A Dictionary of Methodism

I was recently reminded about the extremely useful Dictionary of Methodism which has been available online for some years. This is an ongoing project of the Wesley Historical Society and contains a wealth of information that will be of use to people researching Methodist history. Well worth a look!

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Chapel of the Month – July 2017

This month’s contribution comes from Angela Swan, Grants Officer for the Listed Places of Worship: Roof Repair Fund administered by the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Baxter URC - Entrance

Baxter URC – Entrance

Baxter United Reformed Church, a Grade II listed building is located at the heart of Kidderminster town centre. It is named after the influential Puritan preacher Richard Baxter (1615 – 1691), who lived and worked in Kidderminster between 1641 and 1661. Formally a part of the Congregational Church, Baxter became a United Reformed Church when Congregational and Presbyterian churches united in 1972.

The current building was erected in 1884/85 and is the fourth building on the site and is in the early decorated Gothic style of concrete faced with red sandstone and Boxgrove Bath stone dressing, with a spire 140 feet tall.

The church contains some hidden gems. The stained glass windows are stunning and include ‘Charity’ ministering to children and extracts from Baxter’s book “Saints Everlasting Rest”. They were created as a memorial to the influential Adam family from Kidderminster. The pipe organ is also impressive; it is ‘three manual’ instrument installed by Walker and Sons. There are also a couple of distinctive portraits of Richard Baxter, which are in need of conservation, and the only surviving artefact belonging to him in the church is the wooden communion table which is in good condition.

Baxter URC - Dampness

Baxter URC – Dampness

The church is open to the public 260 days a year and is an active community hub and offers a regular Community Lunch, a Foodbank for the most vulnerable, a Job Club that has successfully enabled people to find work. It also hosts a choral group, an award winning youth choir and a Zumba Class!

Baxter United Reformed Church has been successful in receiving an award from the Listed Places of Worship: Roof Repair Fund to address the extensive decay to many parts of the roof which have severely damaged the building for many years. The repair project will focus on the west end of the sanctuary, drainage from the sanctuary roof, drainage from the gutters around the tower, the replacement of inadequate cast iron rainwater disposal components, hoppers and catch pits, and rectifying the consequent damage to internal finishes due to water ingress.

At the west end is an access bridge spanning between the sanctuary roof and the bell opening. This is a curious and improvised detail which is failing and causing severe decay to the interior and permission has been granted to remove it and reinstate the roof and louvers. Repairs start the end of July and will be finished by the end of 2017.

Baxter URC - Display

Baxter URC – Display

This money is part of a wider funding package of £22.9million to 401 historic places of worship across the UK. The Fund was launched by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement in December 2014 and the funding package has now seen a total of 903 places of worship across the UK receive a share of £55million. The Fund is administered by the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) on behalf of the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).

A full list of awards across the UK can be found at www.gov.uk/dcms or www.lpowroof.org.uk

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Stained window by Geddes in Wirral vandalised

From the Newsletter of the C20 Society:

The C20 Society has been alerted to some serious vandalism to the highly significant 1934 stained glass window by Irish designer Wilhemina Geddes at the Grade II-listed Manor Church Centre in Wallasey on the Wirral. Designed by Briggs, Wolstenholme & Thornley in 1907-8, it was said to be the largest Presbyterian Church in England when it opened. The church contains an important collection of 16 stained glass windows by major Arts and Crafts designers such as Morris & Co and Edward Woore, of which the Geddes window forms part. The church is now in private ownership and in a serious state of disrepair. The Society has requested that Wirral Borough Council take action to ensure that the owner of the building protects this outstanding collection of stained glass.

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Researching Methodist Family History

An opportunity for people interested in researching Methodist family history:

“Join specialist Jackie Depelle on 23 June 2017 to learn about how you can use Methodist archives for family history. Drawing on Heritage Quay and West Yorkshire Archive Service’s collections, spend a day immersed in church records, circuit plans and history books. If you have Methodist connections, Jackie and the Heritage Quay team will be on hand to help.”

The venue is Heritage Quay, 9 Queensgate, Huddersfield. Free lunch and light refreshments will be provided.

Places can be booked via Eventbrite.

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Chapel of the Month – May 2017

This month we are delighted to feature another contribution by Dr Jennifer Freeman.

Bethesda Strict Baptist Church,Kensington Place, Kensington, London

Bethesda Baptist Chapel

Bethesda Baptist Chapel

Strict Baptists form a distinct group among the many interwoven strands of the Baptist denomination.

The Church in Kensington Place was built in 1866 for baptised believers who subscribe to ‘Restricted Communion’ ( i.e. with communion being exclusively available to professing, baptised Christians), to ‘Particular Redemption’ and  to the teachings of the Authorised Version of the Bible, under the oversight of a Pastor.

