New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
MR. JOHN WILD,
And the Heywood Society
THE Society of the Lord's New Church in the town of Heywood, eight miles north of Manchester, from the faithful and long-continued labours of its able, pious, and venerable minister, its large and well-conducted schools, and the admirable and respected characters of the friends in general—prëeminently so of some of them—has become a power in the town for good. In my early days, fifty years ago, it was a place that impressed me least favourably of all the small towns of Lancashire which I was in the habit of occasionally visiting.
It was a long, straggling, ill-formed village, rather than town, crowded with beershops.
Of all the places which were injured by the injudicious act of the Duke of Wellington, to spread these low drink houses for the working classes over the kingdom, Heywood struck me as about the poorest specimen.
On a Sunday morning the people might be seen untidy, lounging in their shirt-sleeves about the front of their not very neat cottages and at the end of their streets; not at all beautiful specimens of the intelligent operatives of the British Public.
Now, the scene is entirely different. It is a respectable, orderly, corporate, well-regulated town, with, I trust, a noble future. The character of its houses has greatly changed for the better. Its streets are regular and well-paved, it has many excellent public buildings, and commodious, goodly mansions of well-to-do tradesmen. Heywood has, now, the air altogether of an intelligent community, pleasant to visit.
Much of this estimable progress is due to the existence and growth of the New Church Society and schools in Heywood, and their efficiency owes very much to the steady, persevering worth of some of the early members, especially of Mr. John Ashworth, a man of a quiet celestial genius, and Mr. John Wild, a man more of a spiritual, but of a most useful class.
I have selected the latter as the subject for our consideration, because he came more to the front in the visible progress and efficiency of the Society.
The Society was formed of six persons, in 1812. And as Middleton had a Society from 1798, and is only two and a half miles away, I have always concluded that the doctrines got to Heywood from Middleton. I have often walked the distance from one to the other, myself.
The first name that appeared in any document connected with the Heywood Society is Robert Crabtree, as leader, in the Minutes of 1818. Two years after (1820) appears John Wild, tin-worker.
He was one of the original six, and was true and steady to the Society in all its vicissitudes. His position was then one of those quick-witted working men, earnest, religious, energetic, and persevering, by whom the cotton-trade was advancing with colossal strides.
About this time he was married, at the age of twenty-three, and with a modest commencement with which to begin housekeeping, of which he has with a merry face given me the figures, but which I should not like to mention, for it was an exceptional case, not always to be followed. He, however, and his excellent partner in life, with whom he had great happiness, and reared a goodly family, had the qualities of diligence and thought, by which property is made, and the prudence and thrift by which to take care of it. He soon rose to comfort, and then to affluence. Mr. Wild took warmly to the principles of the Church, and was ready at all times to defend them.
He became familiar with his Bible, and generally for years had one in his pocket; so that it became well-known that the cause of the New Jerusalem Church would take no harm if John Wild was there.
Next to the care of his own household, the Heywood Society was the object of his heartiest love and devotion. For forty years he was an active member: for twelve years he was treasurer, and for thirteen years he was leader and preacher.
He was for many years an active teacher in the Sunday School, and always its zealous friend. He assisted as a preacher in connection with the Manchester Missionary Society, and was very acceptable. His hearty, cheerful face and spirit were always welcome.
The Heywood Society altered the position of its place of worship several times. It began in Church Lane, then moved to a place called Coach-turning; after to Gooding-lane; and subsequently to their present site, in 1837, Church Street, probably the same road in which they began, with its name a little dignified in harmony with its improved condition. They had now built their first modest chapel, at whose opening I assisted, and I believe at every enlargement since, or school foundation or erection, I have been privileged to rejoice with them, and render any little aid I could.
Mr. Wild was always there, and always helping, but so as always to leave plenty of room for other zealous souls to help also. He never came so much to the front, as to keep others back. There were many rising young men, who both had the will and the ability to take a due part in aiding the Society; and Mr. Wild never did so much as to discourage them.
Indeed, if there was one special quality that was peculiarly manifest in Mr. Wild, it was COMMON SENSE. He was embodied COMMON SENSE.
He saw the immense importance of Sunday Schools in removing the dense ignorance of the common people, and he did all he could to foster in the Society enthusiasm for their Sunday School. Like Accrington, the Society at Heywood has diligently supported and fostered its Sunday School, and the most efficient members have arisen from its scholars and teachers.
