Monday, 12 October 2020

Howden, Barmby and the Forest School Walthamstow

In the early hours of Wednesday 9th October 1929 the townsfolk of Howden were woken by shouts and noise as the tower of the Church went up in flames. An itinerant farm worker later claimed he had been paid to start the fire by a sacked worker of Bostock and Wombwell's menagerie which was set up in the Market Place.

The cages with lions and tigers inside were dragged onto the Marsh and inhabitants of Churchside were evacuated as a huge crack opened up at the top of the tower.

A view of the tower on fire- it never  fails to horrify me

The fire was out by morning but the damage was severe. Much restoration work was needed before the church could re-open in 1932.

I was reminded of this, and of some research I did some years ago, and so as often happens in local history, I have followed a trail of connected events.

Rev Thomas Guy

We need to go back to 1791 when a son was born in Ravenstonedale in Cumbria to parents John and Isabel Guy. They were not rich but their son Thomas received an excellent education at the local grammar school in the village. He was ordained priest and came to Howden to be master of the grammar school there which was held in the church.

Aged 23 he married Mary Whitaker in Thorne. They had at least eight children including their son, Frederick Barlow Guy who was born in 1825.

This was also the year that Rev Guy, who also held the post of lecturer at Barmby, was appointed vicar of Howden to replace Rev Spofforth who had died. But Howden then had no vicarage house and Rev Guy and his growing family lived in Bridgegate in the area opposite the PA building. For a time in the 1840s and 1850s he and his second wife lived at Barmby.

Rev Guy agreed with the trustees of the Garlthorpe charity in Barmby that two poor houses, which they owned,  should be demolished and a new school built on the site. This was opened  in October 1834. The datestone is still on the end of what is now known as the Garlthorpe Institute. 

Built as a National school in 1834 it is now a community building known as the Garlthorpe Institute

But Rev Guy at this time was suffering tragedies in his personal life. His eldest son John William died aged 19  in Nov 1833 and his wife Mary the following year. He remarried in 1835 to Helen Wikeley.

John Gilderdale, a Barmby boy

One of Rev Guy's pupils at Howden Grammar school was a boy from Barmby called John Gilderdale born in 1802. John's father George was a shipowner, probably born at Thorne and young John initially too considered a career at sea.

But instead aged 18 he went to study with great success at St Catharine's College, Cambridge. After gaining his degree in 1826 he married Rebecca Smith of Airmyn in November at Hook church.

He was ordained priest in 1827 and his first post was as a curate, then vicar, at Huddersfield. The young couple set up home there and it was where their two daughters Rebecca and Lucy and son John Smith were born. 

Rev Gilderdale also ran a school in his house Edgerton Lodge where a tragedy occurred in 1840  on November 5th.

The Leeds Mercury reported it as follows

At the Rev. Mr. Gilderdale's establishment at Edgerton, near Huddersfield, the pupils, under strict caution  to observe prudence, were amusing themselves in letting off fireworks, when a quantity of these combustibles in the pocket of a fine youth, the son of Mr. Jones, surveyor of Birkhouse, became ignited,  and burnt him so much that his life has been all but sacrificed [he later died] .  The other case was similar in its origin, and resulted in the death of a promising youth the son of Mr George Wilson, of Lindley. who died in great agony Sunday last. Being a pupil in the Huddersfield College, his remains were followed to the grave on Wednesday last near 200 of his fellow collegians, whose spontaneous desire testify their respect for the deceased, and their expressed wish that the melancholy event may have a lasting salutary impression, operated much to diminish the aggravating circumstances of the case. Their appearance, dress, and demeanour elicited much admiration ; and the melancholy event has excited general feeling of commiseration for the afflicted parents and relatives of the unfortunate youth.

One of the pupils at the time was fifteen year old Frederick Guy. 

