A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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Papist families were recorded between 1639 and 1767 (fn. 1) but there is no evidence of a Roman Catholic community of any size in Dawley until the 20th century. In 1958 the Town Hall was used for Roman Catholic services: until then local Catholics had had to travel to Madeley or Wellington to church. (fn. 2) In the same year the church began negotiations to buy land on Paddock Mound (fn. 3) and in 1964 a church hall was opened there, behind the Dun Cow inn. Weekly mass, celebrated by the Shifnal parish priest, was then attended by c. 100. (fn. 4) Dawley was created a separate parish in 1978 (fn. 5) and by 1980 the hall had been dedicated to St. Paul. From 1979 the Anglican St. Leonard's, Malinslee, was used by Roman Catholics for mass on Saturday evenings, and in 1980 Sunday mass was also said in the Hollinswood community centre. (fn. 6)
William Hayward, curate of Dawley in 1651 and ejected at the Restoration, (fn. 7) seems to have left no following: no nonconformists were recorded in 1676, (fn. 8) though in 1716 a man was accused at the county assizes of slandering the church and the sacrament. (fn. 9)
Under John Fletcher's influence Methodism spread from Madeley in the later 18th century and by 1824 half of Dawley's population was said to be dissenting. (fn. 10) On Census Sunday 1851 nonconformist worshippers, though not fully recorded, far outnumbered those in the three Anglican churches at morning services. (fn. 11) By 1870 a Baptist chapel, 12 Methodist chapels, and a Congregational mission station had been built in Dawley. The nonconformist congregations remained strong during the depressed years of the early 20th century. They included many shopkeepers and small businessmen, from whose ranks were drawn several urban district councillors. (fn. 12) In 1933 the vicar of Malinslee noted that most of the real estate in his parish was in dissenters' hands. (fn. 13) The national decline in church membership in the mid 20th century was accentuated in Dawley by the break-up of old industrial communities due to new town development. By 1980 only 4 Methodist chapels and the Baptist church remained open.
Other protestant groups, not long-lived or numerous locally, met in Dawley intermittently from the late 19th century.
A congregation of Particular Baptists was formed at Dawley Bank in 1817. At first services were held in cottages, and the first baptism was conducted in a pool among the pit mounds. (fn. 14) In 1846, when church membership stood at 13, a small chapel seating 200 was opened at Dawley Bank on the site of the former bull ring. A minister's house was built nearby at the same time (fn. 15) and on Census Sunday 1851 the chapel was attended by 60 adults in the morning, 110 in the afternoon, and 180 in the evening. (fn. 16) At that time the chapel served worshippers from Hadley, Ketley Bank, and Newdale, as well as from the various settlements in Dawley. (fn. 17) Galleries were inserted in 1851 but accommodation remained inadequate and in 1860 a new chapel was built on the same site. A large galleried building with an imposing blue-brick çccedil;ade, it seated 600. A projecting porch added in 1893 was raised in 1906 to include stairs and an organ loft. In 1871 a cemetery was opened across the parish boundary at Lawley Bank. (fn. 18) Congregations remained large until slum clearance and rebuilding in the 1960s scattered the community in and around Dawley Bank. The congregation had 57 adult church members in 1978 and consisted largely of older people. (fn. 19)
Wesleyan Methodism. John Fletcher, vicar of Madeley 1760-85, had founded a Methodist society at Dawley Bank by 1765: (fn. 20) it was probably for that group that a house near Dawley Bank was registered for worship in 1773. (fn. 21) The group thrived: in 1799 the meeting was well attended and a fifth of the parish was said to 'follow the Methodists' either there or at Madeley. (fn. 22) The 1799-1801 Methodist revival in Coalbrookdale resulted in the foundation of a society at Little Dawley, where Coalbrookdale men preached and led a small class from 1799. (fn. 23) By 1813 weekly services were held for the societies at Dawley Bank (then known as the Lawley Bank society), Little Dawley, and Dawley Green; a society at Horsehay and Little Wenlock had preaching fortnightly. (fn. 24) Those and other societies in Dawley were placed in the Madeley circuit on its creation in 1835 and passed to the newly created Dawley circuit in 1870. (fn. 25)
