History of Harthill

The following extract from the Leeds Mercury describes Harthill as it was in 1900.

Harthill, the Hertil of the Doomsday Book, is a more sweetly poetic name than either Hartshead or Hartwith, and the 'mere' just mentioned might well be regarded as the spot where the hart, buck, and roe came to water.

Harthill has the distinction of being the most southerly village and most southerly parish in the big county of Yorkshire, though its neighbour, Thorpe Salvin, comes so near as to make almost a tie.

Harthill church contains the old mortuary chapel of the Dukes of Leeds; so that, in one respect, we may term Hornby Castle, to which the Osbournes migrated fromKiveton Park, the northern counterpart of Harthill.

There is little to see in the village after you have explored the church, which stands on high ground, and has a sweetly reposeful 'God's Acre.' The church and its tower are rather delicately constructed; somewhat feminine throughout, I thought, if towers had their gender. But you will at once observe that it is no ordinary, old-fashioned sort of edifice, where parson, squire, and congregation mope in apathy, or cannot raise 5s. to help the walls to a bit of good mortar. The dial of the tower clock is painted bright blue, probably to match the Blue Bell public house not far off. Hour after hour comes the monition of passing time, reverberating through the quaint old place, and at twelve o'clock comes the 'dinner-bell', but I believe the curfew-bell at eight has been done away with these past ten years. Besides the Blue Bell Inn, there are the 'Beehive' and the 'Square Compass' from which we may infer that Harthill does not lack in busy bees and Freemasons. The favourite name, 'Blue Bell,' for a public-house remains something of a mystery to me, since in no case have I known it to allude to the wild hyacinth or harebell; and why in scores of villages there should exist a tradition of a cracked bell being brought from the tower to the village smithy, and left there until it had to be painted blue to protect it from rust, I cannot tell.

Local charities amounting to about £10 per year are distributed to the poor on St. Thomas's Day, The Hewitt Charity, producing about £16 annually, does a little service in the promotion of education.

Opposite the church lives William Drabble. A typical old village sexton, he, such as one often reads about, but seldom sees. He is spare of figure, which his sylvan dress does not in any way disguise, an intelligent face, with hair bleached like thistledown, an excellent memory with eyes to the past, present, and future. Something, you will say, to the very name worth handling by such a man as Dickens. I got hold of this William, and we set off with the bunch of jangling keys the church, with its ducal vault. On the way I observed a gravestone which contained the last remnants of an epitaph – or about a quarter of it – the rest, including name and date, having gone to the ground with a surface-flake of the stone. William said the epitaph commemorated one John Brunt, and he repeated it fluently from memory while I put it down.

Farewell vain world, I've seen enough of thee,
And now am careless what thou sayest of me,
Thy smiles I court not, nor thy frowns I fear,
My cares are past, my head lies quiet here,
What faults you saw in me take care to shun,
And look at home – enough there's to be done.
Whero'er I lived or died it matters not,
To whom related, or by whom begot,
I was: now am not: ask no more of me:
'Tis all I am, and all that you shall be'.

The church appears to be dedicated to All Saints, but I understand that the old ascription was St. John the Evangelist. There are some signs of a Norman edifice in the massive round pillars of the two aisles, in the base tablet of the chancel's south wall, and in a blocked Transitional lancet on the south side of the presbytery. 

Restorations have left a very shapely church, but they have not improved upon the design of the founders. A decorated window of reticulated design remains. There are several modern windows, that one in the west wall being a saint's window containing some forty heads, with a grinning Belial peering over the shoulders of one godly man. Chancellor Raine - 'the cleverest antiquary in England' - had a similar window placed over the altar in his church of All Hallows Pavement, York. Some good 16th century stalls adorn the chancel, and the font boasts a beautiful 17th century wooden cover. But the glory of Harthill Church is its Renaissance carving - pulpit, lectern, altar-front, reading desk, and side screen being of polished walnut, some of it as rich and dark as old bronze. Strictly speaking, the pulpit is only a front, but truly a magnificent one, upon it being boldly carved the heads of the four prophets - Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel - the magnificent workmanship reminding one very much of Florentine bronze. The top panel a picture of the Nativity, and down the sides are carved quails, owls, eagles, pelicans, birds of the forest, mountain, and wilderness.

The altar front was originally a prayer desk from the workshop of the same artist, one Carlo Scarcelli; but with pride old William Drabble points out that work quite as good can be done in England, if only lovers of ecclesiastical art could be got to think so, the central panel here being an interpolated Agnus Dei carved in London. Scarcelli’s work consists of four evangelists, two on either side of the Agnus Dei. The lectern is a most lovely eagle on a pedestal, also in walnut. Sir James Hudson, brother to the late Rector, got all this furniture carved in Italy by Carlo Scarcelli in 1877, so that it is some centuries more modern than it looks. The critics have called its style extravagant, and pointed out its incongruity with architectural surroundings of mixed styles. In itself this Italian furniture is, of course, remarkably beautiful, for which reason it should be a joy forever. In the chancel there is a fine chair in Spanish chestnut, supposed to be of the 15th century, and given to the church by Sir James Hudson. A relic of no less value is the old vestment chest, though the carving on it appears to be modern. The registers, which date from 1586. are in good condition.


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