The church was built between 1864 and 1869 at the behest of the three Fielden brothers, sons of 'Honest John' Fielden, the reformist mill-owner and Radical MP who steered the Ten Hours Act through Parliament in 1847. Fielden senior was of Quaker stock, but turned to Methodism and was then persuaded to follow Joseph Cooke's breakaway brand of Methodist Unitarianism, eventually becoming closely involved with the sect's Todmorden chapel and giving generous help to the local Unitarian community. But after his death in 1849, continuing growth of that community made the chapel steadily less adequate, and in 1864 his sons, by now very wealthy from the textile business he had fostered, decided to provide a replacement building, partly in honour of their father's memory.
Their plans went well beyond a mere enlarged meeting house, and despite traditional Unitarian mistrust of show and ritual, the brothers commisioned a building of considerable splendour, with the original chapel eventually becoming a Sunday school.
Modelled on 14th-century 'decorated Gothic' but built to an Anglican pattern, and of size more suggestive of a small cathedral than a nonconformist chapel (it comfortably seats over 500), the church was designed by John Gibson, who had been a member of Charles Barry's team at the Houses of Parliament. He had already worked for the Fieldens and was responsible for Dobroyd Castle, built concurrently with the church as a home for the middle brother John. The two buildings were so positioned that each could be viewed from the other across the intervening valley, while the church's grandeur complemented by its imposing setting on a hill overlooking the town, with a winding drive leading up to the building from what might otherwise easily be mistaken for a manorial gatehouse. Gibson's next big projects in Todmorden were to be the quasi-Gothic Fielden School and the neo-classical Town Hall, finished in 1872 and 1875.
On the church's opening day in April 1869 a congregation of 800 assembled to hear the inaugural sermon , delivered by the noted Manchester Unitarian William Gaskell, widower of novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. Perhaps aware of local unease at the buildin's Gothic implications, Gaskell devoted part of his address to arguing that despite Puritan inclinations to the contrary, there is nothing wrong in employing art to enhance religion provided this involves no compromise of inner sincerity. This endorsement of their bold venture was no doubt very welcome to the Fieldens, and whatever early heart-searchings there may have been regarding the shift in style, the new church soon became much loved and remained a thriving centre of the faith until well into the 20th century. This sometimes irritated local Anglicans, especially in the early days when the church's radical minister Lindsay Taplin was inclined to be very outspoken in favour of Unitarianism's liberal, non-trinitarian, humanistic outlook
At the start, the building and its grounds were the property of the Fielden family, but in 1882 an endowment fund was established to give the church a degree of independence. Yet as the years slipped by there was an increasing shortage of funds to maintain the building, and despite a great burst of activity in the centenary year of 1969, it was finally closed in 1987, with meetings then held in the lodge until 1992. Vandalism and decay set in, but despite its Grade I listed status, various schemes suggested for the church's preservation came to nothing. However, with its acquisition by the Historic Chapels Trust in 1994, a proper programme of repairs and renovation has been put in hand, and while this proceeds a locally elected management committee opens the building from time to time to stimulate interest and facilitate study by school parties, historical and architectural groups.