John was appointed a deacon in 1833 by Archbishop Vernon Harcourt and made vicar of Horbury by his father the following year. He took up his post at St Peter's Church on 16th November 1834, coming to Horbury at the very rise of the Oxford Movement, himself one of its strongest supporters; he would stay for nearly 65 years. In 1836, Horbury passed from the Diocese of York to that of Ripon. One of the Bishop of Ripon's first acts was to make John Sharp an honorary Canon. Within two years, Horbury became part of the new Diocese of Wakefield. He often said that he served in one parish but three dioceses.

William was also ordained but, unlike his older brother, did not choose a celibate life. He married Laura Harriet Goodenough, daughter of Rev Robert Philip Goodenough and Cecilia Markham, at Heath on 4th April 1839. Laura came from a prestigious ecclesiastical background, her paternal grandfather being Samuel Goodenough, Rt Rev Bishop of Carlisle, and her maternal grandfather William Markham, Archbishop of York.

Meanwhile John Sharp was making a name for himself amongst the wealthier parishioners of Horbury by ordering the removal of the 'horse box' type' private pews which filled the body of the church. This was a very unpopular move and resulted in legal action from which John Sharp emerged the victor, although local legend says he was ordered to sell part of his furniture to pay the legal expenses! I am told the pews in the church today were made from the wood of the old box pews. He gradually built up a large, loyal congregation of mainly local, working class people, having found church attendance to be in decline when he arrived.

The well-known author of the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers", Rev Sabine Baring-Gould, served under John Sharp as a curate from 1864-7. He lived at the vicarage of St Peter's alongside John Sharp. After his death, Baring-Gould reflected on the life of his former boss. He wrote a letter published in the Ossett Observer on Saturday 13th June 1903.

"I should never call him a striking preacher. His sermons were good, homely discourses, rather inclined to be long; there was no originality in them, but nevertheless none the less likely to be helpful. To sum him up, I know no man who so fully answered to the description of Nathaniel,“an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile."

He also gave an insight into life in the vicarage:

"His forbearance extended to his kitchen. We curates at last complained that we were tired at supper with cold "chape" and rhubarb jam, which we had had for nine months without any change, night after night; and thus only was he stirred to ordering hot rice pudding on alternate evenings; he would not have noticed the monotony but for us."

Baring-Gould was alluding to the way in which John Sharp devoted his life to serving God and the people of Horbury throughout his many years in the parish. He didn't however confine his efforts to St Peter's church alone.

On the 4th January 1849 a conveyance of land was transferred to John Sharp, by his father Samuel and Rev Henry Forre, rector of Thornhill, and their successors in order to build St Peter's school. This would be a Church of England school built largely on Fuljambe Close. The school was to be "for the education of children and adults or children only of the labouring, manufacturing and other poor classes in the Township or Chapelry of Horbury.”In an address given by John Sharp in 1890, he explained how St Peter's School had come into being.

When he first began to remedy the fact that there was no church school, only a small endowed school which barely taught the '3Rs, several Dame Schools and the old Sunday School run jointly with the Wesleyans (something he could not reconcile himself with) he came up against the prejudice that "If you educate them they'll want to get their livin' wi' their coits on and not be fit to do a day's wark! "He pointed out the necessity of helping people make the best of the faculties which God had given them. The battle was a hard one. There was only one man in the parish who would help him. Mr W. Stewart, solicitor of Horbury. Between them they started a night school for about 30 young men. This was held in the vicarage with labour and cost split between the two men. It was so successful in its first year that it was repeated with increased numbers and people began to agree that education wasn't such a bad thing after all.

When a day school was started in a little hired building only Mr. Stewart came forward again but they eventually got far enough to justify a purpose-built school. People were still dismissive of their efforts. "What a silly fellow to think of building a big place like that! Where will he get bairns to fill it?" But it did fill, and several extensions were required over the next few years. The original building cost £1,200, most of which he had to "scrattle up as he could from friends outside.”

Canon Sharp

Rev Canon John Sharp was the eldest of two sons born to Rev Samuel Sharp and his wife Margaret (nee Alderson). Samuel Sharp was born in Gildersome in 1773. He married Margaret at Birkenshaw on 27th February 1810. Later that year, on 26th October, John was born. He was baptised at All Saints, Wakefield (Wakefield Cathedral) on 7th November. His father Samuel was the vicar of Wakefield from 1810 until his death in 1855, having been curate from 1804. Two years later, on 16th October 1812, their second son William was born.

