Heywood United Reformed Church, Northowram

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This is a backup copy of the West Yorkshire Archive Service's "Off the Record" wiki from 2015. The live went offline in 2016 and is currently unavailable. Editing and account creation are disabled.

The following source list was originally available only on paper in one of the West Yorkshire Archive Service offices. It may have been compiled many years ago and could be out of date. It was designed to act as a signpost to records of interest on a particular historical subject, but may relate only to one West Yorkshire district, or be an incomplete list of sources available. Please feel free to add or update with any additional information.


The Independent (now United Reformed) Chapel at Northowram is inextricably linked with the life of Oliver Heywood (1630-1702), a towering figure in the history of early nonconformity. Born at Little Lever, Lancashire, he attended school in nearby Bolton, before proceeding to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received his B.A. in 1650. Through family contacts he became vicar of Coley in the same year. Ordination in the Presbyterian tradition followed in 1652. Such puritan beliefs held at a turbulent time in history finally led to his ejection from the living of Coley after the well-known series of acts following the Restoration in 1660.

Becoming more itinerant he began to preach at many places in West Yorkshire and further afield in Lancashire and Cheshire, all the while retaining links with the Northowram and Hipperholme areas where he lived in several rented properties. At this period too he began keeping the celebrated diaries which record so much of his life (covering 1666-1702 and published in four volumes by J. Horsfall Turner in 1882-3 - available in Calderdale Reference Library). Throughout the late 1660s and early 1670s journeys away, interspersed with 2 or 3 weeks at home, remained his routine. He regularly preached at Coley Hall.

In 1672 Heywood was able to buy his old house in Northowram and he moved back there on May 8th. A more important milestone came with the passing, in the same year, of the Declaration of Indulgence, whereby penal sanctions for religious reasons were largely lifted and nonconformist ministers could be licensed to preach and hold meetings at specified locations. Such a licence was applied for and obtained, dated 20 April 1672. Heywood's first chapel in Northowram was his home and this continued to be the case until a separate chapel was built in 1688. Licences, however, were revoked in 1674. Another troubled period, 1684-1689, saw Heywood frequently persecuted and under arrest, but this ended with the Toleration Act of 1689, allowing nonconformists their own places of worship and clergy. Now Heywood was free to minister to his local congregation at Northowram and to continue his preaching tours in the other areas where he was well-known. The foundation stone for the new chapel in Northowram (paid for almost entirely by Heywood) was laid on 23rd April 1688 and opened on July 8th of the same year, on land given by friend and neighbour William Clay. His final years show a decrease in the miles he travelled to preach, but he remained busy to the end. He died at his Northowram home on 4th May 1702 and was buried in the Holdsworth Chapel in Halifax Parish Church.

This collection holds registers for the Independent (later United Reformed) Chapel at Northowram chapel from 1744-1945 (before 1837 these are transcripts): Baptisms 1744-1911, 1912-1952; marriages 1863-1888; burials 1822-1911, 1911-1921; grave register 1839-1945; register of burials 1879-1896; grave index book, nd [after1879]; grave transfer book 1936-1961. See the online catalogue for more details.

Among the records of the Heywood United Reformed Church collection are also the notebooks of Reverend Mark Pearson (c1860-1908), minister at the chapel from 1884-1909. Pearson was a local historian (author of History of Northowram) and kept notebooks full of newspaper clippings about archaeology (local and national discoveries), anthropology, Roman remains, local customs, folklore and dialect, wills and benefactions, coins, curious furniture, antiquarian visits, and charities. He also was interested in the history of Heywood Chapel and non-conformity in the Halifax area. His notebooks contain biographical details, of ministers of Halifax (lecturers and vicars), Coley, Crosstone, Elland, Heptonstall, Illingworth, Lightcliffe, Luddenden, Rastrick, Ripponden, Southowram, Sowerby, and Sowerby Bridge.

Pearson’s History of Northowram drew upon Oliver Heywood’s diaries and Heywood’s History of Coley. Pearson’s notebooks contain notes and memoranda taken from Heywood’s works relating to the curates of Coley, Coley Church, biographical details of the inhabitants (principal and "decayed") of Coley Chapelry and their residences, the town and parish of Halifax, and accounts of preachers at several churches and chapelries.

These record they were bought for Heywood Chapel at an auction in Harrogate in 1974. They were part of the possessions of the late Nellie Longbottom of Westercroft Cottage who inherited them from the brother of the Reverend Mark Pearson.