The old chapel at Morley stands in an imposing situation, being placed on an eminence which presents a commanding view of the adjacent country, whilst it is easily accessible from the town itself. It has recently undergone considerable alterations. These have doubtless added much to its substantial comfort, but they have also diminished the antiquarian interest with which it was wont to be regarded. The removed old chancel, now replaced, seems to have been part of a Saxon church. About the time of Elizabeth, a tythe-barn appears to have been added. When increased population rendered a larger church necessary, the barn became the church, and the chancel was employed as a vestry and school-room. At a later period they were thrown together.
Morley originally possessed the church for the parish of Batley. When the parochial arrangements were altered, and the church at Morley became a chapel of ease to Batley, the advowson of Morley passed into lay hands, and ultimately into the possession of Saville, Earl of Sussex, a distinguished political Presbyterian, who then resided at the ancient seat of his family, Howley Hall, now in ruins. For a time, shortly before the Commonwealth, the chapel was used for Divine service, but appears to have been afterwards disused. When Presbyterianism had asserted its supremacy, in the 9th year of Charles I., 1640, the chapel, together with the glebe, and a parsonage house, was leased by this Earl of Sussex, Stafford's unrelenting opponent,-" for the use and benefit of a preaching minister;" - that term marking a distinction between those who preached and those who merely read prayers and homilies. At the Restoration, it was claimed by the Established Church, whose members, for a time, used it for worship,* but the Trustees still kept possession of the house and adjoining land, and maintained their right to the chapel itself.
After the Toleration Act, the possessors of the house celebrated religious worship for a time in the parsonage, which was then rebuilt, and licensed to be used as a meeting house. In the mean time, as there was no pecuniary provision for a clergyman at Morley Old Chapel, and as the attendance at the services held there was extremely small, the arrangement for worship, according to Episcopal forms, seems to have worn itself out, and between 1693 and 1698 the building fell again into the hands of its former Presbyterian proprietors.
About the beginning of the seventeenth century, Rev. Samuel Wales is mentioned as minister at Morley. He was probably the son of John Wales, of Idle, and brother to Elkanah Wales, of Pudsey. He was an earnest and zealous Puritan, an intimate friend of Lord Wharton, and was one of those who led the way to the nonconformity of later times.
It is doubtful who was the first pastor of the dissenters at this place. Calamy mentions a "Mr. Etherington, of Morley," who conformed, and settled at Bramhope. After the passing of the Five-mile Act, Christopher Nesse retreated from Leeds to Morley, where he probably preached in private. His stay does not appear to have been long. Before this, in 1661, he had become a member of the Congregational church at Topcliffe. In coming to Morley, therefore, he seems to have sought a familiar home. From hence, Nesse removed to Hunslet, where he preached and taught a school in his own house. He was soon chosen pastor of the newly-formed Congregational church at Leeds. Dunton speaks of him as "a man of considerable learning, but who labours under some unhappiness in his style." (See Call Lane, Leeds).
After Nesse, the Rev. T. Sharp, M.A. (see Bradford) preached at Morley, continuing, probably, to reside at his own house, Little Horton. He afterwards became pastor at Leeds. (See Mill Hill, Leeds.)
About this time, Rev. David Noble, "a learned man," resided at Morley, and gave education to youth. Joseph Lister placed his son David under his care, about 1673, and Oliver Heywood his two sons. Noble is spoken of as "a diligent, faithful man." He often preached in the vicinity, as at Topcliffe and at Kipping, where the sum of 5s. is attached to his name for an occasional service.
Among those interred in the burial-ground of the Old Chapel, Morley, are William Thompson, ob. 1675; Dorothy, daughter of the poet Waller, a dwarf, sent down into the North for her health, ob. 1717; Lady Loughborough, wife of the Lord Chief Justice, ob. 1781; Abraham Dawson, ob. 1671; Nehemiah Wood, of Gildersome, who married one of Major Greatheed's daughters, ob. 1707; and Henry Greatheed, his son, ob. 1718; the Reyner family, John Scurr (see Leeds), and many others whose history possesses some interest.
- 1674. Rev. SAMUEL BAYLEY is described upon his tomb-stone at Morley as "Minister of the Gospel at Morley and Topcliffe." He was certainly pastor of the church at Topcliffe, though he preached much at Morley, where he originated a monthly exercise. Being rich, he could afford to receive and entertain those who were engaged. At these exercises Heywood was a frequent preacher. In 1669, he records an incident which must have taken place in the old chapel itself, though how Heywood was admitted within its walls, when it was occupied by the Episcopalians, we do not know. In the neglect of Episcopal services, perhaps the inhabitants would occasionally welcome the services of a Nonconformist. So Heywood had found it at Coley, and such seems to have been the case here.
- "June 26" (1669) "I preached at Morley. When I was in the pulpit singing a psalm, Mr. Broadhead, vicar of Batley (to which parish Morley belonged) comes up tossing among the crowd up the alley, and got with much ado to the clerk; bade him to tell Mr. Heywood to come down, and let him have his own pulpit, and then hasted away to Batley; told Justice Copley what a multitude of people there were at Morley, hearing a Nonconformist; he took no notice of it; bade let us alone; and so, through God's mercy, we enjoyed the day quietly."-Hunter's "Heywood," p. 211.
- Bayley died early, Dec. 6, 1675, æt. 27.
- A tomb-stone is erected in Morley Old Chapel-yard to the memory of Rev. W. Hawden, ej., Broadsworth. After some changes of residence, imprisonment, and loss of sight, he abode for some time at Wakefield, and was buried at Morley, 1669, aet. 88. It is not known whether he was the minister at the old chapel, but the supposition
- would fill a gap otherwise unaccounted for.