Samuel Sharp had studied at Cambridge, entering Magdalene College in 1792. Both John and William followed in their father's footsteps, entering the same college in 1829 and 1831 respectively.

A colourised postcard showing St Peter's Church from Tithe Barn Street.

A portrait of Canon John Sharp in later life.

A black & white photo showing the old grave yard & high wall at the front of St Peter's.

Wakefield Libraries Collection.

Two views of St Peter's Church 2018.

Location of the Mission Church founded by Rev Sabine Baring Gould.

Horbury Civic Society plaque commemorating Rev Sabine Baring Gould.

The vestry erected at St Peter's to commemorate Canon Sharp's 50th anniverary.

The inscription above the vestry door.

The new vestry design was completed by Mr Richardson, architect, of Wakefield. Every conceivable location around the church was considered but eventually it was decided that the vestry should be built on the north east corner facing Golden Square. The building is a small parish room today, used for serving refreshments. In 1887 Rev Sharp reached out to the people of Horbury Junction and a mission was started in a cottage on Forge Lane. By 1890 it was extremely popular and land was secured on the other side of the railway to build St. Mary's Church. The foundation stone was laid by Lord Halifax on the 23rd April 1892. A painted square-headed window in the side chancel was given by Canon Sharp in memory of his parents.

Churches and schools were not the only institutions to which John Sharp turned his attention. He noted that saving for the day of rest was a difficult matter for the poor of Horbury. To help them he decided to induce the Yorkshire Penny Bank to open a branch in the town, taking all responsibility himself. He also recognised the importance of allotments. He personally undertook to guarantee the rents to the landowners who sectioned land in Halking Croft and Back Lane for the purpose.

Horbury Junction Mission, Forge Lane.

St Mary's Church, Horbury Junction dates from 1892.

To help house the poorest of the parish there were Wormald's Almshouses on Tithe Barn Street. Standing on the site of a house which had been left to the parish in 1731 by Horbury Yeoman Richard Wormald, they had fallen into a dilapidated state. Only one of the rooms was occupied. John Sharp was responsible for raising money for the demolition of these old almshouses and building four one-bedroomed houses plus a dwelling at the back for a parish nurse. The project included enlarging the site by 500 yards at the rear at a cost of £100. When completed, the old nickname of 'Bedlam' was dropped in favour of St Leonard's Hospital, named after the original dedication of the parish church. Although it had been called the Horbury House of Charity at the foundation stone ceremony, at which Rev Sharp did the honours on 5th May 1888. Unfortunately, in 1899, after a tenant complained of damp, the Charity Commission noted that the only advantage to living in St Leonard's Hospital was that the residents paid no rent.

In 1895 Rev Sharp was elected as a trustee of the Common Lands Trust. He served for many years, being Chairman for a number of them. The 26th October that year saw John Sharp celebrate his 85th birthday. The Horbury Parish Magazine carried a paragraph which gives an insight into the feelings of his parishioners. "Our Vicar is of course more to us than most Vicars can be to their people, because most of us have never known any other. Sixty one out of the eighty five years of his life he has spent in Horbury, so we are able to look upon him as the father of the whole parish.”

Main entrance to the House of Mercy. Photo Graeme Bickerdike.

Black & white postcard of the House of Mercy.

However, perhaps his most remarkable legacy was the foundation of the 'House of Mercy'. Unable to realise such an institution from his own resources, he looked to his rich and influential friends. Miss Henrietta Louisa Farrer of Clapham, said to be a cousin, was described by John Sharp as a lady 'seeking to do good'. She married Rev Henry Sidney Lear, one of the original members of the Council of the House of Mercy, later Canon of Salisbury.

