Thursday, May 31, 2007


Yet another dis-used Methodist Chapel. This decaying Wesleyan edifice is from Chilton Moor, Co.Durham and has been boarded up for as long as I've ever passed it. Chapel life one hundred years ago was a vigorous social and spiritual force among the English working classes, a birthing ground for Trades Unionism, social justice and the "ranter" tradition of primitive and strident hymn singing. These non-conformist communities once stood as a strong alternative to the middle-class dominated Church of England and the Irish immigrant dominated slow re-establishment of Roman Catholic parishes.

These buildings may be undistinguished, with their Protestant mistrust of ornament, but whatever your creed/non-creed the almost complete disappearance in the 21st Century of friendly communal activity in favour of home-bound insular consumerism is surely a cause for great mourning...

9 comments:

Boring Being said...

Martin Parr did an excellent series of photographs called 'The Nonconformists' at Steep Lane Chapel, Hebden Bridge early on in his career (1978, I think). Well worth seeking out. I'm a very-lapsed Methodist, so I'm well aquainted with these simple little chapels.

The chapel my Great-Great-Grandparents worshipped in was for several decades and utter ruin, but has recently been tastefully converted into a house. It's a tiny place with two windows and a door - literally no bigger than a large garage. It's on the moors above Bingley, no small walk on a sunday morning after a week in the mill.

As recently as the late 70s the chapels were influential enough to get The Life Of Brian banned in Keighley.

John Bagnall said...

Believe it or not, BB, I'm fairly ignorant of Martin Parr. When friends point out that I might enjoy a certain set of his photos I investigate and am totally bowled over both by his excellent technique and wonderful choice of subject matter. So thanks for the "Nonconformists" tip...

I'm happy to see tasteful conversion of chapels into houses. Much rather that than demolition! I visited (but didn't photograph)a giant Primitive Chapel in Toft Hill near Bishop Auckland and pinched some of its (simple red) stained glass. A couple of months later it was razed to the ground to make way for a new cluster of poky over-priced luxury homes.

Boring Being said...

An overused phrase, but he is a genius. His photographs from the time he lived in Hebden Bridge remind me so much of my childhood. We were never chapel-goers, really, but seeing those chilly whitewashed interiors and elderly spinsters in turbans brings back a lot of memories.

I just tried to find a link to his 'Nonconformists', without much success. Happily, Steep Lane Chapel is still in use - though it is in fact a Baptist rather than a Methodist chapel. A bit like twins with different coloured hair, I suppose.

bobby said...

Howdo John lad, just seeing if I can get this comment doodad to work...

bobby said...

Good Lord, it did work ...wasn't expecting that!!!

On the subject of Martin Parr, here's one of the greatest images of seaside "fresh air and fun" I've ever seen:

http://static.flickr.com/24/43255322_efd38357ad.jpg

On the preview the URL seems too long for the available space so just add "jpg" and all will be revealed...

I'll be back soon.

bobby said...

Aw heck - here it is in full, without anchors and with a break in the middle

http://static.flickr.com/
24/43255322_efd38357ad.jpg

It's from his book "The Last Resort", the subject being New Brighton - I'll wager you made a few visits there in your youth.

John Bagnall said...

Cor!

You're right, Bobby, what a stunning image of British seaside "fun" that Martin Parr pic is.

I don't have very early childhood memories of New Brighton, though I'm sure we went "over the river" quite a bit. My strongest memories of New Brighton are actually from the 80s - when the place had completely gone to seed. I took my Mum there a few times after my Dad's untimely death and it was hard to find even a place for a cup of tea, nevermind candyfloss...

Anyhow, welcome to the Retreat, Bobby and thanks for going through all that kerfuffle of registering!

Returning to BB's comments: my only experience with Baptists was meeting a local Baptist minister who,with a meaningful smile, asked me why Roman Catholic churches always seem to have a Catholic Club situated nearby. Before I almost launched into a bloodvessel busting tirade about how Catholics don't place puritanical fear of the demon drink disproportionately high on their central core of teaching I realised I was being not only un-charitable but also un-ecumenical...

Boring Being said...

Martin Parr's had a lot of stick for those pictures over the years, mainly accusations of snobbery. They are superb images, though.

My dad's a Baptist - and he used to go for a pint with the Minister after chapel! Am I right in thinking that temperance was optional in some branches of the Baptist movement - as long as the tipple was beer?

John Bagnall said...

I hope that's true, BB. I'd hate to stereotype the denominations into unfair caricatures. For example, I know an RC priest who took the temperance pledge many years ago (and he's Irish.)

I see a lot of warmth and affection for the subjects in Martin Parr's images - there's clearly a commentary on the British class system going on but surely not in a snobbish way...