A Brief History of the Church and its buildings

Earliest beginnings

Shortly after 600AD an Anglian farmer Guthmer settled in the area. His fortified settlement was called 'Burgsteall' (fortified place). When the Gospel was brought by monk-missionaries from Dewsbury a preaching cross and then a church were built, the first church at Birstall. Birstall became a settlement and then a large parish of 14000 acres.

The cloth trade prospered in the little villages of the area, notably in Gomersal (Guthmer's Halh), but the area covered by Birstall church remained very large. It must have been difficult to manage such an area, but it was not until the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the great increase in populations of the growing villages within the parish, that it became necessary to split up Birstall parish sometimes by forming chapelries first: Liversedge (1816), Drighlington (1847), Heckmondwike (1831), Cleckheaton (1832 & 1889), Roberttown (1847), Gomersal (1851), Tong (1860), Oakenshaw (1889), Scholes (1877), Hightown (1893).

St Paul's Church, Birkenshaw-cum Hunsworth was a part of this process, the church being consecrated in 1831 and also including the village of East Bierley.

Up to the end of the 18th Century Birkenshaw was no more than a hamlet, a few houses with a scattering of farms. The development of the village came with the purchase of land by the Emmets and the establishment of iron smelting and a foundry. Though this foundry closed in 1815, the community was already growing with the addition of work in local pits, and in woollen mills.

It was also the Emmets who made provision by granting, in 1828, land for the building of a church in the village.   Parliament granted £3000, and a mock Gothic church in the lancet style was the result.

The first Vicar died after only 3 months but his successor, Rev Henry John Smith, was vicar from 1832-1862. His contribution to the parish was outstanding. He began the Sunday School, and then built two school buildings in the church grounds. Responsibility for the school belonged to 'The National Society for the Promotion of the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church'. The supply of money from the National Society was small and Rev Smith had much to do.

These school buildings continued in use until the 1960s when they were replaced by new schools, two in Birkenshaw and one in East Bierley. Many present people in the village were educated there. In 1998 these listed buildings were renovated, one was sold, and the other, totally refurbished with the help of a grant of £200,000 from the charities Board, is devoted to community use and is called Birkenshaw Community Hall. This helps realise the declared aim of the church at present "The aim of this parish is to love and serve God and our neighbours".

In the second half of the 19th century further improvements were made to the church. The church clock was constructed in 1850 (and is still maintained by committee of trustees), an organ was built by public subscription (£600, a font erected, a heating system was installed, and another prominent local family of mill owners, the Ackroyds, provided three acres of land for the present graveyard. In 1892, the church underwent major alterations. The balcony was removed, choir and vicar's vestries and new chancel were added and the whole interior was refurbished with a new roof, pitch pine pews and panelling. The total cost of £3340 was raised by public subscription (this at a time when the average weekly collection was £3). They did a good job since much of what they did remains to this day.

In the first half of the 20th century developments have been: the formation of the Mothers' Union in 1913 (which still flourishes), a war memorial screen was erected in front of the Choir in 1921 and the dead of World War II are also commemorated on the screen, a scout troop was formed in 1924 (its own altar placed in a small side chapel in church), a lady chapel was added in the 1920s   and electric lighting in the 1930s.

The former headmaster's house was sold and the former caretaker's house demolished.

The Mission Church of St Luke's, East Bierley, was built in 1861 at Copley Springs, but the site was too remote and it was rebuilt on the site of the present school at East Bierley. Until 1961, the building was a school during the week and a church on Sunday. In that year East Bierley Memorial Hall was converted into a church and village hall. St Luke's closed for worship in September 2018.

St Peter's, Hunsworth was originally a cottage rented from the Saville family. Then a new church was built in Green lane and opened in 1952. Because of the high costs of necessary repairs and heating, the decision was made in 1978 to close this church and Kirklees purchased the building as a Community Centre for the village of Hunsworth.

Recent years: Reorganisation and Reordering

We are now moving through a period of substantial change. This began during the incumbency of Rev David Clarke. At that time the church in Birkenshaw (and its mission churches) had low congregations, many buildings to maintain, and faced severe difficulties. At present the church community is relatively thriving and much progress has been made to rationalise its resources to meet the needs of the people. The following headlines help explain this change:

*The PCC was reorganised - the emphasis being placed on 'service' to church and community, and the rotation of responsible positions

*Stewardship was examined painfully and carefully both in respect of giving and of property, the church now has a satisfactory income and good reserves

*The decision was taken to reduce or improve church buildings:

St Luke's, East Bierley was retained (after careful consideration). The church occupies a room downstairs, and the upper room is let for community activities.

The ministry there has grown, with monthly Prayer & Praise services, and in 2008 a weekly 9.00am Service of Holy Communion. Though money is spent on refurbishment, St Luke's now pays its own way.

On the St Paul's site, one of the former school buildings was sold. The other school building, now the Birkenshaw Community Hall, has been renovated and extended by means of a Lottery Grant so that it now has a new lease of life largely to serve the needs of the community and is self financing through letting charges. At present the Hall is fully used and thriving.

In recent years the Parish Church of St Paul has been improved by the provision of a new heating system and a sound system, including a loop for the hard of hearing.

The most recent reordering of the church in 2008,   has seen the provision of new toilets, including one with wheelchair access, a new kitchen area and vestry, and new electrics and lighting.

The Church roof has also been replaced, and a ramp to the main door provided to give wheelchair access. In Autumn 2017 St Paul's clock was repainted.