In search of a city: a history of Lee Mount Baptist Church, Halifax 1846–1977

Miss J M Crabtree BA and Rev. M V Jackson BA

1 Introduction

Our story begins in the midst of all the social turbulence of the early 19th Century. Industrialisation was transforming Yorkshire life beyond recognition. The traditional cottage weaving was rapidly being superseded by the factory system, a way of life that for many was alarming. In Yorkshire the reaction against the mills and their bosses was violent: the Luddites savagely wrecked weaving looms which had deprived men of work and reduced the earnings of cottage weavers. But industry grew apace and with it the terrible social problems of the early Victorian era … exploitation of labour, slums, squalor and disease. In the mid 19th Century the average Halifax labouring man lived to only 24, whereas for the gentry it was 55. Children were made to work until they dropped and degradation and immorality were the bitter fruit of the industrial squalor.

However, with the rapid industrialisation dawned a new awareness of the rights and potential of the working man. The Chartists, mostly weavers, demonstrated for the vote for all and ‘Mechanics’ Institutes’ and ‘Mutual Improvement Societies’ sprang up to cope with the thirst for knowledge and education among the emerging working class. Social Revolution was in the air and many looked wistfully back to a more settled past, a past never to be regained. Life was now harder, more brutal. You had to fight to survive and all the time the philosophy of Samuel Smiles prevailed … ‘hard work, thrift and competition.’ This was the world which gave birth to our church.

As far as Halifax itself was concerned, in the 1840s coal mining was still a major industry but was rapidly being overtaken by textiles. In 1846 the railway came to town and two years later, to mark its great growth in position and importance, Halifax was granted borough status.

Now main water and gas supplies appeared, also wash-houses, parks and other social facilities for which many many people thanked God! The population was around 20,000 and was being swollen annually by the influx of workers coming in from the surrounding countryside as the cottage industries died. It is to this migration of textile workers in the ‘hungry forties’ that we can trace the beginning of Lee Mount Baptist Church.