A chapel at Little Dawley, probably that which stood west of Ivy Farm in 1825, (fn. 26) was registered in 1805. (fn. 27) It was eventually replaced in 1837 by a larger building, known as the 'Big Penny', (fn. 28) in the centre of the village. (fn. 29) The congregation consisted largely of industrial workers: 13 of the new chapel's 18 trustees were miners. (fn. 30) In 1851 Census Sunday afternoon worship was attended by 138 adults, (fn. 31) but membership of the society declined from 146 in 1838 to 64 in 1869. (fn. 32) The chapel remained open in 1980. Other Wesleyan societies west and south-west of Dawley were at Horsehay, which built a chapel just inside Wellington parish at Spring Village c. 1816, (fn. 33) and at Stoney Hill, which had 22 members in 1838 but only 9 in 1869 and had ceased to meet by 1880. (fn. 34)
In 1819 a chapel was built at Dawley Green on the corner of the roads later known as High Street and Chapel Street. (fn. 35) The plain octagonal building (fn. 36) was replaced in 1860 by an imposing chapel in polychrome brick with a tower. (fn. 37) Membership grew from 79 in 1838 to 121 in 1869; there were 150 evening worshippers on Census Sunday 1851. (fn. 38) After 1960 several smaller Methodist societies merged with the High Street church. In 1960 the former Primitive society at Bank Road united with it and the High Street chapel was known thereafter as the Central Methodist Church. (fn. 39) Lawley Bank society joined in 1968, (fn. 40) Hill Top society, Old Park, c. 1973, and some members of Finger Road church in 1976. (fn. 41) The Central Church became the focus for Methodist activity in the Dawley area of the new town in the mid 1960s. In 1967 its ground floor was converted into an interdenominational pastoral centre (fn. 42) and in 1977-8 the church was taken down and replaced by a modern, brick-faced church and pastoral centre on the same site. In 1980 morning and evening services there were attended by c. 30 and c. 50 adults. (fn. 43)
A Wesleyan chapel built c. 1818 just outside the parish boundary at Lawley Bank (fn. 44) was replaced by a large brick chapel built at Dawley Bank in 1840. (fn. 45) In 1851 Census Sunday services were attended by 235 adults in the morning and 375 in the afternoon. (fn. 46) Membership fell, however, from 132 in 1838 to 83 in 1869. (fn. 47) By 1957 the chapel was not used for worship, services being held in the adjacent Sunday school (fn. 48) built in 1907. (fn. 49) Membership of the Lawley Bank society fell to 38 in 1960 and the society united with that of Dawley Central Methodist Church in 1968. (fn. 50) The Dawley Bank chapel, used as a factory in 1963, (fn. 51) was demolished in 1976. (fn. 52)
Unable to buy land in Stirchley, (fn. 53) the Wesleyan group there built a brick chapel on Stirchley Lane, just inside Dawley parish, in 1841. (fn. 54) A decade later on Census Sunday 35 adults attended the morning service and 70 that in the evening. (fn. 55) Membership was small in the mid 19th century (fn. 56) but the church remained open in 1980, with a congregation of c. 20 at morning services and c. 40 in the evenings. (fn. 57)
By 1885 the resident minister of the Dawley circuit lived in a manse in Chapel Street, known from c. 1910 as Wesley House. It was a manse until 1958 or later. (fn. 58)
Wesleyan societies in the northern end of the parish were placed in the Ketley Bank and Shifnal circuit on its creation in 1869. (fn. 59) At Old Park a chapel, known later as Hill Top church, had been built in 1853. (fn. 60) There were also cottage meetings at Hinkshay, recorded from 1874 to 1908, (fn. 61) and at Malinslee Lodge, where services were discontinued in 1884. (fn. 62) Hill Top church remained open until c. 1973 (fn. 63) when the congregation, with 31 members, united with the Central Methodist Church. (fn. 64)
New Connexion Methodism. The religious revival that followed the failure of the Cinderhill riots in January 1821 brought a mission of Revivalist Methodists to Dawley that year. (fn. 65) They were supported by Benjamin Tranter, Wesleyan agent of the Coalbrookdale Co., and built a large chapel at Brandlee in 1822. Despite its Revivalist origins the chapel (New Connexion from 1829) had a strong musical tradition, fostered by a choral society founded in 1845 by Tranter's son William. The chapel had a congregation of 200 on Census Sunday evening 1851. (fn. 66) It closed and was demolished in 1937.
The connexion had cottage meetings at Hinkshay and Stoney Hill in the mid 19th century, and in 1865 a second chapel, a small brick building, was built in an isolated position at Lightmoor, where a New Connexion society had met since 1849. It was known popularly as 'Fat Bacon' because members kept pigs to raise money for the building. (fn. 67) The chapel closed c. 1938, (fn. 68) the congregation joining the former Wesleyan society at Little Dawley. (fn. 69)
Resident New Connexion ministers in Dawley were recorded from 1879 to 1905 (fn. 70) but no manse seems to have been provided.
