Bradwell: Ancient and Modern

A History of the Parish and of Incidents in the Hope Valley.

By Seth Evans (1912)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2013

Chapter VIII.



Nonconformity existed amongst the miners of Bradwell in the very earliest times of dissension from the Church. As already stated there was no church here, the inhabitants being compelled to attend the Church at Hope or take the consequences of their neglect. Early in the 17th century the constables had to make presentments at Quarter Sessions of all those persons who had not attended church. Some of these were Catholics, some Quakers, and others Presbyterians. These recusants or Nonconformists were very numerous in Derbyshire, especially in the High Peak, and at the Sessions of 1634, Francis Eyre, the constable of Hope, presented these recusants for absence from church for two months past: “Robert Jackson, of Bradwall, mynor; Gartrude Jackson, wife of William Jackson of the same, mynor; Gartrude Yellott, wife of Thomas Yellott, of Aston, husbandman; and Joan Wilks, of Hope, widow”. These, then, may be considered some of the earliest Nonconformists in Bradwell. How many more there were it would be interesting to know.

Ancient Chapel of the Apostle of the Peak
The ancient Chapel of the Apostle of the Peak.

But in spite of the penalties, Nonconformity continued to spread, and in 1682

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over 450 persons in Derbyshire were hauled up at the Assizes on warrant either to show some reasonable excuse for absenting themselves from church for twenty-one Sundays past or to pay a shilling for every Sunday they had been absent, the fines to go to the poor of the several parishes where the offenders resided. Many of the offenders lived in the parishes of Hathersage, Tideswell, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Ashford, Monyash, and Hope. The Bradwell names on the Hope list were Andrew Hallam, Robert Middleton, Margaret Middleton, Laurence Trickett (Smalldale), and Hugh Fox. From this time the penal laws against Nonconformists were gradually relaxed. At this very time the Apostle of the Peak was spreading the Gospel in the Peak district, and before long he had established congregations and built chapels in about a dozen villages, the old chapel at Bradwell being one of the number.

The First Nonconformist Chapel Wrecked.

Tho old Presbyterian Chapel, which stands in a secluded situation hemmed in by cottages, is one of the most interesting and historical religious edifices in the county. The old building, which with its walls a yard thick, appears as if intended to last a thousand years, was built for the Apostle of the Peak, the Rev. William Bagshawe, the ejected Vicar of Glossop, in 1662. and was the first edifice erected for public worship in Bradwell. Its history would make up a thrilling story, for it sheltered the men and women of two centuries ago, who were persecuted and suffered martyrdom for freedom to worship God according to their conscience. The saintly Bagshawe visited Bradwell, and was received with open arms by the miners, in whose cottages he held meetings for worship with closed doors and windows, so as not to expose his auditors to the lash of the severe laws in force against them. But the seed was sown to such an extent that soon after the repeal of the Five Mile Act (in 1689) meetings for public worship were held, and the Presbyterian congregation formed. Mr. Bagshawe's diary contains interesting entries giving glimpses of the religious life of Bradwell at that time. Under date January, 1695, he observes: “On the 25th. I was at Bradwell, had many hearers, and divers appeared much affected”. In April he wrote. “On the 7th my labours lay at Bradwell, when I spoke on the soul and on coming to Christ without money. The people continue willing, and J. Turner by presents obligeth my dear wife”. The next entry is instructive as being the first to mention the old chapel. It is in August of the same year (1695), and reads: “On the 25th, I preached and prayed in the new meeting place at Bradwell, where very many heard, and I was assisted”. Again on Aug. 29, 1695: “One fruit of my poor labours ye last year is ye poor people of Bradwall have prepared a more meet place to meet in, and they are more than willing that my younger brethren should take their turns in preaching there”. “August ye 25th. Flocked in”. A New Year's Day visit of the fine old man is thus recorded: “1696. January 1st. After praying in secret, and with those of the family who could be got together, God favoured me this day as he had done yesterday, in that there was little wind or wineglass. Though T. Barber and I were lost in a close mist as we went towards Castleton and Bradwell we got thither in due time. Many were heeding hearers; I hope they were more. For the main mine heart was right”. On April 8th the same year he writes: “I laboured at Bradwell with some help Jo. Hadfield was hurt by my mad horse, and fainted, to our affrighting, yet recovered through mercy”. There are other interesting entries relating to Mr. Bagshawe's visits to Bradwell down to his death on April 5th, 1702, and it was when regularly visiting and exhorting the people of Bradwell that he wrote a little work, “The Miner's Monitor”, in fact, the Apostle of the Peak was the principal religions factor in Bradwell in those days of trial.

