From The Bolton Journal Saturday, October 31, 1885, reproduced here by the kind permission of the Bolton News.
We give above a view of Bank-street Unitarian chapel, a modern Gothic structure erected in 1856, on the site of a venerable building erected in 1606?, on land presented to the congregation by the Rev. Robert Seddon, at “the back of his own mansion-house.” The worshippers had previously assembled at the Old Meeting House in Deansgate, on the site now occupied by the Woolpack Inn, the founder of this body of English Presbyterians, being the Rev. Richard Goodwin, M.A., at one time Vicar of Bolton, but evicted in 1662 along with the other two thousand Nonconforming divines. In this old building at the corner of Mealhouse-lane, the celebrated Oliver Heywood was a frequent preacher. Mr. Goodwin died in 1685 and was interred in the Parish Church. His successor was the Rev. John Lever, another ejected minister educated at Brazenose college, Oxford, who, at the “meeting place,” according to Calamy, “administered the Lord’s Supper every month to some hundreds.” At this period of political unrest in the history of the country Bolton was considered one of the great centres of Nonconformity. The cavaliers of the day gave it the name of the Geneva of Lancashire, and there is no doubt that the cause of Protestant Dissent grew and flourished. Mr. Lever ministered to the wants of the congregation for seven years after the death of Mr. Goodwin, and then died in the 58th year of his age. The Rev. Robert Seddon, a third ejected divine, after many years of troublous vicissitude, took up his residence in a house at the top of Bank-street, then called Windy Bank, and succeeded the Rev. Mr. Lever. Three years’ faithful ministry terminated by the gift of the site adjacent to his house in Bank-street for the new chapel, he had only just completed the deed of conveyance when he was seized with a paralytic stroke from which he died. In the meantime his nephew, the Rev. Samuel Bourne, succeeded to the pastorate, which he held until the year 1719, during which he opened the new chapel, and earned a reputation not only for earnest ministry, but benevolence and public usefulness. Writing of him his son says: “ In the work of the ministry and the saving of souls he gave up all his strength; he visibly wore away in the work, and did not rust away.” The Rev. Thomas Dixon, M.D., occupied the pulpit from 1719 to his death in 1729, and he was succeeded by the Rev. John Buck, who was the pastor until 1750, when he also was removed by death. After a lapse of two years, Mr. Thomas Dixon, a son of a former pastor, filled the pastorate for a brief period of two years and then died in the 32nd year of his age. He was interred in the chapel by the side of his father. This minister ardently advocated Arian doctrines, and led to the formal secession of the party whose leanings were towards Calvinism. This was the origin of the first congregation of Independents in Bolton, who settled in Duke’s Alley Chapel in 1754. In 1755 the Rev. Thomas Holland came from Wem, Shropshire, and accepted the invitation of the congregation at Bank-street to become their pastor, and his style of preaching was so acceptable that, notwithstanding the secession, the congregation increased so rapidly that the chapel had to be enlarged. Mr. Holland also established a boarding school, taking the greatest interest in education. and preached before an assembly of ministers in Manchester, 1760, a sermon “The importance of learning.” This energetic and popular minister died in 1789, after a ministry of 45 years, 33 of which he had spent at Bank-street. During the latter portion of his pastorate he was assisted by the Rev. W. Hawkes. The Rev. John Holland, nephew of the deceased pastor, succeeded, and, following the footsteps of his relative, in his zeal for education formed a library and established a Sunday School, on the plan originated by Robert Raikes a few years previously, and copied by the Wesleyans at their place of worship at Ridgway Gates. Mr. John Holland was a fearless preacher of the doctrines of Unitarianism, which was denounced on all hands as destructive to Christianity and hostile to civil liberty. He suffered much odium, was on one occasion burnt in effigy, and on another was represented as riding on an ass as chief mourner in a procession intended as a mock celebration of the funeral of Thomas Paine, the author of the “Rights of Man.” He resigned on account of ill health in August, 1820, and died in 1826. His successor was the Rev. Noah Jones, of Walmsley, but owing to sickness he was compelled to retire from the ministry for a time, and the Rev. Franklin Baker, M.A., became the pastor in 1823. The career and work of this celebrated preacher are well known. He published the standard work “Rise and Progress of Nonconformity in Bolton,” being an historical sketch of the congregation of Protestant dissenters assembling first in Deansgate and afterwards in Bank-street, and preached before his congregation in the autumn of 1833, and from which account we have gleaned the above facts relative to them. In 1861 he was succeeded by the Rev. Jeffrey Worthington, whose ministrations will be fresh in the minds of our readers. In 1873 Mr. Worthington resigned, and the following year he was succeed by the Rev. C.C. Coe, F.R.G.S., of Leicester, the present pastor whose eminent ministerial qualifications are well known. In 1874 new schools were erected, and three years later a new organ was built in the chapel.
