It's pleasing that so many people are now sending us histories and reminiscences of people associated with Bethesda. To make things easier to find, we are now listing them in alphabetical order of surnames, with an index here at the top, which will highlight recent additions. We will split off some memories onto pages of their own, but they will all be linked from here. Please keep sending memories in!
- Harvey Adams
- Dorothy Biddulph
- Elizabeth Boothby and Diana Harris
- George Bowers
- Ernest Campbell
- Beverly Elliott
- Ernest and Mary Farnell
- Hanley Circuit Ministers
Harvey Adams was the son of a Hanley potter, Joseph Adams, who on 10 November 1832 had married Ann Harvey. She was from a Wesleyan Methodist family residing at Horton, and connected to the Endon and Gratton chapels, in the Leek circuit. Mr and Mrs Adams returned to Horton parish church for the baptism of their son on 10 November 1835.
Harvey followed his father's trade, and on 13 January 1856 married Mary Stevenson at Bethesda. She was the daughter of another Methodist potter, Spencer Stevenson. This was marriage 134 at Bethesda. Subsequently Mary and his mother Ann were both buried at Bethesda.
Harvey Adams was to make his fortune as a potter with his own factory, Harvey Adams & Co., operating from 1869 to 1887 and having a London office. The ware was characterised by ormolu decoration, embossed leaf decoration, and natural leaf patterns taken from specimens copied at the Duke of Sutherland's gardens at Trentham. They produced high-quality china, and at the age of 52 Harvey Adams retired, selling the factory to George Hammersley. As well as having had artistic judgement and commercial expertise, Harvey Adams is generally acknowledged as the inventor of the moustache cup. He is in the tradition of successful and influential Methodist New Connexion potters.
(Information supplied by Rev. David Leese, a Methodist minister from Doncaster and a descendant of Mr Adams)
The gate creaked and resisted as I pushed against the waist-high weeds. Nature was reclaiming this once-majestic and beautiful building. Memories came flooding back of what we had lost. Known as the Cathedral of the Potteries, it once proudly welcomed all denominations and classes of people. What led to this dereliction and decay? Why did it happen? Is there now a glimmer of hope that it can once again become a useful building so that the people of the Potteries can have somewhere to be proud of? It will never again be used solely as a place of worship, but it is still a proud building with potential for lots of uses for the people of Stoke-on-Trent.
Bethesda Chapel has stood empty now for almost twenty years. The doors closed for the last time after redevelopment of the area had taken its toll. Semi-detached council houses, built out of town, were replacing terraced houses, which had surrounded Bethesda, and the demolition of these old houses would make way for a new police station, fire station, library and museum.
Little did we realise the consequences of this major work. People were to be replaced with modem buildings, where relics from the past could be proudly displayed; but would the 'Heart' be taken out of Hanley?
When I was in my teens, Sunday evenings were special. Reverend William Basham was the minister. He had a vibrant personality and for years the chapel was filled with young and old.
It was not just a church, it was a place where we made friends and enjoyed all kinds of activities. We had our first romances there. National Service took away our young men for two years, but there were always plenty of girls willing to write to them while they were away. Some of the first tears I shed were for a boy about to leave for Austria. We had a farewell party in the schoolrooms, and tears flowed when we sang the hymn God Be With You Till We Meet Again (click here with your speakers on, to hear this tune played).
Bethesda is in a sorry state. The years, pigeons and vandals have all taken their toll. The BBC Restoration programme (despite the massive support of the Stoke-on-Trent people) failed to come up with the money that would have helped to restore the building.
Hanley now boasts of its cultural quarter, but just yards away Bethesda is left to decay. The old Peppers building is being restored, but the owner must despair when he looks across the road and sees this eyesore.
The Historic Chapels Trust, with the help of a grant from the Lottery, will make a start on the much needed restoration. The Friends of Bethesda meet once a month and would welcome new faces and ideas in their quest for support in their fund-raising activities. Perhaps the people who voted for the Restoration funds could now pledge their support and help raise the extra money needed to get Bethesda back in business as a multi-use venue and again make it an asset and not an eyesore.
