Guest Blog: Rediscovered Portraits from Brearley Baptist Chapel

Lauren Jones is a student at the University of Huddersfield, studying for a BA in History. In this blog, she shares an exciting discovery made during her work placement at Pennine Heritage.

In March 2023 in a storage room at the Birchcliffe Centre we discovered three old framed portraits of three men. After some research in the South Pennine Archives we found they were the founders of Brearley Baptist Church.

Brearley Baptist Church was established in 1845 by John Hodgson, James Fawcett and John C. Fawcett and around 5 others. Its nickname was “Little Faith” or “Bethel”.

The Church was built upon land given by John Hodgson who also funded a large majority of the building. The church was designed so that if the cause was unsuccessful it could be converted in cottages instead.


Above: Brearley Baptist Chapel. Image RSC00160 from the Pennine Horizons Digital Archive. Taken by Raymond Stell from the railway bridge on Scout Bottom Road, June 1987.

The Three Founders

While researching the names of these men we found two booklets in the South Pennine Archives which included a lot of detail about the men and their involvement with the Brearley Baptist Church. One of the booklets is written by William A. Livingstone who was a reverend at the church. He writes a brief history of the church and school and has 3 sections specifically dedicated to the three men.

John Hodgson


Above: a page from the booklet "Brearley Baptist Church and School," item R 15 S in the Hebden Bridge Local history Society Archive.

John Hodgson was born in 1803 and was a successful businessman. In 1845 he gave the ground on which the Chapel was built he also gave £1,000 donation towards the construction of the chapel. He worked within the church for thirty-three years, with twenty-eight of them being a superintendent and teacher in the Sunday school. The two documents speak of a huge loss to the church when Hodgson passed away on December 5th 1879, and how his name will ever be linked with the Church and School.

James Fawcett


Above: a page from the booklet "Brearley Baptist Church and School," item R 15 S in the Hebden Bridge Local history Society Archive.

James Fawcett was born 30th September 1797 and was one of the founders of the school. He was church secretary, superintendent, and also taught in the school. The booklet, written by William Livingstone many years after he worked there as a reverend, mentions that James was a favourite with the children, who always wanted to sit next to him. The booklet describes a man who was loved by many, and his death in 1853 was a huge lose to the church and school.

John C. Fawcett


Above: a page from the booklet "Brearley Baptist Church and School," item R 15 S in the Hebden Bridge Local history Society Archive.

John C. Fawcett was born January 1821 and was the son of James Fawcett. After his father’s death in 1853 he became superintendent for forty-three years and was also one of the first teachers at the Sunday School. He was also Church Secretary until 1900. For nearly fifty years he served on the Diaconate and also acted as treasurer for many years.

When it became known that Fawcett was to leave the church a subscription list was made to organise a special presentation for him. Unfortunately, he had an asthma attack and could not attend. Mr Horsfall went on his behalf and during this presentation a portrait of him was unveiled along with two others of John Hodgson and James Fawcett. It is these portraits that we believe we have rediscovered at the Birchcliffe Centre.

The Rediscovered Portraits

The portraits were found in poor condition, so required some cleaning and restoration. I was tasked with cleaning and researching the portraits, supervised by our Heritage Manager, Francesca.

All three photos have an unusual silvery finish to them. The portraits of Hodgson and John Fawcett appear to be photographs, but have had details emphasised and shading added by hand over the top. The portrait of James Fawcett is a drawing, designed to be in-keeping with the other two.

We decided to take the frames off the portraits because they were damaged, and to see if there is any extra writing on the back.

Restoration Process


Above: this portrait of John Hodgson shows how silver and black hand-painted detail has been added to the photograh beneath. In the early years of photography, this technique was used to sharpen images and add detail that was lost in the photographic process.

We took the outer frames off the photographs so we were able to clean them. We used micro fibre clothes and special dry-cleaning sponges to start with. All of them have significant splatter marks which unfortunately did not come off from using the sponges. We may attempt further more specialised cleaning in future. One of them has a large scratch which we avoided when cleaning to avoid further damage.

We then took off the inner frame in hopes of finding further information about the portraits but unfortunately they only thing written on the back was their surname.

Once they were as clean as possible we wrapped them in tissue and stored them into a large archive box, where they will be secure for future research.