CHAPTER 4 : 1859-1878


In the last chapter I referred to Thomas' first gifts of chapels at Farnworth and Five Crosses. At the circuit meeting in March 1859 came his next offer. This was to build a chapel and school at Ditton (or Hough Green which was just outside Widnes) and to present them free from debt. This was to cost £850. At the same meeting he also offered to support a home missionary at his own cost on the Lancashire side of the river Mersey. Both offers were, not surprisingly, accepted by the meeting. Following the development of John Hutchinson's first factory in Widnes in 1847, the town had been growing rapidly, and the circuit clearly identified a need for increased activity by the Methodist church in the town. At this meeting of the circuit it is also recorded that Mrs Thomas Hazlehurst should be invited to lay the foundation stone of the Ditton chapel and that the circuit stewards would provide a trowel with a suitable inscription to present at the ceremony. It is interesting to note that although the credit for laying foundation stones has been given to Thomas, on this occasion the actual ceremony was performed by his wife. More details of such a ceremony will be described later with the laying of the foundation stone at Moss Bank chapel in Widnes.

In April 1861 came another offer, this time to build a chapel at Hale Bank, also in Widnes. This was to cost £900. The land was purchased from the Earl of Derby at a cost of £25, which was also paid by Thomas Hazlehurst. To celebrate the gift, his initials were built into the arch of the chapel. This chapel was built with a tower which was visible from Thomas Hazlehurst's home on the other side of the river. It is said that the tower was 'to enable him to easily locate it from his home'1 . The first preacher at this chapel was Rev, John Rattenbury who was then the Wesleyan Methodist President 2.

Then the following year at the December meeting of the circuit came Thomas' biggest offer yet, to build another chapel in Widnes because the congregation had outgrown the little chapel in Suttons Lane. This one would be equal in size to Brunswick chapel in Runcorn, seating 800 people. Again a site was found by the church members, on the corner of Victoria Road and Lacey Street. The land was bought for £500 and the chapel itself cost £3,3503 . The existing chapel in Suttons Lane would be converted into 'a "good" day school'. Again Mrs Hazlehurst was invited to lay the first stone and to receive a silver trowel.

In 1862 Camden chapel and school were opened in Runcorn. Because of the expanding industries, the town had been growing. Formerly it had been mainly confined in the relatively small area between the Bridgewater canal and the river Mersey and now more room was needed. An area known as the 'new town' developed on the south side of the canal. Camden chapel and school, named after Hazlehurst's works, were built in Lowlands Road to serve this new population. The chapel and school have been attributed to the generosity of Thomas Hazlehurst but no offer to provide them is recorded in the circuit minutes. It would appear that Thomas Hazlehurst was a major contributor to this venture but that he did not present it to the church in the same way as the other benefactions.

In July 1864 a chapel was opened at Widnes Dock, seating 900 people. Thomas donated nearly £3,000 to the building of this chapel4 .

In 1864 also came the offer of Thomas' greatest gift to Methodism. At the March meeting of the Circuit he offered to build a chapel in the middle of Runcorn, on land adjoining Camden works. The land itself was to be given jointly by himself and his brother Charles. Thomas would pay for the chapel and, once again, present it to Conference free of debt.

This was to be St. Paul's chapel, probably the finest building in the town of Runcorn and, as late as 1906, still the largest chapel in the Liverpool District5 . The chapel was opened on 13th November 1866. At a service held in the evening in the new chapel 'despite the tempestuous weather' 'the congregation was 'by far the largest ever assembled in the town'6 . The cost of the chapel was about £8,000, which in present day terms would be nearly £400,000. This was virtually the same as the cost of the Anglican Parish Church built in the late 1840s7 .

In 1867 a small chapel was opened at Moss Bank, Widnes. Thomas Hazlehurst did not pay for it but he did lay the foundation stone. Actually, although he was given the credit for it, the foundation stone was actually laid by Ann, Thomas' second wife. On the foundation stone she placed a £20 note - then worth over £900 in today's terms. Thomas gave a donation of £50 (which is over £2,000). Two other Hazlehurst brothers were also present at the ceremony; Charles donated £25 and John £20. The total cost of the chapel was £400, so the Hazlehurst family paid a substantial part of its cost8 . If donations were always around this level, it is little wonder that Thomas was so frequently invited to lay foundation stones!

