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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History



United Reformed Church, 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.

By the 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 ill-treated.

Reverend B. 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:

"In the 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.

The Reverend 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 infant cause.

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.

But 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".

The financial 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 minutes recorded:

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.

The effort 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.

Painting of the Salem Chapel, Knottingley

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 daughter.

Prior to 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.

"Consequent 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."

The five-year 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.

The ministry 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:

"It was 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."

The purchase was made on 24th May 1892 for the sum of £525.

The 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.

During the 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.

The following extract is from a copy of a letter circulated with regard to the Church alterations:

"For 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.

Having called 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.

The 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.

The scheme 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.

These 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 of God."

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 later sold.

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.

Compiled from material and Church records submitted by Anne Broughton

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