Music and celebration will mark 250th anniversary of continuous worship

The distinctive octagonal Heptonstall Methodist Chapel, 250 years old
The distinctive octagonal Heptonstall Methodist Chapel, 250 years old

Probably the oldest Methodist chapel in continuous use as a place of worship marks a very special anniversary with a series of events next weekend.

Grade II listed Heptonstall Methodist Chapel, Northgate, was frequently visited by founding fathers of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley, who often preached there.

And next weekend members of the chapel, with its distinctive octagonal shape, celebrate its 250th anniversary, with all invited to events.

On Saturday, October 11, at 2pm, Dr John Hargreaves will speak to a meeting of the West Yorkshire Methodist Historical Society.

In the evening, that will be followed by a concert featuring Hebden Bridge Brass Band and the Elland Male Voice Choir at 7.30pm.

On Sunday, October 12, at 3pm the president of the National Methodist Conference, the Rev Kenneth Howcroft, will be the preacher at the anniversary service, to which he is travelling specially for the event.

Rev Christine Parry, of the chapel, explained that the octagonal shape was an idea of John Wesley’s to introduce the idea of equality - no-one had a better seat than anyone else.

And the Wesleys - or indeed the original parishoners from 1764 - would recognise much at the 250th anniversary service, she said.

“We can tell Heptonstall is the oldest chapel in continuous use and it still has that Georgian feel about it.

“I think the Wesleys would recognise it and also the wording of the hymns, though the tunes may be different. It would be possible for the congregation on the day it opened to sing them,” she said.

The symmetrical octagon chapel was planned on land called Dockey’s Croft, bought and given to the trustees by Thomas Colbeck, of Keighley. John Wesley preached in the unfinished shell, perhaps inspired by the sight of Hardcastle Crags from the hilltop.

The building was finished in 1764 and two years later John Wesley returned to preach in it again. By 1802 it was deemed too small and the solution was to knock down the far end of the chapel, lengthen the walls and rebuild it, preserving the octagon shape.

By 1821 it was again too small, but this time the solution was to build new chapels in Hebden Bridge (Salem), and in Blackshaw Head, and this hidden jewel was preserved unchanged.