Later History

The subsequent history of the chapel represents a decline from the later nineteenth century. Baptisms were performed at the chapel until 1912 and the last marriage was in 1916.  In 1917, demographic changes to the district and the effect of the departure of many men to the Western Front led to the chapel becoming financially unviable and the Unitarian Home Mission College Conference Sub-committee commissioned a report on the matter. Despite an up-beat submission from the minister, G Randall Jones, the Warden reported unfavourably, a position not helped by a failure of matters to improve with the termination of hostilities and the chapel had effectively closed by 1921.

The Welsh Baptist Era

The chapel was advertised for sale in 1926 but it was 1928 before it found a buyer.  The new owners were a congregation of Welsh Baptists. The Welsh Baptist national union was organized in 1866, although the first Welsh Baptist chapel in Manchester was founded at Granby Row, SE of the city centre in 1835. This subsequently closed in 1891, but it would appear that the acquisition of the Upper Brook Street chapel represented something of a revival.

The Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Welsh Baptist congregation soldiered on until the 1960s but thereafter the chapel was again only in sporadic use until a further sale to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, becoming their Kingdom Hall for Manchester. This continued until the City Council decided in 1974 to compulsorily purchase the building with a view to clearing the NE side of Upper Brook Street in order to make room for planned urban motorway. This led to the Jehovah’s Witnesses re-locating to New Bolton road and the chapel falling vacant yet again. It also led to the building being added to the Statutory List grade II*.

Manchester City Council as Owners

To their credit, Manchester City Council, realizing that the road plan was not likely to be built in the short term, decided to offer a lease of the chapel and Sunday school instead of taking the easy option and clearing the site immediately. Consequently, it was occupied as a Mosque and the Sunday school by the Islamic Academy of Manchester.

A recent view of the Welsh Baptist Chapel

A recent view of the Welsh Baptist Chapel

Decline and dereliction

By 2005, however, the road plan was long abandoned, but after three decades of structural neglect and lack of maintenance, the chapel’s roof was declared unsafe and the building was vacated.  A Manchester City Council spokesman, however, went on record as saying, ‘The Welsh Baptist Chapel is in poor condition due to the low standard of its original construction.’  In fact there is no reason to believe that the construction of the chapel was other than exceedingly robust; the likelihood is that its post-Welsh Baptist occupants (or the City Council as landlords) had merely neglected to keep it in good repair with inevitable consequences.

A bid was made to the Heritage Lottery Fund by the Islamic Academy in 2003 but this was unsuccessful.  The following year it was claimed that the building needed £500,000 spending on it for immediate remedial work and a further £700,000 to put it back into a usable condition.  Two years later, the City Council commissioned a structural assessment from English Heritage.  The result was that most of the roof was removed with EH sanction early in 2006, leaving only that over the westernmost bay.  This drastic measure included the removal of the parapet along the five easternmost bays down to the string course above the windows and including the gablets from the tops of the buttresses.

The chapel was added to a list of the ten most threatened buildings in England and Wales by the Victorian Society in October 2010.