THE UNITED REFORMED CHURCH
THE CROFT, KNOTTINGLEY
A painting of the United Reformed Church by D. Garnham, 2004
The year 2004
marked the 200th anniversary of the United Reformed Church, established
back in 1804 as the Independent (Congregational) Chapel.
beginning of the nineteenth century, Knottingley was a rapidly growing
township with few centres for worship. The 1801 census records the town
with a population of 2,602 which had grown to over 3,300 by the time of
the next census. The first pioneers of Wesleyanism had arrived in
Knottingley around the year 1784 although records show that they were not
made particularly welcome, being pelted with mud and generally
Boothroyd, the Minister of the Independent Church in Pontefract’s Finkle
Street, recognised the need for a home for the Independents in Knottingley
and began to gather together a small group of Christians here. About the
year 1804, they received permission to meet in rooms in Dr. Gagg’s yard,
which was one of several yards connecting Aire Street and the Croft. The
group grew and in 1808 the Independents of Knottingley erected their first
chapel in Roper’s Walk. Attached to it was a schoolroom for the
instruction of children. The cost of the building was £550-10s and a Mr.
John England advanced the sum required. However, soon after this event
there arose a division in the Church and a dissident group built
themselves a church nearby.
Much of what
is known about the origins of the Independent Church in Knottingley comes
from an account written in the Church records dated 6th July 1824:
populous town of Knottingley there was scarcely the semblance of Religion
– its outward forms were neglected and treated with contempt and
the Sabbath Day, instead of being sacrificed to the Lord of the Sabbath,
was regarded only as presenting more favourable opportunities for the
indulgence of pleasure and the commission of vice. The rising generation
were left without restraints – without a guide and growing up in the
abodes of iniquity, nothing could be expected, but that when they should
be called to succeed their Father’s they would surpass them in active
devotion to the cause of Satan.
B. Boothroyd of Pontefract, commiserating their degraded condition, was
anxious to proclaim in their hearing the unsearchable riches of Christ.
For several years all his attempts to introduce the Gospel into the
village were frustrated – no suitable place for preaching could be
procured. The prospect grew darker – hope seemed ready to expire when
providence unexpectedly opened a door. This servant eagerly embraced the
opportunity and for nearly three years preached every other Sabbath
evening to considerable numbers. The late Mr. Chapman of Leeds, frequently
laboured amongst them on the Afternoon of the Lords Day – Students from
the Academies of Idel & Rotherham were also engaged to foster this
At length the
place of preaching – a schoolroom – became too small for the
accommodation of the people who wished to attend it and it appeared
desirable to erect a Chapel, suitable to the opening prospects, in which
the Food of Life might be regularly dispensed. In the year 1807 a few
individuals engaged in this task and a chapel was built, which when
galleried, as was afterwards done, was capable of holding about 500
people. Annexed to this Chapel is a schoolroom in which the rising
generation are instructed on the Lords Day. The whole expense of these
buildings amounted to £550-10s of which sum to the present time (July 6,
1824) about £300 have been collected in different places. It is worthy of
being recorded as an act of very great liberality that Mrs. England, the
creditor, relinquished in the year 1822, her claim of interest to upwards
of £100, and that in the present year 1824, she has kindly consented to
require no interest for 12 months, in order that by exertions at home and
by appeals to Christian Benevolence in different places, the burden which
presses so heavily upon the Chapel may be diminished.
circumstances of the most gloomy nature transpired in the very infancy of
this cause, the baneful effects of which are felt to this present day. We
will however pass over this dismal scene, praying that the man who, for
his own purposes effected a Division, may yet obtain forgiveness and
experience Repentance unto life".
difficulties briefly referred to in the above records were still pressing
heavily on the church over 20 years later when, on 30th March 1847, church
A debt of
very long standing – coeval (from the same time as) the Building of the
Chapel – still remaining, it was proposed to the Church by or on behalf
of the Creditors, that in case the Friends of Knottingley would subscribe
amongst themselves One Hundred Pounds, the Creditors would recline that
sum in lieu of their demand and consider the whole debt, with its
accumulated interest, as being cancelled.
was made, the Hundred Pounds collected and paid and now the people have
the pleasure of calling the Chapel their own and are at liberty to make
any alteration or enlargement they may deem desirable, to meet the
spiritual necessities of an increasing population. Since additional
accommodation is quite necessary, and as there is now no Debt to obstruct
the free course of their liberality, I trust they will be so mindful of
the Redeemer’s Glory – the conversion of Souls and their own increased
comfort in divine worship, as to determine on an immediate enlargement.
The Hundred Pounds paid Dec. 1st 1846.
