The first member of the Brook family to settle in Meltham and build a mill was William Brook (1734-1806). His sons took over and formed the company of Jonas Brook and Brothers. William Brook’s daughter Mary married local farmer Thomas Hirst of Lower Greave and the happy couple were blessed with fourteen children!
Their fourth son was Joseph Hirst who married Eleanor Ramey of Chester in 1831 and, as a wedding gift, uncle Jonas Brook gave them Wilshaw Farm and the surrounding land. It was here that Joseph built Wilshaw Villa and Eleanor gave birth to their only child — a daughter named Mary. Before long, Joseph had built his own mill at Wilshaw.
Mary Hirst married local manufacturer Alfred Beaumont in October 1858 but sadly she died the following year in childbirth and was buried at the Church of St. James, Meltham Mills.
Joseph and Eleanor then built a church at Wilshaw in her memory and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary, commissioning noted Huddersfield architect John Kirk to design both the church and neighbouring school. Landscape gardener Joshua Major of Leeds laid out the grounds of the church — he also laid out the grounds of Meltham Hall and designed the Meltham Pleasure Grounds (situated below Bank Buildings).
Following the consecration of the church in 1863, Mary’s coffin was exhumed (apparently in great secrecy at the stroke of midnight) and brought to Wilshaw where she was interred in a purpose built mausoleum in the graveyard to the east of the church.
When visiting the church, you may also wish to view the row of six Almshouses to the southwest. Again designed by John Kirk, they were built by Eleanor Hirst in memory of her beloved daughter Mary in 1871. The Wilshaw Mill (now demolished) was situated beyond the Almshouses.
Did You Know?
- You can find Mary’s mausoleum in the graveyard at the eastern end of the church.
Historic England Listing
- Grade II (24 January 1984)
WILSHAW ROAD (Wilshaw). Church of St. Mary.
A church of highly eclectic design, having some German Romanesque forms, the elaborate central tower roof of French gothic type, and the windows typical of the Italian Renaissance. Built 1863 by John Kirk of Huddersfield at the expense of Joseph Hirst of Wilshaw. Hammer dressed stone.
Exterior: Pitched slate roof with round arched corbel table. Symmetrical plan with church to east and former Sunday School to west with large vestibule surmounted by large square tower with very steep pyramidal roof with lozenge slating and decorative ironwork to top. Large central porch on north side, with panelled double doors and semi-circular fanlight with turned radial glazing bars. Doorway has colonnette in reveals with foliated capitals, and moulded and decorated arch. Oculus in gable apex of porch with stone wheel in front of glass. 5-bay nave to left with round-arched 2-light windows with circle in head and three detached colonnettes to each window, which has archivolt. The one-bay chancel side windows are similar but without the circle in head. The east window is 3-light with a detached outer skin with four colonnettes and two circles, each with stone wheel. The hood mould has well carved angels as stops. The 5-bay Sunday School to right has similar detailing to the church, but more plain. Warden’s house (formerly the vicarage) to west end with addition to match the chancel. The central tower has octagonal stair tower on south side with pointed lozenge slated roof and spiral stone stairs. The tower has, on each side, two tall round arched cross windows with archivolts, colonnettes in reveals and as centre mullion, circle in head, and round arched lights. Louvred lucarnes in roof of tower.
Interior: round chancel arch on clustered responds. Gallery to rear with well carved oak front with panels of different foliage patterns. Arched braced collar beam roof. Barrel vaulted chancel roof in wood. Pulpit, reading desk and organ case, all elaborately carved in oak in round arched style with foliage and spiral decorated colonnettes. Choir stall fronts equally well carved each with three wheels and musical instruments carved in spandrels. Carved oak lectern of 1902. Memorial to Joseph Hirst of 1876: a marble low relief carving of the legend of the Good Samaritan in elaborate well carved stone surround. East window by Clayton and Bell in memory of Mary, the only child of Jospeh and Eleanor Hirst, c.1863. Vestibule beneath the tower and Sunday School, quite plain.