EARLY BAPTISTS IN CALDERDALE
Church of England after the Restoration was never the force that
it had been before its abolition. It had neither the power nor the
self assurance to impose it's will upon a population who were now
more interested in worshipping God in their own way than necessarily
belonging to a national institution. It could no longer enforce
those laws of the Elizabethan Settlement that insisted upon conformity
to the Established Church. Despite persecution for non-attendance
at the Church's Services or arguing against its power, small groups
of people of Puritan values grew up everywhere to study their
Bibles and to worship in their own ways. Others, such as Matthew
Smith of Mixenden and Oliver Heywood of Halifax, tried to work from
within the Church but were expelled as a result and suffered much
in terms of fines and even imprisonment. Indeed some 2000 clergy
were driven out of the Church of England by its refusal to broaden its
Liturgy. As ever, in cases of oppression, these men met
with sympathy and support from many in the general population, joined
up with other dissenters and thus exercised considerable influence.
men such as these were the exception however. It was the so-called
"lay preachers" who led the early Baptist movement in
the Calder Valley. They were fired with a desire to preach, to proclaim
the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and became Ministers of small congregations
by invitation, based on the strength of their ability to preach.
Some never were attached to particular groups but followed their
MITCHELL, a native of Heptonstall, started out on such an itinerant
path in 1684. He was in great danger meeting in private houses,
which was illegal until 1689 when the Toleration Act was passed
and such houses could be registered as meeting places for dissenting
worship. During these early years before the Act he was arrested
more than once and imprisoned at York.
and his younger cousin, DAVID CROSSLEY, described as "The largest
man in the County" were visiting 20 meeting places by 1691
in an area bounded by Barnoldswick, Bradford and Rossendale. Later
there were many more such places. Locally, Mitchell was the more
influential as he stayed in the North. Crossley was more ambitious
and travelled more widely.
1692 the centre of their activities was Bacup and Cloughfold but
all their scattered groups regarded themselves as part of one Church
of dissenting Protestants, " The Church of Christ in Rossendale."
About this time, because of the wanderings of Crossley, their ministry
began the process of becoming "Baptist." Crossley met
Baptists and was himself baptised in the Midlands at Bromsgrove
in 1692 but it is only in 1705, thirteen years later, that a document
at Cloughfold refers to them as "Anabaptists or Independents."
However two years earlier in 1703 the first building in the Calder
Valley was erected at Rodhill (now Rodwell) End, between Eastwood
and Todmorden, "for the use of Protestant Dissenters known
by the name of Baptists or Independents."
1711 the old barn at Robertshaw, at Stone Slack, Heptonstall, was
converted for worship. It still exists, close to the site of Mount
Zion and is the only remaining building of the Church of Christ
in Rossendale, to which both of these Calder Valley Congregations
considered themselves to be a part until 1717.
1717 this first Calder Valley Baptist Congregation survived until
1783, though the Slack building closed earlier. In 1739 members
opened a Church of much importance in Huddersfield whilst in the
Hebden Bridge end of the valley Wainsgate Chapel opened in
1750 and Birchcliffe in 1763. These members of the Rossendale Church
now had their own buildings and Rodhill End closed but its influence
was to continue into other Valley Chapels.
the Rodwell End Chapel closed in 1783 members worshipped in other
Chapels but re-formed in 1807, building themselves a new Chapel
at Millwood the following year. This was a very small, one roomed
affair but was very successful. So much so that in 1877 more spacious
accommodation was opened at Roomfield, close to the heart of Todmorden.
This in turn prospered and by 1908 there were 255 members and
a large Sunday School of some 450. Numbers were much less after
the 1914-18 war but nevertheless this congregation continued in
the same building until the 1950s. Sadly, dry rot accounted for
both chapel and schoolroom and both were demolished by 1959. By
great money raising efforts a new small chapel was opened in March
1962 and later a Sunday School group was re-established.
historical terms it is the direct descendant of the Rodwell End
Church and thus has the longest lineage of all the Calder Valley
Chapels. The longest serving Minister was Henry Briggs who served
for 37 years between 1871-1908.
of the chapel by kind permission of Roger Birch)