Primitive Methodism. Primitive Methodism reached the northern part of the coalfield during the revival of 1821-2 but did not spread into Dawley until a further revival in the late 1830s. (fn. 71) In 1841 the Primitives built a chapel in Dawley Green Lane (later Bank Road). (fn. 72) Evening service there was attended by 146 adults on Census Sunday 1851. (fn. 73) In 1927 the Bank Road society had 42 members. (fn. 74) The chapel, a large stuccoed brick building, closed in 1960, its congregation uniting with the former Wesleyan church in High Street. (fn. 75)
By the 1850s the Primitives had established numerous small cottage meetings in Dawley. In the period 1854-64 the newly formed Dawley Green circuit included societies at Woodhouse Lane, Frame Lane, Stoney Hill, Holywell Lane, and Burroughs Bank (all in Little Dawley), and at Horsehay Potteries, Finger Lane, Langley Square, and Hinkshay (in Great Dawley). (fn. 76) At the northern end of the parish there were three cottage meetings, at Old Park, Dark Lane, and Park Forge Row, attended by between 49 and 137 people on Census Sunday evening 1851. (fn. 77) They remained in Oakengates (from 1865 Oakengates and Wellington) circuit. (fn. 78)
The Primitives' success in Dawley in the mid 19th century led to the erection of several chapels to serve the small groups in outlying industrial settlements in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Membership of the church slumped, however, towards the end of the century and the Primitive connexion even had to consider withdrawing from Dawley. (fn. 79)
At the northern end of the parish in 1857 the Old Park society built Bethesda, a small brick chapel, (fn. 80) whose congregation consisted largely of miners and ironworkers from the immediate vicinity in the later 19th century. (fn. 81) If a second Old Park registration (fn. 82) referred to another chapel, it must have been short-lived. The Dark Lane society built a chapel just inside Shifnal parish in 1865. (fn. 83) Cottage meetings continued at Park Forge Row until c. 1890, (fn. 84) and at Old Park until 1913. (fn. 85) The latter society, in Dawley (from 1906 Dawley and Madeley) circuit, struggled on with very few members until 1930. (fn. 86) Bethesda closed in 1963, its congregation uniting with the former Wesleyan church nearby at Hill Top. (fn. 87)
A chapel of blue and yellow brick was built in 1858 at Moreton's Coppice, Horsehay, (fn. 88) to serve the Primitive groups at Horsehay Potteries, Woodhouse Lane, Stoney Hill, and Coalmoor (in Little Wenlock). (fn. 89) There was also a mission room at Horsehay in the late 1880s, possibly the building registered for worship in 1875. (fn. 90) The Horsehay society had 45 members in 1927. (fn. 91) The congregation was joined by that of the former Wesleyan chapel at Spring Village in 1968 (fn. 92) and Moreton's Coppice chapel remained open in 1980.
At Gravel Leasowes, near Lightmoor, a small chapel called Jubilee chapel, but popularly known as the 'Pop Bottle', (fn. 93) was opened in 1861 to serve the societies at Burroughs Bank, Holywell Lane, and Frame Lane. (fn. 94) It was enlarged in 1864 (fn. 95) but closed in 1901. (fn. 96)
In 1863 a small brick chapel was opened at Finger Lane (later Finger Road). (fn. 97) The society there had 33 members in 1927. (fn. 98) The chapel closed in 1976 and was demolished for road widening. (fn. 99)
A preacher's house was built by the trustees of Dawley Green Lane chapel c. 1859. (fn. 100) It was probably the manse in King Street, known as Rock Villa, recorded from 1890 until at least 1958. (fn. 101)
A Congregational mission station was built in High Street c. 1866. (fn. 102) There were resident ministers in the town in the 1870s (fn. 103) but the chapel closed as such during the 1880s: (fn. 104) it survived in the 1890s as an undenominational mission. (fn. 105)
Other places of worship were a Gospel Army Mission room in King Street, registered 1883, closed by 1896; (fn. 106) a Salvation Army barracks in King Street, opened by 1885, closed c. 1902; (fn. 107) and a Spiritualist church in the former Primitive Methodist chapel, Bank Road, recorded 1963- 80. (fn. 108)
A congregation of the Assemblies of God was founded in Dawley in 1963 and opened a temporary church in Chapel Street the following year. (fn. 109) It had ceased to meet by 1970 when Bridgnorth Full Gospel Church, a member of the Assemblies of God movement, moved to Dawley. After meeting in rented premises the Telford Full Gospel Church (as it had come to be called) acquired the former Wesleyan Methodist Sunday school building at Dawley Bank in 1971. There was a congregation of c. 70 in 1980. (fn. 110)
Telford meeting of the Society of Friends met in the Central Methodist Church in the late 1960s and in the church offices at Telford town centre from 1974. (fn. 111)