died or afterwards gone and spoken to the mourners and endeavoured to cheer them.  I advise you not to pass hasty judgements upon the clergymen of the parish.  You little know what a minister has to do.  I have very little time left to myself, I can assure you.  If sometimes I have from want of proper rest, it may be, or from want of proper preparation of my sermons, it has not been altogether without excuse you can rest assured.  Let this be my last appeal, stand shoulder to shoulder like the heroes of Waterloo.  Stand fast, because there is ever going on that process of drifting, drifting, drifting!”


1905 – Honeymooners Arrive             


Rev Bromley and wife

The induction service of Reverend F A Bromley in 1905 must have been a doubly enjoyable event for the young clergyman.  He was taking on a new parish with now well in excess of 3,000 souls and he had just returned from his honeymoon with his beloved wife Enid, nee Balfour.  Enid came from a very well connected family.  Her father was Major General Balfour and her uncle was Lord Balfour.  Arthur James Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour, KGOMPCDL (25th July 1848 – 19th March 1930) was a British Conservative politician and statesman.  He authored the tough Perpetual Crimes Act (1887) (or Coercion Act) aimed at the prevention of boycotting, intimidation, unlawful assembly in Ireland during the Irish Land War, and was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1902 to 1905, a time when his party and government became divided over the issue of tariff reform.  Later, as Foreign Secretary, he authored the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  Quite what this young lady, niece of a retiring Conservative Prime Minister, thought of Edwardian Kilnhurst is open to contemplation; she had however chosen the life of a vicar’s wife and the many expectations that came with that unpaid post.  To Reverend Bromley must go the credit of starting off the church hall project for the village; a few years of fundraising would be needed to bring the plans to fruition.  He left the parish in 1912 to take an appointment in East Anglia.


1910 – Breaking New Ground

We have already considered the issues relating to increasing population, major public health problems and morality rates.  By the first decade of the twentieth century it was becoming clear that the churchyard around St Thomas’ was becoming full.  Fortunately the church authorities were very lucky in securing land very close by, slightly south, along Highthorne Road.  Had this piece of land not been available a cemetery distant from the church would be required; in many other areas this of course happened. By autumn 1910 the first internments had taken place in the new yard or cemetery as some would wish to term the area.  Reverend Bromley had no doubts that it would be the new churchyard, owned and operated by the church rather than a local burial authority.  He outlined a number of rules governing the new yard.  These included only the mourning party being admitted to the area during burials.  He considered it unseemly for others who were mere spectators filling the graveyard.  Artificial wreaths were discouraged, and permission of the vicar had to be obtained about such adornments.  Access to graves was allowed at all times for relatives and friends but children were not allowed unless accompanied by an adult.  The new yard was laid out with properly numbered grave plots and a workable plan.  This was essential for any reopening of graves for subsequent burials.  In the old yard things were rather higgledy and with many unmarked graves care had to be exercised by the grave digger.  We can be sure that accidents did occur.  Following the opening of the new yard the only internments allowed in the original churchyard were limited to family members buried in existing graves.  In recent times however the popularity of cremation has allowed scope for ashes to be buried close to the church walls.


In for the long haul – 1912


Reverend FW Shepherd

In 1912 Reverend F W Shepherd arrived in Kilnhurst.  At 49 years of age he was the oldest minister to be appointed so far but with age came much experience.  Born in Gateshead, in 1863, his father had been vicar of St Johns’ in Weardale.  Shepherd received his education at Durham Grammar School and then went on to University College.  After graduation he spent 10 years in Canada serving as a missionary in Al Gana and Toronto Diocese.  He then went to France for two more years as a chaplain.  Retuning to England he secured an appointment as an assistant curate to the Bishop of Hull moving then to St Barnabas church in the Hull area.  This church served a huge population of 15,000 and Shepherd was an assistant to the priest in charge.  His next appointment took him across to Danby in the North Riding of Yorkshire.  It was then back to his home ground in the North East to Thornaby-on Tees.  Reverend Shepherd found time to marry and a new appointment then came along in Rudby, Cleveland. By the time Reverend and Mrs Shepherd came to Kilnhurst the wandering days had done.  They settled into the work of ministering to the people of the District and Reverend Shepherd was to remain vicar of Kilnhurst for the next quarter of a century.  He was to be the longest serving vicar on record dying in post in 1937.  It is telling that he is laid to rest close to the vestry door of his beloved church, a rare late internment in the old churchyard for a faithful servant.  During Reverend Shepherd’s incumbency the people of Kilnhurst were to need all the spiritual and material help they could get.  They were to endure war; an influenza pandemic; industrial accidents and other trails. Reverend Shepherd had the stewardship of completion of the church hall project and was influential in stating a branch of the Boy Scout Movement in the village.  He also served on the local library committee advising on the purchase of books.


1914 – “The lights are going off all over Europe” 

1914 was the year which saw start of what became known as the Great European War; the First World War as we know it. Many sons of Kilnhurst marched away to fight in various theatres of the conflict, a good number were never to come back.  Industry experienced both a massive expansion and shift in production to feed the war machine.  Women joined the workforce in greater numbers and in more diverse occupations than had ever been known before.  Kilnhurst Colliery turned out as much coal as possible to be carried away by the railways; Bakers’ steelworks made massive number of artillery shell cases. There was political agitation locally to pressure the government to pay decent allowances to widows, mothers and dependents of those on war duties so they would not slide into abject poverty. A contract to finally start building the church hall had been agreed in early 1914.  It was to be a two-fold project, firstly a room to serve as an institute and secondly the construction of the church hall proper. The cost of the hall had been £560 and the institute room had been a further £400.  A very creditable £500 had been raised by the lady members of St Thomas’ who had organised a system of weekly, penny subscriptions.  This enabled people with limited means to make regular contributions which would not be onerous on their meagre household budgets.  The ladies also used their skills as seamstresses to make garments for sale and in 1914 a special bazaar was organised to raise funds towards the hall’s heating system.  An anonymous donor obviously admired these industrious efforts and a large contribution from this mysterious benefactor considerably enhanced the heating fund. Contributions from local businesses were solicited and donations were secured from colliery operators, J & J Charlesworth; chemical and tar distillers, Ellis and Mitchell and a guinea was chipped in by George Baker the iron master.  Another industrialist, Mr Blunn, owner of the Victoria Glassworks, permitted the hall to be built on land behind his house in Victoria Street. The contract to build the hall was given to J Claye of Sandhill, Rawmarsh; architect was Mr C Tacon of Rotherham. Capacity of the building was given as 500 but it would have been quite a tight squeeze at that. At the opening speech given by the Right Hon J E Pease M.P. a public acknowledgement of the achievement was summed up thus – “The hall is the result of hard work amongst the church people themselves.  There was no rich squire and no large employer of labour to help them.  What they did had to be done by them alone.  The hall stands as an emblem of unity in the parish”.


