Salem Chapel just south of the City of Leeds, was opened by the Independents (Congregationalists) in 1791 and is the city centre’s oldest surviving chapel. Its distinctive ministries of the Revds Parsons, Hudswell, Smith and Wrigley, and Guntrip sustained a vibrant chapel life in an areas that, at the time, contained a large population. At its height, the fellowship boasted 1,600 plus people cramming into the Chapel on a Sunday afternoon to listen to prominent speakers including well-known MPs. Because of its vast premises, as well as providing worship on a Sunday, it was able to house many midweek activities, including a well equipped sports gym, to provide for the wellbeing of the local population. The members also began and promoted different sports clubs to cater for the different interests of those drawn to the chapel’s life. This included the setting up of a football team, which has been acknowledged in civic occasions this month as the City has been celebrating the centenary of Leeds United Football Club. Indeed, Leeds United FC was founded by the Chapel in 1919 and a Blue Plaque has been erected on the side of the building to commemorate the event.
Throughout its existence, Salem continued to respond to the needs of the community, even after most of the housing had been demolished to make way for offices and commercial facilities (Asda Head Office is on the doorstep). The late Rev Graham Cook was the minister at Salem when the internal part of the building was completely transformed to provide training facilities for young people aged 16 – 18, which complemented other community outreach schemes within the United Reformed Churches of South Leeds (transport; hostel; Day Centres; Meals on Wheels etc). The closure of Salem only came in 2001, but the work of the United Reformed Church in South Leeds continues. Football was but a small part of the outreach work, but seems to be the one that has provided the lasting legacy. It is good that the pioneering work of one of our Chapels has been recognised during their centenary celebrations.
Rev Chris Wood
(retired URC minister – who served the South Leeds Team Ministry 1989 – 1999)