VISITORS to Haworth inevitably make their way to the Brontë Parsonage Museum to learn more about the lives of the famous literary siblings. But Haworth was the home of another historical figure of note - William Grimshaw (1708-1763) - who was the curate there 70 years before Patrick Brontë held the position.

Simon Ross Valentine, a former Bradford Grammar School teacher and a local Methodist preacher, has written a book about Grimshaw. Simon writes: “In 18th century England a revival of religion occurred due mainly to the preaching of Methodist leaders John and Charles Wesley and assistant preachers. Grimshaw, although an Anglican minister, greatly assisted the Wesleys in preaching activities in the northern counties.

Grimshaw was a charismatic, if not odd, character with the nickname “Mad Grimshaw”. A man of stature, and a fiery preacher, he was loved and feared by Yorkshire folk. Undergoing an evangelical conversion experience whilst an Anglican clergyman in Todmorden, he took a church position at Haworth and became one of the most important revival preachers of the time. Travelling and preaching, he, with the help of preachers such as John Nelson, stonemason preacher from Birstall, established a religious circuit known as the “Great Haworth Round” which later formed many of the Methodist churches in the area. Grimshaw was a strange man; if he wasn’t happy with the number of people attending his services it was his usual practice to set the congregation singing Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the hymn book, then leave his pulpit and see for himself those idling away in the street or the nearby Black Bull Inn. With a horse-whip in his hand the burly puritan would march into the ale-house intent on forcing those inside to attend church. On hearing that Grimshaw was approaching, people could be seen making their escape from the inn, some jumping out of lower windows, while others threw themselves over the back wall.Having gathered together miscreant parishioners he would lead them to the church and re-ascend the pulpit just as the congregation was about to finish the lengthy psalm.

“On another occasion Grimshaw, hearing of a man refusing to marry a girl he’d made pregnant, decided to teach him a lesson. One night, dressing up as the devil, wearing a large, horned mask, he hid near a path, jumped up and took hold of the startled man. On hearing of his sins from this ghostly apparition, the man cried out for mercy, only being released when he promised to marry the girl.

Grimshaw was a popular preacher. On many occasions, with over 1,000 people filling Haworth Church to hear him preach, many people had to stand and listen in the graveyard. Many visitors to Haworth, especially Japanese and Americans, have asked for information on Grimshaw. The Wesley Historical Society asked me to write a booklet on him. This illustrated booklet, an informative introduction to Grimshaw’s life, is recommended reading for anyone interested in local history and Methodism, and for visitors to Haworth and Grimshaw’s church.”

* William Grimshaw: The Perpetual Curate of Haworth by Simon Ross Valentine, £3.99, available from Waterstones and Amazon.