Brook Street Chapel

A History of Brook Street Chapel

During the Commonwealth Cheshire was almost completely a Presbyterian and Parliamentary County.

After Cromwell’s death Charles II returned. Parliament and the House of Lords were restored and quickly decided that dissention in the Church and Universities should end and passed the – Act of Uniformity of 1662 which was intended to humiliate and destroy the Puritans leaving England with 1 church and 1 political allegiance. The puritan clergy could only stay within the church if they denied their own principles hence The Great Ejection when 2,000 ministers including all 62 in Cheshire were ejected. This resulted in the rise of organised dissent.

A long period of struggle and suffering followed when dissenters met and worshipped secretly with the threat of being fined, imprisoned and being transported hanging over them.

In 1672 the first Toleration Act officially allowed private houses to be licensed and used for worship.  Hugh Henshaw (ejected from Chelford) and Peter Leigh (ejected from Chester) came to Knutsford and had their homes licensed and became the first non-conformist ministers in the area.

Political events were unstable and the licences were withdrawn driving meetings once more underground.  More prosecutions followed.

In 1687 James II passed The Declaration of Indulgence  which made it legal for dissenters to appoint their own preachers.  A young William Tong was appointed and several homes licensed as places to meet. The numbers of dissenters grew and grew. With the protestant William and Mary on the throne came the 1689 Act of Toleration. Dissenters could now leave the Church of England (up until then people were made to attend services or risk prosecution) and lawfully hold their own services BUT they needed a building in which to worship.

A very generous gift of land was given by Isaac Antrobus (a Knutsford tanner and life long dissenter) to build a chapel and a small burial ground while other members gave money for the building and fitments. William Tong helped Isaac Antrobus organise the building of the New Chapel which was built so that it was inconspicuous and resembled a private house or farm buildingbecause the dissenters had a very real fear that the right to public worship and freedom from prosecution could be withdrawn. (A clause was included in the settlement to cover this event). It is said that lookouts were posted by the outside steps to the galleries in case of attack.

William and Isaac will always be remembered with gratitude by members of this congregation for founding a Chapel in which members are free to worship God according to the dictates of conscience.

One of the differences between the dissenting view and the Anglican view was that Anglicans emphasised the sacramental role of the priest while Presbyterians regarded the preaching of the word of God as central and consequently believed in educated and well-paid clergy. Candidates for the non-conformist ministry had to be extremely well educated and closely examined as to their competence by the Classis. 

Succession of Ministers

William Tong1687-1689
Thomas Kynaston1689-1695
Samuel Lowe1696-1709
Thomas Lea1709-1733
John Turner1735-1737
Thomas Colthurst1737-1739
Robert Lord1740-1790
Theophilus Harris1790-1794
Philip George Davis1795-1809
John Smethurst1810-1819
Joseph Ashton1820-1826
Henry Green1827-1873
John Briggs Lloyd1873-1885
James Black1885-1889
George Andrew Payne1890-1930
William Whitaker1930-1939
Kenneth Twinn1939-1946
Stanley Mossop1946-1955
Albert Smith1956-1963
Peter Jones1963-1967
William R. Strachan1967-1984
Peter Hughes1984-1990
Charles P.Travis1992-1998
Alexander D. Bradley1998-2009
Jean Bradley2010-2018
Alexander D. Bradley2018-2022

As well as ministering to their congregation the ministers played an important role in town affairs eg banking, teaching, librarianship, literary, history,philanthropy, musical, science, natural history, social and educational

“Brook Street Chapel has been served throughout its history by many men who are worthy of the greatest respect and honour.  Whilst this is perfectly true of the Ministers it must also be said of the laymen.  Beginning with Isaac Antrobus and coming right down to our own times, the chapel has been nobly served by a body of faithful and conscientious laymen(and women)”
George Payne

Some Milestones in Chapel Life

Rev. Robert Lord 1740-1790
The chapel changed from being Presbyterian to Unitarian

Rev. Henry Green 1827-1873
Published  Knutsford, Its Traditions and History and developed a Sunday School and wanted a hall to be added to enhance the teaching and social activities of the chapel.

Rev. J.B.Lloyd 1873-1885
During his ministry  the building and opening of the new school room took place. The land was generously donated by Mr. Long of Grove Park and Mrs Houghton raised the funds.

Rev. George Payne 1890-1930
He was an author and wrote An  Ancient Chapel” about Brook Street Chapel with Allostock Chapel “ Mrs Gaskell and Knutsford”, “Knutsford”, “Mrs Gaskell-a brief Biography” “ Edna Lyall-an Appreciation”

In 1907 an extension to the school room was opened again on land given by the Long family.  This provided a Committee Room and kitchen and other facilities to accommodate the increasing activities of the chapel including the recently founded Womens League.

Rev. William Whitaker 1930-1939
In 1932 the Chapel Garden was opened. The land was given by Mrs Poynter Adams & her daughters who were the Misses Holt. The land was laid out by the Chairman, Mr. Cowburn of Booths Hall.

Rev. Stanley Mossop   1946-1955
He organised many youth activities including the Rose Queen Festival and annual visits to Great Hucklow.

Rev William Strachan 1967-1984 
He wrote a book called “ Brook Street Unitarian Chapel-Then and Now”. He also made a plan of all the graves both under the chapel and in the graveyard and recorded all the inscriptions, translating some from Latin.

Rev. Paul Travis
Made alterations to the gardens at the front of the chapel and had floodlights installed so that the Chapel was more visible. He also drew attention to the chapel via his musical prowess.

Rev. Alex Bradley 1998-2009
During his ministry an Access Improvement Group (AIG) was formed to improve access to the chapel. The AIG consisted of the minister and 6 members of the committee who were responsible for organising the building, including a lift, and raising funds. Mr. Jimmie Glass a retired chairman donated £120,000 which together with grants and fund raising events raised
the £300,000 needed to begin building.  By the time the Rev Bradley left to become Principal of the Unitarian College Manchester it was almost complete.

Rev. Jean Bradley  2010-2018
The new building was officially opened in 2010 by the Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire.  Since then the Exhibition Rooms have been developed.  Jean has introduced a number of new initiatives for the benefit of the people in the congregation and the town thus making the chapel even more visible.

Rev. Alex Bradley  2018-2022
Alex returned to Brook Street Chapel following the closure of the Unitarian College in Manchester. He continued to build on the initiatives established by his wife Jean, and both played an important role in chapel life as well as leading worship services. The arrival of covid 19 brought difficult times for the chapel, causing  closure for a number of weeks, followed by restrictions to normal services and chapel life. Alex maintained contact with the congregation throughout this challenging period with phone calls, emails and texts, and on-line worship services. It is to his enormous credit that the congregation remained intact, and returned to the chapel at the earliest opportunity.

Brook Street Chapel Heritage Site>