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MOUNT ZION BAPTIST CHAPEL

HEPTONSTALL SLACK

by Ken Sutcliffe

   

The chapel in 2004

A small barn originally built in or before 1617 was purchased in 1711 by Thomas Greenwood of Slater Ing in Heptonstall. The barn was situated at Stone Slack, very close to the site of the existing Chapel, and was known as Robertshaw. Thomas Greenwood had been one of the signatories to the deed, which brought into existence the Church at Rodwell End (Rodhill End) in Todmorden eight years earlier in 1703. He intended his newly bought barn to become the second place of worship for the Protestant Dissenters in the Calder Valley and, after some extension, so it became. Both places of worship were used by the same group and came under the umbrella of the Rossendale Church.
   

The Church was to close (and Rodhill End followed in 1783) due to the competition created by the new Baptist Churches at Wainsgate (1750) and Birchcliffe (1763), the growth of Methodism and the Society in Heptonstall, and the opening of the Congregational Church at Eastwood. 

 

It was used again for a short time by the General Baptists prior to the opening of the Chapel at Heptonstall Slack. In 1807 some 40 people who had attended the Birchcliffe Chapel in Hebden Bridge withdrew to found their own place of worship, which they opened in 1808 at a ceremony attended by seven hundred people. More than a thousand were at the Dedication service on the following Sunday. My ggg grandmother was baptised in April 1808 and her husband on 10th December 1808, "the baptism to be at Hanging Royd Mill at 2 o'clock p.m."  

There was a flourishing Sunday School, and "Experience Meetings" were held in homes across the valley. Many of these were led by my ggg grandfather who was a dedicated member, along with his wife and several of his children. His infant son Matthew is the second burial recorded there. Two others were "singers" often loaned out to other churches... Singers were doubly important, as there were no organs or other instruments allowed at this time. In 1823 the singers were voted £1, "for teaching the children to sing at the Anniversary." My ggg grandfather himself began as Church handyman and finished his life as an important elder.

 

There are extensive records of the Church in Yorkshire Archives in Wakefield and also in Calder Archives in Halifax, which give a wonderful picture of the vibrant life of these hilltop people in the 19th Century. There is recorded not only their zeal and Christian Mission but also their foibles and their failings: the singing and dancing, which were much frowned upon, the frequent accusations of "fornication" leading to illegitimate babies and temporary excommunication after being forced to appear before the congregation, the money raising, the class distinctions, and perhaps above all the drunkenness which led to severe criticism.

 

The importance of "belonging" to some community or group is made clear. People were prepared to suffer much indignity and criticism in order to remain within the ircle of support, which the Chapels provided, in these hard times to say nothing of the fear of being excluded from God's Church.

   

James Taylor, nephew of Dan, was the first Minister and he had the Church enlarged in 1819. By 1822 The Church at Slack was the 5th. largest of the 130 general Baptist Churches in the country and the General Assembly was held there. Experience Meetings were being held in 18 different houses.

a drawing of the chapel after it was extended in 1819

   

a photo of the chapel taken before the 1878 re-build

The Minister from 1822-34 was Richard Ingham who was said to dislike marrying people and in fact never officiated at a marriage. The root of his problem was probably the difficulty he saw between "professors" and "non-professors," but he is said to have explained that he "did not like to make people unhappy."
   

Despite this, there were over 500 members by the middle of the Century but there was then something of a decline as the handloom industry suffered and members left to work in factories away from the area. Some, though, then established Churches in other places. e.g. Bacup.

 

Rev. Caleb Springthorpe brought about a strong recovery during his Ministry from 1853 -1873 but by what method is debatable according to one story:

 

"The connubial happiness of a husband and wife was often over clouded in consequence of the sulky disposition of the former. On one of these occasions when he had been silent in the home for a fortnight, his resourceful better half suddenly conceived an idea in the fervent hope of curing him. Turning to her daughter, she said, in his hearing, "go, fetch Mr. Springthorpe to pray wi' thi' father, as he's struck dumb." Her plan succeeded, for scarcely had the girl set off when the mother called out, "Come back, thi' father's spoken."

   
A new schoolroom was opened on January 1st 1864 after much time and effort and money had been spent in obtaining gas!  "The spacious new room, it's brilliant sunlight, composed of thirty gas jets, won the admiration of all". At this time an organ was introduced and house meetings were revived.

