Mill HillUnitarianChapel


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Original Chapel
erected 1672 - 1674

our history

The Unitarians began in 1662 when 2,000 clergymen were ejected from the Church of England because they would not be bound by the Book of Common Prayer.

The congregations were known as Presbyterian until the 19th century when they adopted the Unitarian name. The 1672 Charles II Act of Indulgency gave dissenters the right to worship and in Leeds this took place at Sibell Dawson's house in Alms House Garth. Mill Hill Unitarian Chapel in City Square was first built in 1674 near this Garth and opened on March 25.

The church was founded by a group of non-conformist English Presbyterians and was attended by historian Ralph Thoresby's father. Richard Stretton was the first Minister and he and John Thoresby became early trustees of the Presbyterian Fund.

One of the most eminent of Mill Hill minsters was the Rev Joseph Priestley who was born at Birstall in March, 1733, into a weaving family.

He moved to Mill Hill in 1767, receiving a stipend of 100 guineas and a house. He lived in the minster's house north of the chapel before moving to be with Lord Shelburne and preaching his last sermon at Mill Hill in May, 1773.

During his time in Leeds his research led to the discovery of oxygen in 1774 and he worked with Thoresby to found the Leeds Library and the Infirmary. It is appropriate that his statue overlooks the chapel from City Square and a chair in the chapel toady, restored by Mrs Currer-Briggs is said to have belonged to him.

The new chapel, designed by Henry Bowman and Joseph Stretch Crowther of Manchester, was opened on December 27, 1847 with a service conducted by the 13th minister, Charles Wicksteed.

The new building in Potternewton and Meanwood stone cost £7,300 and it opened free from debt with a congregation exceeding 1,000. During the ministry of Thomas Hincks schools were built on the site of the minister's house. He also conducted the service in the new Hunslet Mission Room in March, 1863 (closed in October, 1966).

During the Great War, Priestly Hall and school were adopted for wartime use from 1915 to 1919. In 1924 the chancel floor was laid with marble to mark the chapel's 250th anniversary. The centenary of the chapel opening was held on January 2, 1949 and was supported with public meetings at which Sir Adrian Boult was one of the guest speakers.

Chapel Yard was re-laid in 1978 using some old gravestones and in 1970 the chapel became a listing building, having been commonly referred to as "The Mayor's Nest" because of the number of holders of the Office who were members of the congregation.

The north window of the chapel was presented in 1912 remembering Sir James Kitson who died in March, 1911, and is buried at St John's Church, Roundhay. An east window remembers Ann Kitson, Lady Mayoress in 1860-1862 (she was Lord Airedale's mother).

Another window remembers members of the Lupton family and Salvati's mosaic reredos remembers John Darnton Luccock, Mayor in 1864. There is also a window in memory of Francis Garbutt, mayor in 1847. There are other memorials to Charles Hargrove, minister from 1872-1912 and to architect John W Connon or Bardsey who was chapel warden.