Batley, Yorks

Batley, a West Riding town between Dewsbury and Birstall, is located in a side valley of the Calder and was the centre of a medieval parish which included Morley. In the nineteenth century it became the centre of the shoddy trade by which wool from rags was remanufactured into a less superior cloth; by the 1860s there were at least thirty such mills. The trade brought prosperity to the town and resulted in the erection of some fine commercial and public buildings, including chapels .The town gained borough status in 1868, was incorporated in Birstall Urban District Council in 1937, and since 1974 has been part of Kirklees Metropolitan District. Mary Bosanquet, was married to John Fletcher in All Saints parish church in 1781.

John Nelson, of Birstall, was the main pioneer of Methodism in the district, although it was only firmly established in Batley in the late 18th century. Until then, Methodists mainly worshipped at Dewsbury [but in 1797, with the separation of the MNC, a class began meeting in the town]. The Wesleyans were holding cottage meetings c.1780 and c.1800 converted a cottage into a chapel, replaced by Wellington Street in 1821, with a large chapel built adjacent to it in 1824. This in turn was replaced in 1860-1 by Hick Lane chapel (architect J. Simpson), which closed in 1956.

Initially Batley was in the Leeds Circuit, and from 1808 in the Dewsbury Circuit,, until a separate Batley Circuit was created in 1876.

With the separation of the MNC in 1797, a class began to meet in Batley. But the first chapel was not opened unti 1828, in Spa Hill, replaced in 1854 by Zion, Commercial Street, on which site the present, imposing, Central Methodist was opened in 1870. It was nicknamed 'Shoddy Temple' because many of the prominent mill-owning families came here and it was said that informal business agreements made on the chapel steps on the Sabbath were formally confirmed on the Monday.

The origins of Independent Methodism in the town remain obscure: the Primitive Methodist Revivalists and the Gospel Pilgrims (who opened New Street chapel in 1833), both had a presence. J. Barker's 'Christian Brethren' congregation seceded from the MNC in 1841 and built Providence Street chapel in 1843; this later became Independent Methodist and closed in 1971.

Primitive Methodism was a late entry into the town in c.1840, briefly using the original Spa Hill MNC chapel, 1855-6 and then from 1857 the former Wellington Street Congregational chapel, (rebuilt after a fire c 1869 and closed in 1966). The Wesleyan Reformers (later UMFC) emerged c.1850 but their local history is unclear: they appear to have joined the Gospel Pilgrims c.1858. A chapel was built in Talbot Street in 1886-7 (closed 1994), but it is not clear whether this was a continuing or a new congregation.

Other Methodist chapels in the town included Broomhill MNC (opened 1876; closed 1948), and Talbot Street PM (opened 1871; closed 1979 and from 1982 used by the Batley Evangelical Free Church, a secession from Birstall Methodist Church, its former minister, the Rev. Frank Ockenden (em1928) becoming its first pastor).

Cross Bank WM originated in the 1850s and substantial premises added 1868-71, at the expense of the Brearley family, woollen manufactures of Queen Street Mills; it closed in 1984.

Methodism in Batley Carr is associated with Joseph Bennet with whom John Wesley stayed in 1757. The first chapel was built in 1834 and a series of building schemes followed, including the now demolished Mackenzie Memorial in 1872 (closed c.2003), named after Peter Mackenzie, who was its minister 1883-1888. There was also a Primitive Methodist Chapel, 1864 to c.1960.

  • Cross Bank Methodist Church, Batley; Centenary celebrations, 1871-1971 (Batley, 1971)
  • George Eayrs, A History of Zion Church, Batley, and the Churches of the United Methodist Batley Circuit.
  • J.R. Robinson, Notes on Early Methodism in Dewsbury, Birstal, and neighbourhood (Batley nd)