First Stone Was Laid
Purchased by Bethel Temple
Main Hall Renovated
Grade II Listed Status
Lower Rooms Refurbished
Exterior Repair Work Started
Church Destroyed by Fire
Even though our building is currently being repaired, our Church remains strong and active in our community. Using the temporary premises at Havelock Street Presbyterian Church, we are still worshipping, serving and looking to the future.
Origins & Foundations
The origins of the church building can be traced back to the development of Methodism by George Whitefield and Charles & John Wesley in the early 1700’s. John Wesley first visited Wales in October 1739 and his first sermon on Welsh soil, after crossing the Severn was at Devauden. Later on the same visit he preached at Newport to “the most insensible and ill-behaved people” he had met with in Wales!
Wesley visited Wales on many occasions subsequently, but Newport proved barren soil for the growth of Methodism, probably because of his earlier experiences. Nevertheless, a Methodist “room” was opened by Wesley, probably on the site that was to become in 1863 the old Baptist Chapel in Stow Hill (now a disused nightclub), adjacent to the site of Bethel Community Church.
The first Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Newport was built in 1808 in Commercial Street, but growth remained slow, there being only 156 members in 1809 in the whole of the Glamorgan Methodist Circuit (which included Cardiff). In 1810, Newport was given its own circuit and membership must have increased, because by 1850 this chapel had been demolished and a new one was opened on the same site.
The subsequent growth of Wesleyan Methodism in Newport was such that in a report dated May 1883, the Minister (W. Gibson) wrote “For some years the progress of Methodism in Newport has been seriously hindered through the unsuitableness and inadequacy of the present Chapel and the utterly insufficient accommodation accorded to the Sunday School.”
For some time, the church been looking at sites for a new chapel. As a result of circumstances described by the Minister as “providential”, they were able to purchase the current site of the church.
The foundation stone for the new chapel was laid on 9th August 1883 with due ceremony, subsequent to a procession from the old chapel – something that was mirrored almost 90 years later when members of Bethel Community Church (then known as Bethel Temple) – processed from their old church to the new one. Full details of the ceremony can be found in that week’s copy of the Monmouthshire Merlin and South Wales Advertiser.
Architecture & Design
The Architects who designed the new chapel were W.G. Habershon & Fawkner of London, Newport and Cardiff. The Builder was Mr C. Miles of Newport. Following the laying of the foundation stone, construction proceeded quickly and the new chapel was opened on 26th June 1884, with Rev. George Osborn of London preaching from Isaiah 45:22-24.
The Architect’s original description of the building:
The walls are to be faced with grey stone, and relieved with Bath stone dressings and tracery to windows. The building is designed in the Gothic style and is capable of accommodating on the ground floor 588 people and in the gallery 393, being a total of 981.
The roof is to be formed by panels divided by moulded ribs, supported by arches resting upon ornamental iron pillars. The whole of the woodwork is to be in pitch pine, stained and varnished. The gallery front is to have iron panels of a very chaste design. The building will be well lighted throughout.
The tower and spire will rise to a height of 115’ (35.1m) from the road and will form a prominent landmark.
The main entrance, which is a projecting portal is surmounted by an ornamental gable and carved finial. The side facing Stow Hill is relieved by transepts surmounted by gables, which break the roof line. The upper windows are to have ornamental tracery.
The roofs are to be covered with slates, laid in alternate bands. The vestibules will be laid with tiles.
The cost of the new chapel was estimated to be around £7,000 (over £500,000 at today’s costs).
References in the Monmouthshire Merlin & South Wales Advertiser refer to the chapel being “the handsomest ecclesiastical edifice in the town” and “the gracefully-proportioned spire points out the locality of the chapel from all parts of the neighbourhood and from Stow Hill the edifice looks remarkably well”.
Grade II Listing
In 2000, the building was given Grade II listed status by CADW, which caused additional problems, as all repair & building work needed to be undertaken to exacting standards.
In 2013, it became evident that urgent repairs were needed that were completely beyond the means of Bethel, who by now were an independent charity and not part of any denominational structure.
Application for grant aid was successfully made to the Heritage Lottery Fund and CADW, while other funders have also made small grants. Work commenced in July 2015 for structural repairs to begin restoring the building to its former glory.
There are few records of church life during the period that the church was a Wesleyan Methodist chapel.
What we do know though is that the church was one of the few impacted in Newport by the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival. Brynmor Jones in his book, Voices from the Welsh Revival 1904-1905, recalls that a team of revivalists visited the church – including Mary Roberts (sister of the revival’s leader, Evan Roberts), Sidney Evans (Evan Roberts’ best friend) and Sam Jenkins (who wrote many of the revival songs). Evangelistic messages were given, prayers made for a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and meetings continued until well after midnight.
What is clear though is particularly after the second World War, Wesleyan Methodism in Newport went into a decline. The chapel was built in the 1880’s, to seat over 900 people, but by the 1960’s numbers had decreased significantly. The costs of running the church, including maintenance and repairs was causing the Newport Methodist circuit considerable concern and it was eventually decided to close the church and offer it for sale, with the congregation being dispersed to other, smaller chapels in the town.
In 1974 the building was purchased by Bethel Community Church (then Bethel Temple). Bethel Temple was a Pentecostal church under the auspices of the Assemblies of God. They had been worshipping before that at a church in Commercial Road in Pill (currently owned by New Seasons Church) that had become much too small for it’s purposes.
On the first day of services, the whole congregation proceeded from the old church to the new one, lead by Pastor Eric Dando.
Some current members can still recall those early days when the church grew considerably and was the centre for many activities, with over 200 children attending Sunday School, coming to Bethel using specially-hired buses from all over Newport. Over 100 came to youth meetings and special activities for men, women and older people were very popular. Christmas was a special time, with the church packed out for services, parties and carol singing.
Although delighted with their new premises, considerable difficulties had to be faced to make the building suitable for Bethel’s purposes.
Over the years a worship area has been created at the main ground floor area by partitioning off the gallery. As part of this work the whole front of the church has been remodelled with the pulpit and organ being removed.
We were quite apprehensive moving to the new building, but also excited at all the new possibilities…
– George & Carol O’Neil
Dave & I were one of the first couples to be married in new Bethel. New beginnings for us and for the church.
– Lynnette Burton
The Church Today
Bethel Community Church is now a vibrant city centre church attended each Sunday by some 150 people of all ages, nationalities and ethnic groups. Our mission statement is to be “Seen, Heard and Felt” in our community, the wider community of Newport and other areas around.
In June 2018, our building was partially destroyed during a fire started in the adjacent building. While our building undergoes repairs, we are currently meeting in Havelock Street Presbyterian Church, just around the corner.
Through our charity, The Gap – Wales, we run important ministries such as The Sanctuary In providing these facilities we work closely with Newport City Council, Gwent Police and other NGO’s and charities.