It was a memorable time for Bradwell when the sanctuary of the Nonconformists was wrecked. Dr. James Clegg, who succeeded the Apostle of the Peak as the minister at Chinley Chapel, has this entry in his diary: “August, 1715. A Popish mob demolished the meeting house of the Dissenting at Bradwell”. Previous to this, on October 1st, 1714, the doctor writes: “I set out for Bradwell to view ye old Meeting House. It's a good building. Son Middleton and Wm. Evatt were with me. We dined at Martin Middleton's”.

During the year 1715 the hopes of the Romish party were much excited by the prospects of a French invasion in support of the Pretender, and they fomented riotous assaults upon Nonconformist places of worship throughout the kingdom. The weight of the storm fell elsewhere, but the skirts of it extended as far as the Peak of Derbyshire, and the chapel erected for the Apostle of the Peak was wrecked by a mob from Hope, who smashed the windows, pulpit, and seats to pieces, and left the building in ruins. It is stated that the mob entered Bradwell during the night, otherwise there would have been bloodshed, as the miners of Bradwell were mostly dissenters.

From the death of Mr. Bagshawe in 1702 the chapel was in charge of his grandson, the Rev. John Ashe, who wrote a memoir of the Apostle of the Peak, and Dr. Clegg, down to 1720, when Rev. Robert Kelsall, a young man of just over twenty-four, took charge.

In the year 1893, Mr. C.D. Heathcott, of Exeter, a native of Derbyshire, was transacting business at a bookseller's shop in London, when he saw offered for sale a

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mahogany reading-stand bearing the following inscription: “This reading-stand belonged to that excellent minister, the Rev. Robert Kelsall, who was for nearly 50 years pastor of the old Presbyterian congregations at Great Hucklow and Bradwell in Derbyshire. He died 23rd of June, 1772, aged 73”. Mr. Heathcott purchased this valuable article, and feeling that either Great Hucklow or Bradwell was the proper resting place for so interesting a relic, he very considerately made his way to Derbyshire, called upon the pastor - Rev. R.S. Redfern - and kindly placed it in his keeping as the representative of the congregations for the time being.

On a tombstone in Tidrswell Churchyard there is the following inscription:-

“To the memory if the Reverend Robert Kelsall, who originally came from Pool Bank, near Altrincham, in Cheshire, and was Minister of the Gospel at Great Hucklow and Bradwell, which charge he fulfilled with great zeal and integrity near the space of 50 years. His life was spent in the practice of most virtues that can adorn and dignify the human mind. Of gentle manners and ingenious conversation, he was agreeable to all who had the opportunity of his acquaintance. But these were only secondary qualities; he had an unfeigned piety towards God, and was charitable and benevolent to his fellow creatures. He was a sound scholar, well skilled in the writings of the Ancients, yet free from ostentation and the love of praise. As a Minister of the Gospel he had great talents, and was, as St. Paul says, an example to his flock, in conversation, charity, faith, and purity. He has left an example not easy to be equalled, but must ever he admired, and we hope, imitated. He died June 23, 1772, aged 75 years”.

The Chapel was destroyed by fire during Mr. Kelsall's pastorate, and the date 1754 over the door, probably denotes its restoration in that year.

The Rev. John Boult was appointed minister at Mr. Kelsall's death, and laboured here about twenty years, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Ebenezer Aldred.

An Eccentric Parson.

William Middleton, a Presbyterian of 80 years ago
a Presbyterian of 80 years ago.

An eccentric man was Mr. Ebenezer Aldred, the minister of the old Chapel here, at Hucklow, and other places more than a hundred years ago, after the congregation had become Unitarian, and he had a curious history. He was the son of a minister at Wakefield, and was brought up to business there, but was unsuccessful. Hunter, the historian of Hallamshire, says: “When I first knew him, which was about 1796, he was living in Sheffield with a brother-in-law without employment. He got some commission to America from the Sheffield merchants, but this did not succeed. At last, when more, perhaps, than fifty years of age, he became a minister, and had the care of a chapel in the Peak of Derbyshire. There he lived in a kind of solitude, became dreamy and wild; laid hold on the prophecies; saw Napoleon in the Book of Revelation; at last fancied himself the Prophet who, standing neither on land nor water, was to proclaim the destruction of a great city; came up to London; drove through the streets fully laden with copies of a book, of which I have a copy, and, himself dressed in a long white robe, got into a boat on the Thames, and proclaimed his commission. This, I believe, is merely a literal account of the affair. He lived some years after. He had two sons, clever youths. One was a school-fellow of mine. The other (father of the Rev. J.T.F. Aldred, Vicar of Dore) was a partner with his brother-in-law. Dr. Warwick, and now lives at Rotherham”.