In 1868 came another major offer, this time to build a chapel in Halton Road, Runcorn. This would replace the small Zion chapel nearby in Frederick Street which would in turn become a Sunday school. This was to be a chapel almost on the scale of St. Paul's, costing around £8,000. In this year Thomas Hazlehurst was again a circuit steward.

In 1869 Widnes separated from the Runcorn circuit becoming the head of a new circuit, and Thomas' future gifts of buildings were all to the south of the Mersey.

In 1870 Camden school was enlarged. The previous year Thomas' elder son Thomas Alfred had died following a railway accident and the cost of this enlargement was met by Thomas Hazlehurst together with public subscriptions in memory of his son.

Yet more offers were to come. In June 1871 Thomas offered to build a small chapel at Weston Point, Runcorn, and again this offer was accepted by the meeting 'with thanks'. At that time Frodsham was in need of a larger chapel to replace the one in what was Chapel Lane and is now Fluin Lane. In 1870 Charles Hazlehurst had offered to provide land for this chapel and at the meeting in September 1871 Thomas offered to provide the chapel itself. This was to be Trinity chapel which was sited near the top of the hill in Main Street, just around the corner from the old chapel. In a new style (for Thomas), this was to be in the Gothic style of architecture rather than in the Classical style and was to boast a tall spire.

Also at the September meeting Thomas offered to pay off the debt of the old chapel in Kingsley, a village a few miles east of Frodsham. The new chapel was called Hurst chapel. Of its total cost of £1,362, £817 was a gift from Thomas Hazlehurst and the remainder was raised by subscriptions, collections, et cetera. The former debt of £120 on the old chapel was paid off by Thomas Hazlehurst9 .

Frodsham divided from the Runcorn circuit in 1872.

In June 1872 Thomas offered to build new schools in Weston village to be called 'The Weston and Weston Point Day Schools'. At the September meeting of the Circuit, thanks were recorded to Thomas Hazlehurst for a gift of £100 for 'paying off the engagement with the Widnes and Frodsham circuits'. At this time Thomas' health appears to have been declining and at the December meeting it was moved that 'the meeting prays that he may speedily be restored again to his usual health'.

Ill health or not, Thomas continued to give. At the Circuit meeting in March 1874 thanks were expressed for his provision of a new chapel and day school in Halton village, just outside Runcorn. This chapel was opened on 15th July 1875 and was also dedicated to the Trinity. In addition to donating the chapel building and the land upon which it stood, Thomas also presented the chapel with a bible10 .

Thomas' health continued to be a problem and at the Circuit meetings in March 1875 and March 1876 the meeting's sympathy was again extended to him 'in his long continued affliction'. At the time of the meeting on June 19th 1876 his life was clearly nearing its end and he died on July 14th. Gifts continued to be given by him until the end. At the first anniversary of the Sunday school at Halton, only a few days before his death, the collection totalled £101 of which Thomas gave £5011 .

As well as being a benefactor to Methodist causes, Thomas was himself a sincere and pious Christian. He took a full part in the activities of his local chapel being at some time honorary organist at Brunswick chapel, a class leader, a trustee of the chapel and a local preacher. He supported the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Wesleyan Missionary Society, the London committee of which he was a member. Although a devout Wesleyan, he was also sympathetic to the work of the other Christian denominations, at times taking the chair at meetings supporting their interests, 'and never failed on such occasions to give a liberal donation'12 .

One of his much reported activities was the laying of foundation or memorial stones of Methodist chapels and schools. Each of these events was usually rewarded by the presentation of an inscribed silver trowel or mallet. In all he collected between 90 and 100 of these which were 'tastefully arranged in an elegant frame made for that purpose'. Each trowel was said to represent a donation of between £20 and £8,00013 . It is reported that this activity took place even 'on the Continent'14 .

Another of his activities was the writing of 'discourses' or sermons of which a large number were distributed, usually free of charge. The total number is stated to be somewhere between 'upwards of half-a-million'15 and 'over a million'16 . Most were small pamphlets measuring 6-7 inches by 4-5 inches and consisting of 16 pages of small print. An exception was a 'Paraphrase on the 23rd Psalm', published in 1865, which was of a similar format but contained 32 pages. This was on sale for 3d. (3 old pence)17 .

