Change is afoot at Brook Street Unitarian Chapel
The chapel is one of Knutsford’s gems, dating back to 1689, and is its only Grade 1 listed building. It was built following the Act of Toleration 1689, which allowed Protestant dissenters their own place of worship. The most famous inhabitant of its graveyard- and perhaps the most famous former resident of Knutsford- is Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell.
The chapel members had been aware for some time that the chapel was difficult to access for elderly and disabled people, and in 2005 decided that they needed to find a solution. Their difficulty was that the front of the chapel cannot be changed due to its listed building status, which reduced the options available for alterations.
So they started thinking laterally, and their plans soon snowballed, as these things always do. Soon the simple aim of improving access turned into plans for a full-scale construction project. They decided to achieve their goal by constructing a new first floor to the community hall. This will be accessed by way of a lift, with doors onto a covered bridge leading to wheelchair-friendly paths, both to the chapel and to Elizabeth Gaskell’s grave.
Gaskell enthusiasts from all over the world flock to Knutsford, particularly to visit Mrs Gaskell’s grave, but the chapel members felt there should be more for them to see than the graveyard, and realised how just much scope there was for attracting more attention, tourism and business to the town.
They decided to convert the upper floor of the community hall into an exhibition area dedicated to Elizabeth Gaskell and other eminent local people. The finished product will be called the Brook Street Heritage Site and will be a focal point and place of interest and information for Knutsford residents, schools and tourists.
There is only one drawback to these plans, the cost- a hefty £275,000, all of which has to be raised by the chapel members. The chapel’s committee has so far raised an impressive £180,000 from various sources, the biggest boost to fundraising being a donation of £120,000 by a chapel member and his wife. Donations have also flooded in from local businesses and Barclays Bank, amongst others. But the most fun parts of the fundraising process have been the musical and theatrical events, the most recent one being a concert by a well-known Irish jazz band, Notes Home, whose music is described as ‘violin and piano heaven’.
Another hugely popular event, ‘A Cocktail of Music with a Dash of Gaskell’, included an appearance by Joan Leach MBE, founder and honorary secretary of the Gaskell Society, with music by Opus 5. This event was so successful that Opus 5 are returning on 24th October 2009 for another performance. Mary Glass and her gang have also put on a very successful concert every year, incorporating a comic poet. The next one will be on Friday 3rd July 2009 in the community hall.
For more information and contact details for Brook Street Unitarian Chapel, go to www.brookstreetchapel.org. For more information on Notes Home, go to www.davidandjosh.com. You can listen to their music at www.myspace.com/davidandjosh. To read Beulah article on the concert please click here