The first record of the Conveyance of land for the Chapel was dated 7th October 1835, when Messrs Ashworth and Sons, members of the Society of Friends, gave the plot of land to Trustees for use as a School/Meeting Room. It is recorded that miners and stonemasons of the village quarried the stone locally and they and local carpenters, plasterers and painters gave their services free. The simple Meeting Room was opened in 1840, being a single large room with a small vestry to the rear. The Trustees were Joshua Knowles of Tottington, John Heap of Tottington, Robert Hampson, Richard Walker and Richard Butcher all of Bury. The early reports note the week-night attendance was 100 and 50 on Sundays. “The poverty of the people – not being furnished with suitable clothing – is given as the reason for this remarkable disproportion. Mr. Thomas Hampton preached the Gospel and in other ways looked after the spiritual interests of the people in this barren wilderness.” Eventually failing in health, Mr. Hampton retired to be succeeded by Mr. John Wilson of Castleton in 1876.
The first burial was that of Wright Turner, aged 15 years, on December 11th 1847.
John Wilson set out to change the spiritual outlook of the rough element at that time so rampant in the village. No excuse for not attending services would satisfy him; if the mothers said they had to look after their children – his reply was “bring the children”; and if the men said they had no Sunday suit -he would say “I am going to preach for the good of your souls, not to a suit of Sunday clothes.” The outcome was that he filled the Chapel. We do not know where the earlier school was, which was noted in the 1794 Survey as owned by Thomas Scowcroft, but this could have continued for some time on a fee-paying basis.
From the 1830’s the formation of the Non-Conformist gatherings would have been coupled with Sunday Schools for the youngsters – in those days teaching them to read and write in order to follow the teachings of the Scriptures. The new Chapel Meeting Room would undoubtedly be used for this purpose on weeknights as well as Sunday afternoons.
The old cottage between the Chapel Row Cottage (Now No’s 42, 40 and 38) and the existing Chapel, which had previously been rented for ten pence per week, was unoccupied in 1864 on the death of the then owner Betty Whittle. It was demolished soon after to make way for the Chapel extension and yard.
The Education Act of 1870 decreed that Elementary Schools be set up in areas where school provision was insufficient. A further Act of 1876 established the principle that all children should receive elementary education. School attendance up to the age of 10 was made compulsory in 1880 where it was decided that the Chapel building should be used as a Day School and the first appointment of Headmaster was given to Mr John Wilson, who opened the new Day School on June 7th 1879.
The Committee or Board was made up of James Nuttall, Absalom Ramsden, James Hamer, Peter Scholes and Thomas Hulme. Mr Wilson continued with his dual role of Preacher and Schoolmaster for some years. About 1890 it became clear that the Chapel building was inadequate for a multi-class school so it was decided to build an additional room and at the same time raise the roof level. Money towards these extensions was raised locally through bazaars and collections and the debts incurred were cleared by the early 1900’s.
From the beginning of the Day School, it had been customary to clear all the desks aside on Friday night and prepare seating for the Sunday congregation. This was reversed on Sunday night in readiness for the Monday morning school opening. This procedure continued until 2003 when the school was closed by Bury Council.
The Great War of 1914/18 affected every village and town in the Country and not least Affetside. The Roll of Honour in Affetside Chapel records fifty-six of its young Church and School members serving in the Forces, of whom fifteen were killed. These lads came to Affetside Chapel and School from the outlying areas of Four Lane Ends, Tottington Road, Turton Road and Bradshaw Road, but amongst those killed from Affetside itself were:-
- George Holt of Height Top
- Harry Lowe of Bradshaw Head
- Henry Scowcroft of Top o’th Knotts
- Harry Warburton of Smithy Fold
- Arthur Aspinall of the Pack Horse
- Harold Kay of the Short Row
- George Turner of Pillings.
The Chapel congregation, wishing to have a memorial to these brave boys, started to raise funds and by 1920 they were able to buy and erect a new organ costing nearly £500. The Memorial Organ was unveiled by Mr Frederick Whowell, J.P., of Hawkshaw on October 16th 1920. The organ is still played in the chapel today.
Much of the village social life of the post WW 1 period was centred on the Chapel, which continued to be well supported. The 1929 accounts give the picture of good local support and many varied activities. The Sunday collections varied between five and eleven shillings and were boosted on special days like the annual Sermons when the collection was £35.0.2p, and the Harvest Festival’s £714.1s. Celebrations were held on Whit Friday with sports, the engagement of a band, and a tea.
On 28th May 1929 the Warburton Brothers organised a trip by charabanc to Buxton for the Choir. Peter Holt was the Organist and John Holt the Choirmaster, A. Taylor the Organ Blower, Joe Tebay the Caretaker and James H. Smith the Sexton.
A prize presentation party was held in February, while September saw the installation of the new Choir Stalls by Mr W. Knowles.
A Social and Dance was held in March, September and November, while the Annual Meeting was held in early December with a potato pie supper.
The Annual Tea Party and concert were arranged for the Saturday before Christmas and a Social and Dance on New Year’s Eve, for which 7 quarts of milk, 17 shillings worth of Ice Cream, 20 lbs of roast beef and other provisions from Tottington Co-op were purchased. Bands were hired for the Socials and Dances. The annual income exceeded the expenditure by £19.16.6. indicating good financial control with a most enjoyable year.
