SETTLE'S Zion Chapel closed in 2015 just a year short of its bi-centenary. But it has a remarkable story to tell of a group of people who have been at the heart of community life in the town for the best part of 200 years. Here, with the help of The Folly, we look back on its history.

ZION Chapel was built in 1816 into the steep hillside of Upper Settle.

It was one of the three first places of worship to be built in Settle. There was no parish church in the town until 1838 as Settle was a part of the ancient parish of Giggleswick. The Quaker Meeting House was built in 1678 and the Wesleyan Chapel in 1796.

Nonconformity flourished in Craven thanks to the efforts of The Itinerants, a group based in the industrial West Riding who made it a part of their mission to strengthen the churches in rural areas. Their stirring preaching drew great crowds in Settle and it is reported that at one open-air gathering in 1813 an audience of "not less than a thousand" was present. There was clearly a pressing need to build a chapel!

The response of the working people of Settle was astounding. Within a year or so, the sum of £200 had been raised. The Itinerary Society contributed a further £100, land was purchased from John Birkbeck and the new chapel was erected in 1816.

And, standing at one of the highest points in the town. It was named Zion after the Old Testament hilltop fortress captured by King David which became the oldest part of the city of Jerusalem. Independent chapels were often named after places in the Bible.

The congregation was entirely responsible for managing and funding its own affairs, including the payment of a Minister. The spirit of sharing skills and playing a lively part in the numerous social activities taking place in the town was characteristic of the Zion congregation well into this century.

Its members wrote and staged plays and shows, formed several choirs and gave concerts and organised a young people's fellowship, two Sunday schools, a Guild, a mid-week fellowship and various rambles, dances, socials and fundraising efforts. The sheer quantity of activities was breathtaking and as one former Zion member said: "You could do something different every night of the week if you wanted and we always had such fun!"

There were many ups and downs in the early years of the chapel with frequent changes of minister and many periods when services were taken by students from Idle Academy who often had to make the journey to Settle on foot

One minister from 1835 to 1838, the Rev John Williams, of Grassington, reduced the congregation to a state of chaos and was asked to resign because he actively preached against the temperance movement! Another, the Rev William Jackson was, in 1852, asked to resign because of neglect of his duties

At this point, a unique development took place - for a period of several months, the Rev Rowland Ingram, having just resigned as vicar of Giggleswick, preached at Zion every Sunday evening, providing a first example of inter-denominational co-operation and community spirit which has been a hallmark of Zion ever since

In those days, the chapel interior was very bare and uncomfortable with upright deal pews, forms for the children and a big iron stove which either smoked, scalded everyone with hot steam or went out; the gallery was not used in winter, there was no floor-covering of any kind and the space was lit by groups of tallow candles which had to be trimmed during the service and frequently went out - much to the delight of the youngsters.

There were two 'singing pews' but no instrument except a bass fiddle

There was a change for the better after the appointment of the Rev Samuel Compston in 1855; he was the first minister to really 'settle' in the town and he set the pattern for all the dedicated ministers who followed right up to the closure of the chapel in 2015.

Samuel revitalised the life of Zion: the long-standing chapel debt was extinguished, a choir formed, a harmonium (and later a pipe organ) bought and a number of mid-week activities begun. The interior of the chapel was completely refitted in the early 1870s and a schoolroom built on at the back which also served as a hall with a stage for entertainments

The pattern of services on Sundays was simply staggering by modern standards: morning Sunday School, followed by morning service, followed by afternoon school, followed by afternoon service, followed by evening service! This pattern, with the later omission of the afternoon service continued well into the 20th century. Many people travelled a distance and services were also held in the Workhouse at Giggleswick, Tosside Chapel and local farms

The Sunday Schools were especially important for the part they played in broadening the overall education of the children; as well as studying scripture the children went on regular rambles in the hills above Settle and learned about the natural history and antiquities of the area. They collected specimens, carried out scientific experiments and were expected to write up their discoveries afterwards.

Two of Zion's most famous sons were the Rev Benjamin Waugh, who founded the NSPCC, and Dr James Riley, who, as a medical researcher in Dundee, did groundbreaking work on mast cells greatly advancing our understanding of how to treat and manage inflammatory and respiratory conditions.

The Rev George Moffat was Zion's longest-serving minister and on his retirement in 1976 he was presented with a book of memories, which contained a whole range of anecdotes, some serious and others light-hearted.

One referred to the 1934 Junior Christmas party: "We could not believe our EARS! Father Christmas was coming along the narrow passage to the Sunday School door on a HORSE! Poor creature! It must have hated coming into that warm, brightly-lit room and being pushed through the doors ... Then it happened. Horse manure all over the school room floor. Following was a distraught Mr Nelson with a bucket and shovel trying to catch the mess as it fell ..."

Sadly, Zion closed last year and the chapel trustees donated their entire archive to The Folly.

The museum has used the objects, photographs, notebooks, hand-illustrated magazines and posters to put together an exhibition, which celebrates the chapel's history.

Folly curator Anne Read said: "We want people to come in and enjoy spotting their ancestors, families and friends and then dig around in their own albums and add more. That would continue Zion's great spirit of sharing for the next generation!"

The exhibition runs until October 30 and for more information, visit or call 01729 822361.