George Street Chapel was built by its congregation between 1815 and 1816. Though it was re-modelled and re-pewed by them in the 1830’s and 1850’s, and they purchased a pipe organ in 1890, its appearance has remained substantially as it was built in 1815. It closed for worship in 1990 with only six regular members.
The original chapel members had broken away from St Peters Church in 1805 and the group initially were known as ‘George Hardman’s folk’ before taking the name of ‘Independent Methodists’. Their chapel in George Street was the first purpose built Independent Methodist Chapel in the country.
Because of the slope between George Street and Jackson Pit a school room and rented dwellings were constructed below the chapel. They appeared as being cellars from George Street but had street level access from Jackson Pit. In 1830 a Sunday School was built on the opposite side of George Street and the school room space was subdivided into more ‘cellar dwellings’. 1897 the dwellings were condemned as being unfit for habitation and were then used for storage.
The chapel was listed Grade ll* in 1983 but was placed on the Buildings at Risk register following unsympathetic interventions by a developer.
In 2003 Age UK Oldham bought the chapel and embarked on their journey to rescue and restore the building.
Through hard planning and successful grant applications, financial support was secured. The project has received significant grant aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a grant from the first round of awards from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Challenge Fund, supported by English Heritage and the Architectural Heritage Fund and money from Viridor Credits.
Restoration began in February 2013 and was completed in October 2014.
A twelve month conservation and repairs programme throughout 2013 saw the chapel refurbished for the enjoyment and education of the community. At the same time, detailed archaeological and historical research was undertaken to try to understand some of the story of the chapel, not least the names and lives of people associated with it.
Investigations during the renovation works revealed that the chapel was built with an early cavity wall construction, with an outer wall of facing bricks - a clear example of the inventiveness of the original design. The works involved stripping off the damaged plaster, inserting damp-proofing, re-slate the roof and replacing a stone gutter along the whole length of the George Street elevation.
Now, after a great deal of hard work by 21st Century artisans, George Street Chapel is ready for a new future. Many of the original features have been uncovered and revived, whilst modern facilities have been installed to cater for a variety of uses.
One of the main features of the chapel is the beautifully restored organ whose pipes have been returned to their true original colours. The organ was purchased as second hand around 1890 and believed to have been originally made by George Benson. During the restoration a business card from J P Croft, an employee of Manchester based organ builders George Benson, was discovered, confirming the origin of the installation.
Lloyd Evans Prichard
A&A Fielding Ltd