A Brief History of St James, Heckmondwike
The earliest record of organised church life the township is to be found in a deed of the 3rd February 1334 confirming a grant of lands in Deneby, Whitley and the Parish of Birstall Made by John Tilley, Lord of the Manors of Gomersal and Heckmondwike, to John del Hill of Heckmondwike, Chaplain, for a daily service in the Church of Birstall.
The "del Hill" family was a local one, the name appearing in the same style among the attesting witnesses to other documents.
The duties of John Hill would be many and varied. In addition to those of his office as Chaplain he would have to see to it that the needy of his flock had some relief and help in time of trouble, and his would be the task of collecting contributions for such aid. He and the Churchwarden and the Constable for the time would have to take notice of moral and social lapses and to arrange to put matters right. And to the children of the district he would have to give such rudiments of schooling as would be accepted. For which work it is recorded he was entitled to receive seventy-
An interesting glimpse of local life six centuries back.
With roots more remote in the past is the fieldname Almscroft, a patch of the communal land in the Westfield area, which in earlier times when money, as is now used, was almost unknown and payments had to be made in kind or in services, this plot was cultivated by the villagers for the benefit of the Church, the Church being that of the old Parish of Birstall. For it was to this Church that the whole community of the district had to look for social and religious help and guidance, and from this Church for many centuries such help was given. Children were taken there for baptism, men and women were there married and many have there been taken for their long rest.
But in the half-
The years that followed were full of activity. In 1833 a Day and Sunday School to accommodate 100 girls and 100 boys was built in High Street. An organ was installed, still in service in another district, which provoked in its early days much local discussion as to the propriety of such aids to worship.
The Old Parsonage -
Resolved That as the public Clock at the Church had been put there for the benefit of the Ratepayers any expense attending upon it should be charged to and paid out of the Highway Rate for the time being.
Resolved That Mr Wm Greaves of Leeds be engaged to attend to the Clock.
Following these achievements, efforts were directed to the provision of more adequate premises for Day and Sunday Schools, the need was great, the population of the township grew rapidly numbering 2793 in 1831, it reached 6339 in 1861, becoming 2000 more in 1871. A site for the school was given, local contributions and the proceeds of a bazaar provided the funds and the buildings fronting on Horton Street were opened in 1868. The additional portion fronting on Church Street was built and brought into use in 1909.
Among the changes and alterations of the Church fabric that of 1878 added new vestries, and organ chamber on the North Side; the North Porch was fitted up as a Baptistery, the font being removed from the axis of the Nave and a new and larger Organ took the place of the instrument of 1837.
The work of 1906 brought the building as it is now seen, the present Chancel, South Chapel and Clergy Vestry being additions, a new font was placed in the Baptistery, the Organ was rebuilt and Electric Lighting installed. Gas had been in use from the early "forties", previous to that artificial light had been candles; for most Sundays in the year services were held in the mornings and the early afternoons only.
The memorial gifts to the Church are many and generous, the more notable being the coloured windows, all of good design and execution, the beautiful reredoses and the fine carved woodwork, screens, panelling and furniture in the chancel and chapel.