Our History

“Between two hills, both bleak and barren,
lies dirty, smoky little ‘Darren’.”

 The history of the Darwen valley and of its people owes much to its topography.  Because it was “off the beaten track” it developed at its own pace and in its own way.  Independence, in both religious and secular terms, characterised the local people.  By the 1800s, there were many churches and chapels in the valley.  Prior to the Reformation, there was one place of Christian worship in the Darwen area, Darwen Chapel was located adjacent to the current St James, Over Darwen site and was served by Blackburn Parish Church.

The rediscovery of the Bible and the opportunity to study it in their own tongue, during the Reformation period, brought together the men and women of the district as independent or congregational dissenters.  For a number of years in the early seventeenth century, Darwen Chapel was used by worshippers of all shades of opinion, from High Church to Puritan. 

The 1662 Act of Uniformity removed the Nonconformists’ right to worship and led to their worshipping in more secret places in the locality.  In 1687 a “Declaration of Liberty and Conscience” was published by James II, aimed at regularising Dissenting Worship.

From about 1688 the Congregationalists used a barn, a short distance down hill from Darwen Chapel.  Thirty years later a new Chapel, “Lower Chapel”, was built in its present location, using the voluntary labour of its people.  From then on the district became known as Chapels - probably the largest of many hillside settlements, of which the growing town of Darwen was first comprised. 

Two features of local Nonconformity require a mention: one was the number of adherents, the other their volatility.  Apart from Tockholes Chapel (1662) no other independent church than Lower Chapel existed within the area covered by the modern Borough of Blackburn until about 1777 when Chapel Street was opened.  Many Blackburn dissenters attended or supported Lower Chapel and swelled the congregation to 1,800 people by the mid-eighteenth century - a number exceeding the then total population of Over Darwen!

Volatility was most often seen in the number and type of secessions from one church to another, and in their possible reunion.  Two differences in opinion created secessions to Pole Lane in 1792 and the migration of a majority to found Duckworth Street (the precursor to the current Central building) in 1852.  A minority remained on the hill up until the closure of Lower Chapel on 27th April  2003. 

The present incarnation of Central United Reformed Church comprises people from Duckworth Street and Belgrave churches (union in the 1970s) and many members from Lower Chapel.  In addition to these are a significant number of people from various nations who have no connection with the previous churches.  Our congregation now has a strongly international character with members from Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, other parts of England and, of course, those  who are Darwen born and bred!     

     Belgrave Independent Meeting House      built 1847

     Now converted into flats



Duckworth Street Church built 1853   

demolished 1995     




Duckworth Street interior

pre 1914







Lower Chapel URC    






Duckworth Street Womens’ Guild with Revd David Harries (Minister 1959-1965)

Back Row (left to right) Lois Haworth, Annie Briggs, Hilda Whewell, Janie Pinder, Rev David Harries, Mrs Graham, Connie Marsden, Anne Brooks, Alice Yates, Mrs Kilner.

Middle Row (left to right) Annie Ainsworth, Miss Gibson, Hannah Isherwood, Miss Ingram, Alice Jane Smith, Mrs Harries, Isa White,

Front Row (left to right) Edith Isherwood, Polly Bradshaw, Florence Berry

 For a larger picture click here