The parish of Birstall (or Birstal as it was used to be spelt) covered a significant area of the local countryside. At one time it included the whole area now sub-divided into the parishes of Tong (1727); Whitechapel (1732); Birkenshaw, Drub, East Bierley and Hunsworth (1842); Heckmondwike (1842); Cleckheaton St John (1842); Gomersal (1846); Wyke (1847); Roberttown (including Norristhorpe) (1847); Drighlington (with Adwalton) (1847); Liversedge (1860); Brownhill – formed partly from Birstall and partly from Batley (1871); Oakenshaw (1877); Cleckheaton, St Luke (1878); Heckmondwike – St Saviours (1872); Hightown (1911); and Scholes (1929). It is for this reason that the Birstall Parish Church records are so significant for the whole of this area and many wish to consult them whilst researching family history.
Since 1538 every parish has been required to keep registers of baptisms, marriages and burials. Very few of the very earliest have survived. Ours, from 1558, are among the oldest surviving in West Yorkshire. Our oldest registers are deposited at the Diocesan Record Office in Wakefield for safekeeping under controlled conditions. Microfiche copies may be viewed there (see Note 1) and also at reference departments of the public libraries in Batley, Cleckheaton and Huddersfield.
Transcripts from the registers have been published by the Parish Register Section of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Most usefully these volumes have an index by name. There are copies at St Peter’s church and in the reference sections of the public libraries of Batley, Cleckheaton and Huddersfield. Alternatively, the volumes may be bought from the Y A S. (See Note 2).
It is important to remember that nonconformity flourished in this area from the eighteenth century. For instance in 1825 there were 5 churches in the old parish of Birstall but 19 ‘dissenting’ chapels. Chapels kept their own records, many of which have been deposited in one of the county archives. (see Note 3). Until 1837 a marriage was only legal if it took place in a parish church.
More recent Birstall registers (from the early 20th century) are retained in the church safe and may be consulted by appointment with the Verger. In the first instance contact the Vicar. A search fee is chargeable.
Gravestone inscriptions are another useful source of information as they sometimes record the names of more than one generation. An indexed transcription of Birstall gravestones prior to about 1940 may be seen in the Local History Section of Bradford Central Library. They also have a consolidated index of the names appearing on gravestones in 120 graveyards in Bradford and the surrounding area.
1 Wakefield Registry of Deeds and Wakefield Diocesan Record Office, Newstead Road, Wakefield WF1 2DE. (Tel. 01924 305982 – Fax. 01924 305983) is open for limited hours, and enquirers are advised to telephone before visiting.
2 The Yorkshire Archaeological Society, ‘Claremont’, 23 Clarendon Road, Leeds LS2 9NZ.
Tel. 0113 2456362.
3 West Yorkshire Archive Service, 15 Canal Road, Bradford BD1 4AT.
Tel. 01274 731931. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Chapeltown Road, Leeds LS7 3AP.
Tel. 01132 628339. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Central Library, Alexander Walk, Huddersfield HD1 2SU.
Tel. 01484 513808 Ext 207.