Mill Hill Chapel

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Mill Hill Chapel
Mill Hill Unitarian Chapel
Mill Hill Unitarian Chapel, City Square, Leeds - DSC07730.JPG
Mill Hill Chapel is located in Leeds
Mill Hill Chapel
Mill Hill Chapel
Location in Leeds
53°47′48.15″N 1°32′47.93″W / 53.7967083°N 1.5466472°W / 53.7967083; -1.5466472
OS grid reference SE 29960 33473
Location Leeds City Square, Leeds, West Yorkshire
Country England
Denomination Unitarian
Previous denomination Presbyterian
Membership 27 (2017)
Functional status Active
Heritage designation II*
Designated 26 September 1963
Architect(s) Henry Bowman and J. S. Crowther
Architectural type Church (building)
Style Dissenting Gothic
Capacity 120
District The Yorkshire Union Of Unitarian And Free Christian Churches
Minister(s) Rev'd Jo James

Mill Hill Chapel is a Unitarian church in Leeds, in the north of England. It is a member of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the umbrella organisation for British Unitarians.[1] The building, which stands in the centre of the city on Leeds City Square, was granted Grade II* listed status in 1963.[2][3]


As early as 1674, only a dozen years after the Great Ejection, the Dissenters in Leeds had built a chapel on the main town square. One of the founders was the father of the historian Ralph Thoresby.[4]

Associated with the chapel were prominent merchants, industrialists, and politicians such as the Lupton family. The chapel became known punningly as "the mayors' nest", as so many mayors and later lord mayors belonged to it.[5] There are memorials to, for example, Francis Garbutt (1847) and John Darnton Luccock (1864).

The Kitson family were also deeply involved in the chapel. William Morris designed a window to Ann Kitson, who died in 1865. Her son James Kitson, 1st Baron Airedale, paid for the extension of the vestry in 1897. After James's death, Archibald Keightley Nicholson created a window in his name, representing the continuation of Christianity.[6]

The Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society drew many of its supporters from the chapel. "There was a careful consciousness of middle-class identity and independence...which combined easily with the utilitarian and scientific interests" of the Mill Hill congregation.[7]

The church guidebook describes the early twentieth century as "a small but politically active and very influential congregation led by the Revd Charles Hargrove and Sir James Kitson".[8]


Mill Hill Chapel sits on the east side of Leeds City Square, in the centre of one of England's most populous, and at the time of its construction most prosperous, cities. Its architects Henry Bowman and J. S. Crowther designed it in the Dissenting Gothic style. The nave still has the original Victorian pews.[2]


In 1694 Timothy Manlove, who practised as a physician, was invited to be the minister.

The chapel held to orthodox English Presbyterian views at the beginning of the eighteenth century, "but it took a dramatic turn in the direction of heterodoxy with the appointment of Thomas Walker (died 1763) in 1748". He was the uncle-guardian of George Walker, mathematician and activist, who merited inclusion in the Dictionary of National Biography. Joseph Priestley considered Thomas Walker heretical. Many of Walker's sermons were recorded by Joseph Ryder (1695–1768), whose extensive diaries (of 5,000 sermons across Yorkshire) were inherited by his relative Olive Lupton, née Rider (1753-1803).[9]

Joseph Priestley was its minister from 1767 to 1773, and guided the chapel towards Unitarianism. Priestley recommended as his successor William Wood, who was involved in efforts to remedy the political and educational disabilities of Nonconformists under the Test Acts. In addition, during his years there until his death in 1808, he developed considerable expertise as a botanist. His son George William Wood was born there.

Rev Charles Wicksteed was minister for a generation, from 1835 to 1854, and wrote a history of the chapel after he retired. During his time in Leeds, he was president of the Phil and Lit learned society, or, to give it its formal title, the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, from 1851 to 1854.[7][10] He co-founded the Leeds Education Society,[11] a precursor to the National Education League. The minister was influential nationally too, jointly editing the Prospective Review for ten years, "the influential voice of the ‘new school’ of English Unitarianism, as against the older tradition of eighteenth-century Priestleyanism"[12] and shaping "the adoption of neo-Gothic architecture" in the new chapels that were being built - what is now called Dissenting Gothic.[13]

From 1855 the minister was Thomas Hincks,[14] a naturalist known for his work on zoophytes and bryozoa. He lost his voice and had to resign in 1869.[15] He devoted his retirement to his scientific work and in 1872 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.[16]


  1. ^ Find a Congregation: Leeds, The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (Great Britain), retrieved 16 July 2013[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b Historic England. "Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds (1375430)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  3. ^ Chapel History, Mill Hill Unitarian chapel, archived from the original on 24 July 2013, retrieved 16 July 2013
  4. ^ Mill Hill Chapel website, history page. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-24. Retrieved 2013-07-16. Accessed 16 July 2013
  5. ^ page 287. A History of Modern Leeds by Derek Fraser. Manchester University Press, 1980
  6. ^ Memorial Window to the Late Lord Airedale. Report of the Proceedings at the Unveiling Ceremony ... Together with a Description of the Window. 8 page booklet published by the chapel.
  7. ^ a b page 212. A History of Modern Leeds by Derek Fraser. Manchester University Press, 1980
  8. ^ 1989 Mill Hill Chapel Guidebook, cited in British Listed Buildings
  9. ^ Kadane, Matthew. “Anti-Trinitarianism and the Republican Tradition in Enlightenment Britain.” Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts 2, no. 1 (15 December 2010): See also Kadane's book on the diaries, The Watchful Clothier:The Life of an Eighteenth-Century Protestant Capitalist.
  10. ^ "History". The Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. Retrieved 13 May 2009.
  11. ^ page 231 A History of Modern Leeds by Derek Fraser. Manchester University Press, 1980
  12. ^ ODNB[full citation needed]
  13. ^ The Unitarian Heritage: An Architectural Survey.1986 page 74. Available on the website of British Unitarians here Archived 2014-03-04 at the Wayback Machine..
  14. ^ page 251. A History of Modern Leeds by Derek Fraser. Manchester University Press, 1980
  15. ^ Calder, Dale R (October 2009). "The Reverend Thomas Hincks FRS (1818-1899): taxonomist of Bryozoa and Hydrozoa". Arch Nat Hist. England. 36 (2): 189–217. ISSN 0260-9541. PMID 20014505.
  16. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 19 November 2010.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress in England by Raymond Vincent Holt. Lindsey Press, 1937, revised 1952.
  • Gentlemen Merchants: The Merchant Community in Leeds, 1700–1830 by Richard George Wilson. Manchester University Press, 1971

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°47′48″N 1°32′48″W / 53.7967°N 1.5466°W / 53.7967; -1.5466