The Great Meeting Chapel

The Great Meeting Chapel is the oldest non-conformist Chapel in Hinckley.

the great meeting chapel
Postcard of the The Great Meeting Chapel from 1906.

The Act of Uniformity of 1662 resulted in 2,000 Anglican clergy resigning their posts including the Vicar of Hinckley, Rev.Thomas Leadbeter. There were many Hinkleyans who were dissenters.

1672 A licence was issued for a Conventicle at Samuel Ward's house and Presbyterians & Congregationalists co-operated in a Common Fund to build many Midlands Meeting Houses.

1705 William Bilby B.A. became minister in Hinckley with a Parsonage at the end of Baines Lane and a pulpit which remains as the Chapel pulpit to this day. He began the baptismal register in 1706.

1720 A parcel of land was purchased & the new minister arrived. Rev John Jennings M.A., led a congregation which saw a new Chapel built.

1722 Rev. Jennings also ran a dissenting academy and one of his students, Philip Doddridge, described the opening of the Great Meeting on 28th November 1722. 'We have a congregation of 500 people, all perfectly united'. Amongst the congregation would have been Robert Atkins who had just arrived in Hinckley. The family would be prominent members of the congregation during three centuries.

the great meeting chapel
The Great Meeting Chapel.

In the second half of the eighteenth century ministers and congregation became more liberal in their approach and Nathaniel White, minister from 1755 -1763 who had studied with Joseph Priestley, rejected orthodox approach to worship.

1783 Rev.William Severn established a clear Unitarian presence at the Chapel.

1815 The Dare family from Hampshire joined the congregation. They were to have a significant impact on the Chapel, the town and the county. Another prominent member of the Chapel was Elliot McEwan, a music teacher who numbered Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot) amongst his pupils. She later contributed a verse to the McEwan memorial which reads, 'Broken Echoes of the Music Above'.

1830s In the early 1830s Rev. Charles Nutter became minister and tried to alleviate the poor conditions of the framework knitters in Hinckley. He provided adult education classes for the people of the town. Two of those involved, Joseph Dare and John Gent Brooks, became Domestic Missioners. Dare was the first in Leicester and Brooks the first in Birmingham.

1850s The town recovered & the Sunday School, was particularly active in providing academic and religious education.

the great meeting chapel
The Great Meeting Chapel.

1858 At the Anniversary there were 10 teachers and 96 scholars recorded as being present.

1860 William Mitchell became minister. He was prominent in the establishment of the Hinckley and District Industrial Co-operative Society in 1861. George Dare was the first Secretary & Manager. In addition George was Secretary of the first Building Society in the town.

1860s A period when Chapel and town witnessed many changes.

1869 Work began on an extension to the Chapel which was also completed in the same year. Framework knitting, often in the home, was replaced by steam powered factories.

1870s The Atkins family, still Chapel members, numbered four brothers with their widowed mother, Elizabeth. Under her guidance a factory was built alongside the Chapel, to be replaced in the late 1870s by the huge building which remains as our neighbour today.

The small congregation and the town were given much support by the remaining Atkins brothers, Hugh, John & Thomas.

1888 The town Free Library was built in memory of Arthur Atkins.

the great meeting chapel
The Great Meeting Chapel.

1891 Hugh was a leading figure in the establishment of the first Cottage Hospital and was prominent in the area of music at the Chapel composing many choral pieces. He presented the Chapel with its first organ.

1892 Elizabeth Atkins died in her ninetieth year and was the last person to be buried in the grounds.

1900 The death of Mrs Hugh Atkins at the turn of the century resulted in a remarkable memorial. The ladies of the Atkins family embroidered two crewel work tapestries of apple trees which dominate the end of the Chapel on either side of the pulpit.

1912 Austrian oak pews were fitted in memory of the Atkins brothers and Mr John Cassell, Chapel member and carpenter, also carried out the work of panelling the Chapel.

The twentieth century witnessed a strong Unitarian presence in the town. The Chapel was much involved in local sporting activities. The Davenport family, hosiery manufacturers and Chapel trustees, were particularly prominent and continued their link beyond the Millennium.

During two World Wars many members of the congregation fought and died in defence of freedom.

the great meeting chapel the great meeting chapel
Blue Plaque for Dr.Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)

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