Henrietta did indeed seem to have the connections and money that were needed to make it a reality. Born in 1824 to James William Farrer and the Honourable Henrietta-Elizabeth Scott, her grandfather was the 1st Earl of Eldon, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain. Henrietta was the author of several books, including "A Dominican artist : a sketch of the life of Rev Père Besson of the Order of St Dominic", "The revival of priestly life in the seventeenth century in France : a sketch" and "S Francis de Sales, bishop and prince of Geneva". She felt it a disgrace that nowhere in the country was there "a church penitentiary for the restoration of fallen women who desired such means of rescue from their sinful life." She began to put money aside and wait for the right opportunity to arise. Along with some like-minded friends, it was decided to start the institution at Horbury under the care of John Sharp.

In 1858 the first seven inmates were housed in a rented cottage, Millfield House, Daw Lane, run by Mrs Terry and in time, Anglican nuns from an order in the south of England. A council of eight clergy and eight laymen were appointed to take charge, John Sharp being the warden. The permanent building on Dovecote Lane was commenced in 1862, designed by Henry Woodyer. The north and west wings plus the water tower (with the green roof) were opened in 1864. The chapel and south wing were opened in 1871. The east wing, completing the quadrangle of buildings was started in 1882. At its peak it housed over 70 girls plus sisters and staff. The first Mother Superior at the House of Mercy in 1864 was Frances E. White, followed by Louisa Goodenough, sister-in-law of John Sharp's younger brother William.

The 1881 census records the residents of the House of Mercy as being Louisa Goodenough, Mother Superior, 12 sisters and 54 inmates whose occupation was 'laundress'. Their places of birth were from all areas of the country. Mother Louisa died on 28th November 1887, after 'hanging between life and death for nearly a month'. I was told she died as a result of a carriage accident. She had P'ontefract House', Tithe Barn Street built for her retirement, but she never got to move in.

The interior of the chapel at the House of Mercy.
Photo Graeme Bickerdike

Plaque erected in the chapel after Canon Sharp's death.
Photo Graeme Bickerdike.

The House of Mercy was well supported in person and cash by many landed, titled and High Church people. In 1894 a new laundry was opened. By the late 1890s there were 34 sisters, a girl's school and an embroidery school. There were also four branch establishments, two in Manchester, Stafford and London. A successful day school had been run by the sisters since 1880, as well as work outside Horbury with 'fallen' women. A mission and high school were also run by the order in the Bahamas from 1905-30.

As well as training the girls in domestic matters such as laundry from 1865 onwards, the sisters also made surplices, altar cloths and all kinds of ecclesiastical embroidery from 1863 and altar bread was baked here from 1905. These were important sources of income. However, World War 2 brought difficulties and in 1949 the penitentiary finished. In 1950 it was replaced by a boarding school for 'maladjusted children'. 

Just after Easter 1899, Canon Sharp took steps to retire by writing a letter to his parishioners. In it he reminded them that he was approaching the middle of his 89th year and, having been severely ill a few years previously, he felt it was time to face the fact that he was unable to discharge all his duties in a satisfactory way and should resign his position. He made his affection for the town and his parishioners very clear.“I hope to be able to continue in Horbury so long as God continues my life. I could not pluck myself up by the roots and take root anywhere else…Horbury is a part of my very existence and must always so remain.”

For some time Canon Sharp continued to live in the vicarage with his successor, Rev Lough. Eventually he went to live in the warden's lodge at the House of Mercy where, due to his failing health, he was looked after by Miss Cumberland, an old friend and former parish worker. It was here, at 10.05am on 10th June 1903, aged 92, that Canon John Sharp died, his last audible words being "Blessed peace". Miss Cumberland and Dr Kemp were present. The "Ossett Observer" reported his demise in a long, detailed account of his life and work. It tells us, "Suffering simply from old age he was able to converse with his friends and retained his memory and mental faculties to the very last."

Postcard of Canon Sharp's grave, Horbury Cemetery.

Portrait of Canon Sharp which hung in the House of Mercy, now in the vicarage at St Peter's Church.

Photo of Canon Sharp's grave, Horbury Cemetery.