1918 – Peace comes but death stalks the land

In 1918 the battlefield carnage in France & Flanders; in other theatres and on the high seas finally came to an end.  Kilnhurst had suffered the loss of 53 sons and their names were carved with pride and sorrow on a communal memorial built in the grounds of the new churchyard. The names of the fallen clearly reflect kinship with many local families resident in the district today.  Those who did not return to their hearth and home were While the slaughter of the war ceased another silent, invisible, ruthless killer stalked the world.  It was the virus of Spanish Influenza and these tiny germs were to take away more lives world wide than all the science of battlefield killing could achieve.  The 1918 flu pandemic (commonly referred to as the Spanish flu) was an influenza pandemic that spread to nearly every part of the world.  It was caused by an unusually severe and deadly Influenza A virus strain of subtype H1N1.  Historical and epidemiologic data are inadequate to identify the geographic origin of the virus.  Most of its victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or otherwise weakened patients.  The pandemic lasted from March 1918 to June 1920, spreading even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands.  It is estimated that anywhere from 20 to 100 million people were killed worldwide, or the approximate equivalent of one third of the population of Europe, more than double the number killed in World War I.  This extraordinary toll resulted from the extremely high illness rate of up to 50% and the extreme severity of the symptoms.  During the November/December period of 1918, 32 deaths occurred in Kilnhurst.  There was hardly time to finish one funeral before another required arranging.  No one knew when this pestilence would end but thank God it did and people’s resistance to the virus improved. The threat of a new pandemic however is a risk factor which can not be disregarded even today. A virus only needs to mutate to render ineffective existing medications.


1937/38/39 – Kilnhurst Loses its Good Shepherd as Dark Clouds of War Gather Again

In 1937 St Thomas’ bid a very fond farewell to its long serving vicar, Reverend F W Shepherd.  At the ripe age of 74 he was still conducting the full range of duties at the time of his death and had of course steered the parish through many ups and downs during his long tenure.


The Rev. F. W. Shepherd Twenty five years Vicar of Kilnhurst. Extract from Mexborough & Swinton Times 20/8/1937 The district learned with regret the death on Friday, at the Vicarage, Kilnhurst, of the Rev. Frederick William Shepherd (72), Vicar of Kilnhurst for the past 25 years.  He was inducted on May 12th 1912, and would have celebrated his Silver Jubilee on Coronation Day this year had he not been gravely ill at the time.  He was the son of the Rev. Robert Shepherd, of Durham, and was educated at Durham Grammar School and Durham University. The first phase in his clerical career was in Canada where he spent eight laborious years as a missionary.  The district of which he had charge covered a wide area, and frequently great hardships had to be endured in the execution of his duties.  Upon leaving Canada he proceeded to France, where he spent another eight years as English Chaplain at Rouen, after which he returned to England to take charge of his father’s parish in Durham.  He then became curate to the Rev. H. E. Booty (who subsequently became Vicar of Tickhill) in the parish of Thornaby-on-Tees.  He worked hard for the parish, being Captain of the Church Lads Brigade, which was one hundred years strong, and he arranged services during the week for poor children of the parish who did not attend Sunday school or Church. On leaving Thornaby-on-Tees he became curate-in-charge of Rudby-in-Cleveland, North Yorkshire, and after two years accepted the living of Kilnhurst, succeeding the Rev. F. A. Bromley.  His interest in sport prompted him to start a junior football team some years ago, and he brought Teddy Ashton, now with Sheffield United F.C., into sport.  The football team continued for many years until failing health compelled Mr. Shepherd to cease his more vigorous activities. For the last five years he has not enjoyed good health, and took to his bed for the last time six months ago.  He married whilst in Canada, and leaves a widow, a sister, and a niece.  For the last few months, Alderman W. Brooke, O.B.E., J.P., Diocesan Lay Reader, of Rotherham, has been in charge of the social side of the parish, and has been taking the services.


Amid signs of general regret and sympathy the Vicar was buried in Kilnhurst churchyard on Sunday afternoon.  In addition to the family mourners, representatives of every phase of the parish’s social life attended, and mourners were drawn from the wider area of South Yorkshire.  The service was conducted by Canon J. St. Leger Blakeney, Wombwell (Rural Dean of Wath), assisted by the Rev. C. L. Suggit (Vicar of Brampton) and Alderman W. Brooke, Rotherham. The service was fully choral, the choir being in attendance and Mr. F. Hinchliffe being at the organ. Three hymns and a psalm were chanted, and Mr. Hinchliffe played a funeral march.  The Nunc Dimittis was sung as the coffin was carried from the Church to the graveside.  The bearers were members of the Church Council, Messrs. A. King, J. Wild, J. Waining and J. Edwards, and other members of the Council present included Messrs. E. Saxton and W. White (Churchwardens), Mr. H. Steel, Mr. J. Broadbent, Mr. L. Broadbent, Mrs. A. King, Mr. J. C. Wilkinson, and Mrs. S. Gill. The chief mourners were Mrs. Dent, Woodlesford, Leeds; Mrs. J. Broadbent; Miss Dora Hellum, and Mr. A. Randall.  A number of members of the Mothers Union joined in the cortege from the Vicarage to the Church.  They were Mesdames Gill, J. Broadbent, J. Milner, Parker, Tingle, Read, Whitehouse, and Sutcliffe. Mesdames Russell and Muscroft (members of the Bright Hour) were present, and Miss Broadbent, Miss M. Longden and Mrs. L. Broadbent represented the young people of the church.  Messrs. W. H. Rix and A. Russell (Kilnhurst representatives on Swinton U.D.C.) were in the congregation, and others present included Mr. S. Parker (representing Swinton Church), Mr. H. Adams (representing the Wesleyans), Mr. C. A. Bradbury, Mrs. T. Bishop, Mrs. L. Jagger, Mr. J. Tingle, Mrs. Gladwin, Mrs. S. Poxton, Mr. D. Royston, Mr. H. Taylor, Mr. A. Hiner, Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Temple, Mrs. F. Hinchliffe, Mrs. Clayton, Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Hammond, Mrs. Schofield, Mr. E. Blacker, and Mrs. R. Collin (representing St. Luke’s Methodist Church), Mr. P. W. Hobson, Mrs. W. Moxon (of the Mothers Union), Mrs. Watt, Miss Godfrey, Miss Johnson, Mrs. M. Hawkes (formerly employed by the Rev. F. W. Shepherd), Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. A. Whitehouse, Mrs. Thompson, Mr. and Mrs. H. Rawson, Mrs. J. Waining, and Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Tingle.


