Belper History: Religious Dissenters and their Chapels

Updated: Wednesday, April 2, 2014   |   Belper Historical & Genealogical Website

Belper has a long history of religious dissent. Indeed, the name "Ranters" for the Primitive Methodists was first given in Belper: This page provides information and names that may be useful in genealogy.

"A Sketch of the Denominations of the Christian World" by John Evans 1832; Page 177

With their Camp Meetings.

These are a disowned branch of the Wesleyan Methodists, originating in Staffordshire, under Hugh Bourne, who wrote their history. This is a small pamphlet, entitled, "History of the Primitive Methodists, giving an Account of their Rise and Progress, up to the year 1823," by Hugh Bourne, Bemersley, near Tunstall, printed for the author, at the office ofthe Primitive Methodist Connexion, by J. Bourne.

This J. Bourne, printer, is a preacher, together with his brother, Hugh Bourne, under both of whose labours has arisen the Primitive Connexion. It commenced at Harreshead, and on Mow** the first Camp-meetings being disapproved of by the old Connexion, a separation took place, when H. and J. Bourne enlarged their views, and the cause spread in every direction. Societies were established at Boylstone, Todeley, and Hallington, in Derbyshire. A general meeting was held at Tunstall, Feb. 13, 1812, and a preparatory meeting at Nottingham, Aug. 18, 1819, when arrangements were made for annual meetings, quarterly meetings having been held in March, June, September, and December, under which " the work mightily enlarged ." Missionary exertions, which had been declining, were revived at Belper " very powerfully," while "the praying people, in returning home, were accustomed to sing through the streets of Belper!" It is added, that "this circumstance procured them the name of Ranters, and the name of Ranter, which first arose on this occasion, afterwards spread very extensively." The work, we are told, then spread to Derby and Nottingham, whence circuits were established, one circuit having been hitherto sufficient for the Connexion. The camp-meetings also had declined, but were thus revived. "The declining state of the camp-meetings was severely felt in the circuit, and caused considerable anxiety"

** Mow, a large mountain between Staffordshire and Cheshire, five miles from the Potteries.

The records of Dissenting Registrations of places of worship lists these:

  1. Belper John Taylor, Presbytarian - House 14th Jan 1690
  2. Belper Joseph Statham - House, faith not given 19th April 1711
  3. Shottle William Statham - House, faith not given July 16th 1713
  4. Belper Thomas Slater, Methodist - Building 3rd Oct 1797
  5. Belper Abraham Harrison, Jnr. Independent (= ex-Unitarian?) - Building 2nd Oct. 1798

Ref Q/RR 22/6 "A Return made by the Clerk of the Peace of the County of Derby to the Registrar General of Births Deaths and Marriages pursuant to the Act of 16th Victoria Cap 36., of all places of Public Religious Worship which have been certified to the Justices of the Peace and the General or Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the said Country from the year 1688 up to the 29th day of June 1852, under the Acts of William and Mary Cap 18 and 52 Ges., 3rd cap 155, or either of them."

An Excel Chart (downloadable) shows all the dissenting registrations from 8th October 1689 to 8th Oct 1799.
It lists John Taylor in 1690 and two ministers from the Statham family of Shottle (related to the mother of Jedediah Strutt). In addition, there are two declarations made and signed by Belper dissenters, kept at the Record office. One is for the Belper independents and one for the Methodists.

These say:

"To her Majesties Justices of the Peace at their General Quarter Sessions of the Peace, held at Chesterfield in and for the County of Derby, the Thirteenth day of July in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven hundred and Ninety Nine.

"We whose names are hereunto written being protestent dissenters from the Church of England, living in and about the Town of Belper in the County of Derby, and parts adjacent, Do hereby Certify that a certain building lately erected in the said Town of Belper is intended to be appropriated or set apart for the Meeting Place of a certain congregation of protestent dissenters from the Church of England under the denomination of Independent (or, Methodist) And we do hereby desire that the same may be Registered by the Clerk of the Peace pursuant to an Act of Parliament made in the first year of their late Majestys William and Mary Intended an Act for exempting their Majestys preotestant subjects dissenting from the Church of England from the penaltys of certain laws. Witness our hands this Twenty-second Day of July, in the Year of our Lord, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Nine."

(the Methodist Declaration was dated 1798)

Those who signed were:


Abraham Harrison, Jnr
William Barber
John Gillott
Joseph Gration
Thomas R. Gawthorne
William Ward
James Hicking
George Richardson,
G. B. Strutts
Anthony Walker Junr.
Rich. Tomlinson
Anderd? Richardson
Joseph Harrison
John Harrison


Thomas Slater
William Palmer
Francis Moore
Thomas Taylor
John Colby Leppington
Geo. Sargent


A Religious Census conducted in 1851 lists these premises for Belper (Pages 99 and following):

  1. Christ Church, new parish church at Bridge Hill, consecrated July 30th 1850
  2. St. Peter's Church of England 1824 (Church Lane)
  3. Wesylan Methodist, Lane End 1849 (Reform)
  4. General Baptist, Bridge Street
  5. Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Leopard Inn Club Room
  6. Weslyan Methodist, Chapel St. Erected Before 1800
    1. NOTE: The old chapel was built in The Clusters around 1782 and Joseph Statham, framework knitter, was one of those who paid a subscription (Three Guineas). The new larger chapel was built on Bridge Street near to the old one between 1805 and 1807.
  7. King Street "Christians", minister Henry Lomas, Surgeon, probably a breakaway from the Congregational Church.
  8. Unitarian, Chapel in Field Row 1788
  9. Congregational/Independent 1798 (Green Lane)
  10. Methodist New Connexion 1828, but burnt down in an arson attack 1843, rebuilt 1849 but not now used. Situated at the top of Long Row
  11. Weslyan Methodist, Reform, Court House, Market Place
  12. Congregational/Independent, Cow Hill 1842
  13. Weslyan Methodist, Pottery Chapel 1816
  14. Prtimitive Methodist, 1817 Field Head
  15. Primitive Methodist, 1823 (no location given)
NOTE: Later Chapels
  1. The "Salem" Methodist Chapel in Field Lane was built in 1856.
  2. The Congregational Church with a spire (in Green Lane), was built in 1872.
  3. St. Laurence's Convent, now sold and turned into apartments, was erected between 1882-1885. The land was bought from the Strutts. The iron gates on Field Lane that open onto the side of the Convent were once the gates to the driveway up to The Strutt residence, Green Hall, at the top of Green Lane.

The Old Unitarian Chapel

This was built around 1721, is at the bottom of Green Lane. It is clearly built in two stages, with different windows in the top half which was added as a Sunday School around 1855. (The red dotted line suggests where the divide took place. The rendering is slightly discoloured and ridged in these areas).

Notice in the bottom earlier portion of this building some fine examples of the iron-framed small-pane windows that were often used in Belper in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Extract from: "The Christian Examiner" 1826, page 431

Belper. The congregation here was originally Trinitarian, but the present chapel [ Strutt's new chapel off Field Row ] was built entirely by a gentleman of Unitarian sentiments. The congregation probably owes its rise to the preaching of Mr Samuel Charles, M. A. who was ejected from the neighbouring parish of Mickleover, and, according to Calamy, preached at Belper.

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