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It had a similar status to a township but was so named as it had a chapel which was a place of worship subsidiary to the main parish church. Such chapelries were common in northern England where the parishes had been established in medieval times when the area was sparsely populated, thus obliging parishioners to travel long distances to the parish church.
A chapelry also had a role in civil government, as a subdivision of a parish which was used as a basis for the Poor Law until the establishment of Poor Law Unions in the 19th century. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1866 declared that all areas that levied a separate rate should become civil parishes, and this led to the conversion of chapelries into parishes.