The origins of Upper Chapel begin in 1630 with a building erected by Anglicans and Presbyterians followed by the appointment in 1660 of the first Congregational Minister. Following the reclaiming of the chapel by the conformists in 1689 the non-conformists worshiped in a barn until 1717 when the first Upper Chapel was constructed.
The original 1630 chapel still stands at the junction of Westfield Lane and Town Lane. It was here that the Rev. John Smallwood was appointed as the first Congregationalist Minister in 1660. Smallwood had been chaplain to the Parliamentarian Lord Thomas Fairfax during the English civil war.
The conformists reclaimed the chapel in 1689 from which time the non-conformists held their services in a barn in Westfield Lane belonging to Mrs Ledgard until the first Upper Chapel was built in 1717, approximately where the 1957 building stands. The name Upper Chapel was used to differentiate it from the original chapel down the road. Part of the lintel stone with the date 1717 inscribed on it survives and is incorporated into the new building.
In 1768, the Rev Joseph Dawson, the fourth minister, started a school which soon gained a good reputation and he also practised medicine for the benefit of the congregation. He also discovered coal deposits in the fields around the chapel and began to purchase the land and brought mining to the area. Old mineshafts have been found on church land as recently as 2014!
The Rev William Vint, a staunch Congregationalist became Minister of the still Independent Upper Chapel in 1790. In 1791 a new building, the second upper chapel, was opened to house the growing congregation. It was Rev Vint, who in 1794 started the Ministers Training College with the first four students. The college continued on this site until 1834 when the college moved to a new building in Undercliffe, still with the oversight of the Ministers of Upper Chapel.
Following the expansion of the school rooms in 1849, the third Upper Chapel was opened on Good Friday the following year. The chapel had seating for 950 people and the building stood where the church car park is now.
The chapel continued to thrive and in April 1857 the church was received into the Congregational Union following 140 years of independence. The buildings continued to be extended to house an Independent Day School which was a result of discussions in the Upper Chapel Debating Society. The first headmaster of the school was Mr J Horsfall Turner who is also known as author of many books about the history of Idle and Kirklees.
The chapel also provided many activities outside worship and had clubs for football, hockey, tennis, gymnastics and cricket. The cricket field still belongs to the chapel to this day and evidence of the tennis courts can be found in the 1895 cemetery.
By mid-1950’s the chapel building was in need of replacement and in 1957 the fourth Upper Chapel was opened. The building was constructed in the open courtyard formed by the former day school / Sunday School, the ‘new’ classroom and the assembly hall which had all been built during the mid-1800’s. The chapel was fitted out with Robert Thompson ‘mouseman’ oak furniture and a 1544 pipe electro-pneumatic organ.
During 2013, the church made the very difficult decision to sell the existing church buildings as the condition of these buildings was deteriorating so much they were becoming a serious liability. The buildings were sold very quickly and an arrangement was reached with the new owners which allowed the members to meet in a rented room in the old chapel until the completion of the new building.
The new building, the 5th Upper Chapel, was completed in September 2020 and is single storey of approximately 150m2 of floor area and of natural stone construction with large areas of glass. There is a dedicated worship area which will seat 40 people and a multi-purpose room which is separated by a folding partition and which can be opened to make one large room with a seating capacity for 80 people. The building has a modern kitchen and three small meeting rooms. The Robert Thompson communion table, chair, baptism font and lectern from the 4th chapel and one of the old pews, reduced in length, have been refurbished by ‘the mouseman’ and are a link to the past. The 1717 foundation stone from the first Upper Chapel has been built into the entrance lobby.
Prior to the completion of the new building, Idle became part of the Aire Valley Joint Pastorate, which also includes Bingley URC and Keighley Trinity (Baptist & URC) churches. In November 2020, the Rev. Annette Haigh was called and inducted as Minister to the joint pastorate. A new chapter in the life and witness of Idle Upper Chapel begins.