Why they called the Spen Valley ‘the cradle of dissent’

Why they called the Spen Valley ‘the cradle of dissent’

REVOLUTION could be running through the veins of Spen Valley folk, according to a resident who researched part of his family tree.

Many people are aware of the Luddite uprising in the 19th century – but less well-known is the area’s connections to the non-conformist movement.

New light was shed on the period around the English Civil War by Gomersal resident Mike Popplewell.

He discovered that the daughter of a distant ancestor was baptised by a radical preacher.

And the extent of non-conformism here led Mike, of Roberson Terrace, to think rebelllion could be ingrained.

He said: “Maybe it comes from the Viking blood – given that Heckmondwike is, I believe, a Viking name.”

In October 1677, preacher Oliver Heywood travelled to the town to conduct a baptism at the family home of John Popplewell, who is believed to be the brother of Mike’s seven-times great-grandfather Nicholas.

And the baptism of John’s daughter Sarah led Mike into the history of local non-conformism.

It centres on how King Charles II reneged on promises to protect the rights of Puritans.

Conducting services contrary to the Church of England Book of Common Prayer was made illegal.

Non-conformists gathered in secret, with no hymn-singing or loud preaching for fear of spies working for the authorities.

Among the meeting places were the Red Chapel in Cleckheaton, Egypt Farm at Cliffe Lane, Gomersal, and a farm at ‘The Swash’ in Heckmondwike.

The popularity of non-conformism saw Spen Valley later dubbed “the cradle of dissent”.

Most residents were said to be supporters of Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil War 20 years earlier.

Mike laments the condition of the cemetery behind Heckmondwike’s former Upper Chapel, where some folk from this time are buried.

He said of the site: “A lot of quite prominent Heckmondwike people are buried in there.

“Look at what Bradford have done with Undercliffe Cemetery where all the woollen merchants are buried – they’ve turned it into a tourist spot.”

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