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 (], 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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Nonconformist heritage

The Historic England website contains a great deal of material of interest to architectural historians, building on the work of its own in-house research teams.

A summary of the resources related to Nonconformist heritage can be found in the Faith and Commemoration section.

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Chapel of the Month – September 2016

Tewkesbury Baptist Chapel

Tewkesbury Baptist Chapel font

Tewkesbury Baptist Chapel

Tewkesbury Baptist Chapel from the gallery

Tewkesbury Baptist Chapel

Tewkesbury Baptist Chapel gallery

Tewkesbury Baptist Chapel

Tewkesbury Baptist Chapel interior

Simon Lawton, Curator of the John Moore Museum in Tewkesbury, recently wrote to us to highlight the charms of the newly repaired Old Baptist Chapel in Tewkesbury. He says:

“The building has recently undergone a period of repair, refurbishment and reinterpretation and is now open to the public on a regular basis. Of particular interest has been our project to transcribe the church’s  minutes book which dates back to the middle of the seventeenth century.  This can currently be accessed as a touchscreen interactive in the OBC, but will also soon be available as an online resource on our website.”

Additional details, including information about visiting the chapel, can be found at on the John Moore Museum website.

The Tewkesbury Old Baptist Church website offers the following information about the chapel’s history:

“The original church building, known simply as ‘The Old Baptist Chapel’, is located off the Old Baptist Chapel Court, an alleyway running from Church Street down towards the river. The street is presumably named, not after the chapel, but after the grand Abbey building which stands opposite, forming a marked contrast to the small chapel building.  A burial ground is located next to the chapel.

The chapel was originally a medieval timber framed hall house, built some time in the fifteenth century. It was first used as a place of worship some time in the seventeenth century, and in about 1720 is was modified to make it more suitable for this purpose.

Later on, after the church had moved to new premises, it was divided up and parts of it were converted into cottages, with just the central part retained as a meeting room. However, it has now been restored to show how it probably looked in about 1720. The one exception is the rear balcony, which was probably built around 1905 but which has been retained.”


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Chapel of the Month – August 2016

We’re cheating a little this month in that this building isn’t a chapel but the connection to John Bunyan seemed like a good reason to include this unusual Grade II listed heritage asset…

John Bunyan’s Chimney

Bunyan's Chimney

Bunyan’s Chimney

John Bunyan’s Chimney can be found in a small public garden on a walk through Coleman Green, near Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire. This mid to late 17th century brick chimney is all that remains of a cottage where John Bunyan is said to have stayed and preached. Today, John Bunyan is perhaps best known as the author of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ but he was equally well known in his day for his Nonconformist sermons. He was a frequent visitor to Hertfordshire and preached in many of its villages.

The list description notes: “The SW side of the base appears to be a C18 addition, blocking the original inglenook. Timber bressumer visible within the stack. On SW side is a commemorative plaque to John Bunyan who preached at the cottage on this site from time to time.”

The rest of the cottage, and the two buildings next to it, were demolished in 1877, when new cottages were built across the road.

The Chimney features in a series of Heritage Trails put together by Wheathampstead Heritage.

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Chapel of the Month – July 2016

Blythburgh Chapel in the early C20

Blythburgh Chapel in the early C20

This month we bring you an overview of Blythburgh Primitive Methodist Chapel, Dunwich Road, Blythburgh, Suffolk by Alan Mackley.

This delightful building is sadly ‘at risk’ and the Chapels Society is deeply concerned about its future.

The first chapel on the site was built in 1837 however, the present building has an 1870s date stone on its front elevation. Whether this represents a complete rebuild or an enlargement of an earlier building is not known. The chapel is a modest brick building, with an original exterior but no surviving interior furnishings.

Blythburgh Chapel in 2000.

Blythburgh Chapel in 2000

It is not listed and there is no reference to it in James Bettley’s East Suffolk volume in the ‘Pevsner’ series of Buildings of England.

However, the chapel has a very important place in Blythburgh history.  The Primitive Methodist nonconformist sect was attractive to the poor farm labourers who made up the majority of Blythburgh’s population.

The 1851 census of religious attendance shows that many more people worshipped at the chapel than in the parish church (Holy Trinity – Grade I listed).

Blythburgh Chapel today.

Blythburgh Chapel today

Sadly, since its closure in the 1970s the physical condition of the chapel has steadily deteriorated though it has been used very occasionally for art exhibitions.  It is located on a very small plot and the lack of parking space and land at the rear has no doubt made finding an alternative use difficult.

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