Heywood United Reformed Church


Heywood United Reformed Church is a former late 17th century chapel located in Northowram, Halifax, England.

The current building was constructed in 1836 on a site adjacent to the original Heywood Chapel, built in 1688 by Reverend Oliver Heywood (1630-1702), and later expanded to house the large congregation during the ministry of his successor, Reverend Thomas Dickenson (1669-1743) in 1710.

A second cemetery was opened in 1879 and the first burial took place on December 10, 1879, although the record began in 1822.

Origins & History

Due to the Five Mile Act of 1665, Oliver Heywood (1630-1702) lived in Lancashire with his family for a time. When this law was repealed, he returned to Northowram in 1672 to establish a nonconformist church in Northowram on the principles of moderate Presbyterianism.

The same year, he was able to purchase his old home in Northowram and received his royal license on April 20 to preach from there, moving to Northowram House on May 8.

A more important milestone came with the approval of The Royal Declaration of Indulgence (1672) promoted by King Charles II of England (1630-1685), whereby criminal penalties for religious reasons were largely lifted and non-conformist ministers were able to obtain a license to preach and celebrate meetings in specific places.

On June 12, 1673, Oliver Heywood (1630-1702) opened a chapel in the best room of his own house at Northowram and this continued to be the case for many years. However, the licenses were revoked in 1674.

In the following years, Oliver Heywood (1630-1702) was frequently persecuted and arrested, but this ended with the Tolerance Act of 1689, which allowed non-conformists to have their own places of worship and clergy. Now Heywood was free to minister to his local congregation in Northowram and continue his preaching tours in other areas where he was well known.

After living at Northowram House for many years, Heywood built a new chapel on land donated by William Clay (c.1640-1704), laying the foundation stone on April 23, 1688.

Against much opposition, the chapel was finally inaugurated on July 8, 1688.

After Oliver Heywood's death, at Northowram House, on May 4, 1702, the first trustees were appointed in the old chapel, and during the ministry of his successor, the Reverend Thomas Dickenson (1669-1743), the chapel grew considerably and expanded to give space to the large congregation of 500 people.

In 1744, a second trust was formed and years later, in 1783, a new gallery was added. Beginning in 1819, the Reverend John White (c.1790-1861) did his best to raise funds for a new chapel and Sunday school.

The old chapel was demolished in 1836 and now Matthew Naylo designed a new and larger chapel, built on the same site and inaugurated on June 27, 1837.

The cost was £ 1,600, of which £ 1,100 was settled at the end of the opening service. Second-hand organ and benches were installed. The pulpit is made up of linen panels brought from the old chapel and had a capacity for 600 worshipers.

'On Wednesday June 23, 1837, a new chapel was opened in Northowram, near Halifax. The Reverend James Bennett (1774-1862) of London, preached in the morning; Reverend John Ely of Leeds in the afternoon; and the Reverend John Thorpe, of Huddersfield, in the evening. Devotional services were led by the Reverend R. W. Hamilton.

This house of prayer has been erected to replace the old chapel, which was built by the Reverend Oliver Heywood (1630-1702), one of the most famous expelled ministers in 1688, and is named, out of respect for his memory, as the founder of Heywood Chapel. It is forty-eight feet by forty-two feet inside, with galleries on three sides, with a school and sacristies below, furnishing space for 300 to 400 schoolchildren. The chapel will have capacity for 600 porters and 200 children. The cost, including the purchase of land and deeds, (£ 200) is expected to be £ 1500.'

Heywood Chapel opening in Northowram, Yorkshire. Congregational Magazine for the year 1837. New Series, Vol. I. Page 599. 1837.

During Reverend Giles Hoyle's (1793-1861) ministry it increased from 37 to 100, and the organ gallery in the chapel was built. In 1850 the chapel was licensed for weddings and in 1863 the building was improved and modified, and the woodwork was stained and varnished.

In 1866, gas was installed to replace the old oil lighting and in 1869 Messrs. Holt & Son of Leeds installed a new organ at a cost of £ 235. Details can be found in The National Pipe Organ Register (NPOR).

In 1877, there were more than 200 members of the Chapel. In 1879, Mrs. Fred Crowther (1861-1926) presented a second cemetery, which she had received as a gift from Major Michael Stocks (1799-1872). Between June and September 1887, the Chapel was closed for modifications, at a cost of £ 340.

