History - The First Chapel - part 2
The Original Chapel
The chapel was built at the lower end of the Market Place, near the "Moor". This site was not ideal but, following a frustrating period of fruitless searching, it was decided nevertheless to adopt it. Purchased from the Knutsford Council, it comprised a small plot of land previously cultivated as a garden - located (best estimate?) abutting the King Street side of the River Lily where this is reached by the current path, which flanks the Mere, across the Moor. Early maps refer to 'Robin Hood's Well' in this vicinity.
It was described as a fine sight to see the men at work in the evenings, after they had finished their ordinary duties, taking their barrows, and wheeling stones, broken bricks, etc. for the foundations. The ground was boggy and contained (as mentioned) a well; nevertheless, albeit with difficulty, solid foundations were laid.
The building of a new chapel was a great event. Groups of people watched the voluntary workmen, and supported the work by their contributions of money and time. Already, Miles Martindale and George Lowe (the latter to become the Superintendent Minister of the Northwich Circuit two years before the chapel was opened) had travelled respectively to Liverpool and Chester, and been rewarded (and much encouraged) by substantial donations for the project from the Methodists in these places.
At the time of starting the building project the Knutsford Methodists had been meeting and holding their Services in a room of a cottage belonging to a Mr. Peter Dean.
In line with the Methodist aim of economising wherever possible so as to maximise the use of money dedicated to God's work, Peter Dean lent his kitchen as a workshop for the making of the doors and windows for the new building. It was to happen that some wood shavings were accidentally ignited by a candle and, in the ensuing fire, the internals of the cottage (including the newly made items for the chapel) were substantially destroyed.
Opponents to the Methodist movement in Knutsford immediately quoted this as an act of Providence which testified to Peter Dean's foolishness, and disregard to the interests of his family, in attaching himself to such a cause - but, despite the virtual destruction of his home, he remained unwavering in his faith and, similarly, to his commitment to the Methodist movement.
This was a heart-breaking set-back for the project as a whole. Lost materials would need to be replaced, requiring further funds - but even more urgently, ways had to be found to restore the home of Peter Dean and his family. The Knutsford Methodists rallied and, sustained by the spirit of their faith, they forged ahead with even more energy and determination.
And they testified, as many before them and since, of the special blessings and graces experienced by those, responding to God's love, who are thus prepared to dedicate their energies and resources to the furtherance of His work on earth.
Indeed, the whole history of 'The Chapel in the Market Place' during the period 1796-1864 is an inspiring one. The majority of its memberswere of the working class, severely limited in wealth and resources. Many indeed would have known levels of poverty and hardship quite outside the experience of today's much more affluent society. Furthermore, affiliation to the Methodist movement in those early days was regarded by many as a social stigma, which would certainly not help individuals dependent upon the patronage of others to improve their situations.
Nevertheless, these early adherents to the Methodist way had the vision and fortitude to create a Chapel on whose solid foundations they then developed an enduring foundation of Christian Methodism in Knutsford; and one which has continued to flourish throughout the succeeding two centuries to the present time.
By its active proclamation, alongside the other Christian churches, of a life beyond death with a loving God, who unconditionally forgives evil deeds where there is genuine repentance, it may be fairly claimed that the Chapel fully played its part as a bastion of religious and moral influence within the community.
In his informative booklet, 'A Story of Knutsford Methodism', published in the new chapel's centenary year, 1965, Sidney H Royle has recorded the following description in reference to that early period:-
The congregations became greatly enlarged. Persons were convinced of sin under almost every sermon. In many instances their distress was so great that they sought mercy with loud cries and many tears. Being pardoned and made happy in Jesus, they published abroad what great things the Lord had done for them. And thus, through the power and mercy of God, some of the most vile and wretched sinners in the place were saved, so that public attention was generally aroused.
In 1813 a Schoolroom was added, reflecting the continuing growth of the Chapel's community and the increase in the associated population of its children.
The 1851 Census, referring to places of worship, describes the Wesleyan Chapel, Market Place, Knutsford as containing 286 seats of which 100 are 'free' - and that on March 30th 1851 there were 125 worshippers at the morning Service, 105 in the afternoon and 230 in the evening. Also, the morning and afternoon sessions of the Sunday School received attendances, respectively, of 94 and 105.