Early meeting places of the Mirfield Zion Baptists were a sick room, two barns and a Grammar School. Their origins, in the early years of the 19th century, makes for a story of persistent zeal in the face of much adversity.
In 1816, Mrs. Ingham, who lived at Blake Hall, Mirfield, and who was the daughter of Dr. Evans, tutor at the Baptist College, Bristol, sometimes provided food and shelter for students who camefrom the Baptist Academy at Little Horton, Bradford, to preach at chapels in the surrounding areas.
One such student was a Mr. Charles Thompson, who, one Sunday evening in the summer, held a prayer meeting in the sick room of Mrs. Ingham, who had been confined to bed for some years. Besides Mrs. Ingham, the meeting was attended by Mr. James Clarkson, his sister Mary, and two women servants at Blake Hall. Three weeks later, they started to hold services at the Hall. The visiting student or minister, if the weather was fine, would speak from the steps leading to the kitchen, the worshippers standing on the flags outside.
If the weather was not fine the congregation moved into the kitchen. By the winter of 1816 the attendances had grown and the services were moved to the old Tithe Barn which used to stand near the Old Rectory off Pinfold Lane. However, they soon had to quit this venue as the whole of the barn was needed for crop storage. Mrs. Ingham had supplied six benches, at a cost of a guinea each, as she had heard that some of the older worshippers suffered through having to stand throughout the services.
Next, the Baptists moved into another barn, this time at Littlemoor which had previously been used by the Battyeford Primitive Methodists. It had no windows and a hole had been made in the roof to admit light. The Baptists paid £2 a year for this for two years.
They moved, in 1820, to the old Grammar School (part of which still exists at the Knowl) largely through the good offices of one of their members, Mr. Garside, who was also a teacher at the school and didn't care for the discomforts of the barn.
The first Baptist Church in Mirfield was formed on July 25, 1825. It had 15 members, all of them baptised by immersion. Their enthusiasm suffered something of a reverse when Mr. Garside was given notice to leave his teaching post and soon afterwards the Baptists were invited to find another meeting place.
The gathered for one Sunday meeting at the Knowl Wesleyan Schoolroom but for some reason that was their last meeting there and once again they were looking for another place. None was to be found, so Mr. Clarkson, who had taken part at the original gathering at Blake Hall, said they could use his house at the Nab. The morning service was held in the parlour, and in the afternoon, they moved the pulpit so that the larger congregation could sit in two rooms and still hear the preacher. They continued to meet in Mr. Clarkson's house for four years.
In 1828 they began to build a small chapel at the Knowl. They found it difficult to raise funds and Lockwood Baptists lent them funds on condition that the timber should be purchased in Hull. The collection at the stone laying raised 19s. 4d. Money was very hard to come by in those days. The chapel cost £1,050 and £800 was still owing when it opened. It was to be 1862 before the debt was cleared and the present Sunday School building was built that same year.
By 1871, the old chapel had become too small and it was decided to build a new one. After the corner stone had been laid on September 13, 1871, about 500 attended a tea in the Town Hall. The cost of this chapel was £3,500 and it opened on Good Friday, April 11, 1873 free of debt. Mr. Josiah Berry, who laid the corner stone contributed £200 towards the cost, Mr. Henry Walker contributed £500 and his son £200 for the organ. In 1993 this building was deemed to be unsafe and was demolished. Services are now held in the Sunday School.
The first, and perhaps the most illustrious, of the Zion Baptist leaders was the Rev. Henry Seabrook Albrecht, pastor for 46 years from 1831. Mr. Albrecht was till a student when he took on the work of pastor at Mirfield's small struggling community. The building work on the chapel was at a standstill with four walls standing roofless. A Baptist historian has written about Mr. Albrecht's early struggles at Mirfield describing him as "poor, on many occasions having only an apple for his meal, clothes threadbare, yet clean. Almost shoeless, he worked on, preaching for years without salary, seeking donations and even giving his little mite to prevent the chapel coming to the auctioneer, for the ground on which that first chapel stood was not yet paid for. Once, when a church meeting was held to decide what means should be adopted, an old member said 'Sell'. The young minister rose with all the fire he possessed and said 'Would you sell the dead?' for some already rested in that old chapel yard."
It was not until the debt on the church was cleared that Mr. Albrecht's stipend was raised to £40 a year. By 1871 he was getting £2 a week. He resigned through ill health after 46 years service and died a few weeks later on December 9, 1877.