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Methodism in the Potteries 
Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme

 

Swan Bank Methodist Church


next: Duck Bank Chapel and Arnold Bennett
previous: John Wesley in the Potteries

John Wesley and Burslem

origin of Methodists in Burslem in 1740
Wesley first preached in Newcastle-under-Lyme as early as 1738 (the year of his conversion), not visiting Burslem until March 8, 1760.

By this time, the Society of Methodists in Burslem was already some 20 years old, having been established by a group of miners around the year 1740 following their return from some of Wesley's early meetings in Bristol. Thus, the "Swan Bank Methodist Church" can claim to be one of the oldest Methodist Societies in the world.

When Wesley arrived one of the converts, Abraham Lindop, opened his cottage for services and in 1766 the first Methodist chapel in Burslem was built.

 

Methodism continues to grow

Wesley continued to visit the Potteries and Burslem in particular, he often preached at Hill Top in the Sytch.

Population growth - John Ward in his book 'The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent' estimates that around the time of Wesley's first visit to Burslem the population of the whole of the Potteries was less then 7,500 people. By 1785 it had doubled to 15,000.
Wesley notes this rapid influx of people, who had largely moved from the countryside to take advantage of employment in the growing pottery industry......

'1781, March 8th - I returned to Burslem. How is the whole face of this country changes in about twenty years! Since which, inhabitants have continually flowed in from every side. Hence the wilderness is literally become a fruitful field. Houses, villages, towns, have sprung up: and the country is not more improved than the people.....'

The Burslem Society continued to grow after the building was erected in 1766 and in 1783 Burslem was made head of a circuit.  

The circuit system was established in the early days of Methodism, when ordained Methodist ministers were scarce. A minister would be appointed to a group or circuit of local churches. He would administer the sacraments and have pastoral oversight, but most of the services would be led by the lay Local Preachers. Later, circuits came to be staffed by several ministers, headed by a Superintendent Minister, though there could still be more churches than ministers.

Wesley recorded...... '1784, March 31st - I reached Burslem, where we had the first society in the county, and it is still the largest, and the most earnest.'


Burslem Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and Sunday School Buildings
Burslem Wesleyan Methodist Chapel and Sunday School Buildings
Swan Square, Burslem

photo: provided by Ewart Morris

Swan Bank Wesleyan Chapel, Burslem c.1890-1895
Swan Bank Wesleyan Chapel, Burslem c.1890-1895
"the Corinthian facade of the Wesleyan Chapel"

Description: "Three times on a Sunday - morning, afternoon, and Chapel at night..."
The first Wesleyan Chapel was built in the Potteries in 1766.
This was replaced by Swan Bank Chapel, shown in the photograph, in 1801.
In 1816 it was enlarged to seat 1290 people, before eventually being replaced in 1971.

photo: Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Staffordshire Past Track

 

Burslem Methodist Mission
Burslem Methodist Mission
Swan Square, Burslem - Dec 2008

 

Key dates in Burslem Wesleyan Methodist Society

The society was considerably weakened, however, by the formation of the Methodist New Connexion in 1797. 

In 1801 a new chapel was built in Swan Square and enlarged in 1816.

The society again suffered a setback in 1836 on the division of the Burslem Sunday school.

In 1851 it was still the strongest chapel in Burslem and seated 1,290; attendance then averaged 500 in the morning on Sundays and 800 in the evening.

The chapel was again extended and improved in 1870 when a new front with a portico was added. Vestries were added c. 1884. This is shown in the photo above.

In 1949 the chapel, which has always been the centre of Wesleyan Methodism in the area, became The Central Methodist Church and now (1958) forms a single church circuit.

The 1801 church building was demolished in the late 1960's and a new modern church of concrete and brick was designed by Hulme, Upright and Partners and completed in 1971.

 

Swan Bank Methodist Sunday School Buildings
Swan Bank Methodist Sunday School Buildings
To the side and round the back of the modern church, the Sunday School still stands in the school yard as marked on the 1898 map and exactly as described by Arnold Bennett in his novel, Anna of the Five Towns.

photo: Dec 2008

"This Sunday School building has two sections. The first is two storeys high, six rooms wide by two rooms deep. The second building also has two storeys but is five rooms wide by two rooms deep. They were constructed between 1832 and 1878, and between 1878 and 1900."
 

The history of its Sunday school began in 1798. In 1801, when the new chapel was built,  the school occupied the old building and also used the Free School in Moorland Road and a house in Hot Lane.  In 1805 a new school adjacent to the chapel was erected and had been enlarged by 1809. when the pupils numbered 1,260.

After the 1836 dispute, the school was re-opened under the management of the Wesleyan trustees.  New Sunday and day school buildings were erected beside the chapel in 18501 at a cost of 1,500, of which 400 was granted by the government.

replacement building on the same site as the original 1801 building
replacement building on the same site as the original 1801 building
This modern church of concrete and brick was designed by Hulme, Upright and Partners and completed in 1971

photo: Ewart Morris

A view of Swan Square, Burslem
A view of Swan Square, Burslem
the square is dominated by the portico of the Methodist Church (which was added in 1870), on the right stands the old George Hotel

photo: provided by Ewart Morris


Same view with the 1971 church
the corner of the George Hotel, which was rebuilt after a fire of 1929, can be seen
 

Sources: 'The city of Stoke-on-Trent: Protestant Nonconformity', A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 8 (1963).

Staffordshire Past Track


1851 map of Swan Square and Church Square
1851 map of Swan Square and Church Square
showing the Wesleyan Chapel and School

Staffordshire Past Track

 

1898 map showing the development of the school buildings
1898 map showing the development of the school buildings
 


 


next: Duck Bank Chapel and Arnold Bennett
previous: John Wesley in the Potteries