More memories of St Matthew’s . . .

St Matthews Church Lightcliffe Centenary Lunch Cliffe Hill  September 21 1975
St Matthews Church Lightcliffe Centenary Lunch Cliffe Hill September 21 1975

Readers may recall a few weeks ago I showed the St Matthew’s Church choir of c1950 photographed outside the front door of the old St Matthew’s Church vicarage. I wrote that the last Lightcliffe vicar to live at this particular vicarage was Reverend Frank White.

Thanks to Echo reader Peter Kirby from Norwood Green who correctly pointed out that in fact the last vicar to live at this vicarage was in fact Reverend Michael Whitcombe during the mid 1970s and he was also the first to live in the new and present vicarage in Wakefield Road.

Looking at this week’s featured photograph this also has a connection with St Matthew’s Church at Lightcliffe. It is taken outside the home of Mr and Mrs Wilson at Cliffe Hill, Lightcliffe on Sunday 21 September 1975 on the occasion of the church’s centenary and these were the people who attended a centenary luncheon at Cliffe Hill.

Looking back to nineteenth century Lightcliffe Cliffe Hill had important connections with St Matthew’s Church. Part of the 1867 property and land auction sale of Evan Charles Sutherland-Walker’s Crow Nest estate at Lightcliffe included for sale the 51 acre Cliffe Hill Mansion estate complete with its own 9 hole golf course.

This property was initially offered as a joint lot with Crow Nest at the reserve price of £50,000 but with no bids received Cliffe Hill was offered for sale separately.

The property was sold for £15,000 to 40 year old Major Johnston Jonas Foster the third of six sons of John foster, the founder of John Foster and Son Ltd, Black Dyke Mills, Queensbury.

It was in the early 1870’s that Johnston Jonas Foster a Major in the 6th West York Yeomanry Cavalry offered to not only to build a new church in Lightcliffe but pay for it as well. It was not uncommon in the nineteenth century for wealthy land owners to be philanthropic towards the community they lived in or represented.

On September 16, 1873 the foundation stone was laid at what was to be called St Matthew’s Church by Mrs Hannah Jane Foster. Regrettably this occasion was marked with a number of people being hurt and in some cases seriously injured following an accident at the ceremony.

Mrs Schofield of Garden Houses, Garden Road, Brighouse was seriously cut on the face; Mrs Pyrah of Sunnyside, St Giles Road had a fractured thigh and shoulder; Mrs Kershaw of Laverock Lane was knocked unconscious; her daughter Elizabeth was the most seriously hurt with a fractured spine; Miss Fanny Sharpe of Hipperholme, was cut on the head; Mrs Hannah Womersley of Bramley Lane injured her back and Thomas Lister received severe bruising to his head. A number of other spectators were also injured but to a lesser degree.

The accident happened when the crane lifting the foundation stone collapsed on some of the gathered crowd.

Two years later on St Matthew’s Day September 21, 1875 a far more happier occasion took place when the new St Matthew’s Church was consecrated by the Bishop of Ripon the Right Reverend Robert Bickersteth whose diocese Lightcliffe was then in.

With over 40 clergymen and almost 200 guests a lengthy procession left Lightcliffe School and snaked its way to the new church. After the formal part of the morning was over the guests returned to Lightcliffe School where they had lunch.

The Reverend George Bagot M.A. was both the last minister at the old Lightcliffe Church where he had taken up his post in 1869 and was the first minister at the new St Matthew’s, until he died on June 17, 1883.

On Thursday, February 26, 1880 Major Foster then aged 53 died in Cannes, France whilst recovering from ill health. His body was brought back to Lightcliffe and was interred in a vault beneath the church.

On January 7, 1863 he had married Hannah Jane the second daughter of Colonel Robert Stansfield J.P. of Field House, Sowerby and had added by deed poll the name of Johnston before his name Jonas. He left three daughters Catherine Laetitia who died aged 18 years on October 31, 1883, Ethel Jane who married the 15th Lord Inchiquin and Gertrude Stansfield who married Constantine Charles Henry Phipps the third Marquis of Normanby and died in 1948.

After the death of Major Foster his widow continued to be the owner of Cliffe Hill but lived at Moor Park, Ludlow, Shropshire and leased it to Sir William Henry Aykroyd Bt. In 1924 Cliffe Hill was divided into two separate houses as it still is today.