Located just over the road from The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Bethesda Methodist Chapel in Hanley is considered to be one of England’s grandest surviving town chapels – and it’s easy to see why. The impressive grade II listed Italianate building (which many may recognise from the BBC’s popular Restoration series) was funded largely by the wealth of some of the most notable pottery families of the area and constructed in 1819 not only as an outstanding monument to the Methodist movement, but also as a symbol of the confidence and civic pride generated by Stoke-on-Trent’s thriving industrial economy. Throughout most of the 19th century, Bethesda was the six-town-city’s most popular place of worship, drawing vast congregations of up to 3,000 people who spilled into the space around the aisles, communion pew and organ as they flocked to hear sermons by some of the most notable preachers of the day.
Forming part of Stoke-on-Trent Remembers – a series of events marking the First World War centenary this summer – Bethesda Our Boys is an exhibition commemorating the 274 young men associated with the chapel who fought in the two world wars, and whose names appear on Bethesda’s World War Rolls of Honour. The display focuses on the personal stories and experiences of many of the soldiers, including 22-year-old Able Seaman Bertram Barlow who died in 1918 in a terrible fire on board the newly commissioned warship HMS Glatton before it even left Dover. And 2nd Lieutenant Robert Adams of the 5th Norfolk Regiment who in 1915 charged alongside 400 men up a cloud-covered hill in the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey never to be seen again.
Bethesda Our Boys also recalls the more than 700 Bethesda Comfort Boxes that were sent between 1915 and 1918 to Bethesda men away from home, containing knitted items, sweets, OXO cubes, shoe laces and most importantly letters from loved ones. Once you’re finished here, make sure to visit the Roll of Honour at Hanley Town Hall and War Memorial at Albion Square less than a minute’s walk from the chapel.
Bethesda Methodist Chapel and the Bethesda Our Boys exhibition is next open to the public on 11 Aug (12-2.30pm), 8 & 15 Sept (12-3pm), 13 Oct (12-2.30pm) and 10 Nov (12-2.30pm). Check the events section of the chapel website for further Heritage Open Day listings.
Find out what else is on in Stoke-on-Trent this summer here.