How the Church Came to be Built

The first few years of the 19th century were momentous for Britain. George II had reigned since 1760, though was now suffering mental illness (Prince George became Regent in 1811 and king in 1820). The 1801 Act of Union had joined Ireland to Great Britain. With the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor, the wars with France became widespread, culminating in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the Treaty of Vienna in 1816, though the wars had left Britain in debt. The locking out of British traders from continental trade drove the finding of new markets in the rest of the world.  The population had grown to about 9 million having nearly doubled in a century. The first census was held in 1801, though there was widespread suspicion that it would be used for conscription. There was both social upheaval and changes in work as mechanisation of production increased. Agriculture was still the largest employer with about a third of the population working in the sector[1] and with enclosures of common and waste land. However, the development of machines and increasing employment within factories brought about moves to and growth of the cities, especially in the north of England[2]. The growth of the cities led to problems of poor housing, overcrowding, poverty and disease. Protests at unemployment of craft workers saw riots and destruction of machinery (Luddites).  At the same time there was real poverty and food riots.  The Prime Minister, Spencer Percival, had been assassinated in 1812 and in 1819 eleven unarmed demonstrators were killed and 400 wounded by a cavalry charge on a peaceful demonstration in Manchester. There was, though, some acknowledgement of  the existence of a genuine problem and the 1819 Poor Relief Act attempted to alleviate some suffering.

The growth of Methodism under the inspiration of John and Charles Wesley in the 1700s, and the rise of other free churches, had produced a revival in church going  that crossed denominational and class of society boundaries. The result was a transformed England.  This time saw the beginnings of social reform as evidenced by the founding of agencies for the relief of the poor, prison reform, anti-slavery societies, the founding of schools and hospitals and the formation of missionary societies[3].  It is suggested that one effect was that England was saved from the horrors of a revolution like that which had but recently broken out in France.[4]  Certainly the established clergy had a part in persuading the population that support of the war was a duty and other interests should be set aside[5]. Furthermore, the structures of the Church of England had been little modified to meet the increasing populations of cities  and there were few churches in major centres.  So in 1818 the government of Lord Liverpool passed the Church Building Act.  This provided the sum of £1 million for the building of new Church of England churches in the expanding cities and created a Church Building Commission to allocate funds and oversee the process.  These churches are often called “Commissioners Churches” or “Waterloo Churches” though the money was given to thank God for the blessing of peace rather than in gratitude for the victory at Waterloo. The Act also made it easier to split up large parishes and it was expected that additional local funds would be raised to augment the Commissioners grants. This money was supplemented in 1824 with another £0.5m. The result was the sudden expansion of church building (it is suggested that this was competitively and fashionably driven with little regard for the demand for these churches[6].)  Interestingly at a time when a significant parish income came from pew rents (pewage) the 1818 Act laid down that no fewer than one fifth of the seats were to be for the poor of the parish without payment (free-seats[7]).

Shipley at the beginning of the 19th century was still only a large village of some 1000 people though increasing.[8] In terms of transport, the Leeds-Liverpool and Bradford canals had been in operation for about 25 years but there were few good roads. The main road north from Bradford went up what is now Toller Lane, over Chellow Height and Cullingworth to Colne in Lancashire[9]. This road had been promoted in an Act of 1755 by chiefly “Bradford, Shipley and Heaton men.[10]” There was also a road over Cottingley Moor to Cottingley Bridge, Bingley and beyond.  From Shipley centre the roads were mere bridle paths and were only two in number.  There was a track to Bradford running from Market Place via Shipley Fields, Frizinghall to join Manningham Lane: and secondly the track leading to Bingley, which ran along what is now called Saltaire Road (then called Moor End Lane) to join the Bradford/Bingley road at Moor End (now the foot of Moorhead Lane)[11]. Moor Lane ran from the Market place as far as Crowgill, then a quarry.

