Historic Yorkshire school that served as a British Restaurant during World War Two to be closed and sold off for the first time since Queen Victoria's reign

The trustees of a Sunday school in a village near Halifax have agreed to dispose of the historic building after the church using it decided to disband.

The New Road Sunday School building in Rastrick
The New Road Sunday School building in Rastrick

New Road Sunday School in Rastrick opened in 1837 - the year Queen Victoria came to the the throne - and is now the base of the New Road Independent Family Church, whose congregation has dwindled to unsustainable levels.

Its fascinating history encompasses local landowners, cricketing prowess and a period when it operated as a British Restaurant during World War Two, serving cheap meals to bombed-out families and those low on rations.

The building was funded by Thomas Thornhill of Fixby Hall, and was established to educate younger members of the community in spiritual matters while remaining non-denominational. In the 1830s it was a popular meeting place for social reformers, who spoke to audiences there on topics such as poverty and the workhouse.

In 1851, it became a day school, and was extended with new classrooms. Children were educated there until 1912, when a new primary school opened at Carr Green.

A charitable organisation called the Band of Hope was attached to the Sunday school, holding pantomimes and organising trips to pleasure parks and the seaside. Up until the 1980s its members were still entering floats into the Brighouse Gala.

The Sunday school played a role in marking major national events in Rastrick, organising bonfires and ox roasts to celebrate the coronations of both King Edward VII in 1901 and King George V in 1911. The pupils would join around 30,000 others in mass Sunday school gatherings at the Piece Hall in Halifax on Whitsuntide, with 200 adults and children walking there from the village.

There were also sports clubs attached to the institution, including cricket, tennis, football and table tennis teams. The cricket team won the Huddersfield Association League 21 times, yet folded in 2012 when Thornhill Estates declined to renew the lease on the ground at Badger Hill, and the area is now being developed for housing.

During World War Two, the building was requisitioned by the Ministry of Food and became one of 2,160 British Restaurant communal canteens. Religious services were relocated to the South Ward Liberal Club and Crowtrees Methodist Chapel, and it was not returned to the trustees until 1949.

New Road became a member of the Rastrick Group of Churches in 1971, the same year the Sunday school won charitable status. The New Road Independent Family Church name was adopted in 2008, and the building has had a marriage licence since 1973.

Member Andy Eccles said: "As with many other similar institutions, the membership has declined over many years and there has been a failure to entice younger families to join the church. This has resulted in very few children attending religious services and for several years the congregation has mainly consisted of senior citizens who seem to have their hair colour as being the most consistent factor!

"Inevitably, death and illness have reduced those figures even more and the Covid pandemic has only added to the lack of attendees due to many elderly people no longer feeling comfortable with meeting in social groups. As such, the members and trustees have taken the very difficult decision to permanently close an institution that has served the people of Rastrick for so many generations and which has left an indelible stamp upon so many different lives.

"The Church intends to hold its final service of celebration on Sunday October 24 at 2.15pm to which all current and former members and friends are invited. Due to the charitable status, the future of the building will be determined by the trustees but any decision may require the approval of the Charity Commissioners. It is hoped that the building will remain and that a suitable Christian organisation, with similar objectives to the original principles upon which New Road was founded, can be found."

Mr Eccles added that subject to Charities Commission rules, the building, which is large and requires significant modernisation, is likely to be sold, with profits and other assets to be distributed among charities in the area.