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Bethesda Chapel in Hanley - in the centre of Stoke on Trent - is an impressive
example of Methodist architecture, dating from the period when Methodism was growing
It was designed to accommodate the huge congregations that were attracted
by Methodist preaching, and could even hold up to 3000 worshippers on occasion.
such audiences must have been tightly packed, as one can
see from the original narrow pews and flap-seats which survive in the gallery.
Yet almost everyone had a clear view because the steeply curved gallery
focused attention on the pulpit and there were no ceiling columns to interrupt
Because of the chapel's great size, special roof timbers
had to be obtained and these were apparently brought over from North America.
Bethesda is also a reminder of the role hymn-singing
played in the success of Methodism, for the interior is dominated by a handsome
organ and the encircling gallery must have encouraged singing as a corporate activity.
Beyond the chapel is the large school building, a symbol of the Methodists'
important contribution to education in the nineteenth century, and a reminder
that the chapel provided more that a place of worship for its members.
Although Bethesda in many ways typifies Methodism, it
did not belong to the mainstream of that movement.
It was a product of the
first division in Methodism after Wesley's death - the Methodist New Connexion.
This New Connexion was created in 1797 by those who wanted laymen to
be represented equally as well as ministers in the church's governing conference.
The Methodists of Hanley were sympathetic to this movement and in 1797
began to worship in a coach house in Albion Street.
In 1798 a purpose-built
chapel was erected on the same site, and was enlarged in 1811 to seat a thousand.
Even this was too small and so in 1819 the chapel was rebuilt to its present
dimensions, following designs by a local schoolmaster named J.H.Perkins.
Central place of worship
Bethesda became the most important place of
worship in Hanley.
It had the largest congregations and boasted more than
twice as many seats as St. John's, which did not even have the status of a parish
church until 1891.
Bethesda attracted many leading pottery manufacturers
and those who were active in public life.
The Ridgway family, whose factory
stood across the road in Bethesda Street, were most prominent, but there were
many others, including Job Meigh, Joseph Clementson and Michael Huntbach.
The Methodist New Connexion made headway in almost all the local towns and,
to avoid confusion with the main Wesleyan Methodists, its chapels were given distinctive
names: e.g. Zion (Longton), Mount Zion (Stoke), Ebenezer (Newcastle), Zoar (Burslem),
Mount Tabor (Tunstall).
Bethesda was not only the hub of the Methodist
New Connexion in North Staffordshire, but also figured significantly in its national
Almost all the ministers stationed at the chapel served as
President of the Connexion's Conference, and Bethesda was a regular venue for
that Conference. It is a mark of the affection in which it was held that Bethesda
was the only chapel to have its interior illustrated in the official history of
the Methodist New Connexion.
The nineteenth century
the years the fabric of the building has seen many changes.
a committed member of Bethesda's congregation, created the present pulpit and
communion area in 1856, and three years later replaced the building's original
facade with the proud classical design which is still so important
a part of the street scene - it makes an interesting contrast with
the front of what is now Hanley Town Hall, of which Scrivener was also the architect.
In 1887 the ground floor of the chapel was rearranged with more comfortable
seating and an enlarged vestry.
During the Second World War part of the area
below the gallery was partitioned off.
New church body
Methodist New Connexion was one of the bodies which joined together in 1907 to
form the United Methodist Church, which in turn amalgamated with the Wesleyans
and Primitive Methodists to create the Methodist Church in 1932.
all this Bethesda continued to play an important part in local Methodist life,
albeit against the background of a declining town-centre population.
nowadays, the congregation has become too small to be able to maintain the premises,
and the building was declared redundant by the Church.
Chris Wakeling is also the author of a number of
other articles about Methodist chapels and of other articles about Bethesda. See
(text reproduced with permission from the Newsletter
of the Staffordshire Historic Buildings Trust, 1986)
The City Council are running a project which
proposes significant improvement work in the churchyard of the Bethesda Chapel,
which is in the heart of the city's Cultural
chapel’s grounds have been landscaped and new lighting and street furniture installed.
New access arrangements provide an improved link through the site from Bethesda
Street to Adventure Place.