A painting of the Salem Chapel by the son of the Reverend John Dennison
One of the most significant Ministers in the history of the Church had by this time
commenced a very successful pastorate. The Reverend John Dennison enjoyed
a long term as Minister from 1845 until his death in 1859, during which
time the present Chapel was constructed on The Croft. Built at a cost of
just over £1,000, including the purchase of the land, it was completed in
1849. Various reminders of his Ministry are to be seen in the Church today
including a painting by his son and a lectern given in his memory by his
1865, Knottingley had been a joint pastorate with Brotherton and Fairburn.
Under the ministry of Reverend E. Sanders, a note of a special Church
Meeting on 13th April 1865 confirms the ending of this pastorate.
upon the dissolution of the triple pastorate the minister was unanimously
invited to give his entire energies to Knottingley alone. It was
previously understood that this should be the case and this request was
made as a mere matter of form. The minister requested the deacons to draw
up the renewed invitation and agreement with him in a few words and to
hand it over. This they promised to do."
In 1884 the
Church began to raise funds for extensive renovations outside and inside
at an estimated cost of £400. The work began on 15th September 1885 and
the Chapel reopened on 18th March 1886. Also in 1884 the minister and the
deacons took up the cause of Brotherton as a Mission Station at the
request of the Executive of Home Missions. It was agreed that members of
the Brotherton Church might become members at Knottingley "providing
satisfactory evidence be given of fitness."
ministry of Reverend T. Johnston beginning in 1886 was marked by a period
of great progress in the Church – indeed, at one Church Meeting on 3rd
April 1889, no fewer than 69 people were received into the Church
Fellowship. In 1889, after the death of Mrs Emma Wood, the Communion
Flagons were presented to the Church in her memory.
of Reverend T.R. Forbes from 1892 to 1895 began at a time when the Church
was making a substantial purchase. The minutes for 11th April 1892 record:
resolved that the Church empower the deacons to purchase the property
belonging Mr. Sayer in the best possible terms. The property is situated
in The Croft, Knottingley and adjoins the Church on the Western side,
consisting of two freehold cottages, known as Ocean Cottages, together
with all outbuildings also orchard and stabling."
was made on 24th May 1892 for the sum of £525.
fifteen-year ministry of Reverend E. Sunter from 1931 to 1946, is the
longest in the church’s history. During his time, one or two notable
additions were made to the church. The two stained glass windows in what
is now the hall but was then, of course, the church, were presented. It is
interesting to note that Mr. Sunter’s stipend on appointment was £140
plus a Manse! In October 1939 the church was facing financial difficulties
and Mr. Sunter agreed to a drop in salary of £26 per year.
ministry of Reverend H. Walker from 1955 to 1965, major alterations were
made to the church to adapt it to its present form. One motivating factor
was that the Schoolroom needed repairs that could not be afforded and
would have been a continuous drain on resources. The schoolroom was
eventually sold for £600.
extract is from a copy of a letter circulated with regard to the Church
some time past serious considerations have been given to the condition of
our premises. Discussions have taken place in an endeavour to discover the
best solution of problems concerning our Church and School Buildings, both
of which need extensive repairs. The cost of these repairs for both
buildings would be prohibitive, and far beyond our means.
in professional advice concerning the Church building, and also viewed
other Churches where alterations have been made, we have recommended a
scheme whereby all our activities could be housed under one roof, and the
expense of maintaining two separate buildings avoided. This would make for
greater efficiency in all our work, and conserve our resources.
alternative to such a scheme would be to continue as at present with two
blocks of buildings both too big for our requirements, continually
straining our resources in repairs and never being able to catch up with
the deterioration of both. The time would come when this would no longer
be possible; our people would become discouraged and tired of the
continuous drain upon their time and money, and the work of the Church as
a spiritual power would cease.
consists of putting a floor in the Church building at the level of the
present gallery so that the upper portion could be converted into the
church proper, and the ground floor adapted for Sunday School with room
for smaller meetings and social purposes. We believe that by doing this we
would have a well-appointed and commodious sanctuary, and also a fair
sized Schoolroom with accessories, adequate for all our needs.
alterations will, of course, entail expenditure, and we propose to proceed
by stages as we are able to raise the necessary funds. The whole will take
several years to complete, but we hope to arrange it so that no part of
the work of the Church or its organisations will be inconvenienced.
We appeal to
all our friends to give their assistance and active support in carrying
through this re-organisation, so that it may be accomplished in the
minimum of time, and our Church and School be better equipped for the
great work to which we have set our hands – the extension of the Kingdom
Also, due to
the redevelopment of Aire Street, land on the side of the Church where
Willow Road now runs was exchanged for land on the other side, which was
In 1972 The
Congregational Church and the Presbyterian Church of England amalgamated
to become the United Reformed Church and in such form stands the present
Church, still a part of community life in Knottingley after 200 years.
material and Church records submitted by Anne Broughton