The Rural Dean in his address said; “This parish of Kilnhurst is today suffering under a great loss.  For 25 years the Rev. Frederick William Shepherd has been Vicar, and during the whole of that time he has identified himself very closely, spiritually, morally and physically with the well-being of Kilnhurst.  He was fond of you and I am sure that you were fond of him.  To-day you are mourning not only the loss of your Vicar but the loss of one who was your friend.  He did his best always to serve you.  We leave him now in God’s hands, for he has been called to higher service”. “At this moment our thoughts turn towards the Vicarage to the one who is there, to the one who for many years was his help-mate and partner.  She is unable to be present to-day through infirmity.  We extend our heartfelt sympathy to her, and we pray that Heavenly Father may give her and other dear ones of his that comfort, that help and that strength that He alone can give”. “Mr. Shepherd has been taken away from us by that which we call death; it is not a nice word and does not represent the severance of the soul from the body.  ‘Departure’ is a much nicer word.  Mr. Shepherd has crossed the bar and is meeting his Pilot face to face.  One can well imagine the words that will be spoken to him as he enters into the higher life – ‘Well done, though good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord’.  God grant that when we are called we shall receive that welcome”. “We shall think about him in the days to come and remember him, and the one who is left behind.  As Rural Dean of Wath, I extend, on behalf of the other 23 parishes, our sympathy with the parish of Kilnhurst on the loss it has sustained”.  Canon Blakeney also officiated at the grave-side when the hymn, “Rock of Ages,” was chanted. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Mr. J. T. Williams, undertaker, Wharf Road, Kilnhurst. Phone Mex. 208.


A time of change of vicar is almost always a time of uncertainty in the life of a church and its community.  For Kilnhurst at this period it was especially so as Shepherd had been in post for so long.  A whole generation had known no other minister.  In his 25 years he had baptised and then married a good few Kilnhurst residents, his departure for higher service was keenly felt.  Another memorable incident which could have been far worse occurred in 1937.  On the 28th July a fault sent the cage crashing to the bottom of the shaft of Kilnhurst colliery.   As news travelled of the accident crowds gathered outside the colliery to await the worst.  One miner, Joe Sales, died in the incident, others were seriously injured and only one man in the cage, Dickie Harper, managed to escape miraculously with no injuries when he was hurled upwards away from the bottom of the cage as it actually hit the shaft bottom.  Eleven men had limbs amputated as a result of their injuries.  Jim Gilliver lost a leg in the accident, but after he recovered went back to work in the mine undeterred. Jack Leigh was lucky to escape a serious injury in the accident and wrote a poem about the terrible events, charging 3d per copy to raise money for the miners’ families. After a short ‘interregnum’ with services covered by visiting clergy in 1938 Reverend E J Cheverton was installed as the new vicar. He had moved to the district from a parish in Taunton the county town of Somerset.  The transfer from the landscape of the West Country to the Yorkshire Coalfield must have been a shock to his eyes.  His ears would also have to get used to the change of speech accents; West Country burr to Yorkshire dialect!


Institution & Induction of Rev. E. J. Cheverton.  Extract from Mexborough & Swinton Times 7/1/1938 The Parish Church Kilnhurst was crowded on Wednesday night with parishioners who had come to witness the institution and induction of the new Vicar of Kilnhurst, the Rev. Ernest James Cheverton, B.A. by the Bishop of Sheffield.  Assisting the Bishop were Archdeacon F. G. Sandford, Canon J. St. Leger Blakeney, Rector of Wombwell, the Rural Dean of Wath; Canon F. G. Scovelland the Rev. G. W. Woodford of Rawmarsh.  When the Bishop came to the passage from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians in which he charges and exhorts the people to pray continually for their minister and help him in the duties of his calling, the Bishop, stopped for a moment and said to the congregation that he had never before in his 23 years as Bishop of Sheffield had to ask a Kilnhurst congregation to do this, for the late Rev. F. W. Shepherd had been at Kilhurst for more than 25 years.


In his address the Bishop stressed the duties of a Parish Priest.  He said that a priest’s duties were so numerous that it was not easy to say which was the most important; indeed he thought that they were all of equal importance.  He wished to say something, however, about a vicar as a leader of public worship.  God liked everything in his house to be done with diligence, truth, and even with truth if possible.  Some of the most beautiful things in the world were old English country churches.  It was not always easy for a Church to be beautiful when it was new, but still, any Church should be made to look as beautiful as possible – as a house of God’s worship should be.  He knew nothing as repulsive as a Church which was not fit for public worship. The worship of God had to be marked by holiness, a word which originally meant ‘whole-ness’ and therefore-covering whole ground.  That worship had to be expressed in prayer in which the congregation took full part.  He always judged choirs by the extent to which they made the public join in the singing, and so he judged the value of ordinary public worship by the extent to which the public joined in.  From his many visits to Kilnhurst he knew that their choir was doing its duty and that the public joined in heartily.  He wanted such a spirit of earnestness and holiness to exist in their Church that it should be apparent even to an unbeliever. They had had the late Vicar, the Rev. F. W. Shepherd, for a great number of years.  It had been very sad to watch his failing health during the last few years.  Ordinarily he had been full of energy, but latterly there had been illness in the house and the burden had been more than he could bear.  But there was no doubt that all the people in the Parish would agree that the late Vicar had left them with many things that they could remember; many earnest and good examples of good preaching, which he was sure, they had taken to heart.


Fairly often it happened that a new vicar was selected by the Crown, as in the present instance, and in those cases he did not see the Vicar elect until he was presented to him by the Crown.  He wanted to say that the Crown, by their officers-the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister took immense pains to find the right man for the right parish.  They asked a great many questions and desired many references.  The duty of the Bishop was then to find out before the institution if the Vicar elect was suitable.  He had taken great pains to find out all he could about their new vicar, and he could tell them that Mr. Cheverton had a wonderful reputation at Taunton, whence he had come. The Bishop then outlined the duty of the parishioners towards their new Vicar, and paid tribute to the way in which the officials and parishioners had carried on the work of the Church since the death of the former Vicar.  The Rev. H. R. Heritage, who had recently been in charge of the Parish was leaving to become a missionary in North China, one of the most dangerous places to which any Englishman could go at present.  He was president of the North China Missionary Association and knew their troubles. Mr. Heritage, he knew, had learnt a good deal during his very happy time at Kilnhurst.  He was quite sure that all people would remember him in their prayers, and would take a greater interest in missionary work since they had known him.  With regard to the new Vicar he said he knew that Kilnhurst would welcome him, as a good welcome was always certain for everyone coming to Yorkshire, but he also wanted them to back him up in the duties of his sacred calling.  They must support, they must pray for him, they must teach their children to pray for him, and the blessing of God would be among them. In Kilnhurst there was a great deal of work to be done, and there was also the difficult question of their Schools. They had fought well for their schools, with two distinguished men having been educated in the village, both of whom in later life spoke well of the teaching they had received.  A former Vicar of Kilnhurst, whom he had met recently, described Kilnhurst people to him as ‘a good solid steadfast lot’, and he was prepared to believe it. An innovation during the autumn of this year was the installation of electric lighting in the church hall to replace the dullness of gas light.  Over on continental Europe at this time very little illumination brightened the spirit as Fascism took control over more and more territory.  Italy was controlled by Benito Mussolini; Germany, Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia we in the cruel grip of Adolf Hitler; in Spain the Republican Government was doomed to fall to the forces of General Franco. In 1939 war seemed inevitable. Reverend Cheverton sought to bring comfort during these fearful times by the power of prayer.  Daily prayers were organised in St Thomas’ at 12 noon.  For those unable to come into church Reverend Cheverton urged them to offer silent prayers at home or work when they heard the tolling of the church bell.


