Rochdale Smith Street Primitive Methodist Chapel

The walls collapsed during construction - and John Bright MP gave a donation

from the collection of Rev Steven Wild
Rochdale Smith Street Primitive Methodist Chapel

The 1864 date identifies this chapel as the one whose opening is described in the Primitive Methodist magazine of 1864.

Ordnance Survey maps  show the chapel on the south eastern corner of the junction of Smith Street with Penn Street. It is still there on the 1967-1988 series of maps, although by then it is labelled as a Christian Science church.  Much of the area has been completely redeveloped; in terms of current road layout it was a little to the west of the junction with Milton Street. Street View shows an office block appearing on the site between 2008 and 2018.

“Chapel Opening, Rochdale. — We have just completed and opened for public worship a substantial, beautiful, well lighted, well ventilated, and convenient chapel and school in Rochdale.

The history of our people’s labours in this place extends back some forty-five years, when it was missioned by Naylor, Verity, and others from Manchester. Nine chapels during this period have been erected on the station, and several good rooms opened for schools and religious purposes. Seven years ago we lost three hundred members through an unhappy division, the particulars of which are well known, but this storm blew over, and God saved our cause from total wreck. To a great extent our people have recovered their lost ground, in public estimation, in numerical and financial strength, and, we trust, in religious influence and power ; hence, the erection of this house of prayer in a good and commanding position.

Our necessity was not so much the want of room, as of light, and school-room accommodation. We have now both in good proportions. The corner stone was laid on the 1st  of August, 1863, by His Worship the Mayor, George Leach Ashworth, Esq. The day was very fine, our procession very large, and the ceremony of laying the stone every way pleasing, encouraging, and hopeful.

The Mayor’s address was truly characteristic of his honoured family ; as also of his own ‘personal character. As a family their sympathies, for more than a generation, have been with the progress of truth, and the work of religion. It was Mr. Ashworth’s father’s hand that instrumentally opened the prison door to one of our travelling preachers, who, for calling sinners to repentance in the streets, had been incarcerated.

The Rev. J. McPherson’s address followed the Mayor’s, and for beauty, point, and power, we have seldom heard it surpassed. A tea party and public meeting followed in the public half, over which the Mayor presided, and at which several town and country ministers and laymen delivered very suitable and encouraging addresses.

We are sorry to have to record a misfortune which befell the building during its erection ; but we do so for the general good. In the month of December, we were overtaken in our work by the fearful gales of that season, and the roof and part of the side walls gave way and fell to the ground, and but for the promptitude, generosity, and gentlemanly conduct of our architect, the contractors and our selves must have suffered much. We are thankful our loss was comparatively small, and that no life or limb suffered. To avoid the storms of the winter, with a chapel half finished, is, we think, a matter that cannot be too well considered by all who contemplate work of the kind.

The building is a brick one, but the front is faced with Yorkshire stone pierpoints, to the height of 8 feet above the front street level. There is a pilaster at each corner, with moulded bases and caps, and stone dressings. The door-way consists of moulded pilasters, with moulded caps and bases, and is finished with a moulded circular block cornice, with key stone. The front gable is also surmounted with a neat block cornice. We have a double flight of steps to the front door, 6½ feet wide, enclosed with a stock brick wall, with stone base ; and finished with moulded coping, and ornamental studs at the angles with gas lamps.

The size of the building is 58 feet by 45 feet, and 30 feet from the chapel-floor to the ceiling. Our gallery is in the rounded angle form, with a spacious area, and large singers’ pew behind the pulpit. Our school-room is 12 feet high, and only 4 feet below the front street level. Its light is perfectly unobstructed, and it is ventilated by means of the windows and wall flues. We have separate back-yard conveniences, also a boiler-house for tea purposes, and the hot water apparatus, by means of which the whole building is warmed.

In the inscription stone we have adopted the figure of the Jewish ” scroll,” which has often been admired. The whole property is enclosed by good walls, dressed stone, and cast metal palisades.

We have to acknowledge our obligations to our numerous friends, who in this day of commercial darkness and distress have put forth their hands to help us in the undertaking. To G. L. Ashworth, Esq., especially, are we indebted for his patron age, influence, and munificent donation of £75, and for that of an unknown friend by him. Also to the present mayor, Samuel Stott, Esq., J. T. and R. Ashworth, Esqs., John Bright, Esq., M.P., Henry Kelsall, Esq., G. T. Kemp.Esq., A. Steward, Esq., James Ashworth, Esq., J. S. Moor, Esq., and to Messrs. J. Hamer, W. Kershaw, W. Moxon, J. Whitehead, James Howard, K. Sutcliffe, E. Holt, J. Turner, A. Buckley, John Kershaw, C. Buckley, and J. Dearden, all of whose donations have ranged from £10 up to £50.

