Tuesday, 9 April 2013
In 1789 a young itinerant preacher called Edward Stillman walked into the ruins of an earlier chapel in Keld, then - as now - a remote hamlet at the head of Swaledale. At the centre of the weeds and rubble, he planted his stick with the words: 'Here will I have my chapel and here will I preach the Gospel.'
The chapel, with two adjoining rooms (one for living; one for teaching) was built. It cost £700. Stillman raised the money himself by walking from Keld to London asking for contributions on the way. He did the journey again in 1818 to pay for the rebuilding of the chapel, by then too small for its congregation. He ministered in Keld for 48 years until his death in 1837.
The buildings have been altered and enlarged several times since then and a minister's house was added. The chapel and manse took their present form in 1861. These were the heyday of the lead mining industry; in 1851 there were more than 1100 miners in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.
Independancy (later known as Congrgationalism) became established in Swaledale in the mid 17th Century, when persecution of nonconformists was at its height. It was under the protection of Philip, Lord Wharton of Kirkby Stephen, some ten miles away in today's Cumbria. The chapel in neighbouring Low Row, for example, dates from 1689 when he donated land on his estate at Smarber for a chapel building, the ruins of which can still be seen on the hillside above the village.
Keld Chapel proudly stands in this tradition.