Bethesda Baptist Chapel

Bethesda Baptist Chapel interior

These founding doctrines remain core values. The Church is governed by its pastor and deacons, the present pastor at Bethesda being Jared Smith (Note 1).

The current congregation is thriving, with regular Sunday services, monthly talks, an annual lecture – the most recent given by Dr Tim Grass, Chapels Society Chairman, a library and bookstall.

A previous lecturer has been Kevin Price, who spoke on the  life of Benjamin Ingham (Note 2), the C18 preacher whose sole extant church at Wheatley Carr, West Yorkshire was visited by the Chapels Society in 2015.   There is also a programme of counselling and outreach.

Bethesda Baptist Chapel

Bethesda Baptist Chapel

The Church stands on its original site with its understated, gently classisizing, white rendered facade opening onto one of Kensington’s narrow residential streets. It catches the eye, immaculately presented and maintained, unexpectedly close to worldly Kensington Church Street and three minutes from the busy Notting Hill tube station.  In the evening delicate floodlighting pinpoints the building.

The interior is dignified modest and reverent, in spirit with Baptist thinking. The furnishings are crafted with patterned tongue-and-grooved timberwork that lovingly respects the character of the natural material. There are brass-handled umbrella stands on the pew ends.

A prominent rostrum has been lowered to facilitate modern usage. The baptistery stands in front of it, now covered over. Touches of stained glass provide light and variety.

Bethesda Baptist Chapel pews

Bethesda Baptist Chapel pews

Originally the Church had traditional galleries but in recent years the space has been reconfigured to allow for extended use. A new, lower chandeliered ceiling has been created with the space above it converted into a meeting-room, with a kitchen and modern amenities. The historic timbered ceiling still floats over the new space. The gallery fronts survive in a well-judged acknowledgement of the original design. Happily these changes have enabled the Church to widen its activities successfully.

The writer receives a warm welcome from those present on her visits and extends her thanks to Jared Smith and to Kevin Price for their assistance.

  1. Jared Smith discusses Strict Baptist beliefs in detail on the Bethesda Baptist website.
  2. The website also offers videos of previous lectures.

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Chapel of the Month – April 2017

Perry Green Chapel

Perry Green Chapel

Perry Green Baptist Chapel, Hertfordshire

Whilst enjoying a Sunday spring walk we happened across this charming little chapel in Perry Green near Luton.

According to the Chapel’s website: “The present Perry Green Baptist Chapel is a smaller version of the original Chapel in the village of Peters Green, to the south east of Luton. It is a branch Church of Central Baptist and serves its local community with not only Sunday Services, but a Tuesday Fellowship meeting at 2.30pm on the first and third Tuesdays of the month as well as many other interesting events.

We usually hold an Annual Summer Garden Party, and have held both a Swiss and a Philippino evening. Musical events are also staged here, usually at Easter and Christmas.”

Perry Green Chapel

Perry Green Chapel

We’d very much welcome photographs of any interesting chapels that members and others spot whilst on their country rambles or town trails.

Please do send us your contributions for Chapel of the Month!

Thanks, Sara Crofts

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Chapel of the Month – March 2017

This month Chapels Society Secretary Moria Ackers shares her tale of a charming walk that ends with a delightful little Chapel:

Milldale Chapel Exterior

Mill Dale Chapel Exterior

Mill Dale Methodist Chapel

At the end of the very lovely walk down Dovedale, Derbyshire one ends up at the tiny little village of Milldale. Follow the signs past Polly’s little shop, up to the top of the village and you’ll find a delightful little ‘God-box’ which is part of the Ashbourne Methodist Circuit. Although not regularly in use for worship it is open to visitors!

This is a lovely simple little chapel built in 1835 where visitors can sit and enjoy a few quiet moments. Although I could find no information at the chapel about its history, a very brief internet search suggests that this was a dissenters’ chapel opened at Mill Dale in January 1836, which later transferred to the Ashbourne Primitive Methodist circuit in 1886.

Milldale Interior

Mill Dale Chapel Interior

It was closed for regular worship in 1986. The chapel holds occasional services and last year’s Christmas Eve service was so well attended the little chapel was packed, with people standing outside. Possibly of little academic architectural interest it is none the less a very special little chapel, no more so than it is open to all.

Further information about the occasional special services and how to find the chapel can be found on the circuit website.


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Chapel of the Month – January 2017

The Chapels Society would like to wish all our visitors a Happy New Year.

And for our first Chapel of the Month of 2017 we have a contribution from Dr Jennifer Freeman OBE:

Bethesda Methodist Chapel - Entrance View

Bethesda Methodist Chapel – Entrance View

Bethesda Methodist Chapel, Albion Street, Stoke-on-Trent – often referred to as the ‘Cathedral of the Potteries’ – is the largest and grandest of the great C19 Methodist chapels and arguably the most famous of the Methodist New Connexion chapels. Not only was it important as a place of worship but also for the pivotal roles played by members of its congregation in Stoke’s burgeoning industrial and political life. It was these families who met the very considerable cost of constructing and embellishing the Chapel.

