The Chapels Society

The Chapels Society seeks to foster public interest in the architectural and historical importance of all places of worship that might loosely described as Nonconformist. We take an interest in present and former non-Anglican churches, chapels, meeting-houses and other places of worship throughout the United Kingdom.

The Chapels Society is a registered charity (No.1014207).

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Christopher Stell

The Society is very sad to share the news of the recent death of Christopher Stell, aged 84. Christopher was a founding member of the Chapels Society and was internationally respected for his four volume Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting Houses in England published between 1986 and 2002.

We will pay tribute to Christopher and his work in the next Newsletter but in the meantime you might wish to read the fascinating obituary published in The Times.

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Peverell Park Church ‘community asset’ bid

Here is an interesting news story from the BBC News website:

“Campaigners hope to save a former Methodist church in Plymouth after getting it listed as an asset of community value.  In the summer it was announced Peverell Park would unite with Pennycross Methodist Church, which is located about half a mile away.  The Save Peverell Park Church group is hoping to co-ordinate a combined bid to buy the building.

The group’s chairman, Ross Shadick, said other faiths could be part of it.  He said: “A lot of residents would be sad to see the church go.   If we had a consortium of three of four churches to share the space we’d have the benefit of three or four congregations coming together. We would embrace the fact other faiths might want to use the building.

Under the Localism Act of 2012, the Community Right to Bid scheme gives local groups the opportunity to nominate assets they believe are of social and cultural value for protection.”

More details about this story can be found on the website of the Plymouth Herald.

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Book Release – Valley of a Hundred Chapels

A new history book for the Upper Calder Valley offers a fascinating look into how the non-conformists of one Yorkshire valley helped shape the modern world.

chapel cover frontFormer Hebden Bridge Times and Yorkshire Post reporter Amy Binns, of Heptonstall, has researched the way the way travelling preachers in the Upper Calder Valley inspired a movement that led to a wave of chapel building as well as successful campaigns for trade unions, education for all and the vote. Ms Binns started the project while helping her local Methodist chapel at Heptonstall prepare for its 250th anniversary.

Amy told us: “I knew very little about the history of the dissenters, but the more I found out the more fascinated I was. The movement started with the Quakers and other dissenters saying they didn’t want to pray the way the Government said they should, but they ended up as champions of all the liberties we take for granted now.”

“Universal education started with the Sunday Schools, their pulpits were used to campaign for workers’ rights and universal suffrage. They really gave us so much.”

“It’s also been great fun digging through dusty scrapbooks and cupboards in chapel vestries. Chapel life seemed to be filled with so much humour and it still jumps off the pages of their posters and histories a century later.”

chapel cover back“Raising money was always a challenge, and I’ve found lots of original material from bazaars and teas of every kind. One group of young men at a Hebden Bridge Baptist Chapel advertised a sandwich tea and entertainment, and included a warning that any ladies attempting to help or assist at their event would be fined!”

“The ladies in particular loved to put on shows of everything from ‘animated statuary’ to ‘A Pageant of Noble Women’. Some of the humour was quite bawdy – they wrote their own songs and didn’t spare the men’s blushes.”

“And of course there are plenty of anecdotes about some of the more ‘verbally-challenged’ preachers.”

The book, which includes more than 100 illustrations sourced from local residents and archives, as well as three maps showing some of the remaining buildings, is available in bookshops and newsagents locally or via Amazon.

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Good news for Bradford Reform Synagogue

At its November meeting the Chapels Society’s Council noted an interesting story that had appeared recently in The Huffington Post.  The dwindling Jewish community charged with the care of an extravagant Grade II listed Moorish style synagogue in Bradford has recently been approached with an offer of help from the local Muslim community.  The collaboration between the two faith communities will hopefully secure the future of this very fine synagogue, which is potentially deserving of Grade II* status.

According to The Huffington Post, Zulfi Karim, the secretary of the Bradford Council of Mosques, said he hoped that the story of local collaboration amid global Muslim-Jewish tensions would be an inspirational one, and one that would improve the image of the city.

