Bullhouse Chapel

Bullhouse Chapel
The Dissenters' Chapel of Bullhouse is said to be the oldest independent non-conformist chapel with continuous worship in the country. Or "... in the County of York". It lies a mile or so from Penistone, just beyond Millhouse Green and near to a lone wind turbine of the modern age. It began as a Presbyterian meeting house after the Act of Toleration allowed non-conformist worship in 1689. The date over the door is 18th April 1692 and the wear on its steps is true testament to its years of use.

At the time of the English Civil War, Captain William Rich served in the Parliamentary Army. His son Sylvanus Rich built most of Bullhouse Hall in 1655, in what was then a secluded wooded area, long before the main road was established nearby.

Around 1647, Rev Christopher Dickinson became Vicar of Penistone Parish. it was remarked in the diary of Captain Adam Eyre of Hazlehead, that: '... upon the removal of Sir Francis Wortley's garrison from Penistone and during the tymes of trouble, hee intrudeth himself into the Ministery at Penistone'. Other diary entries also suggested that Dickinson was not well received in the Parish. This was not to last long. He was followed around 1649 by the popular Rev Henry Swift, who preached in a simple, puritan style for the next 40 years.

Henry had not been presented 'By any real or supposed patron' but by the choice of the inhabitants of the Parish. Torre’s Collections describes Henry as having ‘Come in by the usurped powers and consent of the parish’. But Henry was his own man. Following the 1660 restoration of the monarchy of Charles II, in 1662 an 'Act of Uniformity' required all ministers to swear an oath to give: 'Unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed' in the new Book of Common Prayer, which many people would never have seen before.

Bullhouse Chapel ExteriorBullhouse ChapelBullhouse ChapelBullhouse Chapel
Bullhouse Chapel
Bullhouse ChapelBullhouse ChapelView of Millhouse Green
These pictures come from the Flower Festival of 2005.

The Rev Henry Swift continued as before and refused to comply. As a result, he was no stranger to York jail but he had some protection by landed families in the area from the 'The Great Ejection' of 1662. It caused hundreds of Puritan preachers to be persecuted, removed from churches and lose their income. This is well-explained on the Evangelical Times site.

The 1672 'Act of Toleration' gave some relief from this persecution and it became possible for Dissenters to meet in registered meeting places. Sylvanus Rich registered Bullhouse Hall as a place of worship. Henry stayed on as vicar after the Reformation, despite continuing to be non-conformist. By the time of his death in 1689, it had become possible for non-conformists to meet where and when they liked. Rev Henry Swift (1621-1689) was interred in Penistone churchyard near the West door.

Not liking the new Vicar, whose style was more ritualistic and compliant, Elkanah Rich chose to build Bullhouse Chapel and install a minister of a more suitable character. On 18th April 1692, Bullhouse Chapel opened as a place of worship. The Rev David Denton was the first minister to serve here. For such a small chapel, it is interesting that its congregation in 1715 was 200 people.


Floor PlanThe Chapel
The floor plan on the right is a representation of the layout of the pews and other features. Upon entering the porch, the main pews are to the left on two sides and on two levels, with the more distant ones at a slightly higher level. On the right, the most prominent feature is a very high pulpit which has a seven-sided paneling. symmetrically placed either side are raised pews which might be for a choir. The modern organ is right next to the entrance door.

At the far-right corner is the Vestry door, which leads to the small, boxy Vestry room. An unusual feature of the Vestry is a very steep set of stairs leading to an equally small store-room above. The stairs can be raised out of the way by ropes, in a nautical style. It is said that at one time there was a family of seven people living in those two rooms. The bedroom must have been very cramped.

The Chapel turned to Methodism in the nineteenth century, following the strong local Methodist tradition, but is not affiliated now and does not belong to the same circuit as the other churches and chapels. As of 2015, it has a small but dedicated congregation who are very proud of their Chapel, as was evident in the Heritage Open Day. Long may it last.

2007 Lottery Money
Bullhouse Chapel benefited from an English Heritage and Heritage Lottery Fund donation totalling £21,000 towards the cost of repairs to guttering, walls and the Vestry roof (details from Barnsley Chronicle July 07). I'm not sure what the founders might have thought of using betting money.

See also the Vicars of Penistone on this website, which has some more points of interest about the history of the chapel (bottom of page).


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