Churches and Chapels in Bradford

 

No remains of a Christian church in the Roman period have yet been found, but it has been suggested that a circular structure built on top of a mosaic floor in the St Laurence School Roman Villa was a palaeo-Christian baptistery.

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The Saxon Church, called St Laurence, in Church Street is a small cruciform building of ashlar stone that has been carved with romanesque blind arcading. Stylistically, it seems to be of the late 10th or early 11th centuries. It was probably built to mark the Millennium year 1001, at the same time that King Æthelred II granted Bradford to Shaftesbury Abbey. It went out of use, perhaps after Holy Trinity was built a century later and became an ossuary (a charnel house, for storing bones displaced from the churchyard) and in 1712 was the Free Grammar School. The antiquarian Vicar of Bradford, Canon Jones, reading in a medieval writer’s book that St Aldhelm had built a small church of St Laurence here (in about 700), spotted it in 1856 as Saxon work and eventually the clutter of later sheds and lean-to buildings was cleared away, floors were taken out and the church was restored. Aldhelm’s church, if there had been one, may be buried underneath Holy Trinity.

Holy Trinity ChurchThe parish church of Holy Trinity, across the road from the Saxon Church, is basically a Norman building of nave and chancel, as can be seen from long round-headed windows, some of them now blocked. The chancel was lengthened at the beginning of the 14th century and provided with a large east window in the decorated style. The west tower may be of various dates, but mostly in perpendicular style, with a short spire. The nave was widened with a north aisle with perpendicular-style windows in the 15th century, but the arcade was greatly altered as part of major changes to the church in 1863-7 by the Bath architects John Elkington Gill and George Phillips Manners.

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Somewhere in the area where Silver Street, Woolley Street, White Hill and Whitehead’s Lane join, there was in the middle ages a church or chapel dedicated to St Olaf (or Olave), a king of Norway. It may indicate that there had been Viking settlers in Bradford. The name of Woolley Street is probably a corruption of the chapel’s name. Some remains seem to have existed to the 18th century, when deeds of nearby properties referred to it.

Chapel of St Mary ToryHigh on the hill above the town is the chapel of St Mary Tory. Tory refers to the hill, from the old word tor. It seems to date from the latter part of the 15th century. It was mentioned by John Leland in 1540 and in 1587 it was referred to as St Leonard’s hermitage or chapel. The chapel had rooms attached which may have been for a priest or hermit, or it has been suggested that it was a hostel for pilgrims. It was restored from a ruin in 1877 and the “hermitage” is now a house.

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Christ ChurchIn the 19th century it was felt there was a need for another Anglican church to cater for the developing northern parts of the town. Christ Church was designed by the Bath architect George Phillips Manners and it was built in 1841. It was originally a hall for preaching in the Georgian tradition, so had to be altered to suit High Victorian taste by lengthening the chancel and other other details designed by George Gilbert Scott and carried out by his son in 1878. The tower and spire with flying buttresses are in a style from East Anglia or east midlands.

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Town HallBradford’s Town Hall was built in 1855 and rented to the Town Commissioners, later the Bradford Urban District Council. In 1911 the Council decided to purchase Westbury House instead and the Town Hall was put up for sale, serving as a cinema for some time. In 1955 it became the Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More, with the church occupying the former council chamber.

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Nonconformist Chapels

Nonconformist sects were persecuted and at first met in secret in members’ houses. After the Act of Toleration in 1689 they often continued to meet in houses, but their “conventicles” or meetings had to be licenced. Chapels were built from the late 17th century, proliferating as congregations split up in rows over differences of religious viewpoints or doctrine.

The Grove Meeting (Zion Baptist Chapel), Conigre HillThe oldest of the existing nonconformist chapels is The Grove Meeting House in Conigre Hill. It opened in 1698 as a Presbyterian chapel, becoming more Unitarian in the next century, with a following of many of the town’s clothiers. The Unitarian fashion broke in the 19th century and the chapel was taken over by the Zion Baptists from across the road, first as their school and later replacing their own chapel when it was demolished. It continues in use as the Zion Baptist Chapel.