Reverend Cheverton

As we know the prayers of Kilnhurst failed to halt the unleashing of a conflict that surpassed all earlier wars in worldwide reach, casualties and industrialised murder.  Reverend Cheverton was not to stay long at Kilnhurst.  Many would remember his time in the area as the last time they observed a vicar going about his duties using a pony and trap.  A rather quaint throw back to what many would regard as a gentler age.  In 1941 Cheverton moved to Shiregreen in Sheffield to continue his service to God.  Shiregreen contained a vast council housing estate built in the 1930’s to house people from Sheffield’s worst slums.  The Steel City had taken a pounding from the German Luftwaffe in 1940, as they sought to destroy vital industries.  Cheverton would indeed have his work cut out in his new parish.  The appointment of Reverend Alfred Tebboth in 1956 helped to bring about new life, vibrancy and a younger outlook in the parish.  In his youth Reverend Tebboth had been a keen member of Haling Hall and Emmanuel church, South Croydon.  From there he set out as a lay missionary to South America working for many years with a mission helping the Tobas Indians in remote parts of northern Argentina and Paraguay.  While in Argentina he married another English mission member, Dora in 1938.  Dora wrote and had published a book about the work with the Tobas Indians.  Mr and Mrs Tebboth remained in South America throughout World War II, they were unable to leave due to the international situation.  The couple eventually arrived back in England in 1947 and Alfred began studies for the clergy at Queen’s College Birmingham.  After he qualified the then Reverend A T H Tebboth was appointed curate in Ecclesfield, Sheffield.  From there his appointment to St Thomas, Kilnhurst was his first living as a parish priest.  So Kilnhurst had a priest in his first parish, delayed through no fault of his own in joining the ministry and keen to make his mark.  What he found on arrival was not good.  The church roof had been badly damaged in a gale, the heating system was broken and beyond repair and all the internal floors were in need of renovation.  The damaged roof was causing the internal damage to become worse, the building was not covered by insurance and church finances were poor.  It was not only the physical fabric which needed attention.  Relationships between the church and village needed repairing also as the church had become somewhat inward looking.  Reverend and Mrs Tebboth soon got to work out and about in the community.  The repairs were done so the church became a welcoming place and parish finances were stabilised.  The strong Mothers’ Union and Men’s Forum were encouraged to strengthen community links.  Reverend Tebboth made many personal visits to people in the village and got himself involved in a range of local societies and groups such as the Kilnhurst Aged Person’s Centre.  He showed a keen interest in the welfare of young people becoming an active school governor of St Thomas school and also acting as a scout leader.


Reverend Tobboth

Dora was to die in 1965 and Reverend Tebboth left Kilnhurst to become part of a ministry team in Royston, Hertfordshire.  We shall however hear from him in Kilnhurst again. So now we have reached the 100th anniversary of St Thomas church serving the village of Kilnhurst. This offers a very good point to analyse the situation in the parish. Under Reverend Tebboth’s leadership the church is in a good condition.  A twelve day mission by the Diocese of Worcester mission team, organised by Tebboth in 1958, had done much good.  Estimated confirmed church people in the village numbered around 1,000.  Attendances at Holy Communion were good and there was a strong choir.  On the threats side however were a considerable number of people leaving the village during the late 1950’s moving to new homes in Swinton (included in this minor exodus were Mr and Mrs Ken Wyatt Senior!).  Much property was being demolished in the older and lower parts of the village and there were concerns that the church would not be able to hold its own.  The centenary needed celebrating and a special service was organised with attendance of Bishop Hunter of Sheffield.  Reverend Tebboth also took up his pen and wrote a twenty-three page, illustrated booklet on the history of the church.  It was not just a historical tome however, but also included some insightful views of the future.  He introduced the book in this way – One hundred years is a long time.  It is much longer than the usual span of life of most people.  Consequently, it is impossible for the present Vicar to collect first-hand reminiscences and recollections from anyone who can remember St Thomas’s Church in Kilnhurst being built.  The contents of this booklet are derived from available printed matter and personal recollections of things which have happened in the parish during the past hundred years.  The “South Yorkshire Times” was not in existence when Kilnhurst church was built.  For all but very personal recollections of the past I have been obliged to rely on such copies of the Parish magazine as are still in existence and which have found their way into my hands for study and selection.  To all who have been so kind as to lend me their copies of the Magazine I tender my grateful thanks.  Without their help this booklet would never have been published.  Any reference that may seem to be scanty and to give an inadequate impression is the result of incomplete material, not of the perfunctory use of it by the author and editor.  My grateful thanks to the staff of the “South Yorkshire Times”, who have gladly assisted me in placing their files at my disposal, and to Mr R D Ridyard, FRSA, who has so kindly supplied the photographs.  I realise my inadequacy for the task of preparing this booklet.  After all, since I have only been here about three years, I am not yet fully informed of all the happenings during the last one hundred years.  It is, nevertheless, clear to my mind that the evolution of Kilnhurst from its early beginnings until this year of grace 1959, has not been free from pain and anxiety.  As we consider the influence of the church on this village during the past hundred years, let us do so with gratitude.  Let us learn the lessons that history teaches us.  Let us not sigh nostalgically for the “good old days,” but look forward in hope to the good times that lay ahead for us and for those who come after us. 

1966 – England wins the World Cup and a Marine comes to Kilnhurst

1966 was a year which witnessed the finest hour of English football when as host nation Bobby Moore’s team beat West Germany 4-2 in the world cup final.  It also witnessed the year when Reverend G. Pym was appointed vicar of the parish.  In the same year Swinton inducted a new vicar also, Revered Leslie Harris. Interestingly Reverend Pym had served in the Royal Marines from 1938 until 1960 therefore being part of that elite fighting unit all through WWII, the Korean War, Malayan Insurgency, Suez, and a host of other small conflicts.  He was a Devon man and the large Naval and Marine depot at Plymouth may have influenced his decision to join up. When he left the marines he took up the call of the ministry and attended Worcester Theological College for two years.  He became a deacon in 1961 and a priest in 1962.  Appointed a curate in a parish in Newton Abbot Pym retained his Devon connections.  He became priest in charge at St Pauls, Efford and then served the parish of Emanuel in Plymouth.  In November 1966 he came northwards to Kilnhurst but was only to remain until September 1969.


