Religion has always played a role in industrial workers’ lives, but its importance increased in the Gorge in the early 19th century as Methodism grew in popularity. Methodism is a non-conformist form of Protestant Christianity that was especially popular with the working class as its early supporters specifically reached out to workers, offering simpler methods of worship and encouraging a simple, thrifty, and sober life.

We wanna (sic) allowed to drink or smoke nor nothing like that you know, oh lord no, no, it was all the chapel, we lived for the chapel.
Arthur Bland (1902-2001) (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1988).


Whilst Methodism was one of the most popular religions amongst the Gorge’s industrial workforce, it wasn’t the only option. There weren’t any non-Christian places of worship in the Gorge but there were several Anglican churches, a significant Roman Catholic community, and the Quakers had a presence through the influence of the Darby family and their associates who managed the Coalbrookdale Company.

Many industrial workers found comfort and reassurance in religion as their daily working lives were so filled with danger and death. Church and chapel also provided social activities.  Initially many of these were religious in nature, but from the mid-19th century secular activities increased as churches and chapels held lectures and classes, had choirs and sports teams, went on outings, and hosted social events. Unlike the pub and sporting activities, many more women were involved in church and chapel events because they were considered more socially acceptable.

Workers not only attended religious services but also founded and built chapels across the Gorge. For example, three miners, William Pearce (1796-1845), Robert Whitehead (1801-unknown) and Noah Briscoe (1818-1890), are named on a lease which allowed a Methodist chapel to be built at Lawley Bank in 1838-9.


Albert Davies - Coalbrookdale Church

Featuring: Albert Davies, Ken Jones

Listen to Ironbridge resident, Albert Davies (b.1902), talk about being a member of the Dale Church (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1988).


This chapel had its origins in religious meetings held in the cottages of William Franks (1824-1896) and William Hayley (1806-1875) who were both miners and lay preachers. People would gather in their cottages to sing hymns, listen to sermons, and pray. As Methodism developed, cottage meetings gave workers a place to share their beliefs away from the established churches and chapels. As congregations grew, their own chapels were built and Lightmoor Chapel, built in 1861 and in use until 1903, was one of these. Its small size led to it being known locally as the ‘pop bottle’.

Lightmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel, 1990.

A group of children attending Sunday School with their teacher, c.1910.



By the 1830s most churches and chapels in the Gorge held Sunday Schools. They were well supported because they were the only way that most workers’ children could gain an education before elementary education became compulsory in 1880. Sunday Schools remained popular into the 20th century with almost every child in the Gorge attending.




Banners like this would be carried in Sunday School parades and demonstrations. The Dawley Demonstration was an annual event, and a highlight for many young people in the area.

Madeley Wesleyan Sunday School Banner, date unknown.

Dawley Sunday School Demonstration, c.1905-1915.

...we all assembled at the Chapel … two big fellas carried the banner and we walked, like in twos right down through Dawley with the band… Oh we used to go back home and have a tea… then sports on the field.
Arthur Bland (1902-2001) (From Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1988).

Elizabeth Davies - Dawley Demonstration

Featuring: Elizabeth Davies, Ken Jones

List to Dawley resident, Elizabeth Davies (b.1904) talk about the annual Dawley Sunday School Demonstration (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1988).


Throughout the 18th century the Church of England’s influence on industrial workers weakened. It failed to adapt to serve the rapidly growing industrial communities, and workers felt increasingly neglected. By 1851, out of a population of 18 million only 5.2 million people attended Church of England services and almost the same number, 4.9 million, attended other Protestant services. This led the Church of England to mount a huge campaign to raise attendance.

St Mary the Virgin in Jackfield was one of the 2,438 churches that were built or rebuilt between 1851 and 1875. It was constructed using local bricks and furnished with tiles manufactured in the neighbouring factories by people who would have been members of the congregation.

St Mary the Virgin Church, Jackfield, T. Underwood, lithograph, c.1863.

View of Holy Trinity Church at Coalbrookdale, George Childs (1798 – 1875), watercolour, 1853.


In 1851 the foundation stone for a new church was laid in Coalbrookdale. This was celebrated with a parade of Coalbrookdale Company workmen, Sunday School attendees and the Coalbrookdale Brass Band, who processed to the church site where a service was held. The church was completed and consecrated in 1854.

The new church had been supported and financed by Abraham Darby IV, who was the first in his family to convert from Quakerism to the Church of England in 1848.



Many of the managers of the Coalbrookdale Company, including members of the Darby family, were part of the Religious Society of Friends, a non-conformist denomination of Christianity commonly known as Quakers. Their religion encouraged philanthropy and they took measures to improve the living conditions of their workers, such as building schools and houses.

Quaker Meeting House at Coalbrookdale, c.1890-1895.


Noah Ball - Attending Chapel

Featuring: Noah Ball, Ken Jones

Listen to Dawley resident, Noah Ball (b. 1901), talk about Methodism and attending Chapel (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1988).


Winifred Egan - Methodist Cottage Meetings

Featuring: Winifred Egan, Ken Jones

Listen to Wellington resident, Winifred Egan (b. 1902), talk about the Methodist cottage meetings held in Burroughs Bank (Ken Jones Oral History Archive, 1988).

Squatter’s cottage at Burroughs Bank near Little Dawley, 1978.



This cottage was lived in by the Corbetts, a Catholic mining family, from the 1850s until the 1920s, and can be visited at Blists Hill Victorian Town today. Catholics were heavily persecuted from the 16th century but continued to have a small presence in the Gorge, particularly amongst industrial workers. In 1853 a Catholic church was built in Madeley which was attended by the Corbett family.