Independent Church Keighley

Land Introduction
Joseph Stell
John Stell

Independent Church Keighley

The Independent Chapel "in the Upper Green" in Keighley was also known as The Congregational Church of Keighley.

The records for "The Independent Chapel in the Upper Green in Keighley in the West Riding, County of Yorkshire" dating from 1749 are on LDS microfilm 0828136.

The congregation appears to have been quite small. There were only a hand full of baptisms each year. There are no records for marriages or deaths, which were recorded in the Church of England records. Between June 1749 (when the record start) and 1754, a period of five years, there were only nine baptisms listed in the Independent Church and eight of them were for the children of the Stell brothers or their sister, Mary Rishworth. One of these children was George Stell, the son of Joseph Stell of Fellane, baptized on February 30, 1752.

Between 1749 and 1796, (which is the end of the first book of records and a time when my interest in the congregation also ends), there were 261 baptisms recorded. At least forty-two of these baptisms were for the Stells and their extended family.

All of the Stells in the parish were listed as living in Fellane, Fellane near Keighley, Keighley, or in Bingley parish. Bingley is a few miles south east of Keighley on the road to Leeds.

John Stell married Mary Jackson in the Church of England in Keighley in 1716. They had at least six children, John, James, Stephen, Joseph, Mary and Joshua, all baptized in the Church of England in Keighley. Of these six children one, Joshua, does not appear to have married. The others were:

  1. John married and had children baptized in the Church of England mostly before the records start for the Independent Church.
  2. James married and had five children baptized in the Church of England before the Congregational records started in 1749 and three baptized in the Congregational parish after 1749
  3. Stephan married and had one child baptized in the Church of England before the Congregational records start and three baptized in the Congregational church. Stephen's sons, Benjamin and Stephen, also had children baptized in the Congregational church.
  4. Mary Stell married John Rishworth. They had six children baptized in the congregational parish.
  5. Joseph married and had three children George, Nathan, and Mary, all baptized in the Congregational parish. George Stell moved to Gomersall. Nathan Stell had several children baptized in the Congregational church and several children baptized in the Church of England.

History of the Church

Congregationalism grew out of the numerous attempts at church reform following the separation of the English church from the Roman church under Henry VIII (1509-1547) and the subsequent shifts that occurred under his children Edward (1547-53), Mary (1553-58) and Elizabeth (1558-1603).

The first Separatist or Congregational congregation was formed in Norwich in 1581. The principles of Congregationalism were based on a church made up of individually committed Christians.

Elizabeth I did not tolerate separatism and the Separate Congregations immigrated to the Low Countries. Separatism remained prohibited under James I (1603-1625 and Charles I (1615-1649). However, the movement continued to grow quietly. One of the Separatist congregations sailed for America aboard the Mayflower in 1620. The congregations that remained in England continued to grow, but their numbers were still small at the time the county was plunged into Civil War in 1642. The civil war ended with the trial and execution of Charles I, followed by the Commonwealth period, when from 1649 to 1660 England was ruled by a commoner, Oliver Cromwell. The commonwealth period was a time when the independent sects increased in size and power.

The Dissenters or Independents had, by 1823, been worshiping as a church in Keighley for about a hundred years. Their first premises, a barn, had fallen down one Sunday night in 1760, and Upper Green Chapel, within a stone's-throw of the Friends' Meeting-House, was erected in 1820 on an earlier site."

A History of Keighley Ian Dewhirst published 1974

Many of the local parishes have "histories of the parish" and the Congregational Church of Keighley is no exception. 100 Years of Progress, An Account of the Expansion of Congregationalism in Keighley by W. Reid Marchbank, published by Devonshire Street Congregational Church in Keighley is unfortunately undated. Mr Reid says,
"Congregationalists have always looked to the New Testament for their inspiration, 'and believe that their system of church polity is consonant with that adopted by the early church."
He says that the Congregationalists were
"men and women who had been gathered out of the worldly sort and ' committed to Christ by a covenant, and a church in which the will of Christ for that fellowship was made known through the members in church meetings."
According to Reid, the only one of the Congregationalist sects to endure was the Quakers.

As mentioned elsewhere, William Keighley wrote a history of the town and parish of Keighley in 1879. William Keighley says,

"From the commencement of the civil wars in 1642 to the Restoration in 1669, the political bias of religions parties in Keighley appears to have been anti-monarchical."
"In consequence, as we are informed, of the severity of the then existing laws against dissenter from the national worship, few chapels had been erected previous to 1672, such places being denounced as conventicles for illegal assemblies, and the worshippers therein subjected to every species of annoyance."
William Keighley associates the Congregationalists in Keighley with the Presbyterian Chapel in Bingley in the early years of their existence. It is possible that the Stells had baptisms performed in Bingley before the church was opened in Keighley. The records show that certain family members who had moved to Bingley returned to Keighley to have their children baptized in the Congregational Church.

Unfortunately, William Keighley's writing style is sometimes so archaic it is hard to know exactly what he is talking about. He ultimately says,

" The new society was essentially Presbyterian, and its early minister were of that persuasion, but some time prior to 1770, it had merged into Independency. Mr. Niel (sic), a talented Scotch student, prematurely yielded to the impulsive force of love and conjugal affection against the laws of Kirk, was dismissed by his inexorable presbytery; and notwithstanding the ban of the Kirk, was invited by the society of Keighley to become their pastor. He was ordained according to the Independent form in 1756, and settled here until 1770, during which time it is probable the society would become thoroughly Independent. Their first humble meeting-house fell down one Sunday night just after the small congregation had left it A little chapel was then built, which gave place to another in 1820, and this in turn, was superceded by the present beautiful chapel, which was opened in 1856."
According to the parish baptismal book, the Reverent Neil was the pastor from at least March 1757 to July 1770.