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The Old Baptist Chapel, seen from the burial ground behindThe Old Baptist Chapel in St Margaret’s Street was founded in 1689 and was rebuilt in 1797. The chapel is set back from the road and entered through an archway. It is a square with pyramidal roof and a tuscan-columned entrance and had seating for 300. At the rear is a small burial ground.

 

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Morgan's Hill Independent Chapel, Now United Reformed ChurchMorgan’s Hill Independent Chapel was founded in what is now called St Margaret’s Hill in 1740 by a breakaway section of the congregation of the Grove Chapel who disliked the way that chapel was tending towards Unitarianism. The building was enlarged twice, in 1798 and again in 1835, giving seating for 350 and a school was added at the side. It became a Congregational Chapel which in 1972 joined with the Presbyterians to become the United Reformed Church. In 1976 it started to be shared with the Methodists, who had abandoned their chapel in Coppice Hill and is now called The United Church.

 

A chapel was opened in Conigre Hill in 1823 by a group led by Rev William Coombs that had separated from the Independents. They were joined by another group who seceded from the Old Baptist Chapel in 1842, becoming the Zion or Particular Baptist Chapel. With the inevitable decline in the size of congregation, in 1939 they moved to the smaller Grove Chapel, which they had been using for the Sunday School and the old chapel was demolished in the 1950s. The site is now a car park.

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Bearfield Church, formerly Countess of Huntingdon's ChapelBethell Chapel, Huntingdon Street, Bearfield opened in 1787, but did not flourish and closed a few years later. Rev Thomas Watkins (died 1802) of Bath bought it, revived it and added a gallery. Joseph Rawling was preacher 1806 (when he married Watkins’ widow) until his death in 1813. Soon after 1816 it became part of the calvinistic Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion. In 1847 Rev Joseph Rawling, grandson, was minister until his death in 1866; he wrote a history of the chapel in 1865. It became Congregational in 1880 and is now just called Bearfield Church.

 

The Town Club, Market StreetThe first purpose-built Methodist chapel was built for John Wesley’s meetings at the back of the building that is now the Town Club in Market Street by Richard Pearce, the landlord of what was then the Maidenhead Inn in Pippet Street. The Pippet Street Methodist Chapel is still there, but had other uses after a new chapel was built in Coppice Hill.

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The former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Coppice HillThe Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was built in 1818 at the top of Coppice Hill to replace the old premises in Pippet Street. The building became too large for the diminishing congregation in the 1950s and they moved into the schoolhouse in front. The congregation finally abandoned the whole site in 1976 and moved in with the United Reformed Church. The chapel had gradually become dilapidated, but after the roof and interior fittings were removed, the walls were saved from demolition. It was sold to a neighbour and became the setting for a swimming pool.

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The former Primitive Methodist Chapel, SladesbrookThe Primitive Methodist Chapel in Sladesbrook was set up in 1845 by a group of Methodists who had broken away in 1810. The congregation was always small and was forced to close the chapel in 1932 and the members joined the main body of Methodists. The chapel has now been converted into a house.

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Providence Baptist Chapel, Bearfield BuildingsProvidence Baptist Chapel in Bearfield Buildings, just off Huntingdon Street opened in 1858, replacing houses in a row of cottages. Its congregation was never large, but the Sunday school was popular. It closed in about 1980 and the building has been converted to two small houses. The pulpit, one of the pews, a bible and the Sunday school banner are preserved in Bradford on Avon Museum.

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Quaker Meeting House, Whitehead's LaneThe first Meeting House of the Society of Friends, or Quakers was at Frankleigh, out of town on the Bath Road. The second was built in the centre of the town in 1718, in what is now part of St Margaret’s car park, but the meeting did not survive until the end of the 18th century. That building became a school and was demolished in the 1960s. A new Quaker Meeting was set up in 1971 with premises in Whitehead’s Lane that had been a house associated with the former Spencers’ Brewery.

 

 

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