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Century-old Coseley Sunday school prize

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 04, 2014

By Dan Shaw

  • Archie Gough's Sunday school prize

  • The British Isles in Pictures by H. Clive Barnard

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FOR many growing up in the Black Country in days gone by the strong influence of chapel and Sunday school has left its indelible mark.

One of the highlights of the year for those sabbatical scholars was prize-giving, when good attendance, good conduct and success in Bible study were rewarded, usually with a book of suitably edifying content.

Just such a book has been recently loaned to the Bugle by Kath Bryan of Wombourne. It was presented over 100 years ago to her father, Archie Gough, by Mrs Wynn of the Round O Class, Darkhouse Chapel, Coseley.

Archie's prize for "Early and Regular Attendance and Good Conduct at the Sabbath School during the past year" was a copy of The British Isles in Pictures by H. Clive Barnard, first published in 1910. The book contains 58 illustrations, 32 of them in colour, showing famous landmarks and typical scenes around Great Britain and Ireland, along with descriptions of the geography, trade and industry, transport and farming.

We can imagine, back in February 1911, how eagerly young Archie would have turned the pages of his new prize book. However, he may have been disappointed to find that in all of its 64 pages there is no mention of the Black Country, not even in the chapters of canals or coal and iron. Indeed, the whole of the Midlands seems to have been ignored by the author, choosing the ironworks of Middlesbrough over those of Bilston of Bradley.

Darkhouse Chapel, still active today, sounds as if it is taken from a book by Dickens but its origins are even older. The origins of the Baptist community in Coseley date back to the late 18th century when a Thomas Smith of Brierley Hill left there and moved to Deepfields in around 1776. He was soon joined by five others who worshipped during the week at their homes but on Sundays went to the Baptist chapel in Dudley.

After seven years the Coseley Baptists began to tire of the three-mile journey to Dudley and so broke away to form their own chapel. They initially met in the kitchen of a Mr Wassell, in his home known as the "Darkhouse" because it was surrounded by trees that blocked the sunlight. This house was in Dark Lane, again named for its overshadowing trees. The first meeting was held on June 18, 1783. A record of the new meeting was signed by Bissell, Claridge, Cornfield, Dangerfield, Green, Groucutt, Hill, Horton, Jeavons, Lewis, Mason, Parkes, Skidmore, Smith, Stevens, Turley, Wagstaff, Wassell, Waterhouse and Webb.

A new chapel was opened on December 17, 1785, but the name Darkhouse stuck. The new chapel was registered in 1787 for the Particular Baptists by Thomas Smith, who became the pastor until his death in 1808.

What are your memories of Darkhouse Chapel? Have you any old Sunday school prizes? Contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle.co.uk

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