Heptonstall Methodist Octagonal Church

Heptonstall Methodist Octagonal Church

Historic Heptonstall Methodist Church nestles peacefully in a natural amphitheatre close to the heart of this atmospheric West Yorkshire village.

Unlike some of the Victorian churches that were to follow, Heptonstall was built to a human size by a practical and unpretentious people and has been loved and cherished ever since.

Historian Dr Richard Taylor named it as one of his ten favourite churches, saying: "If buildings have an aura, this one radiated friendship."

Methodism in Heptonstall began with a firebrand Scot “of prodigious size”, the pedlar, cobbler and itinerant poet, William Darney. He founded many societies on both sides of the Pennines as he travelled, preaching as he went.

The Heptonstall “Darney Society” was visited by Charles and John Wesley in 1747. In these early days, Heptonstall had a preacher every sixth Sunday, with the travelling preachers receiving no stipend or allowance, eating where they could.

The society was so successful it was decided to build a chapel, the octagon shape being then fashionable for Methodist preaching houses, which avoided conflict with the established church.

Wesley said: “All our houses should be of this shape if the ground allow.”

The first octagon was Norwich in 1757, followed by Rotherham in 1761, Whitby in 1762 and Heptonstall in 1764.

Local historians Chapman and Turner later wrote: “Wesley had obviously been impressed by the roof at the Rotherham Octagon, he had the same man construct the roof in Heptonstall. The sections were brought by the most direct, though hazardous, road over Mount Skip, the people meeting the procession of pack horses and singing hymns of joy. Men and women laboured with their hands to build the chapel with the most primitive of tools.”

The building was finished in 1764 and two years later John Wesley returned to preach in it again. It was intended to hold 200, but by 1802 there were 337 members and 1,002 scholars.

The solution was to knock down the far end of the chapel, lengthen the walls and rebuild it, preserving the octagon shape. Internally, the pulpit was raised up, and new singing pews constructed.

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.

Today the church is part of the  Calderdale Circuit and continues to survive and continue its Christian witness.

During the day the church is normally unlocked – come and have a look - while Sunday services start at 10.30am.

Published at 30 Jul 2019

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