In the 18th Century, Swaledale was a tough place and the workers didn’t care too much for appearances. Then came Wesleyanism

MEMORIES readers have incredible eagle eyes. Tucked away in an unobtrusive corner last week was an anonymous photograph. It was taken in November 1959 when the photographer had only written “Swaledale”. It showed a distant building set in a bleak moorland.

The Northern Echo:
As published last week, all it says on the back of it is ‘Swaledale’, November 1959”

“Will we, more than 50 years later, ever know where it was taken?” we asked.

And, of course, Memories readers did.

Christine Clarkson, in Muker, and GH Grieveson, in Richmond, both pointed the way. Annas Metcalfe – a wonderfully traditional Swaledale name – noted that over the gatepost in the very far distance you could see her house at Usha Gap Farm.

And then Dorothy Brown, of Snape, near Bedale, got in touch, saying that she once owned the mystery property.

The Northern Echo:
The Darlington and Stockton Times’ photo of the large press of people waiting for the opening of the new Muker chapel in 1934

The property was Muker’s first Methodist chapel, built a few yards outside the western edge of the village in 1845.

Methodism came to the leadmining dale in 1750, brought by its itinerant founder, John Wesley. Its moralising, cleansing influence was very necessary.

A Richmondshire historian described what the situation was like before the faith took hold: “In Swaledale, where mining prevails, habits of subterraneous toil and danger, together with seclusion from light and society, while they harden the constitution in general, steel the nerves and necessarily produce a degree of ferocity very formidable when excited. In the mining villages of Richmondshire are to be found those appearances of squalid neglect, about the persons of the inhabitants and those external accumulation of domestic filth about their dwellings, which sicken every stranger.”

The Northern Echo:
Muker’s first chapel, at the western edge of the village, before it was converted in 1934

But Wesleyanism was “eagerly embraced by hundreds of the rougher, uncouth miners of the dale”, and from 1769, little chapels began springing up in almost every hamlet.

Muker was one of the last places to have its own chapel, which was built for £96 in 1845. The money was raised from 344 subscribers across the dale, and although its congregation at first was only 34, by 1870 it needed to be enlarged.

By the start of the 20th Century, it needed to be enlarged once more, so the Methodists bought two cottages in the middle of Muker which they planned to demolish and replace with a chapel. The First World War thwarted their schemes, and it wasn’t until October 25, 1934, that they were able to perform an opening ceremony.

The Northern Echo:
Muker’s first Methodist chapel after it had been converted into two dwellings

“In a striking exhibition of the radiant faith of the Swaledale people, and although the dale was swept by Scotch mist bringing a drab aspect to the scene, close on 300 people waited outside the church for the ceremony,” reported the Darlington and Stockton Times.

This advance rendered the old chapel redundant. Eventually, it was converted into two cottages, and in 1950, Nancy Peacock, after a lifetime on a farm at the foot of Buttertubs pass, moved into one.

In 1964, her young grand-daughter, Dorothy Brown, raised £2,000 and bought the other as a holiday let. These were in the pre-package holiday days beneath the Spanish sun, and most of Dorothy’s customers were families who motored out from Darlington and Stockton. It was such a good business proposition that she was able to sell it four years later for a £744 profit.

The Northern Echo:
Nancy Peacock, right, in the mid-1930s, with her children Mary and Robert. The picture is taken at Nancy’s farm at Scar Houses, which was midway between Muker and Thwaite – it is the roadside farm with the great waterfall

Today, our little ex-chapel has been extended further, and modern houses have crept towards it, but it still stands and it is a mystery no more.