Todmorden Antiquarians: Todmorden churches, chapels and graveyards

Cross Stone Church up on the hillside overlooking Todmorden
Cross Stone Church up on the hillside overlooking Todmorden

Our Chairwoman, Catherine Emberson, welcomed members and visitors to the first crowded meeting of Todmorden Antiquarian Society’s season.

Then our knowledgeable member, Robert Priestley, spoke on local ‘Churches, Chapels and Graveyards’.

The original St Mary’s Church overlooking Todmorden dates from 1476, though only the base of the tower remains. St Mary’s was rebuilt in 1658, 1770 and 1890. Robert showed photographs through these centuries, with details such as the Venetian-style windows and the proximity of the Union Bank from 1920 until its demolition.

The present St Paul’s Church at Cross Stone was built in 1830’s. Stone from the preceding Church was rolled down the hillside towards building cottages near Castle Hill School. Cross Stone Church closed during 1970’s, along with many other Churches and Chapels in our area. Criminals and strangers were buried to the north-side of churchyards whereas the ‘great and good’ would be alongside pathways!

Robert continued with a multitude of facts and figures on Todmorden’s Churches, then progressed to the countless meeting places of other denominations. He told us that local Catholics were badly treated, meeting secretly uphill at Chimney Field. Then using a structure at the hillside end of Todmorden College, prior to St Joseph’s being built in 1930 with Church upstairs and school downstairs.

We heard many tales and saw descriptive slides of Methodist rooms and Chapels. John Wesley preached in Todmorden in 1784. Bridge Street Chapel towering over the Peace Garden and market stalls closed in 1942 and was demolished during 1955 ‘holiday week’. A slide showed no protection from all the rubble for local people walking past! Bridge Street Sunday School building was then converted to Central Methodist Church.

The Unitarian Chapel was built on the Longfield hillside and it is here that John Fielden MP was laid to rest in an unpretentious grave. His three rich sons had the Unitarian Church built in their father’s memory. It opened in 1869 and remained popular for another century.

The current Roomfield Baptists replaced a previous larger building in 1962. There were many small Baptist Chapels as at Leah’s Animal Feeds in Halifax Road.

There were over 40 Churches and Chapels around Todmorden at the beginning of the 20th century, by the end only 7 being used.

Robert’s concluding topic was on varying styles of gravestones, showing examples of ledgers, lancets and crosses. Then, for light relief and a cheerful ending, we heard a collection of amusing gravestone rhymes and epitaphs.

The next Antiquarian meeting will be on Tuesday 17th October at 7.30pm in Todmorden Town Hall Court Room when Kevin Illingworth will tell of ‘Timber-framed Buildings in the Local Area’. New members and visitors are most welcome