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"Did you know that John Wesley came to Failsworth?" asked Michael, one day. "Yes," I replied. "How did you get to know?" "I've read about it on a wall at the bottom of Evening Street." "I can tell you something about that building and how the plaque came to be there; that is, of course, if you want to hear it." "Oh, yes, please."

That plaque hasn't been there a great length of time, actually it was erected in 1970 but it so happened during the period when Joanna Leech was a scholar in the Junior Department of our Sunday School and she became very interested in the stories she was told about the Wesley family. Her parents were in the habit of taking her around into different towns when on holiday or just sight-seeing in Manchester. After seeing so many buildings about the country that the Wesleys had visited Joanna realised what an interesting story she had been able to piece together from these. Further, because she already knew that John Wesley had actually been to Failsworth, she asked why hadn't Failsworth its own sign like all the rest. Fair enough, it was a very sensible question to ask and Joanna asked it in the Sunday School where there were people willing to see just what could be done. As you know only too well, young people want things to happen very quickly and quite a lot of enthusiasm was aroused. We got a small group of people together and, as we proceeded with our enquiries, step by step, we told the children what was happening and how the people we had approached were most co-operative and how they thought it was a good idea.

But you couldn't go attaching a notice to a wall just as the thought hit you. One had to get permission from the owner of the building and, fortunately in this case, he was quite willing to permit the plaque to be put on his wall. The Minister and leaders of the church also had to be informed and when the plaque was bought and fixed we had a splendid procession from the school, headed by the Scout band, with civic dignitaries, District church officials, officers of the church with members and friends including the Chairman. Joanna unveiled the plaque; there were speeches, then back into a procession and off to the school for tea and more speeches. All this happened at a very special weekend - May 24th, Wesley Day, and this unveiling took place the day before. It must have been a memorable time for Joanna because during the preceeding week she had been to Cornwall with her Mother and Father and her brother Howard and they had seen a great deal of preparation amongst the Methodists in that part of the country. You see, John Wesley, did a great deal of preaching amongst the miners in Cornwall when he was going about the country on horseback and many people still celebrate Wesley Day each year. It was fitting, therefore, that the family should see all the excitement of a Cornish celebration and then, on coming home, take part in this important event in the neighbourhood of their own place of worship. It is nice to have something like this happen to you, especially when you are young!


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I had, however, to explain that the Chapel Works as the building is still called, bears no resemblance, now, to the original chapel which was commenced in 1785 and opened by John Wesley in 1786. That was distinctly located on Wrigley Head and had a long garden in front. As time has advanced, cottages with loom houses, were erected where the garden had been, leaving the chapel itself, isolated. Subsequent industrial owners have re-organised the plan of the building so the front entrance to the works is now in Evening Street. Any reference, these days, to the Wrigley Head Chapel has no significance whatsoever to people who have not followed its history. Through that building, however, came people who had as astonishing affect on the district.

In the first case, Wrigley Head Green in the l8th century was a hotbed of lawlessness. The unsold surpluses from the Manchester Saturday Markets found their way to Wrigley Head for a Sunday morning's market. It was to this spot that John Wesley brought his ministry of practical religion which was appropriate to the needs of the populace at that time. His powers of organisation were effective; the clean up process worked with the help of the members who had joined this new church. The people were poor enough but those who had given their allegiance to this new movement had an uplift in their thinking and although struggling to emulate the standard of their founder they managed to raise the standard of religious life. They had other aspirations, too, which were not all monetary and spiritual, and records show how they attempted to meet in the building during the week for a choral society; to create a conversation club; to form a sick society and a burial society. Things did not proceed easily for these new converts. They had much ridicule and they suffered hostility during their struggles; they had internal contentions and breakaways but still they persevered.

The membership grew and a new church was built on Oldham Road in 1867. The introduction of the 1870 Education Act created a revolution in the life-styles of the people in the district. Officers of the church took on duties concerning the management of the Day School where a Government Grant had to be administered. Teachers were appointed. The first Headmistress was Miss M. Hoyle. She was referred to as a strong disciplinarian. Many of the old people I knew would talk about their schooldays and the training they received from the old Wesleyan Day School. Her struggles to impart knowledge to them might not have been appreciated at the time but they knew their lives had been fuller.

