If Rawdon is the mother Church of the district, Westgate is the mother Church of the city of Bradford, and Westgate sprang from Rawdon. Certain members of the Rawdon Church were, in the year 1751, in the habit of meeting in the house of a Christian woman, named Elizabeth Lankland, of Manningham. As a result, we are told, eight persons were converted and baptised, and in 1753, one William Crabtree, who was at the time a deacon of the Church at Wainsgate, came to preach to the little community, and was asked to become its minister. On December 4th, 1753, the Church was formed, consisting of twenty-three members who signed the covenant which all who have entered the fellowship of the Church at Westgate since that day have accepted.
The private room in which worship was conducted soon became too "strait" for the members attending, and "a place of dissoluteness" known as "The Cockpit" was transformed into a sanctuary. It is recorded that the Church was too poor to seat the new sanctuary, so they carried the stools on which they sat with them to the house of God. In 1755, the first place of worship was built in Westgate, which was then regarded as "the top of the town." The new sanctuary became known as "the top of the town chapel." On March 11th, 1758, Mr. Crabtree baptised and received into fellowship John Fawcett, eminent as preacher, scholar, commentator and hymn writer, who subsequently became minister of the Church at Hebden Bridge.
Mr. Crabtree died in 1803, and was succeeded in 18o5 by Rev. W. Steadman, of Plymouth Dock. Mr., afterwards Dr., Steadman, was minister at Westgate for nearly thirty-two years. During his pastorate the chapel was enlarged, and Sunday school accommodation was provided. Other Churches were formed and generously supported, and Westgate passed through a time of numerical increase and spiritual prosperity. Dr. Steadman's work in connection with the Northern Baptist Education Society, of which he was the first president, has already been dealt with in the volume, but it is worth recording here that he was appointed the first president of the Bradford Mechanics' Institute, an institution which has been of immense value in the life of the city, and which still continues its useful and vigorous career.
Three years before Dr. Steadman's death in 1837, Henry Dowson, then a student at Horton College, became assistant minister at Westgate, and on Dr. Steadman's demise, was elected the pastor. Mr. Dowson, like Dr. Steadman, was thirty-two years at Westgate; three years as assistant and the remainder of the period in sole charge. The best traditions of the Church were maintained. There was both a strengthening of the stakes, and a lengthening of the cords. The Church was prosperous, and as a result of its enterprise other Churches were formed. Mr. Dowson, like his predecessor, was interested in the work of training young men for the ministry, and in 1886 he left Bradford to become the first president of the Bury Baptist College, now at Brighton Grove, Manchester. Mr. Dowson died in 1884. On the day before an accident, which eventually proved fatal, he preached at Crouch Hill, London, taking as his text the words "I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better."
Since Mr. Dowson's day, there has been a worthy succession of ministers at Westgate, in the persons of the Rev. John Bloomfield, afterwards of Gloucester; Rev. W. H. Ibberson and Rev. James Dann, who were for a time co-pastors—Mr. Ibberson still frequently breaks the bread of life to the Westgate congregation—Rev. C. W. Skemp, who served the Church from 1881 to 1902, and during whose ministry the Church migrated from Westgate to Carlisle Road; and Rev. David Lindsay, now of The Downs Chapel, Clapton, London. The Church which, since the departure of Mr. Lindsay, has been without a pastor has given a call to Rev. T. O. Ransford of London. The call has been accepted and Mr. Ransford is about to commence his ministry. With an attractive building, and fine school premises, and located in the midst of a thickly populated district, the Church at Westgate should find even greater opportunities in the future than it has had in the past.