A page from Tong parish records, showing Baptisms, burials and marriages all entered together.
The parish church of Tong is dedicated to St James. The current building dates only from 1727, but was built on the site of earlier churches, dating back to the pre-Norman saxon age. Nowadays the Church is a parish church, but in earlier days, Tong was in the 'Wappontake of Morley, Parish of Birstall and Honour of Pontefract', so was a chapel in Birstall parish, and served the Lordship of Tong.
The known records for St James began in 1550, when the marriage of William Stringfellow and Mary Pickard took place on the 3rd of May that year.
Baptism and burial records commenced at the same time, the first baptism being 'Elizabeth Walker, daughter of Robert' who was baptised on the 18th of March; the first burial entry relates to the interment of 'Christopher Stringfellow, son of William' on the 30th of May 1551.
Event dates are as recorded in the Registers but the early years are confusing as some years begin on the 1st of January rather than 25th of March as should have been the case, and not all entries are in chronological order. It appears that the pages from 1550 to 1608 have been written at a later date as these are neatly written in the same hand, which would not have been the case had those years' events been entered as they occurred.
There is no obvious gap in the records between 1554 and 1570 but there are no baptisms, marriages or burials shown for that period; this suggests that the original record for those years was missing when this ‘new' Register was compiled.
After the records recommence in 1570, it can be seen that the church was little used, as would be expected of such a small chapelry. Few, if any, marriages took place in the 16th-18th century, though the church became more popular for marriages in the mid-19th century. Burials and baptisms of course, rose with the growth of the local population.
Whilst the chapel managed to maintain good records during the civil war, there is a major interruption of the church records in the 1660s, in the aftermatch of the Civil War. Most years for that period show no marriage or burial records and in the period 1665 to 1669, no events at all were recorded (see the availability chart, link left).
From 1670 the records continue uninterrupted.
Name spellings vary greatly so have been standardised to assist the searcher but variations should be considered when looking for an entry.
In 1857, John and Thomas Plumbe Tempest of Tong Hall gave to Michael Turner, Vicar of Tong, a piece of land in Tong Street, called 'The Intake' for the building of a new church school, that was to be known as the 'Tong National School'.
In 1860, St. John's Church, Tong Street was built at the corner of Rook Lane, near the Dudley Hill junction of the A650. The new church was unfortunately too close to both St. John's Bierley and St. John's Bowling.
The two main things that led to the closure of St. John's in 1969, after only 109 years of existence. Firstly the building of the Holme Wood estate led to the establishing of St. Christopher's between 1958 and 1968, and meant that this was the main focus for Christian mission and ministry during that period. Secondly, as Holme Wood was being built, much of Tong Street and Dudley Hill was demolished, causing a substantial drop in population in Tong Street. The number of church members continued to decline steeply in the 1960's.
In 1969, a meeting was held in the school to consider the future of the church. It was attended by very few members, and the outcome was that the church should recommend to the diocese that the building be declared redundant.
So the building closed and after the clocktower had been dismantled, the building was sold for commercial use.
In 1994 a re-birth was took place. Recognising that the church needed to re-establish its mission and ministry to the population of Tong Street, on Saturday September 25th the Bishop of Bradford dedicated the establishing of the new St. John's congregation that was to meet in the school hall. Over 200 people attended, including some who had been members of the old church that had closed over 20 years previously. Worship began the following day, with 61 people gathering for the first Sunday Service at 11 am.
Baptism records start in 1860, with the baptism of Permelia Taylor on the 12th of March, but the first marriage didn't take place until 1967. In fact, for the first twenty years, only two marriages took place.