In 1908 the Reverend Mark Pearson (c.1840-1910) completely renovated the Chapel at a cost of £ 1,800 and Thomas Kershaw was involved in the changes to the Chapel. Electricity was then installed to improve the lighting, becoming over the years a historic but modern chapel.


Presbyterian Oliver Heywood's (1630-1702) ministerial career spanned the years from 1650, when as a young man he accepted the calling of the congregation at Coley Chapel in Halifax, West Yorkshire, until his death there in 1702, a patriarchal figure respected by fellow ministers and congregations throughout northern England.

His life has subsequently been developed by historians as an exemplary study of the pastoral tradition within Old Dissent at a time of changing and tense relations between that tradition, derived from Puritanism, and the established Church.

Oliver Heywood (1630-1702) was at the center of a ministerial and spiritual cousin that spanned the entire West Riding of Yorkshire and Lancashire for over half a century, maintaining an area-wide itinerant ministry and serving his congregation in Coley and Northowram in both times of persecution as during the first decade after the Tolerance Act in 1689.

Heywood's reputation as a powerful preacher emerged early among his followers and was consolidated with a series of publications between 1667 and his death: the first of these, Heart Treasure and the famous Closet Prayer focused, as their titles imply, on the nature of prayer, how it was the foundation of the Christian life in general and, more personally, how it formed the continuing foundation of the ministry itself by Heywood.

Thomas DickensonBritish Nonconformist Minister

Thomas Dickenson (Heaton, Lancashire, England; April 14, 1669 - Northowram, Yorkshire, England; December 26, 1743) was a British nonconformist minister, successor to Oliver Heywood from 1702 to 1743.


Thomas Dickenson descended from the old Dickenson family, at Heaton, near Manchester, in the city of Lancaster. He was the youngest son of Mary Dickenson (1628-1708) and John Dickenson (1626-1706), both from Lancashire, England.

His parents were married around 1660 in Shuttleworthhall, Lancashire, England, and together they had 3 children: John Dickenson (1661-1731), Hannah Dickenson (1668-1705) and Thomas Dickenson (1669-1743).

Thomas Dickenson married Hannah Foster (1674-1765) on October 24, 1705 in Ossett, Yorkshire, England and together they had 12 children: Thomas Dickenson (1706-1736), Joseph Dickenson (1707-1741), Elizabeth Dickenson (1709-?), Hannah Dickenson (1712-?), John Dickenson (1714-1764), Richard Dickenson (1715-1718), Mary Dickenson (1717-1804), Benjamin Dickenson (1719-?), Anne Dickenson (1721-1797), Nathanael Dickenson (1722-1741), Richard Dickenson (1724-1726) and Joshua Dickenson (1727-?).

Several of his children died in infancy, and according to one of Thomas's records, his son Joseph Dickenson (1707-1741) was in two battles and was not injured, but at the end of May 1741, a strong fever that proved very fatal for many, it seized him when passing through the Spanish city of Cartagena, and died at sea, returning to England.

The same happened with another of them, Nathaniel Dickenson (1723-1741), who died in the port of Cartagena at the age of 18.

One of his daughters, Mary Dickenson of London (1717-1804), married on September 29, 1717 in Northowram to James Harriot (1718-1783), professor of Worshipful Company of Cordwainers and Lieutenant Colonel of the London Militia. To his daughter Mary, a letter written by her father in 1731 is addressed, which also refers to Richard Foster (c.1648-1730), her father-in-law.

It should be noted that his wife, Hannah Foster, was the daughter of Hannah Jackson (1658-1727), a native of Bilston, and Richard Foster (c.1648-1730), an independent dissident from Ossett who died in 1730 after suffering severe strangulation pains during considerable time. Hannah's grandparents were Dame Foster (1614-1709) and Richard Foster (1623-1710), who rest in the old Anglo-Saxon churchyard of St Peter and St Leonard in Horbury, Yorkshire, England. 


Thomas Dickenson was born on April 14, 1669 in Heaton, Lancashire, near Manchester, baptized on April 24, and educated at the Frankland Academy. Later he was ordained a Presbyterian and, at approximately twenty-five years of age, was solemnly set apart for that sacred office at Gorton, Manchester, on Thursday, March 29, 1694, by laying on of hands, with fasting and prayer.

