Within the last few weeks has come the very sad news that the United Reformed Church (URC) on Rose Hill is to close. Serious defects have been discovered in the roof, which the congregation lack the resources to tackle.
Closure this year
Like most churches, Rose Hill has an ageing congregation which is declining in numbers, and its members feel that a major campaign of fundraising and building work is beyond them. The last services at the church will be held in late May, on or close to the 200th anniversary of the opening of the meeting house in May 1823, which will give the event particular poignancy. The congregation will move to worship at other URC churches in the neighbourhood, of which three remain open (St Andrew’s, Newbold, Holymoorside and Calow).
Rose Hill is a former Congregational church which traces its direct history from the opening in 1778 of a meeting house in Froggatt’s Yard, one of the yards behind Low Pavement towards its western end. Prior to this the Congregationalists in Chesterfield shared the meeting house in Elder Yard with a Presbyterian meeting, before the two went their separate ways and Elder Yard soon afterwards became the home of a Unitarian meeting, as it remains today.
The history of Independency in Chesterfield, however, goes back further than the building of the Elder Yard meeting house in 1694. Its origins can be traced from the early seventeenth century and the cause was well established by the time its members were granted a measure of freedom of worship by the Declaration of Indulgence of 1672.
The strength of the Independent congregation in Chesterfield in the early nineteenth century is well illustrated by the building in question being opened in 1823 as part of the development of Soresby Street. The road itself was laid out about ten years earlier on the site of Soresby House (on New Square) and its gardens. The meeting house, larger and more impressive than either Elder Yard or the Wesleyan Methodist chapel that then stood on the site of the Central Methodist church on Saltergate, reflects the character of the congregation that built it: well proportioned, dignified, plain and solid, prominent without being pretentious.
The building itself was extended in 1860.
Internally, the Rose Hill has excellent acoustics and a fine organ. Its setting was enhanced with the opening of Rose Hill in the 1930s, which meant that for the first time the main south front looked onto a street. In 1956 an extensive suite of school- and meeting-rooms was added on the west and north sides, thanks to the munificence of Blanche Eastwood, whose family had long been associated with the church.
The building has been well looked after during the two centuries in which it has been the main focus of Congregationalism in Chesterfield.
Only a few years ago the interior was reordered to make it more flexible for both church and secular events.
It is critically important for several reasons that an appropriate new use is found for the building, and not merely because it is listed Grade II. Rose Hill is the second oldest surviving nonconformist place of worship in Chesterfield. It is an impressive monument to an important strand in the religious history of a town in which Congregationalism was arguably more influential than Wesleyan Methodist during the nineteenth-century heyday of the Free Churches, a reversal of the situation found in other towns. It is an attractive building in a prominent position and makes a major contribution to the street picture.
Our views on issues and opportunities
If the problem of the roof can be overcome, possibly with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, it should not be difficult to find a new use for the chapel which will not involve any alteration to its external appearance or damage to the interior.
It is possible that the theatre company which currently leases the Eastwood Rooms from the URC could absorb the meeting house into its estate and acquire the freehold of the entire block. This would be the simplest solution and the church should be a good fit with the company’s existing activities.
Alternatively, the building could become a valuable community resource as a meeting-room close to the town centre, easily accessible by public transport and with ample parking nearby. Because of the quality of the acoustics and the organ (which must not be removed) it would be ideal as a venue for small chamber concerts or choral events.
The congregation at Rose Hill have faced the very sad loss of their church with commendable fortitude and realism. It is now for others to respond equally positively and devise a new use for the building that will assure its future for another two c
A Blue Plaque
A particularly touching aspect of the closure of the church was the decision by the congregation to ask the Civic Society to install a blue plaque on the building to commemorate its history. The congregation has generously agreed to meet the cost.
We have secured agreement to the text from the Church Elders and have commissioned a plaque from our suppliers, Leander of Dove Holes.
We hope that it will be possible to install the plaque before the church closes or, if not, very soon afterwards. Because the building is a place of worship, we do not have to apply for listed building consent, which will save some time.
This is the text we have agreed for the plaque:
INDEPENDENT CHAPEL Congregation founded c.1772. Foundation stone laid September 1822. Opened May 1823. Extended 1860. Eastwood Rooms opened 1956 to commemorate the long association of the Eastwood family with the church.