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aql: The History of Salem Chapel, aql Head Office and data centre
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Salem Chapel is the only surviving 18th century Dissenting chapel in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Salem opened in 1791 but the building looked different from the one we see today. No images of the original interior have survived but written texts tell us that it was filled with high narrow pews capable of seating near a thousand people. As in all Non-Conformist chapels, the pulpit was the main focus of the interior and an organ was located in a gallery at the westend over a clock.

Origin of the chapel

The origin of the Salem congregation originally styled ‘Independents’ ratherthe more familiar ‘Congregationalists’, goes back to 1756 when amongstan array of Presbyterian-inclined sects, they worshipped in the WhiteChapel located in a back street opposite what was to become the site ofSalem. Locations on the edge of town were usual for Dissenting chapels in this period when there was still official discrimination against Non-Conformists, and their congregations were drawn from skilled artisans,shop-keepers and other tradesmen who lacked the means for expensive sites and buildings. Although well away from the fashionable parts oftown when Salem opened it was still set amongst open fields and Meadow Lane and Hunslet Lane were narrow country roads undisturbed by traffic.Salem’s first minister was the Rev. Edward Parsons who ministered to the chapel for over fifty years and was according to a contemporary, ‘A man of great energy of character, of very superior mental powers, of masculine eloquence, decidedly evangelical in his views on the gospel yet practicaland experimental in presenting and enforcing them’.

Selling the Chapel

In the later years of Parson’s ministry both the environment of Salem began to change and the social character of its congregation was transformed.Industrialisation resulted in a spate of factory and warehouse building southof the river, and many of those who worshipped at the chapel prospered inmaterial terms becoming men of substance. By 1833 chapel membership stood at 260 (not all who worshipped at the chapel would be members)and included such prominent Leeds families as the Plints, the Rawsons,the Claphams and the Leutys, all families who were to become prominent in Leeds politics in the 19th century. Thomas Scattergood the surgeon who lived in Park Square, woollen merchants like the Portways, textile manufacturers such as the Nusseys and the Willans were all membersof Salem. Although the wife of Edward Baines, Charlotte, had become amember of the chapel in 1797 to be followed by her children, her husband although he often worshipped at Salem only joined the chapel in 1840.‘The carriage and pair’ members of the congregation increasingly found Salem unappealing and inconvenient. According to Rev. John Ely who succeeded the Rev. Parsons, ‘four fifths of the present congregation live onthe north side of the river, many of whom come from the distance of a mileand a mile and half to worship. Considerable numbers pass other chapels on their way to Salem – having good roads and clean footpaths till they pass those places, and are confined to muddy streets to traverse in order toreach their own place of worship’. As was the case with other Dissenting chapels, the message was clear: in 1838 it was decided to erect a new, more prestigious chapel, ‘Albion’ situated in East Parade in the fashionable westend of town.All 374 members of Salem moved to Albion Chapel and Salem was putup for sale. The Rev. William Hudswell, another Congregationalist pastor who had officiated at the more humble Bethel Chapel, George St., offered £1500 for the building and Albion’s authorities accepted this offer despite the sum representing a considerable financial loss. Like Parsons, Rev.Hudswell was a celebrated Congregationalist preacher whose fame spread far beyond the confines of Leeds.

Although Salem had none of the social pretensions that characterised East Parade Chapel, Hudswell was Salem’s second long-serving minister, retiring in 1866 after a ministry of thirty-four years. There had always been a Day School and Sunday Schools at Salem but in 1864 the foundation stone forthe new Salem Schools was laid on the north side of the chapel. The cost of this Italianate building which is still standing, was £3000 including the price of the land. The Schools could accommodate a thousand scholars,there was one large room for between 400-500, an infants school for 150 and seven classrooms.After Hudswell’s retirement, the fortunes of Salem went into steep decline.Surrounded by back-to-back houses and industrial buildings and with trams trundling past between Leeds and Hunslet, the narrow Puritanism which prevailed at the chapel had little appeal for the local working classes. Although membership remained at a figure of about 263, many of these members lived at a distance from the chapel and rarely attended its services. In these unpropitious circumstances, the Congregational Council recommended that Salem should be closed. However instead of closure, in 1891 there began one of the great historic ministries of Leeds Non-Conformity when Bertram Smith and Frank Wrigley begantheir experimental joint pastorate at Salem. Smith and Wrigley had been students together at Rotherham Congregational College and had been much influenced by the Yorkshire Congregational Union’s ‘ForwardMovement’ of the 1880s which recognised that what was needed was anaggressive missionary policy based on working class needs and culture. At a time when the minister at Headingley Hill Congregational Chapel received a stipend of £500, Smith and Wrigely received only £250. Their talents and interests nicely complimented each other: Wrigley was the more academic and a better preacher whilst Smith was the more socially aware,interested in political economy and a great organiser. It says something of the character of the man that advising a minister who had been invited to speak at the Salem’s Women’s Meeting, he told him ‘Make them laugh,make them laugh’. Despite these differences, the two men were united byan intense friendship and a commitment to theological modernism and the social gospel.

