What is now the Bridge Church traces its roots back to the year 1821 when a group of people first met for worship in the Assembly Rooms in Bondgate, Otley – the upstairs of what later became the Bowling Green Inn. These first members called themselves the Society of Independents, part of the Independent or Congregational tradition of Christianity which arose during the reign of Elizabeth I. These early members were a mix of local Otley people and Scottish drapers who had settled in the town. In 1825 they moved their meetings to a room behind the Black Bull, sometimes known as the Pump Chapel.
Their numbers were obviously growing, for also in 1825 they purchased a piece of land in Bridge Street on which to erect their own chapel. Salem Chapel opened the following year, a simple building with a gallery. In 1829 the members called their first minister, Rev James Swift Hastie, who was to remain for 48 years and after his death was buried in the burial ground attached to the chapel. A Sunday School was erected at the rear of the chapel in 1837 and the chapel itself was extended in 1856, which included the addition of an organ.
The Salem Chapel
By this time Otley itself was growing from being a market town dependent on agriculture to one that had other industries, especially the manufacture of printing machines, for which Otley became famous. The numbers attending Salem Chapel also grew. Therefore in 1882, the first phase of redevelopment was begun with the addition of a large new Sunday School on additional land to the rear of the site. This was followed in 1897-99 with the demolition of the old chapel and Sunday School and the erection of the new Congregational Church – these are the buildings you see today. The neo-gothic buildings designed by Healey Brothers of Bradford were very different from the old chapel.
During the 20th Century the church continued its witness in the town. It has had different ministries and faced different issues. In 1972 the majority of Congregational Churches in England & Wales united with the Presbyterian Church in England to form the United Reformed Church. The Otley church joined this union and styled itself ‘The Bridge Church’. In 1993 the hall was severely damaged by fire. This was rebuilt within the old shell and offers new facilities within an old setting. The buildings are Grade II listed and well maintained by the present congregation.
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