THE 19th century was a flourishing age for church and chapel, particularly in Burnley.

Methodist, Baptist and Congregational denominations quickly followed the arrival of John Wesley and his uncompromising ardour for the salvation of souls.

Now the history of this religious revival has been set out in a new book, which has two volumes by historian Stephen Child.

He tells how Wesley’s simple creed appealed to the masses and numbers flocked to the Methodist societies in spite of open hostility from the established church.

Wesley’s doctrine affected all sides of public and private life. The gospel preached care for the sick and needy and the struggle against drunkenness, gambling immorality and vice of any kind.

Every chapel that was established was a source of immense pride to the men and women who worshipped there and they formed a community that was separate and distinct from the rest of the town.

Between 1850 and 1900, going to church and chapel was a regular habit for most — there was worship on Sunday, as well as week night classes and class meetings.

These non-conformists became the instruments of social reform, and were at the forefront in providing day schools and facilities for adult education and self improvement, The chapels also grew into centres of social life, with entertainments, tea parties, bazaars, lantern lectures, treats and picnics, all organised, at a time when there were few other means of relaxation to brighten the drab conditions of life and work in an industrial community.

Padiham was one of the first places where Methodism obtained a footing in East Lancashire. It is thought that John Wesley’s first visit to Padiham took place in 1757.

Methodism came to Burnley a little later. There is an early record of Methodists in Burnley in 1763 and then 1775, when the New Lights of Damnation Preachers visited Burnley Wood.

John Wesley did preach in Burnley in his old age in 1784 and the first Wesleyan chapel was built in the Keighley Green area in 1787. As well as the Wesleyan Methodists, there were also offshoots, such as the Primitive United and Independent Methodists. In fact, 57 different Methodist churches were created in the Burnley area, as well as 47 Baptist and others.

It was around 1777 when the principles and practices of the Baptists were first introduced into Burnley, when a church in Yorkshire sent out several of its gifted members to preach its gospel in Worsthorne, before a young man named Richard Folds was sent to live and preach in the village. When the cause made little progress there, he moved on to Extwistle and then Burnley; the cause grew in 1785 when he was ordained and two years later, land was bought in Colne Road, for the start of the Ebenezer chapel. The first baptism by immersion took place in 1780 and a historian wrote ‘baptism by immersion was a new sight to the people of Burnley and attracted numbers of disorderly spectators’.

The Padiham Baptist movement had originated in Sabden, where James and John Bury, two of the original partners of the village print works, had founded a church in 1796.

Preaching stations were set up at Simonstone, Red Rock and Padiham and as numbers grew, George Foster, one of the later print partners, provided money to buy land on the high ground between Guy Street and Burnley Road, Padiham, overlooking Helm’s Mill in Factor Lane.

One of the ‘other’ churches in Burnley, was the Calvery Holiness Church, which started its mission in 1936, but only got its own building, the former National Union of Railwaymen club rooms, at the corner of Bankhouse and Mosley streets in 1954. It had just 21 members and 35 associates and members were expected to contribute 10 per cent of their earnings to the church’s upkeep.

l A History of Non-Conformist Churches in Burnley, by Stephen Child, published by Burnley Historical Society, costs £7 per volume and is available from the local history library at Burnley Central Library or at Nu-age Productions, 289 Padiham Road.