About 1810, there was a major split in the Methodist Church resulting in one break-away group forming a new society to be known as The Primitive Methodists. The Primitive Methodists gave more power to the laymen and also used women preachers, a practice severely opposed by the Wesleyans. The mill owners and those of influence dominated the Wesleyan societies, and the Primitives had more appeal for the working classes. Many of the late 19th century Trade Union leaders were from this faith.

The 'Ranters' as they became known, held school classes and services in an upper room at the Masons Arms, Gauxholme. When that became too small they moved to the scutching room at SMITHYHOLME MILL, where they continued until the first chapel and school were built at Knowlwood in 1826.

William Marshall, known as Will o' Jackies, was one of the leaders of this little group of Ranters. These people were poor and with little education on the whole, yet they were determined they should have their own school and place of worship. When they decided to build a chapel and school room, it was considered a great undertaking for such a section of society. However, build it they did. A school and preaching room was erected at the bottom of Knowlwood and was ready for occupation in 1826.


The chapel and school about 1960

Not long after the original chapel opened its doors, a preacher by the name of Mr. Hutchins from Pexwood in Todmorden arrived. He single-handedly confirmed to all outsiders that the Primitive Methodists of those days were, indeed, ranters.

He often worked himself up into a frenzy of excitement, and on many occasions he would discard his coat, place it on the edge of the pulpit from where it would fall into the orchestra, and then he would walk down the steps gesticulating in a vehement manner declaring he could see the devil, calling out "I see him, I see him! Can you see him?" Many of his congregation would fall into a trance and purport to have seen God and Heaven. Fortunately, his preaching worked on some of the people, who became more sober in their habits.

Mr Hutchins had a young nephew living with him by the name of Joel Hodgson. At the age of about 14 he was put in the pulpit. His enthusiasm caused havoc amongst the congregation. His fire and brimstone style was too much for the older ladies, who withdrew their support until a more rational preacher could be found, and one who was a little older than 14. The uncle and nephew were the talk of the neighbourhood during the year 1837 because of their use of strong language and outrageous gesticulation. So much so, that many people attended the Sunday evening services to see for themselves. Eventually, the two men left and the members were able to find less extreme preachers.

In 1843 the premises were enlarged, and by 1870 a new building was needed. The new building was more ostentatious than the expected style of Methodist Chapel. It was a handsome building built into the cliff side overlooking the Walsden Valley.

Two men involved with the chapel over the years were brothers Joseph and Samuel Midgley of Hollins in Walsden. They were sons of Joseph and Mary Midgley. Samuel was born at Hollins in 1821, and Joseph in 1824. According to a sketch written in 1904 by a later preacher, William Dickinson, these men

"rendered yeoman service to the cause as class leaders, local preachers and Sunday School workers. They were men of high Christian character. The Midgley family has continued to the fourth generation as represented by Mr. Luke Midgley, the present Church organist."

Two other men with long association with the chapel were John West and John Horsfall. They were business partners at Gauxholme Cotton Mill from about 1858 to about 1870, and for some time were also neighbours, living at Gauxholme Place in Walsden.

John West was born in 1818, a son of Joshua and Mary, and a member of a successful cotton manufacturing family. He became a yarn agent and moved to live in Oldham some time after 1871. William Dickinson says John

"had an unbroken connection with the Church for fifty years, and gave his son to the ministry, Rev. J. A. West, of Goole."

His son John Arthur West was living and working as a Primitive Methodist Minister in Ramsgate in Kent in 1891.

John Horsfall was a cotton spinner and manufacturer at Gauxholme Cotton Mill and also at Square Mill. He was born in 1816 to James Horsfall and his wife Esther Sutcliffe. Of John Horsfall, William Dickinson says:

"he was choirmaster for fifty years, and to whom more than anyone else may be attributed the hearty singing of today."

William Dickinson also mentions James Fielden, better known as Jimmy Fielden of Pexwood.


Jimmy Fielden

Jimmy was born in 1809, a son of Abraham Fielden and his wife Mary Crossley. He married Nancy Law, daughter of Samuel Law who was one of the brothers responsible for the building of RAMSDEN WOOD MILL. They lived at Square for several years before moving to Pexwood where Jimmy worked as a cotton mill book keeper. After Nancy died, Jimmy married Sarah, a daughter of Ned Crossley who also seems to have been a "great influence" at Knowlwood Chapel. James died aged 82 in 1891 and is buried at Christ Church.

William Dickinson says of him:

"James Fielden was one of the most remarkable men ever connected with any church. He was an ideal school superintendent, and he exerted a great influence for good amongst the young people."

William Dickinson goes on to mention other men associated with the chapel over the years - Isaac Bolton, known as The Saint; Samuel Howarth, who filled all the offices of the Church and school with credit; John Taylor; Joseph Roberts, and Abraham Barker. He recounts a story about Abraham:

"Abram Barker the eccentric. There is a strange story anent his death told by Rev. S. Smith, who travelled the circuit between 1844 and 1846. Mr. Smith, in visiting Abram in his last illness saw that he could not possibly live long; when giving him some spiritual consolation, Abram said in his own way, “I’ll let thee know when I go.” Mr. Smith was awakened at night by what felt like someone striking him a sharp blow on the side. He said to his wife, “Abram is dead”. He then made a light and looked at the time, and afterwards went to the house and found that the blow was given just at the time Abram died."

Abraham Crossley, a joiner of Gauxholme, was associated with the church over 65 years, 40 of which he was school superintendent.
He was greatly involved with the building of the original school and became a lay preacher in the chapel. He was born at GAUXHOLME STONES FARM in 1829, the son of Abraham Crossley senior, a copperas manufacturer, and his wife Ellen Wood.

In 1901 at the age of 72, Abraham retired from active life at the chapel. His retirement was commemorated with a special day at the chapel during which Mr. James Law presented him with a marble time piece inscribed:

“presented to Abm. Crossley by the teachers and scholars of Knowlwood Sunday School as a token of esteem for long and faithful service. April 27th 1901”.

He was also presented with a walking stick and umbrella, and a framed portrait photograph of him was hung on the wall of the Sunday School.


Stones Manse

The ministers from Knowlwood and other Methodist Churches in the area lived first at Stones Villas. In 1884, a manse was built on Rochdale Road, known as Stones Manse. It was used for many years as a home for the Methodist Ministers of all persuasions from Todmorden and Walsden, including those who preached at Knowlwood.
In 1871 William Wray, a Primitive Methodist Minister from Lincolnshire, and his family occupied Stones Villas. John Philipson from Durham was the minister in residence in 1881, and in 1891 the Minister in residence was Edward Alford. In 1904, when the aforementioned William Dickinson wrote his sketch about the chapel, he signed his address as Stones Manse.
The chapel and school were demolished during the 1960's when the congregation moved down to the Wesleyan Chapel at Shade. This photo was taken a few years before demolition.
This is a similar view in 2005. The chapel and the cottages in front have all gone.

   The old steps

The chapel ruins


There is no burial ground, but the chapel was licensed for marriages.

The Baptisms 1831 to 1898 are held at

West Yorkshire Archives (Calderdale)


Our grateful thanks to Mrs. Alice Peters of Walsden and North America for information on the William Dickinson booklet, and also for the photo of her ancestor, James Fielden.