Keighley was a medieval parish in the Aire Valley centred on its confluence with the Worth Valley (the upper part of which, including Haworth, was in the neighbouring Bradford parish). It was an early Methodism centre from 1742. John Nelson established a society there. Both John and Charles Wesley preached there in 1746 and on subsequent occasions. In 1776 Keighley replaced Haworth as the head of the circuit. The town’s first WM chapel was opened in 1764, enlarged 1777 and was replaced by Eden Chapel in 1811. The latter became Sunday school premises on the opening of Temple Street, by James Simpson, in 1846; it is now an Islamic centre.
Thomas Batty first missioned Keighley for PMs in the summer of 1821. It became the head of a circuit in 1824 and ultimately had three circuits. The MNC opened a chapel in 1823 but this does not appear to have survived the Barkerite secessions of the 1840s. The Wesleyan Protestant Methodists were also in the town from c.1828 and the congregation finally settled at Cavendish Street UMFC, a gothic building of c.1863, whose successor was the now demolished Sandbeds Methodist (1955). Amongst notable 20th cent. Ministers stationed in Keighley were Frank Baker, J.T.L. Maggs, and Vincent Taylor.
Historically Keighley was a centre for the domestic wool textile industry, growing into an important mill town, with wool textiles and related engineering. The Victorian town was strongly Nonconformist, especially Methodist, and Liberal, WM millowners including the Sugdens and Isaac Holden. as well as the PM James Ickringhill. Amongst other prominent local preachers were J.W. Laycock and John Hodgson, who wrote about the town’s textile trade. By the end of the 19th century Keighley’s ruling elite began to be challenged by the Independent Labour Party, which included a number of Methodists, notably Philip Snowden. From 1882 until 1974, when it became part of Bradford, Keighley had borough status. By the 1960s its traditional economic base was in decline as both mills and also chapels closed; the religious complexity changed with immigration from Bangladesh and Pakistan, leading to the development of a strong Muslim community.
John Wesley's Journal:
April 1747: 'The ten persons I joined here are increased to above an hundred; and above a third of them can rejoice in God, and walk as becomes the gospel.'
May 1753: 'I preached at Keighley, where the loving spirit and exemplary behaviour of one young man has been the means of convincing almost all the town, except those of his own household.'
July 1759: 'Hence we rode to Keighley, where is a loving, earnest, well-established people. Here many of our preachers met me, and many of our brethren; and God was with us in all our assemblies.'
July 1772: '[From Heptonstall] … we climbed up and down wonderful mountains to Keighley, where many from various parts were waiting for us.'
April 1774: 'In the evening I preached to our old, upright, loving brethren at Keighley.'