Reverend Pym


1969/70 – Farewell to old St Thomas School; Hello New St Thomas School

During the 1960’s it became clear that the venerable old school which had served the village for more than 100 years was reaching the end of its useful life.  It was just too small to adapt to modern methods of primary education which required children to be able to move around and break into small groups.  The West Riding County Council Education Committee also had a progressive policy of removing outside toilets from schools.  A new site at the top of Birdwell Road was acquired and works on the new school started in March 1969.  The building contractors were Pace Construction of Doncaster.  Interestingly the architect was the notorious John Poulson of Wakefield.  Poulson’s company produced many good quality buildings for commercial and public use along with solid council housing.  His wide spread bribery of officials and some times councillors to obtain contracts was to be his and others downfall; it would also usher in a much tighter regime of public sector contracting. During this period Reverend Frank Bickerton along with his wife, Florence came to the living of Kilnhurst.  Frank was born in Clayton, Manchester in 1917; after leaving education he trained as an industrial chemist.  In World War II he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps rising to become a theatre charge nurse.  On discharge from the army Frank returned to industry but later answered the call to the ministry.


Reverend Frank Bickerton and wife Florence

After training at Tyndale Hall Theological College, Bristol, Frank was ordained as deacon at St Thomas Blackpool and was priested at Blackburn Cathedral.  The next move for Reverend and Mrs Bickerton was to Chipping Barnet, Hertfordshire where he became chaplain at Barnet General Hospital and a member of the team ministry at St John the Baptist church.  Prior to being appointed to St Thomas Kilnhurst both Frank and Florence were interviewed by the Lord Chancellor in a room at 10 Downing Street.  Frank was not to remain long at Kilnhurst but during his incumbency a Pathfinder Group for 11 – 15 year old boys and girls was formed.  Under the leadership of John Wilson the group got involved in a wide rang of activities gaining much recognition locally and nationally.  The highlight of his time at Kilnhurst has to be the opening of the new school which was completed in January 1970 at a cost of £75,000.  Frank became Chairman of Governors and the new school retained the character of a Church of England Junior and Infant.  On Saturday 31st October, to avoid disrupting lessons, the formal opening celebrations were held.  Reverend Bickerton carried out the dedication of the new building but the honour of opening the school was given to the popular former vicar Alfred Tebboth.  Reverend Tebboth, who had travelled from Royston, Hertfordshire, gave a welcome speech.  Representing the Education Authority Councillor J W Bedford proposed a vote of thanks which was seconded by County Alderman Albert Newsam who had represented the Swinton/Kilnhurst area on the County Council for many years.  Albert was also Vice Chairman of Governors; Mrs Phillips was first Head Teacher.


1972 – 1979 Ups and Downs

The remainder of the 1970’s was an era of mixed fortunes.  Reverend Frank Bickerton departed to the other side of the Pennines, returning to his Lancashire roots taking the parish of St. Paul’s Oswaldtwistle.  He was replaced in 1972 by Revered G Draycott a native of Sheffield.  Reverend Draycott had worked in the tool manufacturing industry as a design executive.  In his thirties he gave up this career to train for the priesthood at St Aiden’s College, Birkenhead.  He had been curate at Darfield prior to being appointed to Kilnhurst.  He came with his wife and also had two stepsons. Like his predecessors, Reverend Draycott took a keen interest in educational activities and became a governor at the new school.  Another highlight in 1972 was when Pathfinder member, Stephen Criddle, won a national competition to compose a new piece of Christian music.  Stephen’s song “Jesus Made a Leper Clean” impressed the judges and he was awarded 1st prize, a cheque for £25 presented to him at a special event by Cliff Richard.  From this high point however the Pathfinder Group would cease to meet over the subsequent years. St Thomas C of E School continued to go from strength to strength and built up a good reputation.  As a church school its catchment area was the whole of Swinton and Kilnhurst for children whose parents wished for a Christian led education.  In practice however, most of the children came from the immediate locality of the building. In 1974 Head Teacher Mrs E I Phillips retired and was replaced by Mr Joe Bennett; he was to remain in post for the next 19 years.  The school had a sporting record out of all proportion to its size, Kilnhurst however has always been a sporting village and the children were keeping up traditions.  Triumphs came along on the soccer field and in the swimming pool.  Art and drama were strong features of school life and productions by the children were well supported.  An innovative school and community newspaper was started in 1977. Sadly in 1976 the church hall was closed and demolished.  It had been a popular venue in the village for many years hosting society meeting, stage productions and indoor sports.  Other than licensed premises and the Old Folks Centre the village was left without community facilities. To fill this gap funding was later obtained to create an informal community space in the western area of the church’s nave.  The old flooring was replaced by a solid concrete floor and carpeting.  A vaulted wooden panel roof and a glass and wood screen separate the area from the rest of the church, this also economises on heating costs.  In tribute to a long standing lay reader, church and community stalwart the room has been named the Harry Greenfield Room.  In creating this facility the original font had to be relocated. In 1979 Reverend Draycott died while still in his ministry.  His funeral service was held in St Thomas’ with the Bishop of Sheffield in attendance, disposal of his body was elsewhere.  Following Reverend Draycott’s passing to higher service the church authorities sold off the old vicarage.  This decision was part of a national estates strategy of selling off older properties to raise cash and building or purchasing newer dwellings to house clergy.  The sale of the venerable old vicarage and its large gardens raised £38,000; it was to become a nursing home. Let us now bring down the curtain on the 1970’s, a very mixed decade in the history of the parish.


1980 – The Man of Kent and a Brand New Vicarage

On 18th June 1980 the parish of Kilnhurst welcomed as its new vicar Revered Phillip Sidney Turner, a ‘man of Kent’ born in Deal in 1929. After leaving school Phillip was skilled at the plane and the lathe as an apprentice carpenter and joiner.  In 1952 he married Beryl Williams and in 1954 the couple travelled to the Chaco region of Argentina to work for the South American Missionary Society among the Mataco Indians.  During their five years in Argentina Barbara gave birth to their two children Alicia and Martin. On returning to the UK Philip attended two years of studies at Rochester Theological College and became a priest in 1970.  Phillip became a curate at the parish of Littlecoats, Grimsby and later was rector to a group of five rural churches in Lincolnshire.  Serving multiple parishes such as this is a demanding role and Phillip fulfilled this calling for seven years. The appointment to St Thomas’ Kilnhurst required an interview at 10 Downing Street, at the Lord Chancellor’s Office; following this procedure Phillip accepted the living. Reverend Turner and his family resided for a time in a modern property at Buckthorne Close, on the Wentworth Parks Estate in Swinton.  While within the parish of Swinton numbers of people from this large private estate opted to worship in Kilnhurst.  There has traditionally been a mix between the two parishes and increased car ownership has made mobility of church members much easier.  In December 1980 the new vicarage built on land between the old and new church yards was completed and Reverend Turner became the first tenant.