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I have been told that the rattle of her keys was sufficient to send the assembling scholars rushing to their desks in preparation for morning prayers and the raising of these keys to her lips - one of which would be used as a whistle, ensuring the solemn hush which she demanded as a preliminary to morning devotions. Miss Hoyle turned out some remarkably good scholars. I have met many throughout my lifetime with an excellent knowledge of English. Spelling, in particular, along with handwriting, was of high quality. I have, in my possession, a copy book used by a boy who died at the age of ten years and, even at that early age, his work was showing promise of excellent penmanship. In addition to writing in the copy books they were implanting in their minds proverbs and maxims which taught good manners, honesty, truth and self-discipline which must have contributed to the higher tone which the chapel folk were aspiring to create within the community. Such exhortations were found in the children's copy books as - Honesty is the best policy; A stitch in time saves nine; Pride goes before a fall; Adversity stimulates men to industry; Bacchus had drowned more than Neptune; Confidence is a companion to success; Distraction follows inconsiderate deeds; Education improves good dispositions; Friendship once injured is often lost; Gratitude commands much admiration; hope stimulates men to diligence; immoderate joys terminate in sorrow; Knowledge of ourselves is of importance; Let all your diversions be innocent; Moments of time are for improvement; No monument is equal to virtue; Our education depends upon ourselves; Pride tends to make man unhappy; Questions of moment require thought; Reading tends to enrich the mind; Suspicion haunts the guilty mind; The covetous man is his own tormentor; Useful employment give us pleasure; Vice lives and thrives by concealment; Wanton actions are very unseemly; Youth well-spent leads to a virtuous old age; Zeal without prudence is dangerous.

Miss Hoyle identified herself with the church life and the families became known to her as well as the children of the district. After her retirement to Monk Fryston, I can remember her visiting my grandmother. She wore a large black circular hat and peeping underneath was the frilly lace edging of the white cap over which the hat rested. It was then an old-fashioned type of headdress but certainly very becoming.

The Wrigley Head Day School was replaced by a new building in 1878 and this must have been a great time for the scholars and staff. Additionally, it provided excellent accommodation for the Sunday School and extra church activities. lt was built attached to the new church erected in1867 and it still stands on a very advantageous site on the main Oldham Road.

Failsworth Wesleyan Church was extremely fortunate in the type of people appointed to the Headship of the Day School.
I have no knowledge of the affect of Miss Hoyle's immediate successor on the good seed already sown in this educational field and I am unsure of his name but I do credit a certain Mr. Phillip Henry Fielding as being the holder of the headship when the following incident took place in which my mother became a reluctant victim. The head, crossing the playground, must have seen a group of children in animated and noisy discussion, which quickly dispersed on his appearance, leaving only one child, my mother, sobbing inconsolably. Naturally, he enquired the reason for this unhappiness. Through her sobs she advanced the information that some of the children had obtained the knowledge that her parents, on the death of a distant relative, had received a small legacy. This knowledge was fodder for the gibes which had emanated from the inflamed minds of those youngsters and had led them to express their criticisms volubly. Mr. Fielding endeavoured to placate the distressed child and he volunteered his own thoughts that, had he been placed in a similar situation after having received such a bequest, he could not imagine himself being reduced to tears in whatever light people might construe the gift.


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My own early schooldays were spent under the Headship of Mr. Ezra Knowles who, with his wife Frances, also a teacher, came to Failsworth in 1906 from Dursley, Gloucestershire. He was a deeply religious man and he immediately identified himself with the Church and Sunday School. Among the church offices he accepted, that of deputy organist, had a far-reaching influence on the the scholars, especially those with good voices and musical aptitude. The Anniversary services of the chapel greatly benefitted by having that strong link between the day and Sunday schools, and the children who were 'sitting-up', as we then described their part of the musical scene, knew there was a discipline which they would be unwise to ignore.

In his role as Headmaster individuals had a place. He took a personal interest in his scholars and I am one who can remember, with pleasure, how he would clarify subjects which at first would seem so obscure. At one time I was part of a scholarship class to which he gave unstinting help. The class consisted of two boys and one girl and, to the surprise of all, it was the brightest of the lot who was unsuccessful in the final examination. Years afterwards I met, in Manchester, the other boy, who was by then a successful bank manager and our topic of conversation became 'the eleven plus' which was giving parents and scholars the jitters at that time. He told me when we sat for the scholarship he had not the slightest idea what to expect if he were a success. All he expected to obtain would be some certificate acknowledging the fact, similar to the merit certificates we had been awarded earlier that year.

My estimation of the career of the predecessor of Mr. Knowles came to me largely through the correspondence my people maintained with members of H.M.Forces during World War I. It was evident that Mr. Oldershaw was a man who, too, had made a great impression for good on the lives of the children in his care and they frequently testified to this fact in their letters, often asking for news of him and his family as the war proceeded, especially as one or two had come across his son, Eric, during their military training when he was holding a commissioned rank.

In my early days at school there were then several older teachers who had also served on the staff of Mr. Oldershaw before his retirement. They were sound and well-trained people who made sure we were well grounded in the three 'Rs' and who not only commanded the respect of the scholars but of the parents also.

The end of this relationship, between Day School and Chapel, came in 1913 when the 'Wesleyan' day school ceased to function as a day school and the scholars, along with those from the Swedenborgian Church, merged into a new school, then 'Minor Street', now 'Stansfield Road', with the headships: Miss Smith, Primary; Mr. M. Rydings, Juniors; Mr. Knowles, Seniors.

Failsworth View 1840

'Robert a'th' View' - Chapter list