'Whereas Mr. Thomas Dickenson has addressed us ministers of the gospel in Lancaster County, whose names are here attached, desiring to be ordained a priest, and having given sufficient testimony of his diligence and competence in his studies, and blameless of life and conversation, and all exercises properly performed.

These can bear witness to everything that may concern us that on Thursday, March 29, we have proceeded to set him apart for the office of priest and the work of the gospel ministry, through the laying on of hands with fasting and prayer, by virtue of which we declare him a legitimate and sufficiently authorized minister of Jesus Christ, to exercise his Ministry in any place where divine Providence calls him, and particularly in Gorton, near Manchester, for the moment, exhorting the people in the name of Jesus Christ, willingly to receive him and encourage him in the performance of said office, so that he may give an account to Christ of his obedience to his ministry in the Lord, as may be for his joy and eternal comfort.

In testimony of which we have laid our hands on this twenty-third day of March, the year of our Lord, 1694. Henry Finch, moderator, John Chorlton, scribe, Henry Newcome, Robert Eaton, Roger Baldwin, Samuel Augier, Nathaniel Scholes'.

He served in Gorton, Manchester from 1694, before succeeding Oliver Heywood (1630-1702) as second minister in the newly built chapel at Northowram.

Mr. Dickenson must have stayed at Gorton about eight years, because at the death of that venerable man of God, Mr. Heywood, (who died on May 4, 1702, at 73 years of age, in the house he had built in Northowram, from which place he had been expelled in 1662, and next to a chapel where he assembled a church among his elders in Coley and adjoining places) succeeded in the pastoral care of the Church at Northowram, and purchased from the heirs of Mr. Heywood, his late home.

Here he continued his ministerial labors with unceasing diligence and great success, until his death on December 26, 1743.

After being ordained a Presbyterian like his predecessor and buying his house, in 1740 he built a house next to Heywood's, in a place known as Village Farm, which was demolished in the 1960s.

He was considered a very capable, devoted and worthy minister, completely orthodox and evangelical, a man not unlike Heywood.

During his ministry in 1715, the congregation is recorded to be 500 people, 10 of whom had considerable position and influence that made them eligible to vote in county elections.

Mr. Thomas Dickenson, a worthy minister of the Gospel, "was eminent and exemplary in his piety and usefulness," behaved well in all stages of life, with meekness and universal charity, and continued to shine a bright light in that place for more 40 years old, compiling The Northowram Nonconformist Register, after Oliver Heywood's death.

During this time at Oliver Heywood Chapel, he kept a diary of his own family's births, marriages, and deaths.

'He was an eminent, helpful and faithful minister of God's word, meek and humble, a loving and tender father, a loving husband. A sincere friend and social neighbor, a cheerful companion, very temperate, had an unusual memory, lived well and was dazzled by seeking the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, for eternity.'


Thomas Dickenson became ill while preaching Psalm 110: 19, on September 4, 1743, and died on December 26, 1743, at the age of 74.

Until his last days, he served as second minister and was buried in the old Heywood Chapel.

Of his death, the book records:

'The Reverend Mr. Thomas Dickenson, minister in Northowram, died on December 26, 1743 at the age of 73 about one in the morning. Nature was very depleted, around July or August a visible decline appeared which gradually increased until the moment of his death.'

He was buried in the Chapel, at Northowram, and the following is the inscription on the monument: 'Beneath this monument lies the body of the Reverend Mr. Thomas Dickenson, a worthy minister of the gospel, who was eminent and exemplary for his piety and usefulness, behaved well in all seasons of life with meekness and universal charity. He continued to shine in this place for 42 years, and died comfortably and in great regret on December 26, 1743, at the age of 74.'

After Dickenson's death in 1743, his widow Hannah Foster (1674-1765) moved to Clerkenwell and died on July 28, 1765, around 10 a.m., at the age of 80. She was buried in the nonconformist Bunhill Fields cemetery in London, England.


One of his printed sermons and several manuscripts are preserved and breathe a fervent, loving and devoted spirit. The patience of her listeners must have been great, although one of them preached at Leeds, November 28, 1736, on the death of Mrs. Mercy Whitaker, filling 26 sheets of highly written letters.

But by far the most interesting document ever transmitted, written in his clear handwriting, is addressed to: 'To my dear daughter, Mary Dickenson (1717-1804), in London', and is dated March 11, 1731, when she was 14 years old.

