The Potteries town of Hanley was one of the earliest centres of the Methodist New Connexion. Its local protesters began meeting in William Smith’s house in Shelton, Hanley, but soon moved into a coach house before building their first chapel, seating 600, in Albion Street in 1798.Alexander Kilham and William Thom took part in the opening service. This chapel was enlarged in 1813 and again in 1819-20, resulting in a much larger building, seating over 2,500. Refurbishment in 1856 included the present pulpit and communion rail. In 1859-60 the chapel was refronted by Robert Scrivener, the architect of Hanley town hall, in Italianate style, including eight Corinthian columns, Further alterations were made in 1887. The Sunday School premises of 1819 were enlarged in 1836.
An organ by Kirtland & Jardine was installed in 1860, bought from money left in John Ridgway's will. It was destroyed by vandalism in the 1990s. The present organ, from the same firm, is from St. Ignatius Chapel, Salford Docks.
An elegant and impressive building, the chapel was regarded as 'the jewel in the denomination's crown'. Among those who preached there were the American evangelist James Caughey and William Booth, the future founder of the Salvation Army. Prominent among its supporters was the Ridgway family. But the movement of the more affluent classes into the suburbs and declining congregations later in the 19th century led to its eventual closure and sale in 1985.
The chapel was transferred into the care of the Historic Chapels Trust in 2002. The restoration project was split into three phases: the first begun in 2006 and completed in 2007 at a cost of £900,000; the second begun in 2010 and finished in 2011, at a cost of c.£600,000.
In 2003 it was one of the finalists in the BBC's 'Restoration' programme, and this encouraged renewed local and civic efforts to restore the building and bring it back into public use. In 2009 a grant of nearly £40,000 was awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the restoration which is still in progress with the intention of making it once again a focal point in the community.
'Bethesda, which has a magnificent interior, was for 150 years a centre of faith and public life in the Potteries... Under plans, once restored the chapel would be available for community events and occasional services.'
Alan Beith, chairman of the Historic Chapels Trust