Our story begins 185 years ago when land on which Ovenden now stands, was enclosed from the Moor under the Enclosure Act of 1814.
This land immediately became available for building at the time of great industrial expansion and the first piece of land to be broken up and ploughed was the field in which Providence now stands.
Providence’s history really goes back as far as 1818, when a school was erected at Moorside, and was used as a Sunday School and a Day School. It was built by subscription for the benefit of the poor and was familiarly known as “Old Jerry’s School,” because as soon as it was opened it was rented by a chap named Jeremiah Stead, who ran a private school there for 50 years. He died in 1868 and a small pension was paid to his widow out of school funds.
The school was so overcrowded that in 1820 when the Halifax Sunday School Union was formed, there were 68 teachers and 220 scholars on the role and they had to refuse to admit more children.
The first report of the school states, “It is our misfortune to be unconnected with a place of worship so that the entire weight of supporting the school devolves upon the teachers. Had we the means and a place large enough to accommodate as many more children as are now taught in this school, we believe it would still fall short of the number of children who apply for admission, but from our situation we are compelled to deny.”
In 1820, the school was registered as a “Place of public worship of Almighty God for Protestant Dissenters,” the certificate was issued by the Consistory Court at York, and for the next 17 years, week and Sunday evening services were held in the school.
Several reports spoke of overcrowding so it was agreed to build another school in a different part of the neighbourhood and Wheatley School was erected in 1822 by public subscription.
However, for many years before the erection of the chapel, worshippers from Ovenden and Wheatley used to attend Square and Sion chapels in Halifax, and as the services were held morning and afternoon, they used to take bread in their pockets for their dinner, then get a bowl of broth at the Boars Head pub. On Sunday evenings, the gospel was preached at Moorside and Wheatley.
Building a chapel in Ovenden was often talked about and, when the silk industry brought prosperity to Ovenden, Messrs Dewhurst, John Wilson, Samuel Blagborough and other friends supported the scheme so in 1835, land for a chapel and graveyard was acquired- 2165 yards were bought for £270. This allowed building operations to begin [From here on I will give the estimated equivalents in today’s values (in brackets) according to the Office for National Statistics. My purpose is to show the colossal efforts put in by the public and the generosity of industrialists, So £270 equates to (£21,134.85), though we have to bear in mind that these are inflationary values and don’t necessarily reflect the building or other costs]
The first stone was laid on Thursday the 16th of February 1836 by John Wilson. Because of the prosperity of Ovenden, the building was named “Providence.” Can you imagine the excitement at the ceremony as the very first chapel in Ovenden was begun?
The Chapel administration was formed at a meeting held in the school-room at Moorside on 7th of February 1837, presided over by Rev. James Pridie of Sion Chapel and Rev. Alexander Ewing of Square Chapel Halifax. The first act of the Church after its formation was to elect Deacons who were Mr. John Wilson, Mr Samuel Blagborough and a Deacon from Sion Chapel, Mr. Thomas Bolton.
The total cost of building the Chapel was £1780. 6s. 11.1/2d (£139,333.47 and you wouldn’t build it for that today.) It was opened for public worship on Good Friday, the 24th of March 1837. The ministers were Rev. John Ely of Leeds in the morning, Rev. Jonathan Glyde of Bradford in the afternoon and Rev. R.W. Hamilton in the evening. There were also services on the following Sunday and Monday taken by local ministers of Square, Sion and the Baptist Chapel in Halifax.
The collections came to £156. 13s. 7.1/2d(12,289.52) and together with subscriptions, this brought receipts to a total of £905. 2s. 11d(£70,840.89) leaving a debt of £ 875. 43. 0.1/2d(£68,570.85).
The first celebration of the Lord’s Supper was taken by Rev. Edward Leighton of Cumberland on Sunday the 9th of April. His services were very much appreciated which led to him being invited to become the first Pastor of Providence Church, commencing his ministry on the 6th of August 1837.
Old documents do refer to the building as both church and chapel. Since these documents are also part of our history I will stay with the format, so I hope his doesn’t cause confusion.
The opening of the Chapel provided welcome relief to Moorside Sunday School as the senior classes were transferred to the new building, because the number of teachers had risen to 92 and scholars to 232.
The Chapel was still in debt when a new school was proposed and land was bought near the Chapel for this purpose.
Unfortunately, in 1839, the large silk factory of Mssrs. Binns and Wrigley was at a standstill, and people had to travel away from Ovenden to find work, so attendances at the Chapel decreased and finances suffered severely, which led to the resignation of Rev. Leighton after 3 years. By 1840, the debt on the two buildings was down to £462. 9s. 8d.(£32,906.05).
Rev. Leighton was followed in 1843 by Rev. John Harrison, a student of Rotherham college. He published several books on theology and on his death bequeathed his library to the college that educated him.