1984 – No More Room Downstairs

In January 1984 the legal work was processed to obtain a formal order to close the old churchyard which surrounds the church.  Since 1859 over 2,500 people had been buried in the yard and clearly the area was full.  In reality very few burials had taken place apart from a few in old family plots since 1910 and the opening of the new churchyard.  The government department at the time responsible for administering such matters as churchyard closure orders was the Department of the Environment.  The church’s request was acceded to and after 125 years the churchyard was closed. A closure order on a churchyard takes away much of the maintenance responsibilities from the parish.  The land becomes public open space and the grounds maintenance is taken over by the local council.  Responsibility for the old memorials is also a factor to be considered.  In the old yard are many interesting gravestones marking the resting place of former citizens who contributed to the development of the community.  These merit further study and the authors have lead public tours of the churchyards. This year also witnessed special celebrations making the centenary of the chancel extensions.  A public exhibition of local history artefacts, documents, paintings etc celebrating Kilnhurst’s heritage was held in the church.  People were able to learn about some of the fine pottery made in the village and see vintage parish magazines.  Young people were enabled to take a full part and exhibits were prepared by cubs, scouts, guides and brownies along with items prepared in the village schools.  Musical celebrations formed part of the programme with an organ recital by Stanley Clarke of Sheffield and a centenary concert attended by the Bishop of Sheffield David Lunn.


1986 – 1989 The End of Bob’s Hole

In 1986 Revered Phillip and Mrs Beryl Turner left Kilnhurst to minister in the Marshlands parishes around Goole in East Yorkshire.  The move was prompted as Beryl had become a deaconess and the couple would be able to work together.  Unfortunately they were not able to enjoy a very long period of joint working as Phillip died only 14 months into the new job; he was only 58. Between March 1984 and a full year later a strike by the vast majority of Britain’s coal miners had severe, economic and social consequences on the coalfield areas.  Kilnhurst colliery remained at a standstill through out the strike with pickets posted at the pit.  Miners from Kilnhurst also travelled to other areas to encourage working miners to join the strike and spread the economic impact of their action. The strike was something very different from most previous industrial action.  It was not about more money but about saving jobs and communities.  Women, miner’s partners and others, were mobilised in support of the dispute as never seen before.  Collieries were ‘adopted’ by other work places and communities often many miles away.  Kilnhurst was no exception and donations of cash and supplies of all kinds were sent to support the strikers and their families.  Millions of people, who had nothing to do with mining, felt that closing vast numbers of collieries was economic madness.  The Conservative Government of Margret Thatcher did have some tough decisions to make.  The National Coal Board had just posted the largest loss of any U.K corporation and it was being subsidised by the tax payer.  It was decided this could not go on.  To remedy this would mean wide weeping changes and a reduction in the number of collieries and workforce.  Vast numbers of police were deployed in military style operations to facilitate the arrival and departure of miners who were not following the strike. It was a bitter dispute which left divisions in communities which linger yet. The church of course had to remain a rock of support for the community as it had done in the past.  History tells us that the clergy and established church had not always sided with the miners in strikes; this time it was different and considerable welfare activity was undertaken by the Christian community. Much has been written elsewhere regarding the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike and space dose not permit us to analyse that dispute further here. In 1986 Reverend Peter S Lindeck was appointed vicar of Kilnhurst. Reverend Lindeck had been ordained a deacon in 1959 and between 1974 and 1975 had served in northern Nigeria as a minister to the Anglican community there. During Peter’s tenure in 1989 Kilnhurst colliery was closed.  This was a terrible blow to the community which had to a large extent grown around the pit and many people had coal in their veins. mst__05-09-13_045

The pit shaft had been originally sunk in 1858 so the colliery pre-dated the church; in fact the church may never have been founded without the existence of the mining industry.  An early casualty at the colliery was one Enoch Jagger who came to Kilnhurst as a shaft sinker.  His son went on to be the first colliery manager and in later years a regular colourful correspondent in the local press.  Owners of the colliery, often called Thrybergh Hall, from 1868 to 1924 was the Charlesworth Company, owner/operators of a great Yorkshire mining empire.  In 1924 they sold the colliery to Stewart & Lloyds; it was nationalised in 1947.  To many people in the village Kilnhurst Colliery was known as ‘Bob’s Hole’ a nickname coined during the time of a particularly popular manager, Bob Black. The pit head gear had for more than a century dominated the skyline of the village.  Over the years many local people had suffered death, injury and chronic illness while extracting the coal that helped to fuel the industrial power of Britain.  Reverend Lindeck recognised that a lasting memorial should be created in memory of these endeavours.  He made an application to British Coal to retain in the village the pit wheel from the colliery headgear.  This request was acceded to and in November 1989 the wheel was delivered by a mobile crane into the old churchyard to create a suitable permanent memorial.


Reverend Peter Lindeck









Reverend Peter Lindeck retired from Kilnhurst and moved to Balby, Doncaster.  He did however continue his work as chaplain at Mexborough Montague Hospital.  On Peter’s departure the Living at Kilnhurst was suspended by the church authorities and the future of Kilnhurst remaining an independent parish looked uncertain.  A meeting was held between the Bishop of Sheffield, David Lunn and Philip Hacking, the vicar of Christ Church, Fulwood.  An agreement was reached whereby Fulwood would support Kilnhurst and for a period of 5 years a ‘priest in charge’ would be appointed.  The Parochial Church Council was of course consulted and the members were pleased to accept the proposed temporary arrangements.  A suitable candidate was sought and Reverend Nigel Harvey Elliott was duly appointed Priest in Charge on 7th April 1995.  Nigel was born in Wosborough Dale, Barnsley in 1955.  He began his working life in the banking industry as a trainee with the York County Savings Bank (later part of the TSB).  As a young person the life and work of the church played a central part in Nigel’s life and he met Christine Askew during these activities.  They were to marry in 1980.  After some set backs, Nigel was accepted for training towards the ordained ministry; he entered St John’s Theo logical College in August 1990.  After successfully obtaining a Diploma in Christian Ministry Nigel was ordained a deacon at Manchester Cathedral in June 1992.  In June 1993 he was ordained a priest in Bolton Parish Church.  When Nigel and Christine arrived in Kilnhurst the area was suffering from very high unemployment and low numbers in the church congregation.  He threw himself into the life of the community immediately.  Among the many responsibilities Nigel undertook included Chairman of St Thomas School Governors; Vice Chairman of Kilnhurst Action Group which had oversight of the major building project resulting in the Kilnhurst Resource Centre and Secretary of the village Stewardship Scheme established with Groundwork Dearne Valley.  He also had responsibilities in wider Christian networks across the diocese and the Bible Society Action Group.