Although a village, Shipley boasted several Halls and fine houses[12].  Shipley Old Hall, a building, in Elizabethan style, with an emblem of the substantial yeomen of old. Over the entrance were the initials I. D. A. D., for John and Anne Dixon, with the date 1593. This was the former residence of the Dixons, who, lived at Shipley. Shipley Low Hall was situated on the high ground above the ravine down to the Bradford Beck. The date of erection is uncertain, but there was an ancient escutcheon on the older portion of the hall which, showed the builder to have knightly office.  Since William Rawson is the only gentleman in Shipley described as entitled to bear arms[13], the Rawsons probably built Low Hall and lived in it before the Manor House was built. At one point, a doorway in the garden wall led across the park to the old Baptist Chapel (built 1758).  Opposite Shipley Low Hall was a large mansion called Shipley House, which had the appearance of having been built about 1700. Whilst Harewood House was being built (1759-1771), the Lascelles family lived here. The Over Hall  or Manor House was at the upper corner of Hall Lane[14], which then was a narrow by-lane with large thorn hedges on either side and which led up to the Hall. It was built in 1673 by William Rawson, then lord of the manor, in the style prevalent in the time of Charles II.  It was a spacious building with extensive out-buildings.  A very large farm was attached to this manor house, with gardens, an orchard and rookery.

As well as the halls, there were in the lower parts down to the Leeds – Liverpool canal (1774) clusters of other dwellings.  Low Lane (Briggate) and Chapel Lane contained a few cottages. There were some stocks in the area by the now Sun Inn, handy for the nearby house of Mr Justice Myers. This area formed a useful gathering place and in 1815 a whole ox was roasted there on the proclamation of peace. There were a few public houses; such as the  Fleece Inn (demolished when the railway came) the Bull and Dog and the Fox and Hounds. Shops were opening and there were several mills. There was some cloth making in the township, particularly white cloth. A history of Leeds in 1797 mentions that there is a differentiation between areas making coloured  cloth and those making white cloth.  This latter was in a broad sweep from west of Wakefield leaving Huddersfield and Bradford a little to the left and terminating at Shipley. The cloth was sold in Leeds at the market only on Tuesdays[15].

Bethel Baptist church had been built in 1758 and the Wesleyan Providence chapel in the early 1800s.  However, at the start of the 19th century Shipley had no Church of England building. It was part of the Parish of Bradford and worshippers had to travel on horseback or on foot to the Church of St. Peter in Bradford. At this time Bradford was growing: from 13,624 in 1801 it had nearly doubled to 26,309 by 1821[16]. Although accommodation in the Parish Church had been increased during the time of Vicar John Crosse (1784-1816) by the addition of galleries on the north, south and east sides[17], it was still too small. There were only about 6,000 seats for the parish[18]. Christ Church Darley Street was erected in 1815 but there were not enough seats for the growing population. Both John Crosse and his successor Rev Henry Heap (1816-39) were followers and friends of the Rev Charles Simeon of Cambridge, an biblical preacher and teacher and a leader in the evangelical movement of the time. Visiting parishioners in their homes was important and it is said of John Crosse that “When visiting such outlying areas as Clayton, Heaton or Shipley he invariably travelled on foot, and in all kinds of weather.[19]” Hence the two vicars were not averse to new parishes being created from the large Bradford parish.

Some of the worship needs of the Shipley parishioners had been met by occasional services being held at the home of a Mr. Samuel Denby at Land End (on the site of the present ‘The Old House at Home’ pub in Otley Road), conducted by the  Vicar of Christ Church, Bradford[20]. However it was felt that Shipley did need its own church.  And there were reasons other than spiritual. At that time municipal boundaries were based on those of the parish and the diocese (then York).  Rates were collected in each parish for various purposes including maintenance of roads and churches, and other parish expenses. Moreover, each parish was legally obliged to levy a rate on householders to support the poor of the parish. The rate payer was the person responsible for paying the local taxes and could be the owner or occupier of the property. This parish rate was levied by the Vestry Meeting of the Parish Church. In Shipley’s case, it meant that the rate was assessed and collected by officials remote from Shipley. Whilst some residents of Shipley had a right to attend vestry meetings in Bradford, they must have been in a minority in that assembly. The rate in Shipley in 1803 was 4/6d in the pound, which raised f310,12s.6d[21].  The sum was increasing as return of soldiers and the effect of increasing mechanisation put more people into poverty[22]. The Vestry meeting elected the churchwardens and might also elect the constables and the overseers of the poor in the parish. These were important offices.  The only official specifically belonging to Shipley township was ‘Constable of Shipley’, whose staff of office dated 1822 is kept by the church.[23]  There was pressure, therefore, from all sides, for the creation of a Parish of Shipley. But a parish could not exist without a parish church and there was neither funds available for the building of a parish church, nor for (very important) its maintenance and stipend for the incumbent – an important issue for the established church. 

