The Growth of a Township – Chapter Twelve – Practical Christianity
There were great upheavals in religion in England from the time of Henry VIII in the Sixteenth Century. The monasteries were destroyed. Henry VIII and his successor reduced the power of the Church in affairs of State. Religious dissent grew in opposition to a State-dominated Established Church. From the mid-Sixteenth Century the role of the Church was under question and ill-defined.
By the advent of the Nineteenth Century the situation was such that many observers, including the eminent Dr. Thomas Arnold (Headmaster of Rugby 1828 to 1842) judged that the Church of England was on the point of extinction. In 1832 Arnold wrote, “The Church as it stands no human power can save”. The Times agreed with the Doctor. It declared, “The establishment of the Church of England is now in serious peril”. Yet the new spirit of progress and renewal which motivated the Victorian philosophy and action affected the outlook of the Church and challenged it.
It has been said the Victorians were motivated by belief in God and belief in wealth. The latter they expressed through the expansion of the Industrial Revolution. John Wesley had set the thinking for the whole Church. In the Eighteenth Century he had said: “gain all you can; save all you can; give all you can”. There was a growing sense of the need for a moral religion based on the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer; and there were the beginnings of a social conscience in the face of all the horrors of the new Industrial Age.
In spite of Dr. Arnold’s pessimism, the early and later Victorians were motivated by belief in God a moral and practical God. In Maltby this was expressed in Sandbeck Chapel in the three lancet windows – Faith, Hope and Charity, all graceful young ladies dressed in “classical robes”. Charity is handing out loaves of bread to children whose only appearance of hunger is their tattered garments!
This moral image of God would be upheld in the village Church and Sandbeck Chapel through the weekly worship, Bible reading and hymns. Thus Maltby and Sandbeck took on the character of typical Victorian parishes based on the Bible and Book of Common Prayer Catechism‘s injunction that we are to do our duty “in that state of life to which it shall please God to call me”.
The “leading” men in the Parish would be as ever the Churchwardens, and overseers of the poor. Theirs would not be an image to encourage the “poor” to – regard them as the agents of the unbounded love of God! The Churchwardens and Vicar with the Justices of the Peace still supplied the Local Government of the day! They were called the Vestry.
The Victorians had a care for God but in the new developing economy wealth loomed large. The new affluent families in Maltby embraced both God and wealth. This at least inspired them to care for the poor villagers in charity. And Rolleston, the long serving “squarson”, may have been the hunting, shooting, fishing type, but his achievements – the National School and the rebuilding of St. Bartholomew’s. Parish Church – showed he had a practical care for all the parishioners.
Rolleston’s plan to rebuild the ancient parish Church was indeed a major effort in such a small village. The rebuilding took place in 1859. The new building replaced its medieval successor, which had a Saxon-Norman herring-bone tower. There is little record of the earlier Church. An early Nineteenth Century Rotherham Directory describes it as a mean building with one aisle. It must have been the successor, mean or otherwise, of an earlier probably wooden Saxon-Norman Church.
Mercifully over the centuries the herring-bone architecture of the earliest tower has been allowed to remain. Sadly Twentieth Century “vandals” repointed the herring-bone horrifically in cement! The Victorian Church was the work of a London architect, P. Boyce. What might have been a Victorian monstrosity turned out to be a pleasing Victorian effort in its own right. It is a matter for thankfulness that Mr. Boyce left the Saxon-Norman tower intact except for the unfortunate mock-Gothic window inserted into the West side of the tower. The local gentry provided most of the furniture for the building.
Before the coming of the Methodist Society in the Nineteenth Century only Joan Tyas and Ralph Fretwell were recorded as religious dissidents in the village. In the Eighteenth Century Registers Joan is recorded as a “Romanist”. Ralph Fretwell, West Indies Colonist and resident at Hellaby Hail became a distinguished member of non-conformist dissent when he joined the Quakers.
The Methodists are first mentioned in connection with Maltby in 1802. This late date is in spite of a Chapel being built at nearby Bramley in 1795. Wesley preached in Bramley in 1776. There is no record of Wesley visiting Maltby. The first recorded name in connection with Methodism in Hellaby and Maltby is Samuel Clark of Hellaby. In 1812 he founded a Methodist Society consisting of nine members. Clark was the tenant of Hellaby Hall which at the time was owned by Sir John Eden. The estate included two farms in Maltby. Samuel Clark invited Methodist members to meet at one of the farms. Clark was very active in Methodism being Rotherham District Steward on five occasions and a local preacher from 1808.
By 1832 the Maltby Society had grown to 39 members. Another “Society” was formed at Stone half-way between Maltby and Sandbeck. It had ten members. With these developments it was decided to build a “Preaching House” on Blyth Road. This is the original part of the present Methodist Church. It was opened in 1834 and was thus described in a contemporary report: “It is handsome and ornamental to the village”.
Membership of the Methodist Society was fairly strict at the time. It is estimated that four times the number of actual members would attend the Sunday Services. Maltby Methodists, like those of Bramley, had no burial ground. Methodist members, therefore, quite rightly made use of the Church of England Churchyard. The Maltby Burial Registers show an entry for June 30th, 1842 for Samuel Clark (the local leading Methodist) buried by the Vicar, George Rolleston, in the Churchyard.
The register contains the names of other members of Clark’s family. In those early days the Methodists had no hesitation in using the local Parish Church for burials, and also for Confirmation and Holy Communion. This was because in its beginnings Methodism was not opposed to the Parish Churches and the Clergy. It had “Preaching Houses” rather than Churches in order not to “duplicate” the Parish Church.
In the Nineteenth Century Sandbeck Chapel played an important part in the life of Sandbeck Estate. Chapels had been attached to earlier Sandbeck Houses. The “New Chapel” was completed in 1872. It is in the “High Victorian Gothic” architecture. It was to the design of the architect Benjamin Ferrar. It was linked to the main house by a servants’ wing, demolished in 1954. From 1862 to 1920 Sandbeck had a full-time Chaplain. A fine house at Stone (between Sandbeck and Maltby) was built for the Chaplains.
The previous Sandbeck house had a Chapel. A Maltby Parish Register entry of 1798 records: “Winchcombe, Henry Hartley of Lincoln’s Inn and Lady Louisa Lumley were married by Special Licence in Sandbeck Chapel 26th February by me, John Lumley, Rector of Thornhill”.