History

Norcliffe Chapel In 1784 Samuel Greg founded Quarry Bank Mill, a cotton mill, at Styal. The mill was a success, but in such a rural location Greg found it necessary to provide housing for his workers, and as a result the village grew considerably. The next step was to establish institutions to meet the educational, social and religious needs of the villagers.

On 22 August 1822 there was great excitement in Styal. Everyone was invited to lay a brick for the foundation of the new Chapel. It was funded entirely by Samuel Greg, at a cost of £307 18s, and was officially opened early in 1823.

The original Chapel was a simple building, somewhat on the lines of a typical nonconformist meeting house of the previous century. It was rectangular in shape as were the wooden windows. There was no chancel and the building ended where the present step into the chancel is today. The original doorway, which can be clearly seen from the outside, was at the end facing the village green. There was a flat roof and a small belfry. There was no porch.

Samuel Greg built the Chapel for the Baptists, though he was a Unitarian himself. There was a strong Baptist cause in the neighbourhood, and no doubt many of those employed at the mill were of that persuasion. The Chapel was lit by oil lamps but there was no heating.

One notable feature remains from the Chapel's initial use by the Baptists of the village. Under the floor, almost underneath the pulpit, is a full size baptismal tank. John Hewitt of Styal recorded how his father would work with other village lads each Saturday night to carry buckets of water from the nearest pump at Oak Farm. It has not been used for nearly 180 years.

Amongst the scant records of the early days there is an amusing account of the trials and tribulations of choosing the first minister. Samuel Greg's daughters favoured Reverend Halford Jones, a minister they had heard preach at Nuneaton. He was good looking and had a way with the ladies, but their father thought this would distract the congregation from the sermon.

Instead, a Mr Metcalfe from Bolton was invited to preach, but his nose began to bleed profusely as soon as he stepped into the pulpit. He was forced to leave without taking the service, and the handsome Reverend Halford Jones became the first minister at Norcliffe. He was granted £80 a year and a house provided by Mr Greg.

Gradually, the Baptist cause seems to have died out in Styal and the Methodists began to take their place. However, Greg, as owner of the Chapel, did not want it to be used by the Methodists. In 1833, part of an old barn in the village was converted to a Methodist Chapel and it was declared that henceforth Norcliffe should be Unitarian, as it has remained to the present day.

Reverend John Colston became the first Unitarian minister of the Chapel in 1833, remaining in Styal for 31 years. He was much loved in the village for his kindness and good work. He started the Sunday School, and, after Dean Row Chapel was restored largely due to his perseverance, he became the minister to both congregations, marking the beginning of a long association between the chapels.

Robert Hyde Greg, son of Samuel, was deeply committed to Unitarianism. In 1867 he commissioned significant alterations. The chancel was added, the door was moved and the porch constructed. The flat roof was taken off and made into the beamed, pitched roof. The wooden windows were altered to the shape and stonework as they are today and stained glass was installed. The stone for the windows and the font, made by Henry Hope and another mason in 1867 to a design by Henry Russell Greg, were sourced from the quarry behind the mill. A new bell tower was built on the pitched roof, with the rope going down to the outside and just a small roof protecting the bell ringers from the elements. The total cost of these alterations was £1000.

Robert Hyde Greg died in 1878. He owned the Chapel outright and had been a constant benefactor, but left no instructions in his will as to what was to be done with it. The following year the Greg family decided to create a Trust and appoint four members to be trustees of the Chapel. This is the way in which the Chapel is run to this day, together with a committee of elected members. Robert's descendants have been central to chapel life for many years, and can still be found amongst the current congregation.

In 1880 an organ fund was opened and in 1884 this organ was unveiled to chapel members. It was made by Messrs Foster and Andrews of Hull and installed at a cost of £272. The Sunday school and its teachers had raised almost all the money themselves. In the same year gas lighting was installed and the old lamps sold.

The late Victorian period was an era of great activity and influence for the Chapel on village life. This area would once have been teeming with members of the choir. In the 1880s there were 130 people on the Chapel books - probably the most ever. In 1889 there were 147 scholars in the Sunday school with 24 teachers. In addition there was a cricket club, string band, library, savings bank and mutual improvement society all sponsored by, or closely associated with, this Chapel.

By 1977 the whole estate at Styal was owned by the National Trust with the exception of the little pocket containing Norcliffe Chapel. As you can imagine, the Trust were very anxious to add this little gem to their estate. After much soul searching the Chapel council, on finding that the roof needed to be retiled at an estimated cost of £18,000, decided that they had no alternative but to sign the building over to the National Trust who would keep the building in good repair.

Norcliffe Chapel is a Grade 2 listed Building and remains an active place of worship with services each Sunday at 6pm. It is a popular venue for weddings, with as many as three couples marrying here each Saturday during the summer months.

Our current minister, Reverend Alex Bradley, has been at Norcliffe since 2005. In addition to his responsibilities at Styal, Alex is the Principal of Unitarian College Manchester.