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The story so far...

During the summer of 2006 we were pleased to welcome Mary Castles to Rotherham.

Mary Castles

Mary Castles photographed at the Chapel on her visit to Rotherham

Her father Norman was a minister at the Chapel 1926 - 1935. She was pleased to hear about our group from the copy of the Rotherham Advertiser that a friend sends on to her in Wiltshire, however she was not so pleased at the state of the burial ground and chapel.

Rev Castles
Rev. Norman Castles shortly after his ordination at the Chapel

At his ordination before a large congregation the Rotherham Advertiser described her father as “a man of great scholastic ability”. The congregation had been without a pastor for 17 months. The church secretary Mr Noel Clark described how Mr Castles had first preached on October 11th 1925, then on December 13th and finally on February 1st 1926 after which a special meeting was held and he was offered the post.

A brief history of the chapel reiterated the dual role that pastors often held, between being principals of Rotherham Independent College and ministry of the Chapel. Dr. Edward Williams was the first occupy this dual role followed by Dr. James Bennett, Rev.C Perrott and Dr.W H Stowells. However it was during the Rev. Thomas Nicholson’s ministry 1879 – 1900 that the congregation grew from 222 to 530. The Advertiser claimed that this was because his endurance to evangelistic preaching that connected the Chapel to the community.

Mr Castles stated that he wanted to be a friend to the young people in the parish and to support the ordinary men and women who “perhaps, indifferent to the church, or on the verge of its activities, wearied and tired by the struggle of life”.

An article in the Ivanhoe Review Summer 2000 by Freda Casson recounts how Rev. Castles put this into action. At a meeting on November 2nd 1932 during the Depression, the deacons of the church discussed how they could help the unemployed during the coming winter months. As well as providing rest rooms and reading rooms for use by unemployed men on Monday, Wednesday and Friday 2pm – 4.30pm. Further provision was made for older men to have access to work rooms to repair their family’s boots and shoes. Billiard tables were also made available. The scheme proved to be so successful that in March 1933 the opening days were extended to include Tuesdays and Thursdays making it available five days a week.

The gift of an adjoining piece of land to the Chapel made it possible for a bowling green to be constructed by the unemployed builders. A small pavilion was constructed and the visit by the Price of Wales (Edward VIII) sealed the success of the project. He spent 40 minutes visiting the Masbrough Unemployed Centre and the Boy’s Club. Rev. Castles also oversaw the establishment of a Young People’s Class and took a party of 12 mostly young people on the first Church Overseas Holiday to Belgium.

Belgium trip 1 Belgium trip 2


We have been researching into the Walker connections to different parts of the country. This is a short extract on the Walker connections in Gospel Oak in the Midlands.
This is also a short initial history of the Walker family that lived in North Yorkshire. It is written by one of our contacts who lives in the village of Boltby.

I am amazed at the contribution of the Walkers in early iron and steel manufacture, canons, bridges and also in the lead industry. However, I must limit interest in the
large dynasty to the two Walkers who retired here to become country
gentlemen. The twins were the GREAT grandsons. The line of descent was Samuel 1 1748/92, his son Samuel 2.1748/92, his only son Samuel 3 1779/1851, who married Elsie Palmes on 29.04.1801 and died locally at Ravensworthe Manor in 1867 aged 89.

            They had a large family of 8 sons and 5 daughters. The twins were John and
Edmund born 12.01.1812. They retired in 1859 and bought 3 estates from the
Manners family, the illegitimate son of the 3rd Duke of Rutland. John
married 24.1.77 aged 65, no family; Edmund married Charlotte Francis who was
the daughter of Rev. C Johnstone,  Rector of Felixkirk(local village), a
great character who became a Canon at York.They had two sons Fredrick Edmund
b.27.3.1871 and Arthur John b.23.12.1869, who were only 2 and 4 years old
when their father died. An uncle Rev. Fred Johnstone acted as trustee whilst
the boys were minors. This information is from a project carried out at
Boltby, the third of the villages in the Walker estate.     I know the
grandchildren of Arthur John and I have seen in a family file, a letter from
the boy’s aunt filling in the family story for them. How Samuel 3 had been
declared bankrupt in 183 , so that John and Edmund were  thrown into the
family iron business, which by then had moved to Gospel Oak Works Tipton in
Staffordshire. Aged 20 and with no real experience, they managed to turn the
firm round  and revive the family fortunes in 27 years of hard work with the
help of a family friend.

He also told us about –

            In the book "History of Tipton" – it states that “Walker Hall, or Gospel Oak Hall, alias Ocker Hill Hall ......... was occupied by the three bachelor brothers, John ,Edmund and George Walker in 1825, who also owned the adjacent works.” (However, family letters suggest they first went to Gospel Oak in 1832. A. H. John gives 1817 as the year Gospel Oak was acquired, by 1820
they wished to divest and in 1821 Samuel Walker bought it on his own
account. George was never involved in the business.) The book goes on to
describe the distinguished gun customers who were entertained there. From
"The Venice of the Midlands" (date not given!), The gun factory of Gospel
Oak (now completely disappeared) where guns were made for the Crimean War.
 The Walker brothers, who lived at the Hall and founders not only of the gun factory at Gospel Oak but also of the famous  Patent Shaft and Axletree Co. at Wednesbury , were generous benefactors to their workers. One of the brothers was an early
Chuchwarden of the new St Mark's church. (Patent Shaft was in business in
the 1980's and may well still be.) 


An 18th Century gem


Next time you go around the B & Q roundabout in Rotherham cast your eye over to the Carpet Warehouse at the end of Centenary Way. Buried behind the lurid signage is an 18th Century gem.

Seen from the side it looks like a Victorian building (which this extension actually is) but walk around the grass verge to the front and the 1760s Chapel can be seen. The windows are still the originals, albeit performing the job as a pigeon loft; the extension to the front which encased the pillars is still visible and if you go into the carpet shop – the proprietor is friendly – the memorials on the wall are displayed behind the rolls of carpet.

Imagine this building in its under-stated splendour when the Walker family split from other Methodists in the town and built their own Chapel and later the Mausoleum. As Dissenters they were barred from public office for many years but they held true to their beliefs and the Chapel was still part of the Masbrough community until the 1950s.

In the 1930s during the Depression the Chapel officers were involved in setting up a community facility for the unemployed where they learnt to repair shoes of relax by a game of bowls in the nearby bowling green developed for their use.

The now ramshackle burial ground holds the graves of  many of the towns most influential industrialists such as the Oxleys, Beatsons, Clarks, Habershons and of course Samuel Walker, the ironfounder.

Perhaps you will now get an idea why the Friends of the Masbrough Chapel and Walker Mausoleum feel this is such an important part of Rotherham’s history and should be saved.


The Friends group was formed in spring 2002 in response to increasing vandalism of the graveyard and Masoleum.

We are currently negotiating with the owner of the site to enable work to be carried out in the grave yard, dealing with the litter and petty vandalism.

Note: the situation between the Friends group and the Council and the owner is complicated by the rules of private ownership and the rights protecting "Public open spaces".
We have also held talks with the borough council and the local Area Assembly to see how they can help us gain advice on funding

We hold committee meetings approximately every 2 months, and so far we've put on 3 history talks/slide shows, with raffles and 2 general knowledge and history quizzes.


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