At a much more humble level he is described as possessing 'a cheerful and kind-hearted was for him a labour of love to visit the sick and afflicted, to read to them the sacred Scripture...and to pray with and for them'18 .

Thomas had three sons by his first marriage but sadly only one of them, George Steward, was to reach the age of maturity.

I have recorded above that Howard died before his 5th birthday. His younger brother Thomas Alfred was a man of much promise who sadly died shortly before his 21st birthday following a railway accident. Details of this incident are recorded in the next section.

Back in 1851, when Eliza died, Thomas was living in Camden Cottage, which was attached to Camden House. Later that decade19 he built a substantial house in Weston Road, which had a magnificent view across the Mersey estuary towards the mountains of North Wales. It was situated just round a corner, so that the works would not be visible from it. It was surrounded by a large landscaped garden which contained a lodge where his coachman lived. Initially called Prospect Villa, it was renamed Beaconsfield sometime after 187420 .

In 1861 Thomas was living in Prospect Villa with his second wife, Ann, and his one surviving son, George Steward together with 3 resident servants. In the lodge lived James Holford, his coachman, with his wife and three children. In 1871 the household was similar and Ann's son by her first marriage, Peter Rymer Wall, was also resident; he was described as being an official of the Midland Railway. James Holford and his wife were still in the lodge, their elder daughter had left home but their son Charles was then aged 16 and was acting as a coachman and domestic servant to the family.

Thomas was buried in Runcorn cemetery in a very simple grave. On the grave, in addition to his details, is the humble inscription 'He hath done what he could!'21 . The funeral itself sounds as though it were a grand affair, starting with a procession from Beaconsfield to the cemetery. The burial took place at noon. Although the procession and ceremony were entirely outside the town itself, the tradesman in the town closed their shops from 11 am to 1 pm and the blinds at the public offices and the 'residences of the principal inhabitants' were drawn. This applied not only to the Wesleyan Methodists but to 'persons of all ranks, and of every political creed and religious denomination'22 . The funeral procession 'extended along the route fully half a mile'23 .

On the Sunday evening following Thomas' death a memorial service was held in St. Paul's chapel. This would have been an event which would be expected but, at a time when there was more competition between the Christian denominations than there is today, during the morning of the same day, a memorial service was held at Runcorn Parish church. This was attended by 'a numerous congregation, many of whom belonged to the Wesleyan denomination'. The funeral sermons given at both these services were recorded in full in the local press24 . The sermon in the morning at the Parish church was given by the vicar of Runcorn, the Rev. Canon Barclay, who revealed much about what must have been thought about Thomas and his family at that time. He described Thomas as a man 'who walked with God...constantly recognizing the presence of God in business as well as in religion'. He considered that this had its consequences in 'the honourable character of his commercial career, the strict integrity of his dealings, the punctuality of his payments, the quality of the articles manufactures by his firm'. Canon Barclay referred to Thomas' gifts to Wesleyan Methodism, in particular his chapel building and by his 'liberal contributions, assisted in building all over England, and out of England too!' (which presumably refers to this laying of foundation stones). As an aside the Canon expressed the opinion that if Thomas had been 'a member of his own communion, long ere this a church would have been erected in Greenway-road'25 (the Anglicans had been hoping to build a new church to serve the new town area). In the evening about 2,000 people attended St. Paul's chapel where the pulpit, the communion table, the choir screens and the seats occupied by family and relatives were draped in black.

Thomas' death was honoured in the highest place possible in the Methodist church, at the Methodist Conference of 1876. The following motion was moved by Rev John Rattenbury and seconded by Mr G H Chubb:

"That this meeting deems it right to record its sincere regard for the character of the late Mr. Thomas Hazlehurst, of Runcorn, whose services to the cause of God in many ways, and especially in his munificent gifts of chapels, have been of great value, and will confer lasting benefits upon the Connexion, and the Meeting earnestly prays that a similar spirit of Christian zeal may rest upon many survivors ".26

Thomas' gifts to Methodism ended with his death, as had his father's. His estate was inherited by his wife Ann, his daughter by his first marriage, Mary Leather, his surviving son, George Steward Hazlehurst and his step-son Peter Rymer Wall, Ann's son. Nothing was left by his will to the Methodist church or to other charities.

Click here to see pictures of some of the chapels which Thomas Hazlehurst was involved with.

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