Reverend Nigel Elliott

1999/2000 – Towards the Second Millennium

Arrangements between Fulwood and the church and village of Kilnhurst were turning out very satisfactory.  In Reverend Nigel Elliott, the village had a hard working, outward looking minister in the evangelical tradition.  In addition to his many local activities Nigel also cemented international relations with the city of Donetsk in the Ukraine and Philadelphia, USA.  Visitors from Donetsk came to Kilnhurst.  Mrs Elliott worked as a teacher at Kilnhurst Junior and Infant School; the couple had two daughters who were educated locally.  Fulwood gave further support to a 12 month placement of Careforce worker Chris Boland to help in the parish. The Groundwork Dearne Valley, Village Stewardship programme had resulted in many improvements around the village.  St Thomas church had benefited from this work with community challenge days around the churchyard.  Bulbs were planted, paths laid, hedges were created to give shelter and flood lights were installed to illuminate the building. By 1999 the economy had picked up, Kilnhurst had received a face lift and the congregation had doubled.  On Sunday 28th March 1999 a special service titled ‘Celebrating Kilnhurst’ was held to recognise what had been achieved.  The Bishop of Sheffield attended and gave an address; he went away impressed with what he had seen. In October 1999 the suspension of the living was lifted and Reverend Nigel Elliott was invited to stay with a permanent contract. In the millennium year 2000, the first ever Churchyard Tour was conducted by the authors of this booklet Councillor Ken Wyatt and Giles Brearley.  Film footage of the well attended evening was shot by local cameraman Ron James and a video/DVD was later put out for public sale with donations given to church funds.  Working as Swinton Heritage we have been pleased to assist the church in other fundraising efforts such as public lectures and presentations. So for the moment we are reaching the end of our journey and timeline of 150 years of St Thomas’ church in Kilnhurst.   Sunday 20th July 2008 was the last service officiated by Nigel Elliott.  He has moved on to the larger parish of Wombwell, Barnsley yet still has some oversight of Kilnhurst as Area Dean.  In November 2008 an illustrated history of the village ‘Kilnhurst through the Ages (In Pictures)’ was published by Swinton Heritage.  The book was well received in the locality and has a chapter on ‘Faith and Worship’.  Wednesday 18th March 2009 was the day of the induction of Kilnhurst’s most recent vicar who has arrived in this very special year; Reverend Andrew Brewerton.  Andy was born in Essex but grew up in Kent in the seaside town of Margate.


Reverend Andrew Brewerton

He went to college in Bromley to study broadcast, engineering and then worked for four years in the TV News studios at the BBC in London.  After leaving the BBC, Andy worked as Senior Engineer at a TV production company which specialised in video editing and computer-generated special effects.  Andy then became Head of Engineering at a multi-media production and training company in London, becoming the acting Chief Executive for his last 18 months there.  Andy became a Christian in 1994 under the outreach and ministry of St Peter’s Church in Harold Wood, and spent the next few years becoming more involved in parish life, helping out with holiday clubs, the youth group and joining mission teams which visited other churches.  Andy was selected for training in 2002 and studied at Oak Hill Theological College before serving his title post in Great Clacton in Essex under the supervision of Guy Thoburn.  Through his four years in Clacton Andy received a thorough grounding in the life and workings of the parish, with particular responsibility for work with teenagers, looking after the CYFA group and a monthly TIME service for young people.  He has also served as a school governor.  Andy is married to Amanda with two sons, Nicholas aged 11 and Jamie who is 8.  Andy and Amanda help lead the Hope Valley Pathfinder Venture each summer.  In his spare time, Andy is still interested in news and current affairs and enjoys playing Scalextric and model railways with the boys.  Amanda loves reading, baking, shopping and keeping up with friends on Facebook!


The Church Font


A Community Effort …


Rev H Fleetwood-Shepherd 1859-1868
Rev H G Cordeaux 1868-1882
Rev A P Clayton 1882-1888
Rev Phillip Houghton 1888-1905
Rev F A Bromley 1905-1912
Rev F W Shepherd 1912-1937
Rev E J Cheverton 1938-1941
Rev W S Fletcher 1942-1955
Rev A T H Tebboth 1956-1966
Rev G Pym 1966-1969
Rev F Bickerton 1969-1972
Rev G Draycott 1972-1979
Rev Phillip Turner 1980-1986
Rev Peter S Lindeck 1986-1994
Rev Nigel Harvey Elliott 1995-2010
Rev Andrew Brewerton 2010-


The Old Vicarage


The old Vicarage being used for a Garden Party

This was started around 1859 and finished in 1861 at a cost of some £600.  It was built to a very high standard.  It is very similar to the vicarage built at Elsecar which is not unusual given the generous benefactor – the Earl Fitzwilliam. The local stone features great resilience and has worn well over the years.  The walls internally were studded with Norfolk reed which also helped with the insulation.  The ground floor is constructed from slabs 6 feet by 5 feet which are 6 to 7 inches thick.  The attic level houses the domestic living quarters and the joiners marks, including dates, can be seen.  A 90 foot well was constructed to effect water supply into the building.  It is because the vicarage is built onto a hill that such depths to reach the water table were needed.  A rotary pump then took the water into a storage tank into the attic where it could then be gravity fed into the house and would be one of the servants’ first jobs of the day.  Although accommodation has servants’ quarters, it is not certain whether staff lived in on a regular basis.  Margaret Oakes (nee Smith) as a young 17 year old, was in service at the vicarage and had many fond memories of the time.  She worked for the Reverend Shepherd and his wife.  She left in 1932.  After the old vicarage was sold, it was converted and turned into a residential home for the sick and elderly by Mr D Langley, who was a chartered engineer and his wife, Mrs E T Langley SRNSCM HV Cert DIP N.  The home operated in the early 1990’s but the changing standards and regulations meant that purpose built homes became more favoured than conversions.  The house was put back on the market and was then bought by the present owner, Mr Fred Storey.  Mr Storey, an expert horologist, has lovingly restored the house back to its former glory.