The full story can be found on Huffington Post website and more information about the synagogue can be found at

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New Methodist Church trails

Two new Methodist Church trails have recently been launched:

1. ‘Isaac’s Tea Trail’ is named after a miner turned tea-seller, legendary Methodist evangelist and philanthropist Isaac Holden and is a 36 mile circular walk around the North Pennines. Details of the trail can be found on the Northumberland Life website.

2. The three northern Methodist districts – Newcastle, Darlington and York & Hull – have launched a new heritage trail leaflet, ‘A Dales journey in the footsteps of John Wesley’, retracing a journey made by Wesley in 1761. The PDF can be downloaded from the Methodist Heritage website.

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‘Crossing the Threshold’ toolkit

A new and improved edition of the Diocese of Hereford’s ‘Crossing the Threshold’ toolkit – a community development approach to the use of church buildings – has been published.

Trevor Cooper, Chairman of the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance, writes: “Becky Payne is the author of this excellent toolkit on how to develop a church building for community use, now issued in a revised and improved edition, with funding from English Heritage. It is practical and down to earth, based on real-life experience, and will help churches to remain open both as places of worship and also as places where the wider community can enjoy a range of activities and support. Recommended.”

The toolkit can downloaded from the Diocese of Hereford’s website:

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Unidentified Organ

Unidentified Organ

Unidentified Organ

The Chapels Society has been sent this photograph of an unidentified organ by Melvin Hughes, Secretary of the British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS).

BIOS members are trying to identify the organ and its location and are following a lead that judging by the furnishing arrangements it must be located in a chapel or a kirk.

Does anyone have any ideas that they could pass on? Please email Sara Crofts, Hon Secretary with any information that you might have.

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John Rylands Library – Special Collections News

We recently received this news from Peter Nockles, who writes:

The Virtual Library System (VLS) is a groundbreaking union catalogue of the holdings and loans of selected dissenting academies in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian/Unitarian. It forms part of the ongoing AHRC-funded Dissenting Academies Project.

The VLS has recently been relaunched with the addition of the Catalogue of the Library of the Lancashire Independent College, Manchester (1885) and details of the 2,500 surviving books from the Northern Congregational College, formed in 1958 from the amalgamation of Lancashire Independent College and Yorkshire United Independent College, and acquired by The John Rylands Library in 1975/6.

The books, dating from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, are unusually rich in provenance and evidence of use, both institutional and private, the latter including fascinating examples of the everyday reader – men and women who owned only a handful of books and whose annotations are the only evidence of their interaction with them. The VLS for the first time includes high resolution images of the title pages and marks of ownership for these books, which are held at The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester. The details of the previous owners, both private and institutional, are included in the fully searchable database.

This Northern Congregational College copy (R217058) of a sermon of the Puritan divine Richard Sibbes’s Light from heaven, 1638, (VLS record 35118, item 45082), contains extensive 17th-century annotations and pen trials throughout.

The project ‘Private Books for Educational Use – the Formation of the Northern Congregational College Library’, funded by the AHRC, was directed by Professor Isabel Rivers (Queen Mary University of London) and Dr David Wykes (Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies, London), and implemented by Dr Benjamin Bankhurst and Dr Rachel Eckersley, research assistants, and Dr Dmitri Iourinski, technical assistant, with the advice of Ed Potten (Cambridge University Library), principal consultant. The John Rylands Library has been an active collaborator in this exciting project from the start, supplying the images from the original Northern Congregational College books and we will be receiving the catalogue records back in return.

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The Theological Education of the Ministry

Sell ImageWe have been informed that Pickwick Publications has recently released Alan P F Sell’s new book, ‘The Theological Education of the Ministry: Soundings in the British Reformed and Dissenting Traditions.’

ISBN 13: 978-1-62032-593-3

Price: $36
Further information and an extract from the book can be found in this flier: The Theological Education of the Ministry – Alan P F Sell
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Nominations for Council

We are delighted to have received three nominations for election to the Council this year.

Each candidate has been asked to prepare a short statement for members to consider before casting their vote at the AGM on 13 July.  The candidates are:

  • Reverend Dr Martin Wellings MA DPhil FRHistS
  • Dr Jennifer M Freeman OBE BA(Hons) DiplCons(AA) IHBC HonDoctArts FRSA FSA
  • Professor Peter Ackers BA(Oxon) MA(Warwick) MPhil PGCE PhD
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