Two years later John was appointed to Walthamstow where he became headmaster of what is now called the Forest School. It had had an auspicious beginning in 1834 with shareholders including Spode industrialist William Copeland, William Morris senior, father of the artist and poet William Morris and Governor of the Bank of England William Cotton,

But it went through a bad patch and was on the verge of closure when Rev Gilderdale was appointed. He is credited with turning its fortunes round.

And in 1852  the two strands of the story come together when  Rev Frederick Barlow Guy married Rebecca Gilderdale at Walthamstow. They were entwined even further the following year when Rev John  Smith Gilderdale married Rev Guy's youngest daughter Agnes at Howden. 

Frederick and Rebecca eventually had a family of twenty children. He became headmaster in 1857, taking over from his father in law.

William Morris

William Morris lived near the school and was initially a boarder at Marlborough College but there was a  pupil 'rebellion' there in November 1851  and so he left and studied with a private tutor,  the Reverend  F B Guy, who was then assistant master at Forest school. They remained friends all their lives.

After F. B. Guy’s wife Rebecca died in 1875, the school commissioned the firm of Morris & Co. to install a memorial window in the south transept of the school chapel, which was designed by Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris’ lifelong friend and partner.  It was destroyed in 1944.

Howden church stained glass

In the mid nineteenth century much restoration work was undertaken at Howden.  It was completed in 1858. The Forest school had a new chapel built in 1857.

After the fire at Howden in 1929, when some windows were destroyed, an article appeared in the Goole Times describing how some of the Howden glass had formerly been lost but fragments had been rescued and were now in Walthamstow.

Extracts from the 1929 article

In the vestibule of the school chapel is a small window into which is leaded a panel of glass of early 14th century. It is the top section of the painted glass filling of one of the main lights of a 14th century window. The panel shows parts of  white glass and of a border. Also in  the top of the light is a little picture of two eagles looking skyward, one bird much larger than the other. This,  shows the mother eagle teaching her young to gaze at the sun, an idea which has been taken from very ancient times to symbolise the sacrament of baptism. The eagles are yellow on a patterned green ground. This symbolical idea of eagles is rare.

In  the window of one of the classrooms is another piece of ancient glass of the same period as the eagle panel although very fragmentary. It represents a deacon holding a thurible or censer beneath a canopy yellow on a ruby groundall  within a border of oak leaves as in the eagle panel. Unfortunately the figure has lost its head, its place having been supplied by another head of much later date than the lost original and  there are many repairs - lost pieces of glass replaced by fragments of 14th century date such as such as geometric white glass, yellow tabernacle and scroll draperies and so forth, telling a sad tale of the breaking up of the ancient painted glass of Howden Church and its chapter house. 

With regard to the identity of the mutilated figure it probably represented Laurence the Deacon for there are pieces of glass beneath the feet which may be parts of a gridiron  Below the figure is a large square panel entirely made up of fragments of old painted glass of the kind already described.

These pieces of ancient painted glass were originally parts of the glazing of a window or windows of Howden church whence they came about 80 years ago a bad time for remains of ancient art. having been thrown aside as rubbish in the course of repairs or restoration work at the church they were rescued from destruction by a kindly hand and ultimately  found their way to Essex.

We can detect the hands of the Guy family in this story and wonder whether the glass is till there. Incidentally the glass was not the only casualty of the restoration. A newspaper report of 1858 describes how the ancient Howden church pulpit  was pressed into service as a judges' box in the Howden steeplechases that year.

Rev Thomas Guy died in 1862.  His grave is in the church yard.

The Forest school retained its Howden and Barmby connections; several Howden pupils were educated there in the 1880s and even today it has a Gilderdale Hall.

Repairing Howden church - before health and safety!


  1. Hi Susan. I can add a further connection! My wife and I lived in Walthamstow when we got married and 27 years later now live in Howden ��

  2. I never cease to be surprised at these random connections. I think Howden is quieter than present day Walthamstow although at the time the Gilderdale and Guy families were there I think it was quite rural.