 

The 1912 Renovation of SalemIn a pamphlet published in 1912 entitled ’21 Years in a City Church’, the ministers wrote that their first task on coming to Salem was ‘to educate the church in the missionary idea and programme, to adapt its services and methods to meet the needs of the great industrial population of South Leeds. Specifically this involved:

• Clearing the debt of £800 on Salem’s Schools

• The abolition of pew rents

• The organisation and furnishing of an Institute for young people

• The establishment of a great meeting for men on Sunday afternoons

To prepare for this venture at Salem, a visitation programme was organised with printed literature about the nature of the transformation Smith and Wrigley hoped to realise. Each visitor had an allotted district and called at each house for three consecutive weeks prior to the opening of the chapel’s new programme of activities. The first Men’s Sunday Afternoon Meeting was held in October 1893, the speaker was Theodore Taylor who had started a co-partnership and profit-sharing scheme at his woollen mill at Batley. Six hundred men attended. Every September for the next forty five years, volunteers with the ministers personally visited 10,000 houses to give a personal invitation to the meetings and by the end of the century the membership of what became known as the Salem Brotherhood reached over a thousand, a figure maintained until the onset of the Second WorldWar (the peak figure for membership in 1925 was 2,000). With the Men’s Meeting firmly established Smith and Wrigley turned their attention tothe women of the community: a Women’s Bible Class began on Sunday afternoons, and ‘Pleasant Monday Evenings’ were held for women and their families. There were sewing circles, a ladies’ orchestra and outings to the countryside.

 

Modern Day Salem

After a joint pastorate of thirty-five years, Smith and Wrigley retired in1929. Many wondered whether the Salem spirit of humanised spirituality could survive their departure but perhaps against the odds it did survive,in part because of the appointment of the remarkable Rev. Harry Guntrip.Guntrip who has been called ‘one of the great psychoanalytical immortals’,began his ministry in 1934. During the 1930s the chapel began to cater for the special needs of the unemployed, and perhaps because of difficulties at home and internationally, Guntrip was more directly political than any of his predecessors. For example he gave a series of twelve lectures on Communism, Fascism and Christianity which lead to regular current eventsdiscussion groups on Wednesday evenings. Collections were made for the victims of the Spanish Civil war and there were regular house-to-house collections to support two hundred Basque children who were living in Scarborough. Guntrip began a Psychology discussion class dealing first with an exposition of what Psychology is, followed by talks on its practical application to emotional problems like fear, anxiety, shyness etc. Uniquely he regarded psychological healing as part of his Christian ministry. In 1937another new activity was the Salem Parents Association for young married couples with children (a creche was provided for the children). During the Second World War the Rev Guntrip became a part-time lecturer in Psychology at the Leeds Medical School and although offered a full-time position, he felt it inappropriate to leave his flock at a time of national crisis. Once the war was over however he did resigned to become a fulltime lecturer and writer in psycho-analytic theory. For much of the 20th century, Salem had managed to stem the driftaway from religion but the slum clearance schemes of the post-war years increasingly stripped the chapel of its local community and the chapel closed in 2001.One of Salem’s most famous reverends, Harry Guntrip, who held the lastever sermon at the Chapel in the 1950’s, was also a published author of many psychoanalysis studies and books during World War 2.

aql and Salem

CEO and Founder of aql, Dr Adam Beaumont purchased the building in 2011 in line with plans to expand the business and house a large data centre. Continued restoration has seen the development of 3 data centres and an innovative interior. The sense of history can be seen throughout the building in the original features and the interior design, with a modern twist, houses cutting edge technology and innovative telecommunications.

 

 

 

 

 

The front of Salem Chapel, home to DC3 and DC2.

 

 Blue plaque presented by Leeds Civic Trusted

 

CEO and Founder, Dr Adam Beaumont meets with Lord Mayor of Leeds Councillor Reverend Alan Taylor, to accept the blue plaque from Leeds Civic Trust as a recognition of the buildings historic value.

 

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