by Peter Hewis, former Minister of Hinckley’s Unitarian Church
and ex-Hinckley Councillor Previously printed in MAXIMA Summer 1996
Hinckley’s little gem’, that’s how someone described the Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel. The Chapel looks like a large old house and is tucked away between Druid Street and Baines Lane.
Over the years the factory of Atkins has been built around the Chapel on two sides. From Druid Street you see an avenue of lime trees leading through the burial ground and then a red brick building. On Baines Lane you use a Right of Way bought by the Chapel for five shillings in 1720!
Inside you find the warm atmosphere of Eng1ish and Austrian Oak panelling and pews, you see huge apple tree embroideries based on a William Morris design and created by the ladies of the Atkins family in 1902. On the gallery pews you see holes where candles were used to light the building, there are ancient boards bearing the Ten Commandments and large corner pews made for the Chapel Band before the days of an organ. No wonder the Chapel is a listed Grade II* building. Several memorials use quotations from George Eliot who had a close connection with Unitarians and who was taught music by Elliot McEwan of the chapel.
The beliefs are unique too for Unitarians regard Jesus as a man, a great and noble human being. They were the first denomination to welcome women as Ministers a hundred years ago and in 1906 an Indian Hindu and a Japanese Buddhist preached in the Chapel. In recent times many from Hungary and Romania have preached in the Chapel and a few years ago the Japanese Tea Ceremony was performed in the building. When divorced people wanted to marry again the Chapel was the first to let them make a new start and when other churches would not bury suicide cases the Unitarians showed compassion.
Town life has also benefited. The hospital, library, Co-operative Society and at least one building society owe their foundation to the Chapel and its members. For more than forty years children have been taught to swim at the Chapel’s swimming club held every Monday evening in the old baths and now in the Leisure Centre. In the early eighteen hundreds a Sunday School started so that poor children could learn to read and write. In recent years the Chapel has provided the town and County with many councillors from each of the main political persuasions.
Hinckley’s little gem has certainly made its mark over the years.
Visit David Woods Oral History site:
“Oral history is not just about Kings and Queens and what happened in 1066. Oral history is local history of local people like you and me. How they lived, worked and spent their money”
We would like to thank David Potter, when he was Editor of the Hinckley Times, for allowing access to many of these photos