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Duke's Alley Chapel, Great Bolton
in the County of
-- Lancashire --

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Duke's Alley Chapel, Drawing from the Journal, 28th August 1886, Reproduced here by kind permission of the Bolton News
Duke's Alley Chapel, Drawing from the Journal, 28th August 1886, Reproduced here by kind permission of the Bolton News

From the Bolton Journal, August 28 1886, reproduced here by the kind permission of the Bolton News.

The history of the above venerable edifice, indissolubly connected with the religious life of Bolton, carries the mind as far back as April 3, 1752, when the first Independent congregation in Bolton was formed. This congregation consisted of 107 members of the Methodist Society formed by the Rev. J. Bennett, one of the helpers of the Rev. J. Wesley, the founder of Wesleyanism, who being dissatisfied with the terms of the Trust Deed of the Methodist Chapel they had erected in Hotel Street (on the site of the Bolton Branch of the Manchester and County Bank) withdrew from the Wesleyans and formed themselves into a new body of Christians. The land for Duke's Alley Chapel was obtained by Mr. Bennett in 1753 and the following year the chapel was opened for Devine Worship. Secession from the Presbyterian congregation worshiping in Bank Street Chapel occurred about this time, a large body having lapsed into Unitarianism and the orthodox members joined Mr. Bennett's society. For some years the preachers at Duke's Alley Chapel were the helpers of the Rev. George Whitfield, who were in the habit of visiting Bolton when making a circuit of the various Calvinistic Methodist Societies in the district. The Rev. James Wraith was the first settled pastor, and he commenced his labours in 1772. His successors were the Rev. Dr. Simpson, the Rev. W Maurice, who established the first Sunday school: the Rev. Joseph Sowden, who during whose ministry the Old Independent Chapel in Mawdesley Street was built: the Rev. J. Fox: the Rev. S. Ellis, who was the pastor from 1827 to 1843, during which time the new Sunday School was built: the Rev. R Brown, 1844 to 1847: the Rev. B. Backhouse, 1849 to 1851 and the Rev. W. H. Davison, who settled in July 8, 1852. During this gentleman's long and honoured pastorate in the town for 22 years the Congregational Church, St. George's Road, was built, mainly through his urgent advocacy and instrumentality, and the "church" - used in its congregational sense, as applying to the body of Christians worshipping there - removed to their newer and more convenient quarters, in April, 1863. The sacred edifice in Duke's Alley has since that time been carried on as a separate church, doing a great though unostentatious work for the Master. The friends who remained at Duke's Alley invited the Rev. W. Robertson, of Banbury, and he entered upon his ministry in 1863. He resigned in 1869, owing to a temporary disagreement, and matters were left in a disorganised state. Efforts were, however, made to rise up the cause: the building was put in thorough repair, and the chapel was, after beautification, reopened by the Rev. Professor Griffiths of Bowdon. The church was reconstituted, and after working for about a year the friends thought themselves strong enough to support a minister, inviting the Rev. J. C. Nesbitt, of the Lancashire Independent College, to become their Pastor. He laboured until September 1875, when he resigned his pastorate, being succeeded by the Rev. B. J. Harker.

Very few of the worshippers in Duke's Alley Chapel know or care to inform themselves where Duke's Alley is. Up to 1880 the way into it was through a narrow entry, only three feet wide, running from Deansgate in a northerly direction fifty yards, when a tall building (now made into four cottages) on the easterly side is reached. This, we may safely conclude, was the original place of worship. On the east side of this building a stone tablet is inserted in the wall inscribed:-

I. H.
This chapel was
Built in the year

The following is a copy of the lease of the land upon which Duke's Alley Chapel is built: - "From James Houghton yeoman of Bolton to John Bennett of Lee End in the parish of Glossop county of Derby yeoman yearly rent 27s. 20 yards by 24 yards Dated Sept 8th 1753 999 years." The site of the present chapel and old school was formerly on an orchard, and the chapel was first erected on the east side of the present site. The original foundation may be traced on passing from Ridgway Gates to Velvet Walks, several extensions having been made. When the chapel was built on its present site, a chapel house was also erected for the use of the minister, and this is now occupied by the chapel keeper.

The old Duke's Alley School was in 1822 entered from Chapel Alley, and had then undergone several additions and alterations, the last enlargement being in 1818.

In 1840 the ground in Ridgway Gates was cleared of six or eight old cottages to form the site of the present school, and the square for the present entrance to the chapel. Many of the old seatholders have left their mark in the old and venerated building. The large stove in the vestibule for heating the chapel was supplied by Mr. Benjamin Hick, of the Soho Foundry: the clock was supplied by the late Mr. James Mancor, watchmaker, of Bridge Street; the brass mouldings round the clock and sunlight were supplied by the late Mr. Thomas Parkinson, and the vestry furniture and Communion table and chair by Mr. Milligan.

The following text follows the chapel beyond the date of the article above:-

The school building was rebuilt in 1915 and the Chapel refurbished in 1932 and 1996. The Chapels members were also involved in the establishment of Mawdesley Street Congregational, Derby Street, Deane and Blackburn Road Congregational Churches, and Kay Street Mission.

The Congregation was involved with St Andrews Chapel in Bowker Row and later Mornington Road (also known as Somerset Road) Presbyterian Church.

In 1863 the Chapel at Duke's Alley became too small and a move to St Georges Road Congregational Church took place. In 1972 there was the union of Presbyterian and Congregational Churches became The United Reformed Church In 1979 The United Reformed Church of St Andrew and St George was formed.

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