Within the diocese of Sheffield, there lies a small stone chapel very close to the River Don where a once thriving congregation met. Hilltop Chapel is located in Attercliffe, a region which existed since the time of William the Conqueror and was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1087 as “Ateclive”[i]. Members of that community, desiring to have a church in that community, “had a conference about building a chappell” in 1629[ii]. The chapel was erected in that year with its foundation being laid on July 15th and the walls being completed just before Christmas[iii]. At Michaelmas of 1630, “Mr. Bright and John Wilson went to the Lord Archbishop of York, and having obtained his license, the 10th of October 1630, being the Sabbath-day, divine service was read and two godly sermons preached by Rev. Mr. Thomas Toller vicar of Sheffield, upon the seventh of Jeremiah and eighth and ninth verses, and a liberal collection for the poor: John Wilson being churchwarden”[iv].
Many more beautifications and additions were contributed by various endowed members of that area, especially Mr. Stephen Bright of Carbrook. The chapel was consecrated on 27th of October 1636. It must be noted that Mr. Bright was in the employment of the Earl of Arundel as his manager of Sheffield and his family was well known in that time for being staunch Puritans and supporters of Parliament. By the year 1650, “it was computed that about 1000 people were living in Attercliffe”[v]. That is why in 1649, Attercliffe Chapel, also known as Hilltop Chapel, was made the parish church of Attercliffe, Grimesthorpe, and Brightside Barley[vi]. Mr. Bright was the principal promoter of this ecclesiastical change[vii].
Many of the people within this area were closely involved in the English Civil War and with the Westminster Assembly. Rev. Stanley Gower was a minister of the chapel from 1630 to 1635 though he had been in the area since 1628[viii]. Stanley Gower went on to be a part of the Westminster Assembly and was heavily involved in the compilation of material for the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The Bright family were influential members of Hilltop Chapel and even supplied one of its minsters with a Rev. John Bright[ix]. His nephew, also John Bright, was a colonel in the Parliamentarian Army[x].
In 1662, the Act of Uniformity removed four Godly men from pulpits in Sheffield and the surrounding areas. Matthew Bloome was curate of Attercliffe and upon his ejection, he formed a society of dissenters “in that populous hamlet”[xi]. Another man, Richard Frankland, “opened an academy chiefly for the training of men for the ministry…For three or four years he set up his academy ‘somewhere in Attercliffe’”[xii]. Reverend Timothy Jollie carried on his work of the academy, called Christ’s College, and pastored at a Dissenting church called Upper Chapel[xiii]. After his death in 1714, the academy fell into disuse[xiv].
During the 18th century, Hilltop Chapel went through an addition of galleries and pews being constructed on the east, north, and west sides of the chapel so that 578 could worship at once[xv]. By 1822, the number of parishioners had grown so much that a new church would have to be built. Christ Church of Attercliffe was built for that purpose but was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1940[xvi]. In 1837, the chapel underwent structural changes that reduced it to its present form[xvii]. Hilltop Chapel was “restored” in 1909 and re-roofed under the vicarage of Rev. J.R. Lee Nicholls[xviii]. Services were held in the chapel until 1916[xix]. Since that time, the chapel has been restored for the World Student Games of 1991 and has been used as a community centre from 2002 to 2010. Now it is used as place of prayer, day retreats, and other such uses.
[i] Robinson, Arthur B.A. The Church in Attercliffe.1926. 10-11.
[ii] Hunter, Joseph. Hallamshire. The History and Topography of the Parish of Sheffield in the County of York. 1819. 406.
[v] Robinson 12-13.
[vi] Hunter 408.
[viii] Hunter 134, 410.
[ix] Hunter 270.
[xi] Hunter 286.
[xii] Robinson 32.
[xiv] Robinson 34.
[xv] Hunter 408.
[xvi] Church of England website on Hilltop Chapel.
[xvii] Robinson 26.