A vintage year for building

Readers may recall that my column once included an anniversaries section called One Hundred Years Ago, which took a considerable amount of time to research, as it required a weekly scouring of the contemporary papers in order to comment on what was going on exactly a century ago.

I had intended to write something last year on the 150th anniversary of the building of two landmarks of central Harrogate, but things kept cropping up, and I missed the deadline. However, the information about both Wesley Chapel and the United Reform, formerly Congregational, Churches may be of interest to some readers, so I may as well reproduce it in 2013.

After a late start, Methodism really began to grow in central Harrogate during the 1820s, and when the 1824 chapel at the foot of Beulah Street had grown too small for the burgeoning population, the decision was taken to build a replacement. Designed by the established team of Lockwood and Mawson, the new chapel, sited at the junction of Chapel (now Oxford) Street and Cheltenham Crescent, had seats for nearly 1,000 people. Harrogate had been constituted as a separate circuit in July 1858, which was a clear sign of the role of Methodism in the expanding community.

The flagship of Methodism in Harrogate was given an Italianate front with giant Corinthian half columns, solid testimony to the confidence of local Methodism at this period. The 1,584 square yards of land for the Methodist’s new chapel was bought from the Victoria Park company for £316, and the building, which had cost £4,281, was opened on 3rd October 1862.

Smaller chapels were built in Starbeck in 1861, and at Skipton Road in 1865. Given the importance of biblical text to the Methodist movement, it is understandable that the Chapel’s interior should reflect this in its architecture, which also makes it excellent for musical recitals. Stephen Hough’s piano recital on January 5 demonstrated this to perfection, being a recent example of the wonderful series held in Wesley Chapel, which are part of a tradition which I believe began in the autumn of 1995.

Wesley Chapel is not only a much-loved place of worship and an important town centre-monument, but it has in addition become a major base for town-centre music, and has to some extent compensated Harrogate for the loss of the Lounge Hall. Music lovers should support it up to the hilt.

But music can also be heard in the second monument of today’s article : United Reform Church at the junction of Victoria Avenue and West Park. The Congregationalists had previously occupied the Victoria Hall in James Street, but they soon acquired a site for a proper church, costing £854. As with the Wesleyan Methodists new chapel, the Congregationalists employed the famous Bradford architects Lockwood and Mawson to design it, the contractor being Richard Ellis. The foundation stone was laid on August 14 1861, and the church was opened a year later, in August 1862 [49].

This new church expressed the confidence of the Congregationalists at this time, and has an interesting interior with a hammer-beam roof supported by cast iron columns. I believe the original Booth Organ was replaced in 1889 with a Wordsworth Instrument, which is one of the finest I have heard. Like Wesley Chapel, the United Reform Church is one of the town’s most imposing monuments, and we should be pleased they have both survived to celebrate their 150th birthdays.