Elizabeth Boothby and Diana Harris (sisters)
The photograph on the left shows our parents, Helen Doris Smith and Guy Harris, outside Bethesda Chapel on their wedding day in 1916.
Helen Doris Smith was the daughter of Mary Jane Ridgway (married name Smith), the Ridgeway family being founder members of Bethesda.
We have wonderful memories of our grandmother, Mary Jane Smith (née Ridgeway), who was a devoted member of Bethesda. She was a very small, attractive lady, who smelled of lavender water and lily-of-the-valley perfume. Her mode of dress consisted of many layers of petticoats; in the top one there would be a pocket, which contained a 10-shilling note. This was used to take us to the Regent Café or to Boyce Adams Café for tea. At that time, these cafés were situated in Hanley, very near to Bethesda.
Mary Jane was a beautiful lady who always dressed immaculately, with high-necked dresses trimmed with lace, and with a wide band of lace at her throat. That is how she wold have dressed for services at Bethesda almost 100 years ago.
Our devoted grandmother died in 1943. Her funeral service was held at Bethesda Chapel and was conducted by the Reverend Russell Shearer, who spoke very highly of her, especially of her courage and praise. Russell Shearer later became president of the Methodist conference.
For a while in the late 1970s my late wife, Mary, became secretary of the North Staffs branch of the British Epilepsy Association. Although a sufferer herself, she obtained the use of a room and kitchen at Bethesda Chapel compound, owing to the kindness of the vicar. Once a week at this schoolroom, she invited participants from St Edward's Hospital to a social evening. From Staffordshire district other disabled persons came to join Mary’s social evening, where catering was provided too. Mrs Bowers and Social Services provided transport, arranged outings, etc.
If Mary were here now, I know she would do her best to help Bethesda in its present plight. I can ‘hear’ her saying, ‘Let us help them to paint the front of the chapel at least.’
Ernest Campbell married Florence Norcop in Bethesda Chapel in 1915, but was killed in action three years later. We have a separate page for Ernest and Florence and some of their memorabilia.
Although I now live in Hampshire, I was born in Staffordshire and my parents and sister still live locally in Stoke on Trent. My early memories of Bethesda are from photographs of my aunt wearing a spotty ballerina style dress at the wedding of my parents, Ruth Cuthbertson and Peter Grocott. My grandmother was a regular at Bethesda and my mum still speaks fondly of the Sunday School and fellowship received at Bethesda (she is now 70 years old).
At the last service Bethesda held, I went along with my mum to take part and can remember the huge, beautiful building being full with many people my mum remembered from her youth. I can also remember crying most of the way through the service, as I was so sad that this place, so full of my mother's childhood memories, was to be no more. It was almost as if a part of my mother was dying that night.
Since then I have been kept informed of the Restoration programme and the fund raising – in my kitchen I even have a mug that was sold to raise funds. I was in the area for Christmas 2004 and visited the new garden and saw that some progress had been made. However, when I logged onto the website and saw the internal webcam pictures, I wished I had not.
I am a member of the National Trust and fully support the good work that organisations like the NT do for our heritage. I wish everyone success in their attempt to keep Bethesda alive for the generations to come.
Our thanks for the photos and information here go to John Robertson, who was baptised at Bethesda in 1958. He lived locally in Jasper Street with his grandparents Ernest and Mary Farnell.
(Double-click with your mouse on either of the top two photos or the certificate to see a larger version.)
Taken at the back of the Egerton Arms, Mollart Street. Ernest Farnell, who was an attendant at the Hanley Baths, is second from the right at the front. The proprietor, Mr Hanley, is in the centre at the back. Second to his left is one of the Kenyon brothers.
The whole family at 36 Jasper Street. John Robertson's mother, Joan Clarke (of whom we haveanother photo), is in the centre, with her mother behind. To her right is her father, George; to her left is Mary Farnell. Ernest Farnell is second from the right. Joan's sisters are also shown.
Mary Farnell outside the Jasper Street house.
John's baptism certificate
This postcard was produced for the Hanley Circuit Ministers conference of 1912.
If you have a memory or photo you would like to share, please e-mail our Memories Co-ordinator.