Another manifestation of the sound Common Sense of Mr. Wild was his urging of the necessity, as soon as they had obtained a place of worship of their own, that they should have a regular pastor.
Missionary visits he thought might do very well while things were not fully fixed in a Society; but when it had shown its capacity to grow, and taken a fair stand, there must be a regular shepherd, as the Lord said in the case of Peter, to feed both lambs and sheep. Hence he urged the invitation to Mr. Storry, then an earnest young man at Pickering, in Yorkshire, zealous for the heavenly doctrines, and in 1837 that connection was formed at Heywood, with an interval only of a few years' removal to Dalton, when in the absence of Mr. Storry, Mr. Parry, the Rev. J. B. Kennerley, and the Rev. R. Eddleston occupied the pulpit, until the ministry of the Rev. R. Storry was resumed, to the great satisfaction of all parties.
When cheap day schools, on the London and Manchester plan, had been shown to be valuable, the opening of one in Heywood was greatly encouraged by Mr. Wild, and in 1846 he was determined they should have a large and noble school. There were a great number of short-timers from his own factories, and with other children besides he saw there was room for something commodious, and he went vigorously to work for a supply.
The laying of the first stone made a great day. The Rev. Mr. Storry presented a silver trowel to Mr. Wild on Good Friday, the day chosen; and in doing so he stated that "Mr. Wild's services to the Society extended over nearly the entire period of its history. They were indebted to him for the liberal contributions and active assistance he had rendered in the secular affairs of the Church, and still more for his untiring zeal and useful labours for many years as their leader."
Mr. Wild, in reply, said that "his connection with the Society had been a source of comfort to himself, and attended therefore with its own reward. He was, nevertheless, glad to receive this assurance of the affection of his brethren, and hoped that the spirit of mutual love which existed in the Society would long continue." He then dwelt at some length on the beauties of the New Jerusalem, and the superior excellence of her doctrines.
I was present, as usual, and took part in the general joy. The school is now one of the most commodious in the Church, with admirable teachers and nearly 700 scholars. The Church at Heywood was enlarged and beautified from time to time during Mr. Wild's life-time, and always with his liberal concurrence and assistance. He would sometimes shed tears of joy at the progress and success of the Church he so dearly loved. The last enlargement and decoration of the Church, at whose re-opening I was as usual called on to assist, recalled the many happy seasons I had taken part in, with my dear and good old friend, then an angel, excellent John Wild.
He was highly esteemed on the Manchester Exchange, which he had attended for more than thirty years, as a leading manufacturer, and a man of cool, sound judgment. He was on the Exchange, when a stroke of apoplexy occurred which, after two days, terminated his journey of life in this lower world. This was in March, 1859.
In his obituary it is truly stated: "In every relation of life Mr. Wild was held in the highest respect. He was, under God, the architect of his own fortunes, and rose to a highly influential position in his own neighbourhood. As a large employer of labour, few men ever had the respect, and even love, of his servants to a greater extent. He knew the struggles and sorrows of the poor, and always sympathised with them. Nothing could speak more touchingly on this subject than the reverential and sorrowful countenances of the hundreds of his townspeople who lined the streets as the funeral procession passed along to the place of interment. All were affected, many were in tears. For many years he took an active part in parochial affairs; and though at public meetings he sometimes thought it his duty to tell the people hard and disagreeable truths, he never lost their esteem. Persons of every shade of political and religious belief resorted to him as a friend and adviser in times of difficulty and trouble. He was a. clear-headed, intelligent man of the world, and his, advice was valuable. In this respect he will be long remembered with gratitude by those who received the benefits of his assistance."
At the commencement of this sketch it was observed that another excellent, affectionate man, to whom the Heywood Society owed very much, was Mr. John Ashworth. He had been connected with the Society all his thoughtful life; and was for many years a Sunday School teacher, and lovingly aided with Mr. Wild in doing all they could for the general prosperity. "They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their deaths they were not divided."
With a very short illness, Mr. Ashworth passed away only a week before Mr. Wild's departure, and the latter had been conversing on the Exchange, on his interest in the funeral sermon on his friend the Sunday before, when his own summons came, emphasizing the great truth: "Be ye also READY, for ye know not the hour when the Son of Man cometh."