Heptonstall, Yorks

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Charles Wesley first visited Heptonstall, in 1747. Three months later John Wesley made the first of twenty visits to this hill-top industrial village near Halifax, between 1747 and 1786,. But the Methodist society originated in the evangelical activities from 1742 of William Darney as one of his societies in the Calder valley that survived. Darney placed them in Wesley's hands, who in turn entrusted them to the pastoral care of William Grimshaw of Haworth. In the 1770s Wesley found himself welcome to preach in the parish church (though styling it on the last occasion 'the ugliest I know'). The society met in a cottage at Northgate End until an octagonal chapel was built in 1764 (extended in 1802). A Sunday School was started in 1795 and by 1818 had no fewer than 1,002 children enrolled. Membership of the society reached 446 in 1821, but with the population following the new industries down into the valley a new church, Salem, was built at Hebden Bridge.

Heptonstall was not affected by the 1797 schism that led to the formation of the Methodist New Connexion. But in the 1850s lost many members to the Wesleyan Reformers. Prominent among those it gave to the Wesleyan Connexion was Dr. Henry Haigh, missionary in India and President of the Conference in 1911. By 1939 the society had fallen to 50; but the church itself, in the Upper Calder Circuit, survives as one of the oldest surviving Methodist chapels in continuous use.


John Wesley's Journal:

August 1748: 'At twelve we came to Heptonstall Bank. The house stands on the side of a steep mountain, and commands all the vale below. The place in which I preched was an oval spot of ground, surreounded with spreading trees, scooped out, as it were, in the side of the hill, which rose round like a theatre. The congregation was equal to that at Leeds; but such serious and earnest attention! It lifted up my hands, so that I prewached as I scarce ever did in my life. 'About four I preached again to nearly the same congregation, and God again caused the power of His love to be known.'

April 1752: 'We rode to Heptonstall, a little town on the round top of a very high mountain, with a steep descent on every side. I preached in a vacant place on the brow of the hill. A captain who came from the minister's house laboured much to divert the attention of the people, but none regarded him at all. When we went away he followed us down the hill. One took him by the hand, and spoke a few words; on which he shook like a leaf, and said he hoped this would be a happy day for him, and that he should think more than he had done in the past.

April 1755: 'At three in the afternoon I preached at Heptonstall, on the brow of the mountain. The rain began almost as soon as I began to speak. I prayed that, if God saw best, it might be stayed till I had delivered His word. It was so, and then began again.'

July 1761: 'Soon after five I preached at Heptonstall. The society here had been greatly hurt by two leaders getting into new opinions. One of them fell upon me directly for " denying the righteousness of Christ". On this we discoursed about an hour. The issue was, one of them was quite convinced, and the other (to my no small satisfaction) desired me to put a new leader in his place.'

July 1764: '… I preached in the shell of the new house.'

July 1765: 'The tall mountain on which [Heptonstall] stands is quite steep and abrupt, only where the roads are made; and the deep valleys that suround it, as well on the sides of the mountains beyond, are well clothed with grass, corn and trees. I preached with great enlargement of heart on "Now is the day of salvation." The renegade Methodists, first turning Calvinists, then Anabaptists, made much confusion here for a season; but as they now have taken themselves away, the poor people are in peace again.'

July 1772: 'At one I preached at Heptonstall to some thousands of people, who stood just before the preaching-house, on a lovely green, which rises, slope above slope, like artificial terraces.'

April 1774: 'The minister of Heptonstall sent me word that I was welcome to preach in his church. It was with difficulty we got up the steep mountain, and when we were upon it the wind was ready to bear us away. The church was filled, not with curious but serious hearers. No others would face so furious a storm.'

April 1776: 'Such a congregation scarce ever met in the church before.'

July 1784: 'Mr. Sutcliffe read prayers and I preached at Heptonstall, where many poor souls were refreshed.'

April 1786: 'I preached … in Heptonstall church (the ugliest I know).'

Charles Wesley:s Journal:

October 1756: 'I preached at ten on Isaiah 64:5: "In those is continuance, and we shall be saved." I was very faint when I began. The more plainly did it appear that the power was not of man, but of God. I warned them of the wiles of the devil, whereby he would draw them away from the Church and the other means of grace. I spake as the oracles of God gave testimony, bowing the hearts of all present, except a few bigoted Baptists.'

  • Charles H. Gee, Methodism in Heptonstall (1939)
  • E.V. Chapman & G.A. Turner, Heptonstall Octagon (1964)