It was back in 1791 that a worsted mill was constructed on the site of Arnot Hill Park to produce a high-quality type of wool yarn.
The mill was built by Robert Davison and John Hawksaley and they appointed two managers to run the concern: they were William Huddlestone and George Wall . As well as expertise in the manufacturing field, the two managers also brought both brought Methodism to Arnold.
William Huddlestone came to Arnold early in 1798.
He had started life as a flax dresser in Oxton and had become a widower in his mid-20s when his first wife died. In 1769, he married again this time to a fellow widow, just four years his junior, called Elizabeth Frignall. This was while he was still living and working in Oxton.
The Huddlestons moved to Arnold when William was 58 bringing their 10 children with them. This was so he could become one of the managers of the Arnold Mill. William was well liked and a popular family man who was always considered “a pattern of conjugal and paternal affection to them all”.
Although he started out in the Church of England and was in fact married in St Peters in Oxton, William had become a Methodist. His appointment was therefore unusual at the time as Methodists were considered radicals and rebels as they did not follow the teachings of the established mainstream Church of England.
The owners of the mill, Hawksley and Davison, were also considered to be religious radicals. Hawksley was a member of St Nicholas Church in Nottingham and although it was Church of England, it was a forward thinking church for its time. Davison was a member of Friar Lane Chapel – a Protestant church which dissented from the established Church of England. Both these radical churches contained between them a large number of the great and good of Nottingham.
When joining forces in the mill project, Hawksley and Davison decided they wanted like minded people to take charge of the mill.
The only church in Arnold at the time was St Mary’s at the other end of the town and was a very strong traditionalist church at the time.
Huddlestone, Wall and the two partners of the Mill therefore decided to build a chapel on Nottingham Road near the mill. This was primarily for their workforce and was then known as the Meadow Chapel. It became the first Methodist church in the town.
Huddlestone was a man of considerable force of character and became an active Methodist local preacher and spoke with great warmth, affection and energy. He was elegant, lively and prophetic.
Huddlestone was strongly urged to become a Church of England clergyman and was offered advancement if he did so, but he declined. He was also offered a place in the Methodist ministry which he also declined, preferring to support the church as a local preacher. He became a driving force in the church and a member of Methodist New Connection which was a breakaway group from the early Methodist church. They eventually opened 18 churches in the area.
He preached regularly at the Meadows Chapel as well as the churches in Chilwell, Woodborough, Mansfield, Carlton, Basford, Radford and as far away as Donington. He continued this preaching to the end. He died in 1816 at the age of 76.
George Wall, like William Huddleston, was a Methodist local preacher in the New Connection Methodist church as well as a manager of the Arnold mill . He was apparently very well educated and was appointed at the very young age of 22.
Unlike Huddlestone, his fellow manager, when offered the chance to become a Methodist minister he took it with great enthusiasm.
He received a letter on the 12 October 1797 from the founder of the Methodist New Connection church Alexander Kilham. This letter was concerned with the appointment of George Wall to be the assistant of Mr. Gurndill, a minister in Staffordshire.
In his letter, Kilham urges haste in his decision as Wall was needed in Ireland. Wall is urged ‘to serve us and the cause of Jesus Christ’, but remembering that ‘God will direct’.
He took up the post soon afterwards and left the mill to join this new ministerial post at the age of 24. He continued to serve the church as a minister with great distinction for over 50yrs.
In 1817, a new church was built in Nottingham city centre for the New Connection Methodists called the Parliament Street Chapel.
The opening services of this building which took place on 4 and 6 April 1817, were conducted by four ministers. One of these was the Rev. George Wall who was at the time now stationed in Bolton. He was invited to take part in the ceremonies as he had entered the ministry from Arnold and was well known and liked in the area.
George Wall was to go on to be elected to the senior post in the Methodist New Connection church of President three times.
He died in March 1852 at the age of 77 while resident minister at Lightcliffe a village in West Yorkshire which is situated approximately three miles east of Halifax .
The influence of these two men on the local churches in the Arnold and Nottingham area and also throughout the Midlands, and the non-conformist churches in particular, was considerable.
They, together with Hawksley and Davison, must have had a profound effect on the workforce. It was all taking place at a time of radical political and social reform. It may well have persuaded others that they – the working man – had a voice and would see them participating in events in the town, especially the Luddites protests which began in Arnold in the early 1800s.
This story was taken from Bob Massey’s new book ‘The People and the Park’ which celebrates 100 years of Arnot Hill Park. The paperback is available for £5.95 at Floralands in Mapperley, MSR Newsagents in Arnold, Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham and The Bookcase in Lowdham