Shipley Parish Church owes its origin to the 1818 fund, but a grant was obtained only by a hair’s breadth; for  it was one of the last churches to be awarded a grant before the fund was exhausted.  A petition was signed on 20th September 1818 by a number of Shipley men under the guidance of Rev Henry Heap, promising to subscribe nearly £500 in total to the cost of the building, and the petition was duly delivered to the Commissioners.

A site was also required and a benefactor was found in the person of John Wilmer Field of Heaton, the Lord of the Manor, who donated one acre of ground for the purpose. An acre was, in those days, considered a sufficient size for a church and burial ground. (Hence, a burial ground was then in some parts of the English speaking world, called ‘God’s Acre’).  The Commissioners appointed Mr. J. Oates of Halifax, as architect to draw up plans for a Gothic style church at a cost of £7,681.19s.3d.

The foundation stone was laid on 5th November 1823 by the Rev, Henry Heap, Vicar of Bradford.  The Leeds Mercury described the event as follows:

“On Wednesday, the 5th November, the foundation stone of a new church to be dedicated to St. Paul, was laid in Shipley, in the parish of Bradford by the Revd Henry Heap, vicar of the parish in the presence of an immense concourse of spectators, who had flocked from all parts to witness the interesting scene. The site of the building has been very well selected being in the centre of a very populous and rapidly improving district, and is the liberal gift of Mr J. Wilmer Field, Esq., lord of the manor of Shipley.[24]”

According to the paper, a public procession was arranged which left from Christ Church, Bradford at 11.00 o’clock and headed towards Shipley.  The procession included the Architect (Mr J Oates), the contractors and Clerks of Works, two music bands, clergy including Revd Heap, Mr Wilmer Field and “The Gentlemen of Bradford, and the Neighbourhood, Three abreast on horseback.” plus carriages.

The report continues:

The cavalcade had a very grand and imposing appearance, and from the number of equestrians and carriages present must have occupied a 1ine of march of above half a mile; great numbers joined on the road, which was lined by thousands of spectators anxious to witness the interesting sight., About half past twelve the procession arrived on the ground.[25]”

This “ground” was a piece of Shipley Low Moor at the end of Moor Lane, just beyond the Crowgill quarry. It is a piece of raised ground and could thus be seen from the surrounding district. At the time it was considered to be out of the way and somewhat isolated from the rest of the village.[26]

Music and singing were followed by “an eloquent and appropriate address was delivered in a very impressive manner by the Rev. Vicar who then proceeded to lay the first stone.”

The stone had a plate of brass on which was the following inscription.

“The Foundation Stone of this Church, named St. Paul’s, was laid on the fifth day of November, 1823 by the Rev Henry Heap, ‘Vicar of Bradford; and Domestic Chaplain to the Right Hon, Lord Howard de Walden, This Church is built at the expense of Government. Edward Venables Vernon, D. C. L. Lord-Archbishop of York. John Oates, architect.  The Site given by John Wilmer Field Esq. ‘Glory to God in the highest’.”[27]

The trowel used in this is still in the possession of the church.

Although the weather was not the best, it is reported that at least 20,000 people were present at the ceremony.  The day concluded with a large number sitting down to a dinner prepared in Shipley whilst the Vicar was entertained at Heaton by Mr Field and a of his few friends.

