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In Parr's footsteps

July 24, 2017

When Martin Parr was photographing the communities centred on Calderdale's nonconformist chapels he felt that he was documenting a disappearing way of life. Among the most striking images of Only in England are those he took of the Crimsworth Dean methodist community.

 Martin Parr, Crimsworth Dean. Some of the congregation making their way to the Crimsworth Dean Chapel Anniversary. 1975. © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

 

Last week I had cause to travel south and, not knowing Calderdale, decided to attempt to find Crimsworth Dean and maybe other chapels featured in The Non-Conformists and see if, forty years later, they had survived as places of worship.

 

On a warm but overcast day my satnav guided me faultlessly to Crimsworth Dean Chapel.

 

Crimsworth Dean itself is a beautiful and peaceful river valley, part-owned by the National Trust. At one time the road up the valley was the main route through to Haworth but it ceased to be so once a higher, turnpike road was built. Today it leads nowhere and is blissfully traffic-free.

 

The chapel itself received a permit to be converted into a dwelling in January 1997 and is still a private home today.

Crimsworth Dean Chapel, 2017 © Mark Hickson

 

Crimsworth Dean Chapel, 2017 © Mark Hickson

 

Crimsworth Dean Chapel, 2017 © Mark Hickson

 

Crimsworth Dean Chapel, 2017 © Mark Hickson

 

One of my favourite Martin Parr images from Only in England is this beautifully observed shot from Steep Lane Chapel...

Steep Lane Baptist Chapel buffet lunch. 1976. ©Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

 

I was pleased to find this chapel and to see that, unlike Crimsworth Dean, it is still a place of worship.

Steep Lane Baptist Chapel, 2017 © Mark Hickson

 

So far, that's one of Parr's chapels surviving and one now in private hands. I headed to Mytholmroyd (birthplace of Ted Hughes), there to find things in a state of transition. Mytholmroyd Methodist Church closed in December 2014 and the burial ground was closed to new burials soon after.

Mytholmroyd Methodist Church, 2017 © Mark Hickson

 

Mytholmroyd Methodist Church Burial Ground, 2017 © Mark Hickson

 

The church itself, and the adjoining Sunday School have been sold recently.

Mytholmroyd Methodist Church, 2017 © Mark Hickson

 

So, my own very brief look at the state today of nonconformist chapels in just a small area would indicate that Parr was right to fear for their survival - particularly the methodist ones. This is borne out by figures which show a steady decline in methodism. The continuing secularisation of society along with changes in agriculture, industry and employment do seem to have led to the loss of the way of life captured by Parr and this makes the images in Only In England all the more poignant.

 

 

 

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