The 1939 accounts included the cost of an electric blower for the organ and 68 yards of black cloth – blackout curtains! – while the 1945 figures include the cost of photos for the opening of the porch fronting Watling Street and for the cost of moving the organ from the east side on the gable-end to the present central position.
It could be seen from the accounts that many concerts, operas and pantomimes were also put on over the years.
Noted below is an article that appeared in a local newspaper (possibly Bolton evening News) noting the Centenary celebrations of the church, circa 1935 to 1940.
MOORLAND CHURCH BUILT BY VILLAGERS CELEBRATES CENTENARY.
Early Days of Congregationalism at Affetside Recalled
On a day in July, a century ago, villagers of Affetside and the inhabitants of the surrounding moorland gathered together for their first service in a little church on Watling Street — a church they had built with their own hands. It must have been a great day for them, as much work had gone into the building of the church. The miners of the community had quarried the stone on the hillside, the farmers had seen to it that it was brought to the site, and the painters, plasterers and carpenters had given their labour. The only actual cost incurred was £20!
From that day to this, the, church, situated just below the historic Roman Cross, has served the spiritual needs of the locality.
Last week-end the members celebrated the church’s centenary. A re-union meeting of old scholars was held on Saturday — Founders Day — when tributes were paid to the founders of the church by several local speakers and old scholars of the school, and many names familiar to Affetside villagers were re¬called.
Tea was served in the afternoon, and at the meeting in the evening the speakers were the Rev. J. Brankin (minister of Park Congregational Church, Ramsbottom), Mr. M. B. Disley. (pastor of Freetown Congregational Mis¬sion); Mr. Ralph Rooney, well-known local speaker; Mr. W. Schofield, of Radcliffe, Mr. William Barlow and Mrs. Blackburn, old scholars; and Miss J. Davies, headmistress of the day school.
Mr. John Casey, pastor of the church, welcomed them. Mr. Brankin led in prayer, and the speakers recalled past personalities of the church, the happy times they had spent there, and the work which had been accomplished.
Oldest scholar present was seventy- eight years old Mr. Charles Kay, of Ramsbottom, and the oldest official, Mr. William Lomax, who has served the church as treasurer for over forty years.
PREACHER ON HORSEBACK
It is thanks to the research of Mr. William Barlow that details of the his¬tory of the church which follows, have been brought to light and he told the meeting on Saturday night something of the church’s story.
Few places of worship will have such a history as this, and if ever, a church deserves to prosper, Affetside Congrega¬tional is that church, for it was erected by people with a common desire to learn of the Gospel.
The ancient chronicle tells the story of how a travelling preacher rode on horseback across the wild moorland to take divine service in a cottage in the year 1818. From then onwards worship continued with increasing success, till it was evident that a meeting house should be found. At this period the village contained about three hundred inhabitants, composed chiefly of miners, plasterers, hand-loom weavers and farmers. Said to be “of a rough element.”
As no public building was available, the first meeting for prayer took place in a cottage, and was attended by only a few people. When the anniversary came round the people held the services in a barn, owned by a neighbouring farmer.
They were poor people, and had no building fund, so all the villagers were asked to assist, a request, which had astounding results, help being offered from the most unexpected sources, and in 1840 their meeting-house was completed. The trustees being Messrs. Joshua Knowles and John Heap, of Tottington and Robert Hampton, Richard Walker and Richard Butcher, all of Bury. No proper record of the work in the first few years has been kept, but in 1847 the first burial took place in the little graveyard adjoining the church. Thomas Hampton performed the duties of lay preacher for a number of years, and was succeeded by John Wil¬son in 1876. John Wilson was out to change the spiritual outlook of his people, and it was no use their com¬plaining that they could not come to church as they had to mind the children, or that they had no Sunday clothes. “I am going to preach for the good of your souls, not to a new suit of Sunday clothes”, he would say.
So they went to church… men in corduroys, mothers with babes in arms, and the women in white aprons and shawls.
In June, 1879, the first day school commenced with a committee consisting of Messrs. James Nuttall, Absalom Ramsden, James Hamer, Peter Scholes, and Thomas Hulme, and Mr. John Wil¬son was appointed schoolmaster. At this time a grant of £20 year was received from the Congregational Union.
About 1890 the school was enlarged, £300 being raised by a bazaar.
Then came the first World War and fifteen men of the church gave their lives.
In 1918 the work of raising money for a new organ, to be erected as a Memorial and Roll of Honour to fallen members of the Church and Sunday School was commenced, and it speaks well for the workers that in October 1920, the organ was erected at a cost of nearly £500. It was unveiled by Mr. Frederick Whowell, of Hawkshaw, in the unavoidable absence of Lord Leverhulme.
The graveyard was enlarged in 1922.
Mr. James Nuttall was for over forty- eight years associated with the church and held positions of superinten¬dent, treasurer and secretary. A memorial tablet is erected to his memory.
To-day Affetside Congregational Church stands four-square to the wild moorland winds, just as it did a hundred years ago.
At a social held following the meeting on Saturday, Mr. Tom Harrison played the violin, and Mrs. McLeod was the accompanist.
The Rev. J. Brankin preached at the centenary services on Sunday after¬noon and evening, while the pastor took the prayer meeting in the morning. The choir and children rendered anthems in the afternoon and evening, and Mrs. Crank, of Four Lane Ends Congrega¬tional Church, was the soloist. The organist was Mr. J. Thompson, and the choirmaster Mr. J. Holt. Collections were for church funds.