From early beginnings on its site in 1798 Bethesda was vastly enlarged in 1819 by local schoolmaster and architect, J H Perkins. He created a huge auditorium, some 33 metres long and 21 metres in width. His chequered ‘apse’ is a noteworthy feature, built of patterned cream and red brickwork to overlook the former burial ground (now a park). Inside he introduced a magnificent tiered oval gallery carried on 24 cast-iron columns.

In 1856 the impressive octagonal mahogany pulpit with its double flight of stairs and round communion rail was introduced. This was designed by the distinguished local architect, Robert Scrivener (1812-78), who was a longstanding Sunday school teacher and worshipper at Bethesda. Among his other buildings were Hanley’s Town Hall and the Mechanics Institute.

In 1859 Scrivener remodelled the frontage in a grandly fashionable Italianate manner with a full width Corinthian stone portico, rendered facade and central Diocletian window above. There was room for an enclosed paved space in front that set off the chapel. To mark its growing importance the Methodist New Connexion Conference was held at Bethesda in 1860. A large and elaborate ceiling pendant and light fittings added splendour at this time.

Bethesda Methodist Chapel - Interior

Bethesda Methodist Chapel – Interior

In 1864 a fine new organ, built by Kirtland and Jardine, was erected in the gallery high above the pulpit. Choral singing at Bethesda became famous in a Chapel that could attract up to three thousand worshippers.

Movingly elegant stained glass arrived from 1887, including a panel featuring William Holman Hunt’s famous painting ‘The Light of the World’ (now in St Paul’s Cathedral) and ‘Bethesda,Our Boys’ commemorating service in World War I.

Bethesda Methodist Chapel - Rear Elevation

Bethesda Methodist Chapel – Rear Elevation

Following the dispersal of local residents in the 1960s and 1970s through large scale redevelopment which caused a decline in worshippers, Bethesda gradually fell out of use and endured years of disrepair until it came into the care of the Historic Chapels Trust in 2003. Together with Bethesda Friends the Trust has thus far invested over £1.5m in repairs and restoration and in bringing new activities to this distinguished Chapel.

Those who recall the BBC’s ‘Restoration’ series will remember that the project at Bethesda came fourth nationally in the competition. Close relations have been established with the nearby Potteries Museum which held an exhibition about the proposals. HRH the Prince of Wales visited the Chapel with HRH the Duchess of Cornwall in 2010, having offered generous support through his Regeneration Trust.

Photo credits:
By Stepped (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Chapel of the Month – November 2016

Old Meeting House - A glimpse from the street

A glimpse from the street

This month our Chapel of the Month author is Dr John Clements, current Pastor of the Old Meeting House Congregational Church, Colegate, Norwich. He writes:

Built during a period of religious persecution, the Old Meeting House Congregational Church is one of the most hidden chapels in Norwich – even residents living on the same road are often unaware of its existence!

The Old Meeting House facade revealed

The Old Meeting House facade revealed

Very little has been altered to the building except in 1842 part of the graveyard was lost when a Sunday school building was built which has sadly been sold and converted into private dwellings.

By the western gallery is an organ with gilt pipes and a pretty carved case. It was made by Robert Dallam around 1660, but it did not arrive at the Old Meeting until 1838.

The Old Meeting church book is one of the oldest set of non-conformist records in the country, and one of only a handful of surviving non-conformists church books to contain records from the civil war period. (This is now housed in the Norfolk County’s archives.) While Old Meeting itself first gathered itself into church fellowship until June 1644, its origins are earlier.

Atmospheric interior of the Old Meeting House

Atmospheric interior of the Old Meeting House

The founding members of Old Meeting had been followers of the Puritan minister William Bridge. He was ejected from St Peter’s Hungate in 1637 and had to flee to Holland. Until the Act of Toleration in 1689 members of the chapel had met in secret but after the Act was passed land was purchased and the chapel was built in 1693.

The Chapel remains open as an active Congregational Church.

As a Grade I listed building it is kept in good repair as the Chapel entered into a repair-lease with Norwich City Council.

A 32 page booklet, Our Story, was published in 2016 and can be purchased from the Old Meeting House website for £4.00 (which includes post and packing).


A visit to this attractive and fascinating Chapel is well worth it – but for those who aren’t able to make the trip the Old Meeting House website contains a wealth of information too.


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Cumberworth update

Date Stone, Cumberworth

Date Stone, Cumberworth

Having kindly contributed our June Chapel of the Month, Mr & Mrs Ella (Ray & Marie) recently got in touch to say that they have now restored the 1859 stone plaque on the former Primitive Methodist Chapel, Cumberworth in Lincolnshire, now their lounge.

We hope that you enjoy seeing the fruits of their labours – and we congratulate them on their careful guardianship of the former chapel.

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