Three years in building, St Paul’s was completed in 1826, as one of several Commissioners’ Churches in the area, and at a total cost of £7,687.19s.3d.   Designed by Oates, it was a perpendicular style building with 5-bay nave and aisle under one roof, a small chancel, and a tall, square west tower with main west door. Above the east window is the arms of John Wilmer Field. Much of the stone for the church came from the Gaisby Quarries[28]. There was no clock. There were doors into 2-storey porches at either side of the tower from which stairs led up to the gallery level.  Inside, the galleries extended on north, south and west sides of the church. Downstairs in the nave there were ‘box pews’,  having high sides and a door into the aisle. Later, some would be fitted with curtains. The fixings for these pews can still be seen on some of the pillars. There were aisles in the centre and at the sides and plain painted wood. Box pews were usually rented by families thus providing a useful income for the church. The original capacity of seating was for 1488 people. However, the 1818 Act had laid down that no fewer than one fifth of the seats were to be for the poor of the parish without payment.  Hence St Paul’s had 332 ‘free-seats’, all in the galleries. There was no chancel and all the windows were of plain glass. There was no heating in the church. Services were held in mornings and afternoons for there was no lighting except for a candle for the preacher to see his notes. (Hence the story passed down that the congregation “regularly went to sleep.[29]”) There were a Pulpit and a Reading Desk, both of equal height, and beneath the Reading Desk was a desk for “the Clerk.” These stood on the space now occupied by the Choir Stalls[30].  There was no organ and music was provided in a ‘singing pew’ in the West gallery by a small choral society and “an odd admixture of instrumentalists.[31]” An organ was purchased in 1829, made by Ward of York.  It was opened by Mr Skelton of Hull[32] and installed at the west end of the church.  The first six bells for St Paul’s, cast by Messrs Mears of Whitechapel in London, were installed in the tower in 1826. 

St Paul’s was identical to St Matthew’s Wilsden (now demolished) and they were consecrated on the same day All Saints Day, 1st November 1826. After the service at St Matthew’s in the morning, the Most Revd Dr Edward Harcourt, then Archbishop of York in whose diocese were the new churches, took lunch with Mr William Busfield at St Ives and then proceeded to Shipley[33].  He was met at the boundary by some parishioners and escorted to the new church for the consecration. Although there were seats for 1488, many more were expected and temporary seating had been erected.  There is a story of an accident that happened in the crowded Church at this opening service. One version has it that in the corner near the present wardens’ vestry, and under the gallery, a temporary platform had been made for seating people. Under the weight of the crowd the seating gave way with a loud CRACK. A voice called out, ‘‘ The gallery is giving way !“ and there was some consternation and excitement. A few scared people climbed over the gallery front and dropped to the pews below. The Vicar of Bradford spoke to the people and bade them keep their places. Fortunately, the alarm subsided, and no serious injury was done.

There was much poverty in Bradford district at this time and unrest against the introduction of the power looms that made hand-loom weavers unemployed. Representations by Rev Henry Heap and others succeeded in obtaining £250 for relief of the poor in Shipley, Clayton and Wilsden. The local paper reported “This relief to be given in paying wages for employment; and, with respect to Shipley, the employment is, we understand, in inclosing the church-yard.[34]”

At this point Shipley was still not a parish, rather it was a chapel within the Parish of Bradford.  Revd Richard Horsfall took over as the officiating clergyman. On his leaving, the grateful parishioners presented him with a silk gown[35]. The Rev Henry Heap presented the church with a communion set (paten and chalice) and service books.

The first vestry meeting was held at Easter 1828 when a Mr. Thomas Bishells was elected churchwarden. This was an important office as it carried municipal as well as ecclesiastical duties. A further vestry meeting was held in May of the same year, at which Mr. Bishell’s appointment was confirmed and Mr. John Hodgson was ‘elected’  as ‘Minister’s Churchwarden’[36]. The two wardens went to work immediately and provided ‘a vestry table, chairs, fender and communion cloth and cushions for the pulpit’. They also arranged for a bellringer to teach some of the congregation how to ring and, on the death of the Duke of York (January 1827), purchased black cloth with which to drape the pulpit. The funds  were provided by the church-wardens out of their own pockets for, at that time, there was no fund for such purposes, as the parish was not, as yet, a legal entity.

On 30th May 1828 King George IV signed an Order in Council assigning a district to the new church and defining its boundaries. The parish was now legally established, not only ecclesiastically, but municipally, as the Parish of Shipley-cum-Heaton and a few months later the Rev. Thomas Newberry, M.A. was appointed as the first vicar on a stipend of £50/yr.  As there was, at that time, no vicarage, Rev Newberry lived in Low Lane (probably now Briggate).