The late Thomas Asline Ward, in his diary under date August 18, 1812, mentioning a walking tour in Derbyshire with Messrs. Nanson, Ebenezer Rhodes, the historian, and Wood, alludes to this remarkable man. He says: “We sauntered over the moors to Hathersage, dined, crossed the country to Tideswell, supped, and slept. Passing through Hucklow, saw and conversed with Mr. Aldred, a Unitarian minister who has the care of three or four chapels in the Peak. He is a tall venerable looking man with grey hair floating over his shoulder, and is the same who, several months ago, sailed in a boat on the Thames clothed in a white garment, denouncing woe to the Metropolis. He has also published a book of prophetic conjectures, which are so extravagant as, combined with his eccentric conduct, to induce a supposition that he is beside himself”.

For these quotations we are indebted to Mr. R.E. Leader's article on Mr. Ward's diary. The eccentric parson's wife was a daughter of the Rev. Samuel Moult, who was minister at Rotherham from 1743 to 1776. Dr. Warwick, who married one of

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their daughters, was a physician and minister of the Unitarian Chapel, Rotherham, and another daughter was the wife of the Rev. John Williams, who was some time minister at Norton and Halifax.

The old Chapel used to be designated “The Naylor's Chapel”, after the Rev. Robert Naylor, who was Aldred's successor in the pastorate about 1814. Naylor's term was a long one, for he laboured here until 1840, when he retired.

Robert Shenton, Unitarian Preacher 63 years
Who left the Primitives and was Unitarian
Preacher 63 Years.

Another who occupied the pulpit regularly for 33 years, and occasionally for twenty years longer was the Rev. Robert Shenton, who came into Bradwell a mere stripling of a youth to do missionary work for the Primitive Methodists, quite a new organisation. He preached the opening sermons of the Primitive Methodist Chapel at Little Hucklow in 1826, but became pastor of the Unitarian Chapel at Flagg, and on Naylor's retirement was appointed to Bradwell and Hucklow. For many years he was a powerful influence in every progressive movement in the Peak, and his body lies in the tiny graveyard close to the chapel door. On the headstone is inscribed: “In memory of the Rev. Robert Shenton, of Bradwell, who died January 5th, 1889, aged 83 years. His earnestness as a preacher and devotion as a worker in every good cause won him many friends and admirers by whom this stone and the tablet in the adjoining chapel were erected as a memorial to his work. Selina, his wife, born September 18th, 1819, died on Christmas Day, 1881”.

And a handsome marble scroll inside the Chapel reads: “Sacred to the memory of the Rev. Robert Shenton, of Bradwell, minister of the Old Chapel at Great Hucklow and Bradwell for upyards of 33 years, and for half a century a devoted and eloquent preacher in this district. An earnest advocate and faithful worker in any cause having for its object the welfare of the people. His labours in the interest of education were recognised by his election as the first chairman of the Bradwell School Board, which office he held till a short time before his death. This tablet, together with the stone in the adjoining graveyard, are intended as a testimony to the esteem in which he was held by Peer and Commoner alike, by whose united efforts these memorials were erected. Died January 5th, 1889, aged 83 years”.

Robert Shenton retired from active ministerial work in 1871, and took as the text of his farewell sermon the words “Call to remembrance the former times”, his sermon extending over an hour, being reminiscent of events during the period of his long ministry.

The other ministers of the Old Chapel have been: 1871 to 1875. R. Cowley Smith; 1876 to 1885, Henry Webb-Ellis; 1886 to 1895. R. Stuart Redfern; 1895 to 1897, W.F. Turland; 1897 to 1900 W.H. Rose; 1901 to 1903, Sydney H. Street; 1903 to 1911, Charles A. Smith.

The Chapel was endowed with certain lands by William Evans, of Smalldale, Bradwell, who died on April 13th, 1844, at the age of 72, and was buried in the chapel at the foot of the pulpit. On the wall over his grave there is a marble tablet to his memory, and at the foot of the inscription we read: “He being dead yet speaketh”. In 1879 most of the old high box-like pews were removed, and modern seats substituted, but one or two were left, and remain an interesting relic of former days.

It is, perhaps, the tiniest burial ground in England, for in the whole of its two hundred years' history there have been but three interments therein.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in February 2013.

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