Tucked away in the alley between the Sutcliffe Gallery and the Java Cafe, Flowergate Unitarian Chapel is a Grade II listed building, built in 1812 on the site of a much earlier chapel completed in 1715.
The building, which few residents have ever seen, let alone visitors, is now in need of restoration throughout to preserve it for future generations.
The Friends of Flowergate Unitarian Chapel are launching a mammoth fundraising campaign to restore the building and open it up to the community
The initial campaign, set up by former minister, the Reverend Margaret Kirk to raise £3,000 for urgent repairs has considerably exceeded its target, raising £3,815.
Rev. Kirk said: “We want to tell the story of the chapel's dissenting history - especially its most famous Minister, Francis Haydn Williams, who was a social justice activist in the town between 1888 - 1910.
“Haydn Williams went to prison on numerous occasions for upsetting the local gentry in order to reclaim common land and open footpaths.
“He was passionate in his defence of the rights of ordinary people.
“We think his story needs to be better known and we want to set up a permanent exhibition to celebrate his activism. “
Whitby Civic Society is supporting the plans to preserve the Unitarian Chapel, chair Dr John Field said: "The Chapel is a distinctive part of our heritage, and the project will save a unique building for the future while marking the Unitarian contribution to Whitby's history.
“Francis Haydn Williams was a true hero to the townsfolk, and we are planning to recognise his role next year through a blue plaque on his former home.”
The chapel has medieval origins and was at first a three-storey house - it became a place of worship in the early 18th century, but nobody knows exactly when.
Dr. Field said: "It's been lost in the mists of time. The chapel has been neglected, and it needs to be updated for a variety of purposes.
"It's a very peculiar little building. There's an odd little cellar - nobody knows where it leads to, and the structure is medieval. There are a lot of mysteries, but it would be a great place for local groups to meet."
Rev. Kirk said: “It used to be said that the passageway was and old priests bolt hole that went up to the Angel pub, but new research suggests it is an old smuggler’s route, connected to an area underneath Boots, but nobody is certain.”
The Friends have developed an exciting vision to create a learning and engagement centre at the chapel, which will allow people to explore both its architecture and its rich heritage of social justice.
Sarah Booth, Chair, Whitby Literary & Philosophical Society said: "Francis Haydn Williams was a notable historical figure in Whitby at the turn of the nineteenth century.
“The Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society are pleased to offer support to this project to help keep his memory alive."
The group will now pursue a National Lottery bid to help fund the rest of the work which will restore the building’s structure and help to make it more dynamic. It will include a multi-functional community and exhibition space.
Anyone who wishes to get involved is asked to contact Margaret Kirk by emailing [email protected]