Honest John’s memorial

Unitarian Church, Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Unitarian Church, Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Todmorden Unitarian Church (1864-9) is a highly unusual piece of nonconformist architecture, designed and built as a splendid recreation of a fourteenth-century Gothic church, with a spire 192 feet high and internal arrangements which – but for the absence of an altar – are largely Anglican in layout and design.

It has an elaborate font and pulpit, a William Hill organ originally powered by a water-powered air pump, and very fine stained glass by the Belgian designer, Jean-Baptiste Capronnier.  The tower contains a clock, carillon and a ring of eight bells hung for change-ringing.  The final cost amounted to £35,000, almost six times the initial estimate.

It was paid for by the Fielden brothers, Samuel, Joshua and John, as a memorial to their father, “Honest John” Fielden (1784-1849) by John Gibson, who also built Todmorden Town Hall and John Jnr’s residence, Dobroyd Castle, overlooking the town and the Unitarian Church.

John Gibson (1814–1892) is an under-rated architect, otherwise best known for his “Marble Church”, St Margaret’s, Bodelwyddan, in Denbighshire.

William Gaskell, the widower of the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and the respected minister of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester gave the address in the inaugural service.  He suggested that it was entirely proper to enlist art to serve religious observance – if it was done sincerely.

The Fieldens transferred ownership to a trust in 1882, and inevitably over the years the available income became increasingly unequal to the costs of maintaining the structure.

After a centenary refurbishment, the building became increasingly impractical, and in 1987 the diminished congregation moved down to the lodge at the bottom of the drive.  The decaying and increasingly vandalised Grade I listed church was taken over by the Historic Chapels Trust in 1994 and is now cared for by local volunteers:  http://todunitarianchurch.caldercats.com/index.html.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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