The interior about 1901, with the

organ very prominent

   
1878 saw the complete rebuilding to the Church that exists today, though it was completely closed between 1956 and the mid 1970's. The photograph on the right shows the chapel in 1901.
   
The chapel now largely functions as a Community Centre and hostel for visiting groups but there is still a regular, if small, congregation for Sunday Services.
   

Over the last 200 years the Church had a vigorous and evangelical influence on the district and further afield. There were daughter Chapels established at Broadstone, Nazebottom and Blakedean There were Mutual Improvement Societies, Band of Hope with huge membership, Sunday School with library and dedicated teachers. Eleven members entered the full time Ministry and twenty others became lay preachers. The Educational role of the Church and its school cannot be over estimated.

 

An entry in the Minutes of October 30th. 1856 refers to my ggg grandfather just shortly before his death,

 

"Our aged brother, John Sutcliffe of Heptonstall, delivered an earnest and affectionate address to the members inciting them to increased prayer and effort for the prosperity of all". 

Not the worst of sentiments on which to be ending a life.

 

Burial Ground

The old Rectory, or Manse, was sold off and the graves around it were lost to become the garden of the now private house. The first burial in the new Cemetery, a short distance from the Chapel and overlooking the hillsides, was in 1867.

 
The burial ground in front of the chapel is planted with colourful shrubs and reasonably maintained. The main Baptist graveyard is a few minutes' walk along the lane. This is an extensive burial ground, some of which is overgrown, although great efforts are made to retain order. A few of the graves are featured below:
   
Chapel Burial Ground
   

In Memory of Jane wife of Abraham CROSSLEY

who departed this life Sept 11th 1858 aged 19 years.

Also Hannah the daughter of Abraham and Mary CROSSLEY

who departed this life Aug 20th 1845 aged 10 months.

Also John William the son of Abraham and Mary CROSSLEY

who died March 6th 1865 aged 5 months.

Also the above named Abraham CROSSLEY

who died at Todmorden Aug. 11th 1896 aged 76 years.

Also Mary relict of the above named Abraham CROSSLEY

who died May 24th 1901 aged 77 years.

At Rest .

   
Main Burial Ground
   

In Remembrance of Henry son of

Thomas and Betty SUNDERLAND

of Dobroyd Todmorden

who died October 5th 1861 aged 3 years

Also of the above named Thomas SUNDERLAND

who died July 25th 1875 aged 61 years.

Also of Betty relict of the above Thomas SUNDERLAND

who died Aug 23 1879 aged 60 years.

   

In Memory of Susy SUTCLIFFE wife of John SUTCLIFFE

of Knowlwood Todmorden

Who died September 15th 1870 aged 55 years

Also of William Edmund their son

who died Ocober 5th 1871 aged 1yr

   

In Loving Memory of Thomas PICKLES

of Dobroyd Todmorden

Who died April 6 th 1900 in his 65th year

Also 2 infants

Also of Sally wife of the above

who died January 14th 1917 aged 79

"Peace Perfect Peace"

   

Inside the chapel is a tablet in memory of the men of the chapel

who served in the war 1914-18.

   

click on photo to enlarge

 
This Tablet is erected in honour of the young men of this Church and Sunday School who served during the Great War 1914-1919
 

Arnold Ackroyd

Harold Clay

Fred Collinge

Abraham Gibson

A? Gill

Albert Greenwood

Arthur Greenwood

Arthur Greenwood

Dearden Greenwood

Harold Greenwood

Harold Greenwood

Harry Greenwood

Herbert Greenwood

Herbert Greenwood

Milton Greenwood

Smith Greenwood

Thomas Greenwood

Virgil Greenwood

William Greenwood

Clarence Helliwell

John W Marney

Fred Mitchell

Robert Mitchell

Harold Pickles

Herbert Pickles

Ellis Redman

Eli Shackleton

James A Shackleton

William Shackleton

Evelyn Smith

Ben A Speak

Ira Speak

Richard Sutcliffe

Edward G Thomas

Willie S Thomas

Willie Tucker

Alec Walton

 

In Memoriam

Charles Black

Francis I Greenwood

James Greenwood

John W Greenwood

Percy S Greenwood

John H Pickles

John T Shackleton

 

 

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