A brief history of Bethesda
Bethesda Methodist Church dates back to 1828. In that year a twenty-two year old preacher, John Rattenbury, conducted an outdoor service from the steps of a house in St Philip’s Street not far from the present building. The popularity of this and other missionary meetings prompted the growing congregation to hire a disused blacksmith’s shop in Upper Bath Street. This had room for about 100 people and was fitted out with benches, a pulpit and a place for a small orchestra with bass, flute and clarinet.
The first chapel was erected in 1830, on land purchased in Great Norwood Street, and was opened in the summer after only six weeks of building. This, too, quickly became inadequate and the present structure, a Grade II Listed Building, was erected in 1845/1846, the opening ceremony being performed by John Rattenbury who by this time had become an ordained Wesleyan Minister. He later became President of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference.
The building cost £1,390. Charles Caudle who was a founder member (a memorial to him is on one of the interior church walls) described the new building: “There was no gallery, no lobby except a large wooden box; the pews old-fashioned, straight backed, without paint or colouring, with doors.” The earlier chapel was then demolished and the land used for the old St James’ Church of England School (now residential properties known as Old School Court).
By 1865 the church had 154 members, and the school buildings were enlarged in 1871. In 1881 the church began mission meetings on Lansdown Bridge, and these led to the foundation of St Mark’s Methodist Church.
Throughout the 20th Century the Church was renovated and modernised on a number of occasions, and in1989 the Bethesda congregation was joined by the members of the St Matthew’s Methodist congregation.
A major redevelopment of the ancillary premises was completed in December 2016