Added October 2023
In the beginning
1778+ The Congregational (Independency) movement started and spread rapidly throughout Eccleshill via weekday outdoor preaching services conducted by Rev Joseph Cockin from the village of Thornton. Such was his popularity that highly esteemed local Jonas Smith opened his own house for indoor meetings. By 1800, the Idle Academy for teaching Independency Ministers had been formed and Rev William Vint and his students were preaching in the cottages of local people. After many years, gatherings got so large that a more spacious and spiritual place for worship was needed.
The idea of Sunday schools was also conceived during this early period and the first one for Eccleshill was located on Town Lane (upper Victoria Road). It was known as the “Town school” which was also a day school. The schoolmaster was John Blamires. When the number of scholars exceeded capacity, new premises were required.
1821 An Un-denominational Sunday school was subsequently built at the top of Dobby Row* and taught children from all denominations. (This was where the old Hutton Middle School Domestic Science and Handicraft centre once stood - for those who remember this). By 1822, the number of scholars had reached 200.
Salem Independent Chapel is born
1823 To accommodate the growing number of worshipers, monies were raised for a permanent place for worship and the Salem Independent Chapel was erected on Dobby Row*. It was designed by Trustee Jonas Smith but it is thought that he was not a professionally qualified architect since his occupation was documented as ‘farmer’. There were 18 other Trustees; 4 of which were worsted spinners, and 14 were described as ‘clothmakers’. The Chapel was of no architectural greatness, cost £1,200 to build and could seat 300 people. The congregation were delightedly warmed in severe weather by a red-hot stove in the middle. The Chapel opened on 22nd October 1823; the first sermons being preached by the popular Rev Joseph Cockin of Thornton. Jonas Smith became the first recognised official clerk of the Chapel.
The first burial in the Chapel graveyard took place two days before the chapel was officially opened. Schoolmaster John Blamires from the Town School held this posthumous distinction after he died at the age of 65. He was buried on 20th October 1823.
*Dobby Row was later renamed as Chapel Street.
1824 Widening differences between the Wesleyans and Congregationalists at the un-denominational school resulted in an agreement being made that a separate Congregational Sunday School would be built. It was duly erected adjoining the new Salem Chapel. The entrance to the school was via steps from Chapel Walk, and there was access to the Chapel Vestry through a side door.
It was customary for the Chapel clerk to also be superintendent of the school, so this duty also fell to Jonas Smith. The school was also a Day school and the Schoolmaster was Thomas Waterhouse who had been a pupil of John Blamires at the earlier Town School.
1828 Five years after opening, the Trustees were finally able to afford their first Congregational minister and Pastor. This was Rev Thomas Barker of Idle and he stayed for 20 years (1828-1848). He was succeeded by:
Rev John Fox 1848 – 1850
Rev John Aston 1850 - 1880
Rev William Manning 1880 – 1918
Rev John Aston and Rev William Manning are interred in the graveyard.
Outgrowing the space
1857 To the rear of the Chapel was some land, the lower part of which was an old quarry and the remainder was a field. The land was purchased and a new, larger Independent Sunday school was built on the site of the old quarry at a cost of £1,000. It was considered to be one of the largest and commodious schools in the Bradford area, thus making the Eccleshill Congregationalists very proud. The first superintendent of the new school was Joshua Smith.
The field was used as an additional burial ground.
1859 The Chapel was renovated and re-pewed in order to accommodate a larger congregation. As part of the renovation, a pipe organ was installed. This had been very generously donated by church Treasurer James Atkinson Jowett from the nearby district of Bolton. The new organ sealed the doom of the stringed instruments which had previously led the singing.
1869 The first Day School closed.
1870 A Harmonium was purchased for the new School for the sum of £40.
1871 Due to increasing numbers, the Chapel was enlarged at the rear to accommodate a further 200 people at a cost of £800.
1872-1874 Following the Education Act of 1870, the school premises were rented out to the Eccleshill School Board as a Day school. The scholars were subsequently transferred to the newly erected school known as ‘Undercliffe Board School’ in 1874 (the school was redesignated Wellington Road School in 1899).