As mentioned in the introduction to the piety of your forefathers, it will be inserted almost entirely:

'My dear child, in response to your earnest and repeated request, I have at last redeemed a little time from my other necessary and urgent occasions to transcribe the sermon I preached at Ossett on September 18, 1730, being the day my dear and honored father-in-law, your good grandfather, was taken to the grave, having finished his career in this world, at 78 years of age.

Children and grandchildren can and should consider a great and valuable blessing to be the posterity of those who feared God, occupied their time and place in the world for good purposes and were useful in their generation, which has set a good example in all Christian graces and evangelical duties, he gave them many serious and pious instructions, and offered many innocent and fervent prayers to God for them. And they must be very diligent and careful to make good use and perfecting the good advice and the example with which they have been privileged, otherwise their sin will be much worse and their condemnation will be greater and terrible than that of others; because the prayers and piety of religious parents and parents will not save their wicked posterity.

God's providence has ordained it in such a way that you and several of my dear children are at a considerable distance from their parents; but though it's out of sight, it's not out of mind, but often in our spirit in our applications to the throne of grace; so it should be a great satisfaction and a great comfort to see or hear God's grace in all of you.

No one ever regretted having started too early to seek or serve God, or did too much for him, the God of heaven asks and will make him accept his first services with grace.

Take your first thoughts and time to consider those important and weighty matters that are spiritual in nature and that relate to your eternal peace. He considers that he has souls and bodies to care for and provide, precious and immortal souls, who are formed for an eternal duration.

Ask this Savior enough, and now you can take an interest in him and his blessed benefits. Diligently heed the Word of God and pray a lot to the God of all grace, asking for grace to help in times of need.

To his blessing and grace I entrust you all, that I'm your truly loving and caring father, Thomas Dickenson.'

The sermon sent along with this letter is 12 times longer than the previous letter, and shows such loving consideration for the distant daughter's request that such a busy man should take the time to copy it all for her. It has evidently been carefully treasured. Some sentences will be extracted from him, since they refer to Mr. Richard Foster (c.1648-1730), of Ossett, his father-in-law and, therefore, one of our ancestors.

'He feared God from his youth and over many, surpassed many others in gifts and knowledge, and God honored him by making him eminent in grace and usefulness as well. He was a solid and judicious Christian, strictly pious and devoted in his duty to God, and conscientious in his dealings with men. Although he lived a considerable time and had a lot to do with men and business, he has left a good name, a righteous character behind him.

He was very careful to instruct his family in the things of God, keeping religion and the worship of God constantly in his home, as well as diligently attending to public ordinances. He was an exceedingly caring and forgiving husband, a loving and tender father, a good master and a helpful neighbor, and I am convinced that he will be greatly missed in this place, for there are few like-minded so capable and willing to give themselves for God.

He was a great tribute to the good men and ministers of both denominations, conformists or non-conformists, being ready at all times to support and encourage them. But now he rests from his works, and his good works follow him, in the blessed reward and the rewards of glory.'


  • Dickenson, Thomas, 1669-1743: The Nonconformist Register, of Baptisms, Marriages, And Deaths (Brighouse: J. S. Jowett, 1881), also by Oliver Heywood, ed. by J. Horsfall Turner.
  • Memorials of the families of Newsome and Brigg by Brigg, John Edwin, b.1830. Page 38-90.
  • Samuel S. Thomas, Creating Communities in Restoration England: Parish Congregations in Oliver Heywood's Halifax, Brill Studies in the History of the Christian Tradition, Leiden, 2013 is the most recent study; see also William Sheils," Heywood, Oliver (bap. 1630, d. 1702), clergyman and ejected minister", Oxford DNB,Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004, online edn., retrieved 26 Feb. 2019.
  • The nonconformist register of baptisms, marriages, and deaths: 1644-1702, 1702-1752. by Heywood, Oliver, 1629-1702; Dickenson, Thomas; Turner, J. Horsfall (Joseph Horsfall), b. 1845.
  • The Rev. Oliver Heywood, B.A., 1630-1702: His autobiography, diaries, anecdote and event books: illustrating the general and family history of Yorkshire and Lancashire by Heywood, Oliver, 1629-1702; Turner, J. Horsfall (Joseph Horsfall), 1881.
  • Turner, Horsfall, Heywood 1 pp. 256-9.

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