History of Gateacre Chapel

At the beginning of the 18th century Gateacre was a small hamlet, about 6 miles from Liverpool. At that time in Gateacre there were a group of English Presbyterians who met in each other’s houses.

History of Gateacre Chapel

The act of toleration in 1689 allowed freedom of worship, so this group decided to build their own meeting house. The Chapel was founded in 1690 and licensed for worship at Wigan on 14th of October 1700.

The chapel was built of red sandstone and has a pitched roof with a bellcote. The
bell has a carved head and foliage and is inscribed with ‘Come away, make no
delay - 1723.’ The Chapel is surrounded by a small graveyard and has a centrally
pivoted lynch gate at the front.

The chapel's first minister was dismissed for having falsified the testimonials he
had used for securing a previous living, it's second minister James Whittle died in
1702, after only a year in office, his memorial is in the aisle floor.

When the Reverend Joseph Lawton was appointed minister, the Chapel began to
flourish. The high quality of his preaching attracted large numbers to his services.
He ran the Chapel efficiently; a minute book was kept in which the main items of
Chapel business were recorded. This book was used until 1877.

The Reverend Lawton was attracting such large numbers to his services that the
walls and the roof of the Chapel were raised in 1723. This allowed a gallery to be
added to the west end. Lawton died in 1747 at the age of 63, he is buried in the

The next minister was the Reverend Richard Godwin, who remained for 40 years.
He was active in contributing to the Liverpool liturgy, a form of service and regular
ritual which was used between 1763 and 1776, at the specially built Octagon Chapel at temple court Liverpool.

The Gateacre congregation refused to use liturgy. It was about this time that the Chapel changed from English Presbyterian to Unitarianism. Richard Godwin died in 1787 and is buried in the chapel’s graveyard near Joseph Lawton.

The reverend John Edwards, an avowed Unitarian, was then minister for four
years. To be followed in 1800 by the great minister, Reverend D William
Shepherd, who stayed for nine years. He established a school for the sons of the
Unitarian ministers and laymen and was enrolled as a freeman of the city of
Liverpool. He also played the conspicuous part in the city's parliamentary
elections in the early 19th century, lending his support to William Roscoe, another
Unitarian, who was elected to Westminster.

The Unitarian Relief Act of 1813 and the Dissenters Chapel Act of 1813 gave the
Unitarians at Gateacre Chapel a wider legitimacy than they had previously

During his life, Shepherd suffered with gout and the Reverend Lewis came to
assist him in his duties in 1845. Lewis was appointed sole minister after
Shepherd's death in 1847. A marble bust of Shepherd was placed between the
two windows in the north wall of the Chapel and to make way for it, the pulpit was
moved to a central position against the east wall. A memorial tablet was placed
beneath the marble bust in 1851. He was buried in the Chapel yard and on the
gravestone are the words ‘The energetic champion of civil and religious liberty’.
Lewis believed passionately in the value of education and in the space of three
years he placed the Woolton mechanics institute on a firm footing, established a
ragged school, a Sunday school and the Gateacre Chapel library. It appeared
that despite all the hard work, Lewis was unhappy at Gateacre, his place was
taken by the reverend Noah Jones in 1848.

Noah Jones introduced the first organ into the Chapel. Previously, the singing
had been led by a member of the congregation sounding the first note of each
hymn on a pitched pipe. He also discontinued the practice of holding a Christmas
dinner at the ‘Bear and Staff’ public house, substituting it for tea at the manse.
In 1863, the Reverend George Beaumont took over. A vestry was built in 1872,
and Sir Henry Tate presented the Chapel with a stain glass window. In 1885
renovations and improvements were carried out, the most important being a new
belfry. A chapel hall was built in 1897, the same year George Beaumont died. In
1900 a memorial tablet to him was placed inside the Chapel by the vestry door.
The list of Chapel trustees at this time contained the names of men eminent in
commerce and business. Such as: Richard Durning-Holt, Oswald Henry
Rathbone, Sir William Henry Tate, Lieutenant Colonel Gaskell and Charles
Sidney Jones.

Gateacre village begun to emerge from its isolation at the beginning of the 20th
century and became a part of Liverpool as the housing estates began to spread.
the Reverend Crowther Hirst was minister from 1898 to 1919 and the Chapel
entered the new century while he was in office.

The reverend Charles Roper arrived in 1919 and the Chapel had several financial
problems after this. The minister resigned in 1923 to save the congregation the
expense of paying his salary. Lay preachers conducted the services until the
reverend J. Park Davies came in 1925. He had a wayside pulpit erected which is
used to the present day. He left in 1926 to become principle of the Presbyterian
College in Carmarthen Chapel, members were puzzled by his change of

Between 1927 and 1943 the Reverend Joseph Wilson was minister. He made a
big effort to try and increase the chapels membership. He viewed a larger
congregation as the solution to the chapel’s financial problems.
In 1951 the Chapel roof became unsafe and services were discontinued. Two
thousand pounds was needed for its repair. The people of the village, not just the
church members, launched an appeal. The money was raised and the roof was

A service of rededication was held on the 8th May 1954 and the minister,
Reverend Duncan Stewart took the service. He died later that year. The secretary
wrote that they had ‘lost their beloved and devoted leader and our denomination
a brilliant and intelligent member’.

The Reverend S Butler came in 1955, he also conducted services at Hope St
Chapel Liverpool. He left in 1960 and was followed by the Reverend Derek
Phillips from 1961 to 1973. Then came the Reverend John Keggen from 1974 to
1977. The Reverend Daphne Roberts came in 1978 until 1994 and served her
congregation with courage and love. Daphne retired and helped her husband
who was minster at Southport’s Portland St. Unitarian Chapel. Then came a brief
ministry from Carol Burrows, 1995 until 1996. This was followed by Murdoch
Lothian who served the congregation from 1997-1999, then the Reverend Alan
Kennedy, 2001-2004 and David Buckley, who served the congregation 2005-
2015. His leadership brought a great sense of community, refurbishment of the
chapel ceiling, music centre, cupboards in the vestibule, support for the organ
bench was constructed and a safety banister was implemented on the balcony. It
was a time of renewal and community. In 2009 the Trustees decided to sell the
Chapel Hall, this went into private hands and is now a home.

After David Buckley retired in 2016, lay person in charge Clare Grace-Williamson stepped in. She took great care of the chapel and its congregation, shepherding them through many trials and tribulations, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. She made sure that even though the congregation were separated physically by government restrictions, they were always connected spiritually. Clare was a wonderful leader and the Chapel was sad to see her go in December 2022.

After Clare's departure, Sian Murray was welcomed as the Chapel's lay person in charge. Her welcome ceremony was held in October 2023 and she remains in post to this day.

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