1875 – 1886 The Day school was re-opened again and taught scholars until their transfer to the newly erected ‘Central School’ (renamed Hutton School in 1899). By 1880, the number of scholars at the school had reached 500.
1886 – 1892 Sometime during this period, the original school adjoining the chapel was demolished.
1887 The Chapel once again had become too small to accommodate the growing congregation and was also in need of repair. A plot of land known as ‘High Piece’ was purchased from the Pilley family on condition that a sum of £5,000 was promised before any building works were started. This land was located at the corner of Harrogate Road and Mill Lane (renamed Victoria Road in August of that year after the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations).
1888 The first building to be erected at High Piece was a new Congregational Sunday School. The old school at Chapel Street was closed and the new one officially opened on Sunday July 8th 1888.
1889 The new Congregational Church was built next to the new Sunday School. It was of Gothic style with an 82’ high octagonal tower crowned with a spire and was built using local stone. The (qualified) architects this time were the Healy brothers who had been responsible for the design of other churches in Bradford. It had a seating capacity of around 830 people. The pipe organ from the Salem Independent Chapel was relocated to the new Church.
The last, closing sermon took place at the Salem Chapel on Sunday 7th July 1889 and the first sermon at the new Church was heard the following Tuesday by Rev Dr. Charles Albert Berry of Wolverhampton.
1892 The Salem Independent Chapel was demolished.
c1901-1914 The old School building at Chapel Street was re-purposed as ‘Free Assembly Rooms’, a social-club for all male residents of Eccleshill over 18 years of age. Billiard tables were installed, there were newspapers, guest speakers on topical subjects, concerts and a canteen. Obscene language was forbidden! The locals referred to it as “T’Weyvers’ Rest” or “T’Rest”. Varley Smith was Treasurer and oversaw activities of the club. The club closed for the duration of the war.
1902 A new organ was installed at the Congregational Church at a cost of £1,070 and Alfred Hollins from Edinburgh was invited to play it. This generated much excitement and huge audiences as he had a reputation for being a very talented organist. He was also BLIND.
1919 During the War period a decision had been taken to demolish the old Chapel Street School building to provide more space for the graveyard. However, the demolition was delayed. After the War, on the return of the men, the building became a ‘Congregational Institute’. By 1922 the roof was so badly in need of costly repair that the billiard tables were moved to the Victoria Road site and the building was closed.
1923 The Congregational Sunday school building at Chapel Street was demolished.
Marking the centenary of the opening of the Salem Independent Chapel, a mammoth bazaar was held over a 4-day period which raised £2,500 towards improvements to the new Church. After the bazaar, on Sunday 4th March there was a service of remembrance and thanksgiving held in the pouring rain at the site of the original chapel. There were also 100th anniversary services conducted by Rev Dr. Sidney M. Berry (son of Rev Dr. C.A.Berry) at the new Church.
1953 The Church decided to hold an annual ‘Founders’ Day’ service in honour of those who brought the Eccleshill Congregational Church into being. Many older members of the congregation, the Sunday School teachers and their scholars walked in procession from Victoria Road to Chapel Street for a service of remembrance and thanksgiving on Sunday 17th May. In the evening, Rev John Harwood read extracts from the 1923 publication of the history of the church and preached a sermon based on it.
The Founders’ Day service the following year included a ceremony in the vestibule of the 1889 Church where the inscribed stone from the original Chapel had been saved and placed below the white marble memorial tablet to architect Jonas Smith. A dedication plaque was ‘unveiled’ by Andrew and Michael Smith, his 7th generation male descendants.
The third Founders’ Day service in 1955 proved to be the last one.
1957 A reunion of old scholars and friends took place to commemorate the centenary of the laying of the foundation stone for the second Independent School at Chapel Street.
All change at Victoria Road
1964 The School buildings at Victoria Road became too costly to maintain and were demolished.
1966 The building of a Church Hall was agreed. A ‘bricklaying’ ceremony took place on 25th June and the ‘1966’ foundation stone was laid by Alan Burnhill (Church Treasurer) and Gordon Reeve. To raise additional funds, members of the public were invited to purchase a red brick to write their name on and these became part of the fabric of the building.