To all our friends, both in town and country, from the £5 donor down to our poor friend with the first sixpence, we tender our very sincere thanks. The united personal efforts of several other kind friends brought to our building fund upwards of £70. As near as we can say at present our outlay will exceed £1,800, towards which we have already realized between £700 and £800.

In our opening services of May 5th to 15th, the Revs. Hugh Stowell Brown, of Liverpool, T. Lowe, of East Dereham, and Miss Buck, of Leicester; and the Revs. H. W. Parkinson, Congregational minister, and R. Eardley, B.A., Wesleyan, rendered valuable assistance in pulpit labour.

On Whit Friday we held our ” winding up” tea-party and public meeting in our new school-room : Mr. John Hamer took the chair. Rev. W. Inman gave a financial report, and the Revs. J. Graham, R. Hill, J. Maylard, J. McPherson, and others addressed the meeting with very pleasing and good effect. May this new sanctuary be none other but ”the house of God and the gate of heaven.” 0 for the rains, the showers, the floods, the winds, and the fires of the Holy’ Ghost, to cleanse and purify the people that shall worship within its walls. W. Inman.”

Additional research by Chris Wells (March 2023):

1861:  The picture of the Smith Street chapel at the top of this article shows a building to the left; it is the Temperance Hall whose corner-stone laying was reported in the Rochdale Observer on 27 July 1861.

1863-4:  Events at the Smith Street chapel were reported on numerous occasions in the Rochdale Observer:

  • The first was in the 6 June 1863 edition announcing ‘Contracting for the Excavation, Foundation and Walling required to be done in the ERECTION of a Primitive Methodist CHAPEL in Smith Street …’
  • The second, on 26 December 1863, reported ‘On Wednesday morning, about five o’clock, the roof, and a chief portion of the side walls of the Primitive Methodist Chapel, in Smith-street, fell with a tremendous crash. The building is new, and in size is 55 feet by 45 feet,  …’
  • Then the 7 May 1864 edition reported on the first of the new chapel opening services.
  • Only two weeks later, the Observer reported ‘The teachers and scholars of the Primitive Methodist Sunday School, numbering about 300, met at ….’

1864-89:  Between 1864 and 1889 there were 118 reports in the Rochdale Observer on events at the chapel, mainly weddings, special services, Annual Teas with entertainment and Sunday School occasions.

1869:  Slater’s Trade Directory for Rochdale lists thirteen PM Places of Worship including Smith Street (see ‘Rochdale and Area PM Societies and Chapels’ on this website’).

1890:  The chapel can be seen on the 1890 50” Rochdale Town Plan (near the bottom left-hand corner); it is labelled ‘Methodist Chapel (Primitive) (seats for 520)’.

1910:  Between 1889 and 1910 there was a gap in newspaper reporting (this gap appears in the reporting of many chapels – perhaps a change in newspaper policy?).  Then between 1910 and 1926 there were 69 reports.

1930-1:  According to Past and Present Methodist Chapels, the National Archives hold records for the periods 1844-69 [Drake Street chapel?] and 1930-31.

1935-6:  The final newspaper report of interest – an obituary – was in the 25 September 1940 edition: ‘Much of his leisure was devoted to the Primitive Methodist cause at the Smith Street Chapel.  It must have been a great blow to him when the chapel had to close through lack of support four or five years ago …’

1980:  According to Past and Present Methodist Chapels, the building belonged to the Christian Science Church when it closed in 1980.


Primitive Methodist magazine 1864. pages 556-558

Comments about this page

  • Its registration for worship and for marriages was cancelled on 13 October 1935. It was re-registered as the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Rochdale on 30 December 1935.

    By Matthew Davis (19/11/2023)
  • I’ve added some additional research, including a map location, by Chris Wells, which also incorporates his previous comments on the page.

    By Christopher Hill (28/03/2023)
  • The account of the opening of this chapel that I have added from the Primitive Methodist magazine has a couple of interesting twists – the support of the important Victorian radical John Bright – and the warning against building during the winter.

    By Christopher Hill (08/12/2019)

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