General Snippets Of Church Life

Chancel Centenary – 2 June 1984 – On 2 June 1984, celebrations were held to mark the chancel being erected.  An exhibition was put on in the Church showing an interesting collection of documents and paintings portraying the history of Kilnhurst.  There was also parish magazines dating back to 1886, old maps of Kilnhurst and records of Kilnhurst’s old pottery.  Exhibitions were submitted by the Rotherham Montgomery cubs and scouts, junior choir, ladies guild, 35th Rotherham brownies, National Coal Board and Croda Hydrocarbons.  One of the most attractive features was a model of the parish Church made by Mr Ball and his pupils of Class 5 at the Church of England Primary School.  Mr Stanley Clarke carried out an organ recital (organist of St Mathews Parish Church, Sheffield) and a further centenary concert was held in the evening.  This was compered by Alfred Jubb and also featured Eric Dodsley, Jane wood, Doreen Gomersall, Austin Callan and Alexander and Andrew Watts.  The Bishop of Sheffield the Right Reverend David Lunn was also in attendance.

Flower and Egg Services – 6 July 1912 – A flower and egg service was held at the church and pronounced a great success by all.  A collection of flowers and eggs brought by the congregation was of a very extensive character and after the service, they were forwarded to local hospitals.  The Reverend F W Shepherd preached to a large congregation.  He referred to the Royal visit in the area and to the sad catastrophe of the Cadeby Main Explosion.

The Annual Supper – 4 January 1913 – The Reverend F W and Mr Shepherd invited 100 guests to assemble at the Church Hall whereupon supper was provided and everyone present was fully relished with the spread that was laid before them.  A convivial time was spent before and also after supper, dancing, singing and games continued until the small hours. The vicar made a very pleasant and appropriate speech to the church workers and encouraged them all to help him in the future as much as they had helped him in the past.  This was his thank you.  He said he hoped to make his function an annual one to show his gratitude to their efforts for the church.

The Choirs Trip Out – 2 August 1913 – Members of the choir, accompanied by a few lady friends and others, ventured into Derbyshire on Monday, indulging in a motor charabang trip. The first stop was made in Bakewell at the Peacock Hotel for refreshments.  The party then proceeded to Haddon Hall, where lunch was to be taken. All the interesting objects in the Hall and grounds were witnessed and then a start was made for Matlock The hydro’s etc, were visited along with all the other interesting sights in the town.  Tea was taken before a start was made in good time for home, the journey being via Chatsworth through the famous park on to Baslow and then Sheffield.  The party arrived at Kilnhurst just after 9.00pm.

The Improvement That Never Took Place – September 1985 – In September 1985, it was announced that certain bodies were to be exhumed at the corner of the Churchyard in order to improve an accident black spot.  South Yorkshire County Council negotiated with the Church Commission to acquire the land on the corner of the Churchyard.  It was believed that the strip of land contained a number of unmarked graves.  It was announced that the land would be de-consecrated, home office permission was needed first.  When the Church boundary wall was pointed, this corner section was left on the basis that it would soon be removed.  However, this scheme was aborted and never took place and the wall had to be subsequently pointed at a later date.

The First Flower Festival – 4 and 5 July 1992 – It was decided that Kilnhurst would host its own flower festival and 20 floral designs on the theme of all things bright and beautiful were created and displayed in the Church.  Certain members of the congregation had purposely attended flower arranging classes given by Janice Barker of Rockingham College in order to excel at the art.  The day was sparked off by a chance conversation with some Church members and a lot of effort went in.  Church kneelers designed and made by the congregation were also on display.  30 kneelers have individual designs, some depicting the history and activities of Kilnhurst. The flower festival opened with a short service at 6.30pm on the Friday evening and the Church remained open until 10pm, opening again at 10am the following morning.  A barbecue was held in the vicarage grounds the following evening.  The festival ended on Sunday at 6.30pm with a special service which was also attended by the Bishop of Sheffield and also the Kilnhurst School band and choir.  Leading soprano singer, Aileen Goodwin, also took part in the service.  Windows were dedicated in the service, one to Eric tingle who had been the Church warden for 35 years and two given by Mrs Shirley in memory of her late husband and parents.

Kilnhurst Challenge Day – 2 March 1996 – Around the time that Nigel Elliott arrived as Priest in Charge, funding was used to support Groundwork Dearne Valley to spend 5 years working in Kilnhurst to improve the environment.  They spent some time asking local people to see what projects they would like to see carried out.  One of the first projects was a Challenge Day in the Churchyard. Members and families of the congregation, long with the Groundwork force team, descended onto the Churchyard and restored the exterior grounds to their former glory.  The work included:

  • planting of spring bulbs in the new Churchyard
  • new paths being laid in the top part of the cemetery
  • new hedges planted around the cenotaph
  • hedges planted by the ashes plot against the South West corner of the Church
  • the installation of flood lights
  • allowing some parts of the Churchyard to grow wild.

The lights were switched on at a special service on 2 March 1996.  Official recognition of all the projects were made at a service at St Thomas’ Kilnhurst on Sunday, 28 March 1999 called “Celebrating Kilnhurst”.  The Bishop of Sheffield, Jack Nicholls, preached.  Councillor Roger Stone was also in attendance as well as a number of invited guests who had supported the various projects in Kilnhurst.  Refreshments were served afterwards at Kilnhurst Community Resource Centre.

The 1929 Refit – During the spring of 1929, the church underwent full decoration and the pews were all taken out and repaired.  New pews were added where needed and the floors were all steam cleaned.  The bulk of the costs were met by Stewarts & Lloyds who had bought Kilnhurst colliery in 1924 and were anxious to be seen to be encouraging the community.

Mystery Vicar – Examination of the South Yorkshire Times almanac for 1910 shows that the Reverend in charge of Kilnhurst was a Reverend S R Rimmer.  It should have been the Reverend Bromley.  The only explanation which could be offered is that perhaps the Reverend Rimmer was standing in for Reverend Bromley while he was ill.

Bells Not at Work – It was reported on 18 September 1891 that Sunday was not the same in the that the Church bell refused to work.  Although nothing appeared to be wrong, no sound could be got from it.  It was later reported that on the Tuesday, the Church bell was back in working order but no explanation as to why it happened.

The 80th Year Celebrations of the Church – 1939 –  July 1939 saw celebrations of the Church’s eightieth year since consecration.  The Church was decked out with flowers and a special service was commissioned.  This was an evening service on 6 July when the Bishop of Sheffield attended.  It was his last visit before retirement after 25 years in office.  At the service, the Bishop blessed a Lecturers Bible which contained an inscription to the late vicar Reverend Shepherd.  He also blessed a baptismal shell in memorial to the late Miss Reed, late of Birdwell House.  The service was reported as being very well attended.

War Time Duties – Use as an Air Raid Shelter (1930-1945) – The cellar at the wet door of the Church was cleared out and the door left open to make it available as an air raid shelter for the duration of the Second World War.  The Church Hall was also kitted out as a first aid post.

Gymnastic Club – Village life bustled round the Church and many activities and clubs were centred on it.  March 1893 sees the young men’s gymnastics club with a membership of 40.  The club met in the infants’ schoolroom.  Activities included boxing, singlestacks, draughts and dominos.

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