1973+ Following the uniting of the Congregational and Presbyterian churches in England and Wales, the Church (of its own fee will) entered into membership of the United Reformed Church.
1980 After remedial works for dry rot had been carried out on three occasions in the last 30 years, the Church became too costly to further maintain so a decision was made to adapt the Church Hall to become the new United Reformed Church. It was officially dedicated as a church on 25th October. The old church was subsequently demolished. The 9’ Cross which had adorned the tower (donated by Miss Maud Skirrow, Mrs Nora Womersley and daughter Joan in the 1970’s) was saved and erected on the rear of the building, which was clearly visible from Harrogate Road.
2020 After many years of neglect, the cemetery at Chapel Street had become extremely overgrown with brambles and weeds. Accessibility was very limited. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic ‘lockdown’ in March, two residents of Chapel Street decided to make a start to clear the paths and gain access to the graves. The church was pleased that the cemetery was going to be restored. After 4 months, more volunteers arrived to help.
2021 Due to a significant reduction in congregation numbers, rising costs and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the United Reformed Church at Victoria Road closed during the summer and the site was put up for sale in September. The cemetery at Chapel Street was also put up for sale for offers in the region of £5,000.
The group of volunteers were upset and deeply concerned that a piece of Eccleshill history could be lost or neglected once again so they approached the URC to try to save the cemetery. They agreed to temporarily take the cemetery off the open market.
2022 With the help of Community Action Bradford and District (CABAD), the volunteers became a recognised Constituted Group. ‘The Friends of Chapel Street Cemetery’ were now able to start communications with the URC in an official capacity. The URC agreed that they would be willing for the group to take over the maintenance of the cemetery, but did not want to remain the owners of the land. With the assistance and advice of CABAD the group then applied to become a charity later that year. The charity would then be able to purchase and ‘own’ the cemetery. The URC also agreed to make the perimeter walls safe, and conduct a tree survey to ensure the trees were safe prior to the sale.
The demolition of the United Reformed Church at Victoria Road commenced 20th October. Luckily, a number of artefacts were saved and donated to Chapel Street Cemetery, including the Jonas Smith inscribed stone from the original Salem Chapel and the plaque dedicated to him by his 7th generation descendants on the first Founders Day service in 1953. Both of these have been placed under the notice board.
The large 9’ Cross which had adorned the 1889 Victoria Road Church and subsequently the Church Hall has been laid on top of a large grave in section 2 of the cemetery.
The 1966 foundation stone from the Church Hall and some of the named bricks were also saved and a small ‘memorial wall’ has been constructed in the cemetery. Named bricks for Alan Burnhill and Michael C. Smith can be seen amongst them.
2023 The group gained charity status on 3rd February and fund raising was started to enable the charity to purchase the land (for a nominal fee) and pay all the legal fees. Work to restore the cemetery and make it an open and welcoming space for all visitors and residents continues.
Huge numbers of plants and bulbs have been donated or purchased over the last 3 years which has not only made the cemetery attractive, but has encouraged more wildlife visitors too.
Feedback from local residents and the wider community has been very supportive and encouraging. Many dog-walkers are regular visitors now and many others just come to sit on the benches we installed for some peace and quiet and reflection. The volunteers themselves have also benefitted from working outdoors and have formed new friendships which was of particular benefit during the Covid-19 pandemic. Thanks are given to Bradford District Metropolitan Council for awarding the group with grants to help towards making these improvements.
Information obtained from the following books:
‘Eccleshill Congregational Church Bradford – A Triple Jubilee History’ by A.H. Robinson
‘Eccleshill Congregational Church – Jubilee of Present Buildings (1888-1938) Souvenir History’ by H C Crapp and Thomas Whitehead
‘The History of Congregationalism in Eccleshill’ Centenary Souvenir book 1923 by Rev William Manning and T Whitehead
‘Wellington First and Middle Schools, Eccleshill, Bradford. A centenary History 1874-1974’. Edited by A.H. Robinson from material compiled by Mrs Jean Booth, A.A. Cryer, John C. Jackson, J Proctor and Miss Mildred Robinson.