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Connections: The Atkins Family and The Great Meeting Chapel

A photographic exhibition telling the shared story of Atkins Building, the Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel and a hosiery manufacturer beginning in 1722.

This exhibition is a collaboration between Atkins Building and Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel with the research done by chapel volunteer Mike Everton. Images are from the Chapel archive, Mike Everton and Historic England.

You can click on the images to enlarge them and then either click or swipe to view all the enlarged images.

Featured Artworks
A photo of 'Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel, Druid Street entrance' by Mike Everton

Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel, Druid Street entrance

By Mike Everton

Robert Atkins arrived in Hinckley in 1722 with his wife Elizabeth, he was just 20 years old. He clearly saw an opportunity to expand the Knitting potential within the town and became involved with Framework Knitters to the extent that by about 1861 he was able to open his factory and get workers out of their homes…The modern age of hosiery had begun. He was joined by his nephew (another Robert) maybe around 1740.

At the time of his arrival the Great Meeting Chapel was opened for worship in December 1722. It had been built to house the growing Presbyterian (later Unitarian) congregation in the town. The photograph is not quite as seen in 1722 as at some point early on the doors were moved to the side. The drainpipe in the centre is modern and the Atkins’ tomb was not there yet.

A photo of 'Baptism Records' by Chapel Archive

Baptism Records

By Chapel Archive

The only direct evidence of Atkins family early involvement in the Chapel are baptism records for the children of Robert & Elizabeth in 1745 and 5 children of Robert and Mary (nee Sketchley) in 1744/51/53 and twins in 1761.

A photo of 'Memorial  inside the Chapel ' by Historic England

Memorial inside the Chapel

By Historic England

During the 19th Century the connections became stronger, although records are sparse the memorial to George Atkins who died in 1856 noted that he was a Chapel Trustee for many years. By 1813 The Chapel was recognised as Unitarian.

A photo of 'Burial Records' by Chapel Archive

Burial Records

By Chapel Archive

The first family member known to be buried in the Chapel grounds was George in 1856 followed by his wife Elizabeth (nee Beale) in 1892. Many of the burials within the grounds were framework knitters & hosiers.

A photo of 'Image of Elizabeth Atkins' by Chapel Archive

Image of Elizabeth Atkins

By Chapel Archive

Elizabeth was the last person to be buried in the grounds. All other family members connected to the Chapel were buried in Hinckley Cemetery.

A photo of 'Memorial inside the Chapel ' by Historic England

Memorial inside the Chapel

By Historic England

Arthur Atkins was a tireless supporter of the Chapel Sunday School, which he kept going when the Chapel closed between 1877 and 1882. With help from the Atkins family and new ministers the Chapel grew considerably before the turn of the century.

A photo of 'Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel, Baines Lane entrance' by Historic England

Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel, Baines Lane entrance

By Historic England

This view of the Sunday school building, opened in 1869 shows just how close to the factory now Atkins Building the Chapel was, indeed special steps and a gate were built for ease of access. This is a later photograph which shows the two extensions to the right to accommodate more children and kitchen and toilet facilities.

A photo of 'Photograph of Hugh Atkins ' by Chapel Archive

Photograph of Hugh Atkins

By Chapel Archive

Hugh Atkins was very active within the Chapel and the local community during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A photo of 'Organ inside the Chapel ' by Chapel Archive

Organ inside the Chapel

By Chapel Archive

Hugh Atkins helped raise money for a splendid organ to be installed. He was a talented musician and was choirmaster and organist for many years.

A photo of 'Parables Book' by Chapel Archive

Parables Book

By Chapel Archive

Hugh also wrote music for the Biblical Parables which were sung at Sunday School Anniversary Services well into the 20th Century.

Parable - a short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson

A photo of 'Tree of Life Tapestry inside the Chapel ' by Mike Everton

Tree of Life Tapestry inside the Chapel

By Mike Everton

When Hugh’s wife Elizabeth died. The ladies of the family set about creating 2 crewel work hangings as a memorial. They cover the space once used as seating for ministry students.

Crewel - is a type of surface embroidery using wool on linen or cloth.

A photo of 'Wood Carving inside the Chapel' by Mike Everton

Wood Carving inside the Chapel

By Mike Everton

This wonderful carved oak is hidden behind the pulpit and commemorates their life together.

Pulpit - a raised enclosed platform in a church or chapel from which the person giving the service speaks

A photo of 'Trust Deed document from the Elizabeth Atkins Charity ' by Chapel Archive

Trust Deed document from the Elizabeth Atkins Charity

By Chapel Archive

In memory of Elizabeth Atkins the family set up a trust fund in 1905 for the benefit of the poor of Hinckley, this continued for 94 years. Between 1939 & 1999 5,493 gifts were given. During the war years the gifts were mostly for 5 cwt Coal or vouchers for clothing from local shops.

CWT – Hundredweight a traditional unit of measurement used for coal and other goods.

A photo of 'Trust Deed document from the Elizabeth Atkins Charity' by Chapel Archive

Trust Deed document from the Elizabeth Atkins Charity

By Chapel Archive

Atkins Family Signatories on original Elizabeth Atkins Trust Deed

A photo of 'Great Meeting Chapel interior' by Chapel Archive

Great Meeting Chapel interior

By Chapel Archive

This is how the inside of the Chapel looked in 1910. Note the box pews, the gas lighting and the one remaining flue pipe from the coke-fired heating system. This was all to change dramatically shortly after this photograph.

After Hugh Atkins died in 1911 the congregation decided that the Chapel needed a more modern look, so new pews of Austrian oak were put in place. The panelling around the Chapel was fitted by John Cassell local carpenter and Chapel member. Work began in May 1912, and was complete by the autumn

A photo of 'Memorial inside the Chapel' by Mike Everton

Memorial inside the Chapel

By Mike Everton

This plaque commemorates the dedication shown to the Chapel by the 3 Atkins brothers John, Thomas and Hugh

A photo of 'Font inside the Chapel' by Mike Everton

Font inside the Chapel

By Mike Everton

The font presented to the Chapel by the children of Agnes Atkins who died in 1917. This font is used still in services of welcome within the Chapel.

A photo of 'Close up of the dedication on the font' by Mike Everton

Close up of the dedication on the font

By Mike Everton

Font - a receptacle in a church or chapel for the water used in baptism

A photo of 'Atkins Family Tomb' by Mike Everton

Atkins Family Tomb

By Mike Everton

The Atkins family tomb in the grounds of the Great Meeting chapel, sadly no longer maintained by family members.

A photo of 'Present Day Photograph' by Mike Everton

Present Day Photograph

By Mike Everton

300 years of history in one small corner of the town.

Centre: Great Meeting Chapel from 1722

Right: Factory now Atkins Building from C1860

Left: NWSLC College from 2011

  • © 2021 Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council