The chapel below was a meeting place of a church of Christ, built in 1678, it is now closed but remains classed as Baptist. They were a sister congregation of the Tottlebank and later Wallend churches.
1Pe 4:19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
Close by to Tottlebank at Sunny Bank, Torver, about twelve miles distance. The account given of the formation of this church, is the following:
In 1678, June 15, a church was formed at Torver, and afterwards known as the church at Hawksheadhill, in Furness-fells, Lancashire, by the joint efforts of Messrs. "Ward and Blenkinsop. Mr. Ward, it seems, had to visit this district once in eight weeks. This was owing, in all probability, to his having to superintend the mines in that district as well as in his own neighbourhood of Muggleswick. Mr. Blenkinsop is said to have been minister of Great Broughton, but as his name is mentioned in connection with Mr. Ward's, in 1674, in the revival of the church at Hexham, it is likely, that he supplied frequently at Broughton at this time. Mr. Gamelford's name is not mentioned in the incorporation of the church, nor yet that of Mr. Larkham. The reasons are not stated, and we know of no satisfactory conjecture. The following is the account given of the formation of this church, from an old copy of its original formation in the possession of Mr. Harbottle of Accrington, Lancashire, whose father, Mr. Thomas Harbottle, was long; pastor at Hawksheadhill: " In the year of our Lord 1678, and on the 15th day of the 4th month, it having; pleased God, by his special grace, to call a people, and raise them up for himself, in measure out of the world, and put them into his holy fear and service, in and about Torver, in Lancashire, who have, the day and year above written, in the presence of and before John "Ward and Robert Blenkinsop, messengers and elders, from the church of Christ, in Derwentwater-side, in and about Muggleswick park; first giving up ourselves to the Lord and to one another, according to the will of God, promising by help of divine grace, to walk as becometh saints, in the order of the gospel, testifying the same by subscribing their names, John Dickeson, John Rawlinson, Thomas Braithwaite," etc., up to thirty one, including not only the original members, but all those added till Feb. 10th, 1723.
The term “messengers” In that period means no more in that period than evangelists who were elders, or had been.
The Sunny Bank Chapel is still standing in an isolated position in the hamlet of Sunny Bank, nr. Coniston, a short distance from Torver. It is somewhat forlorn, having ceased being used for worship in 1940. It must be unique in being the most original dissenting meeting house anywhere. It has never been updated, candles still provide illumination. The baptismal pond remains, cut into the hillside close to the chapel, the wooden steps having long disappeared that the candidate and baptizer would have used to enter the water together. Trees surround the building from which a short mud path leads to the road. In 1709 the congregation moved to a new building between Torver and Coniston, where a Baptist congregation still meets. After the restoration of the monarchy in England and Scotland in 1658, the persecutions of Christians from the Anglicans and government began again in earnest. To worship Christians had to meet away from towns, the mountains of Cumbria offered locations where they could meet, worship and remain out of prison and avoid possible execution.
Not only is it possibly the oldest original Baptist building in existence, but it started as a church of Christ meeting house, not Baptist!
The interior is very simple, a nineteenth century platform for preaching, no pews or instrument. The candles and holders are twenty first century, being installed fro the owners daughters wedding.
Below is the field where a baptismal pond was dug and still remains, the wooden steps that led down into the water have gone.
Photography undertaken by Thomas Sisman.
Next, more meeting houses in the Furness Fells of North West England.