- We have next mention made of Rev. ROBERT PICKERING, M.A., born at Kippax, ej. Barley Chapel, Selby, afterwards chaplain to R. Dyneley, Esq., Bramhope. He died 1680, æt. 44. On his tombstone at Morley it is recorded-" He accounted himself the meanest servant in the work of Jesus Christ."
- 1688. Rev. JOSEPH DAWSON, ej. Thornton. He was the son of Abraham Dawson, Morley. He was ordained at the first Nonconformist ordination at Manchester, and was intimate with O. Heywood. A. Dawson had been charged by Ralph Oates as an accomplice in the Farnley Wood plot. The accusation does not appear to have touched the son, probably because it was not believed of the father. Dawson was a pious, zealous, affectionate man, intent upon his great work, and though a sufferer from poverty, never complaining, nor regretting his choice of Nonconformity.
- The Scales MS. copies an autograph letter, once in the possession of the late Mr. Upcott, from John Coppendale (Morley) to Mr. Stretton. It is a plea for relief to Mr. Dawson, who was desirous, it appears, to settle wholly at Morley, being old and infirm. He was then preaching once a fortnight at Birstall. He had received an invitation to take alternate services at Halifax with Mr. Priestley, then very young, but had no desire to leave Morley. Yet his people could only raise £24 per annum. Jan. 4, 1696.
- He had six sons, one of whom, Eli Dawson, was minister of Little Horton, Bradford. Eli Dawson had again seven sons, five of whom conformed. Three of them proved worthless, one eminently good This conformity was a subject of great regret to the family and friends. Hunter (MSS.) relates that it was mainly owing to the persuasion of Dr. Leigh, Halifax, and that the question being asked of Dr. L., "Was it to make them better men that you did it ?" he replied, with good humour, "No, it was to make us better !" So great was the indignation which this conformity occasioned, that when an application was made on behalf of Joseph Dawson (Idle) for assistance of a fund to educate him at Glasgow, it was deemed necessary to certify that he was not one of the same family.
- Rev. Jos. Dawson died 1709, æt. 73, and is buried in the Morley Chapel-yard.
- 1709. Rev. TIMOTHY ALDRED. A scholar, who devoted much time to his studies. He was a recipient of the Hewley Fund. Mr. A. was energetic in opposition to Wesley's doctrine of Christian perfection. In his time the chapel was under-drawn. It is said that during the fifty-four years he remained pastor, he was only once absent from his pulpit. He resigned his office, 1763. Neal describes him as having 450 hearers, 1715. His wife was Mary Wilson, a widow.
- Mr. A.'s successor was Rev. THOMAS MORGAN, from Delph, who accepted the pastorate in 1763. He appears to have left his former sphere because his people thought that he was not fully Evangelical (it may be presumed he was a "Baxterian") and he created the same feeling among some of his flock at Morley. A division accordingly took place, and a separate congregation was formed (see p. 323). Mr. Morgan was under no suspicion of heterodoxy as it regards the Atonement, for among other tracts, he wrote, " An Appeal to the Common sense of Plain and Common Christians on behalf of the Old Christianity of the Gospel," which drew Dr. Priestley, then at Leeds, into the conflict, in Wright's " Leeds' Intelligencer." Mr. Morgan was the oldest Presbyterian minister in the West Riding, and extremely able, popular, upright, and useful. In consequence of paralysis, he resigned his ministry in 1794, and died Sept., 1799, æt. 80. Mr. Morgan is said to have had a very fine person, " his demeanour the most reverend and dignified," says Scatcherd, " I ever beheld." During the earlier part of his life he associated much with the Unitarians, till roused by the extreme opinions of Dr. Priestley. Mr. Morgan's son was librarian to Dr. Williams's library.
- 1795. Rev. SAMUEL LUCAS, pastor. He was from the Academy at Daventry, and brought with him no bias towards Calvinism or Trinitarianism, though he did not push his opinions to extremity. On an invitation from Pontefract to become chaplain in the family of Mr. Milnes, of Ferry-Frystone, who had once lived at the Hall at Great Houghton, he left Morley in 1806. He died suddenly Dec. 30, 1821.
- 1807. Rev. Mr. DUNCAN. After an unsuccessful pastorate, partly caused by the Unitarian sentiments prevalent in the now small congregation, he retired 1815.
- 1817. Rev. ABRAHAM HUDS. WELL, from Bingley, pastor. His plain, earnest, effective ministry rallied the congregation, and reestablished Evangelical sentiments, bringing the church once more into union with other bodies of the Congregational order. He remained pastor during twenty-two years, and died Feb. 27, 1838.
- 1838. Rev. JOSEPH Fox, resident at Leeds, ministered as pastor. He resigned his charge in 1841.
- 1842. Rev. JOHN MORRIS, who continued till 1854, when he accepted the Professorship of Brecon College. Still surviving.
- 1854. Rev. JAMES WONNACOTT. His ministry continued till 1859, when he left for Hertford.
- 1862. Rev. F. BARNES, B.A. (Spring Hill and Lond. Univ.). Left for Birkenhead, 1865.
- 1865. Rev. G SOUTHEY, B.A. (Spring Hill and Lond. Univ.), the present minister (in 1868).
* The king's coat of arms, with the date 1664, a Prayer-Book of the reign of James II., and sundry mottoes, some of which are evidently directed against Nonconformists, are still preserved.