[1]     Richard Tames, 2006 (reprint of 1972 original), Economy and Society in Nineteenth Century Britain, Routledge, p.17

[2]     In 50 years to 1801, Manchester grew from 18,000 to 90,000; Liverpool from 22,000 to 80,000 and Leeds from 16,000 to 53,000.   See ‘List of towns and cities in England by historical population’ in Wikipedia

[3]     ‘Evangelical Revival in England’, in,

[4]     Parish  Handbook 1926, p.8

[5]     Nigel Aston, 2002, Christianity and Revolutionary Europe 1750 – 1830, Cambridge University Press, p. 313-4

[6]     Saint A., ‘Anglican Church-building in London 1790-1890’ in Brooks C. & Saint A.(Eds) 1995, The Victorian Church, Architecture and Society, Manchester University Press. p.30.

[7]     K.D.M.Snell & P.S.Ell, 2004,  Rival Jerusalems The Geography of Victorian Religion, Cambridge University Press, p. 337

[8]     According to James, the population returns for Shipley are as follows:









      John James, 1841, The History and Topography of Bradford, London, Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans; Bradford, Charles Stanfield, p.411

[9]     William Cudworth, 1896, Manningham, Heaton and Allerton (townships of Bradford, p.5. Goes along what is now Haworth Road.

[10]    ibid.

[11]     1976, The Church of St Paul, Shipley  A Brief History of its 150 years’ existence., p.1. Shown on the Thomas Jefferys 1775 Map of The County of York.

[12]    Information from ‘Round about Bradford – Shipley’ in  The Bradford Observer 29th April 1875 The article is by William Cudworth,  an Observer reporter and local historian. The series of articles formed the basis of his book on the same topic “Round about Bradford”.

[13]    In  Dugdale’s Visitation, 1666  Ibid.

[14]    Possibly now Manor Lane – an inscription on the front of the Christian Life Church formerly the Wesleyan Methodist Church built in 1863 refers to it as being the “Hall Lane Wesleyan Reform chapel” . The well in Hall Lane produced very pure water (Bradford Observer 5 May 1875)

[15]    Authors various but unknown, date may be 1797, A History of Leeds compiled from various Authors. pp. 43-44

[16]    Bradford Timeline 1800-1848,

[17]    James, History of Bradford, pp. 206-7

[18]    From 1976,  Brief History, p.1.

[19]    Scruton, William, 1889, Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford, reproduction pub: Mountain Press, Queensbury, 1968, p. 32.

[20]    ‘Shipley in the last Century’, in Shipley Home Words New Century Supplement, January 1901

[21]    James, History of Bradford,  p. 407

[22]   27 years previously in 1776 the total raised was only £41 10s 6d. Ibid.

[23]    A previous staff  with a silver plate inscribed ‘Thos. Hill, Constable of Shipley 1778’ was stolen from the church many years ago. A photograph of this staff may seen in the 1926 Parish Illustrated Handbook, p. 28.

[24]    ‘SHIPLEY CHURCH’ . The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), Saturday, November 8, 1823; Issue 3046

[25]    Ibid

[26]    Parish Handbook 1926, p.11  It was thus part of the common and waste land described in the petition for the 1815 Shipley Inclosure Act.  Subsequent urban development means that the church is now near the middle of the town.

[27]    SHIPLEY CHURCH’ . The Leeds Mercury 8/11/1823

[28]    The Bradford Observer, 13 May 1875.

[29]    ‘Shipley in the Last Century’,  Shipley “Home Words” New Century Supplement  Jan 1901,  p.4

[30]    Ibid, p. 3.

[31]    The Bradford Observer, 13 May 1875.

[32]    The Hull Packet and Humber Mercury (Hull, England), Tuesday, November 17, 1829; Issue 2348.

[33]    From 1976,  Brief History, pp.2-5

[34]    DISTRESS IN THE MANUFACTURING DISTRICTS’ The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), Saturday, July 29, 1826; Issue 3185

[35]    The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), Saturday, February 28, 1829; Issue 3138.

[36]    From 1976,  Brief History, p.3 Cudworth says that Jonas Bradley was the first churchwarden of Shipley Church. ‘Round about Bradford’, Bradford Observer 29th April 1875  This is probably a mistake.

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