Having addressed education, he turned his attention to expanding the religious needs of the area. In 1864 his curate, Baring-Gould, was sent to Horbury Bridge to oversee a mission - a two room cottage near one of the more disorderly public houses. It would seem the mission was needed. In 1865 Baring-Gould wrote,“The district is poor, being inhabited solely by mill hands, barge men and colliers. There are several large manufacturies in it but the proprietors live at a distance and care little for the spiritual welfare of the hands they employ. The Brig is well known in the neighbourhood as a lawless and godless spot.”He went on to describe how, on Sundays, men would meet on the bridge over the Calder to make matches for dog fights and races that would then take place in front of crowds on the fields nearby. The mission itself had difficulties with the locals. Boys would make noise and pelt the windows with mud and discharge volleys of old boots at the heads of those attending the services. Baring-Gould devised a cunning way of building up his choir by apprehending the chief culprit and hauling him inside to be forced into service as a chorister! The congregation eventually moved to a purpose-built church hall and, by 1888, the Church of St John the Evangelist had been built. Designed by Micklethwaite & Clark of Westminster, Mr Micklethwaite was the brother of the Chaplain at the House of Mercy.

On 15th November 1884 the consecration of St John's took place. This coincided with Rev Sharp's 50th anniversary as vicar of Horbury. £1,079 had been raised by some 900 subscribers to furnish a visible and lasting memorial to his half century of work. £400 of this was spent on building a vestry, now the parish room, at St Peter's Church and the balance presented to John Sharp. A public luncheon was held for about 300 people at St Peter's school, where an album of photographic vignettes featuring Rev Sharp and his achievements was presented to him, along with nearly 1000 signatures of well-wishers. Presiding over the celebrations, Lord Wharncliffe invited those assembled to imagine what Horbury had been like when Rev Sharp first arrived. He believed that there would hardly have been a coal mine, railway or large manufacturing site in the area. Now all these marks of progress had been built and a small country parish had grown into a town. In his reply Rev Sharp declined to glorify his achievements but did say that "I have always worked on one great principle, which I feel quite certain must ensure success in everyone if only they will take their stand upon it; I have believed from my very heart in the Church. Whatever success I have achieved amongst you, it is because I have acted simply and sincerely upon that belief and have endeavoured to carry out that which my holy mother, the Church of England has taught me.”

The service was conducted by Rev Lough and at its conclusion the heavy panelled oak, gothic-style coffin, designed and made by George Chappell, was opened so that the congregation had the opportunity to view Canon Sharp, wearing his Eucharistic vestments and clasping a chalice and paten. A vigil was then held in the church overnight with relays of watchers. Several celebrations of the Holy Sacrament took place between 6am and 9am the following morning. After a final viewing opportunity, the funeral service commenced at 11am. The Lord Bishop of Wakefield, Dr Eden, was present along with numerous Archdeacons, Canons and Reverends from far and wide. The family mourners were joined by Mr Percy Sharp and his cousins Rev. H Alderson and Mr Alderson. Along with his medical practitioners - previously mentioned - his legal advisors Messrs W H Stewart, H Chalker and G Blakeley were also in attendance. Other mourners included the members and officials of Horbury Urban District Council, Common Lands Trust and a number of the sisters from the House of Mercy. To the strains of the Dead March in Saul, the long procession walked up the hill to the cemetery next to the House of Mercy. A huge crowd was gathered, despite the pouring rain. The scholars and teachers of the Parish Church Schools lined the route on Northgate.

As his dear friend, curate Bernard Moultrie said,“Such is the record left behind him by this faithful and saintly priest. If I were asked to select the salient features of his life, I should at once sum it all up in one word – Love.”

Canon John Sharp was laid to rest in a quiet corner of the cemetery nearest his beloved House of Mercy, next to his late friend Rev. R. Blakelock, first vicar of St John's Church, Horbury Bridge.

"I wanted to find out about Canon Sharp after visiting Horbury cemetery and discovering his name on the tallest monument. Who was John Sharp? What had he done to deserve such a monument? Through completing this research and learning about his life, I can honestly conclude that he thoroughly deserved it. " 


1. ‘Some Horbury Yesterdays’by R. D. Woodall.
2. ‘Looking Back on Horbury 2’by Christine Cudworth.
3. "Ossett Observer", Saturday 13th and 20th June 1903.
4. Horbury Parish Magazine.
5. Wakefield History Centre.


Special thanks:

1. Lyndsay Halliday & Grant Lenton at Hallcliffe School.
2. Mrs. M. Walsh at St Peter's Church.

3. Helen Walker Curator John Goodchild Collection.
4. Mr. Jack Brooke at St John's Church.


Helen Bickerdike  May 2017