Early History of the Chapel

Inside Our Church Three hundred years ago in 1707 building began on the first chapel, specifically erected for public worship, in Dukinfield. The Lords of the Manor, the Duckenfields were puritans and already had a family chapel attached to their home at Dukinfield Old Hall. Colonel Robert Duckenfield was a high-ranking officer in Cromwell's army and it was his son, also Robert Duckenfield, who leased the land here, on the top of what became known as Chapel Hill, to the congregation that had grown up around the ministry of the Rev Samuel Angier. The land was, according to custom, on a lease of three lifetimes (renewable) at an annual rent of "sixpence if demanded". In 1826, the land was conveyed to the Chapel trustees by a successor to the Dukinfield title, Francis Dukinfield-Astley.

After the ejection of 1662 when two thousand ministers in the Church of England refused to accept the Act of Uniformity, Samuel Angier joined his uncle, the Rev John Angier. His uncle was one of the few non-conformist clergy allowed to retain his living, at Denton Chapel, which is now St Lawrence's Church. Samuel was ordained in the dissenting tradition and came to live in Dukinfield, then a very small hamlet, where he was known to conduct services from 1677. Around him gathered a small group who called themselves Protestant Presbyterians. Despite the passing of the Act of Indulgence in 1672, non-conformists meeting together were likely to be prosecuted and they worshipped in a barn. If the authorities came looking, a barn could quickly be turned back to its work-a-day purpose. Not until James II's Ecclesiastical Commission issued a Declaration for Liberty of Conscience in 1685, were dissenters free from prosecution. This congregation began to worship freely from 10th October 1685, in the Rev Samuel Angier's hayloft.

The first chapel followed 22 years later and was, a much more modest affair than the Victorian Gothic building in which we are sitting today. It was meeting house in style. Similar dissenting chapels can be found at Knutsford, Dean Rowe and Macclesfield. The chapel at Dukinfield became known as "The White Chapel" or "The Old Chapel" and was built from materials supplied by the Duckenfield family. It was oblong in shape and ran north to south parallel to the road. Entry into the Chapel was by a door at the side and the aisle ran across the building. At the back of the Chapel, in the centre of the east wall, was a wooden pulpit and the pews on either side of it faced each other. Originally, music for services was provided by a small orchestra but in 1816 an organ was installed. You will find a small image of the first Chapel on the front of your Order of Service and in the exhibition in the School Hall along with a plan of the inside of the building.

The first service was held on 26th August 1708 when the Rev Samuel Angier preached a thanksgiving sermon for the British forces' victory over the French army in Oudenarde in East Flanders.

Over the years the beliefs of the congregation have changed from Presbyterianism, through Arianism to, in the mid 19th century, Unitarianism. The present congregation is affiliated to the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

Later History of the Old Chapel

The first chapel building lasted 132 years. Its condition was causing concern in 1838 and a building committee was formed to plan a new and bigger building to house a growing and more influential congregation. Before they had completed their deliberations a terrible storm damaged the Chapel beyond repair on 7th January 1839.

During the next 18 months on top of Chapel Hill rose the new Chapel building. The architect was Richard Tattersall of Manchester. The building was constructed from the finest Yorkshire stone. The stones of the original 1707 Chapel were used as the foundation and can still be seen under the Chapel floor. Strangely, for a building constructed on a hill, there is well in the crypt. Very little is known about this mysterious phenomenon. On 26th June 1839, the cornerstone was laid, in the presence of nearly 2,000 people. The Rev William Gaskell, minister of Cross Street Chapel, Manchester, and husband of the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, composed a hymn especially for the occasion. The graceful columns that surround us today were made from the comparatively new construction material "cast iron". They rise elegantly to the ceiling giving light and space to the whole building. The opening was celebrated on 26th August 1840. But the interior was not fully completed until 1845.

The new building heralded a change in the way the Chapel was run, with a more democratic organisation. Previously, Seat Holders, those who paid pew rents, made the decisions affecting the running of the Chapel with the un-elected Trustees being responsible for the day to day business. From 1840 a Chapel Committee was elected with a Chapel Warden, who was the leading lay person, to chair the Committee. Although the committee has changed somewhat over the years the position of Chapel Warden remains much the same. Christine Cheetham is our 34th Chapel Warden.

A small porch that was built onto the 1840 building was always intended to be temporary. During the early 1890s, planning went ahead for the magnificent west front through which you all entered the building today. The architects for this extension were Worthington and Elwood well known in the north west for fine buildings in the neo-Gothic style. The new front included a beautiful West Window that was made up of three panels from the 1840s building, with two new ones on either side and delicate tracery above. The window was made by Commhre and Capronnier of Brussels and donated by members of the congregation in memory of loved ones. Other Capronnier windows added later include the small lancet windows at the south east and north east of the gallery. The window added most recently is that on the north gallery wall depicting at its centre the figure of St George. This window, by William Morris of Kennington, is in memory of the men of Old Chapel and the Sunday School who fell in the 1914-18 war. The figure of St George is echoed in one of the beautiful banners that hang at the back of the Chapel and which were made by the women of the congregation. They are still carried through the streets of Dukinfield when local churches bear witness to their faith, on Whit Sunday each year.

Another significant feature of the present Chapel is the pulpit. It puts preachers 12 feet above contradiction. It is reached by steps in the vestry. The pulpit seat is part of the door and if the latch is not secured properly the unwary preacher can find themselves swinging backwards into the vestry with their feet dangling. And finally, there is the organ, high up above everyone. This is the second organ in this building. It was made by Alexander Young in 1876 and enlarged in 1896. We derive some enjoyment from the fact that Alexander Young's granddaughter, Sheila Crumley, is a member of the congregation and here today. The organ has recently been restored and has been given Grade II* listing by the British Institute of Organ Studies which matches the same grading that the Chapel has from English Heritage.

The present smaller congregation are very proud of our beautiful Victorian building but we sometimes look back at that neater first Chapel and wish that we had a building of similar size.