From The Bolton Journal and Guardian, Friday, October 25th, 1935, reproduced here by the kind permission of the Bolton News.
The history of the cause which has its home at Bank-st. Chapel, goes right back to 1672, when the comparatively new Church of England had instituted articles of religion (upon which the present Church of England is based), with the customary, prejudiced severity of an age of religious intolerance.
Many in Bolton were unwilling to subscribe to these new doctrines (though they allowed far greater freedom for an intelligent and personal attitude towards religion than did the Catholics under Mary), with the result that, in 1696?, a chapel was built on Bank-st. In that atmosphere of liberty, “They created a fellowship of men and women who are bound by no creed, but are joined together in a common spirit based on the two great Commandments – that essence of true religions – the love of God, and the love of man.”
The original founder of this congregation was the Rev. Richard Goodwin, who came from Cockey Moor in 1647 to assist at Bolton Parish Church. In 1660? he became Vicar, but when the Act of Uniformity was passed, he was one of the noble “Two Thousand” who, for “conscience’s sake,” refused to conform to Church of England principles, and, in company with other dissenters, he was compelled to give up his living and preach in private houses and anywhere he could find until the Conventicle Act in 1664, and the Five Mile Act in the next year, seriously curtailed these activities.
Thus it was in 1672 that he was forced to take out a licence under the Declaration of Indulgence, to preach in a house which then stood at the corner of Deansgate and Mealhouse-lane. Twenty-four years later the congregation moved to Bank-st.
In 1692 Mr. Seddon, a man of considerable means, educated at Cambridge, and later ejected from the living of Langley in Derbyshire, had become minister of this congregation. He it was who became owner of a “mansion-house” at the top of Bank-st., then called Windy Bank.
He was an ailing man, and fell ill and died in 1696, but a few weeks before his death, he had generously presented a piece of land adjoining Windy Bank, for the purpose of erecting a Protestant Dissenting Chapel. It is on this site that the present building stands.
So much for the history of the origin of Bank-st. Chapel, and in that beginning lies the chief historical interest of the whole 260 odd years.
In 1881 the old bell was taken down, after long service, and replaced by a new one, cast by Vickers of Sheffield. The cost was defrayed by one of the trustees of the Chapel. On the old bell was found the inscription “Bolton Chapel Bell, 1719” proving that it was the old original bell, which had been in use ever since the Chapel was built.
Once more I am indebted to a contemporary “Journal” contributor for information regarding the services at Bank-st.
My friend, in a recent article, showed that he was obviously not in sympathy with this mode of worship, yet even he, though he deplored the lack of ceremonial, could find nothing but praise for the zeal, deep-rooted sincerity, and good fellowship of the minister and congregation, in their united effort to establish their ideals.
Perhaps then, it is not surprising that this chapel has produced so many men of note in the public service of Bolton during the past century.
It has been remarked that “they certainly have no use for the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.” No, indeed. It would be inconsistent with their cause of origin – the very foundations upon which the place stands – if they had.
Yet is not that very thing – liberty of mind and spirit – the embodiment of Church of England principles also? In fact, we may take a broader view, and suggest that this is the very pith of the true English character – a spirit for which many foreigners envy us, but which few can really understand.