Up to the 19th century a parish was a parish, for both church and local government purposes. In the north some parishes were very large, covering many separate settlements. (The largest was Rochdale, whose huge area extended even into Yorkshire). For local government purposes these large parishes were divided into townships; Bradford, for example, contained thirteen and Halifax over twenty. Similarly, for ecclesiastical purposes, because the parish church could be so far away, chapelries were created, and chapels of ease were built in outlying districts (eg at Elland, Heptonstall, Ripponden and Sowerby in Halifax parish).
By the 19th century, however, things were changing, and the Church of England was facing a number of challenges: rapid population growth; the social upheaval caused by the industrial revolution; and the growth of non-conformism. Its response was to build thousands of new churches, all over England and Wales.
For each one the Ecclesiastical Commissioners would present a draft order to the monarch for the creation of a new chapelry. These orders were all published in the London Gazette – then as now the repository for all official public notices. The full text of this is available online at https://www.thegazette.co.uk/, and it has a sophisticated advanced search facility.
The orders follow a standard pattern. For example, the 1860 order for Upper Hopton St John, in the West Riding, gives firstly the reason for a new chapelry: “at certain extremities of the [parishes] of Mirfield and … Kirkheaton … which lie contiguous one to another … there is collected together a population which is situate at a distance from the several churches of [the] respective parishes”.
Then follows a detailed description (the schedule) of the line its boundary will follow. Boundary stones are often mentioned: from its stated starting point the Upper Hopton boundary extends “northeastward, for a distance of 3,294 feet, to a point where a boundary stone inscribed ‘U. H. St. J. C. C. 1860, No. 1’ has been placed.” It goes on to describe the locations of eight more boundary stones.
In the single issue of the London Gazette that includes the Upper Hopton chapelry (no 22440, published on 30th October, 1860) there are no fewer than 25 orders for new chapelries, of which nine have references to boundary stones. Unlike Upper Hopton, however, most have only two or three.
Where none are mentioned the usual explanation would appear to be that the boundary line is fairly clear, following named roads, or that the boundary is the same as an existing township (or occasionally hamlet) boundary. Interestingly they do not always follow an obvious existing boundary.
Most boundary stones were carved to a standard format, always using abbreviations. Thus in the photograph here we have the place name (Batley), the church name (St T – the lowercase t of St has got chipped off here), the chapelry type (here DC for District Chapelry), the date (year), and finally the number as given in the schedule (including No 1 if there is only one). Chapelries were of two kinds: a district chapelry if the new district was carved out of a single existing parish; or a consolidated chapelry (CC) if it was created out of more than one.
So far in Yorkshire we have found chapelry boundary stones for a number of churches, but many more remain to be tracked down. Those found so far include: Batley St Thomas, Dewsbury St Philip, Helme, Lepton, Mirfield Eastthorpe, Ryhill, Stanningley, Thorpe (at Triangle, west of Sowerby Bridge – though the church is now no more), and Upper Hopton.
The orders in the London Gazette also refer to plans, though these are not published in the journal. Presumably they exist in the National Archives, and copies may be available in local archives, though their survival locally would appear to depend on the whims of local vicars. You may find maps showing ecclesiastical parish boundaries, however, on a useful Church of England website, www.achurchnearyou.com. This lists every church in England with a map (click on ‘Find us’), which often, but not always, shows the actual parish boundary.
The distinction between parishes and chapelries was later abolished and all such chapels became parish churches in their own right.
Source: adapted from a talk to the Milestone Society by Richard Heywood at Hebden, April 2010. RWH / March 2012