Bethel Chapel

In the early part of the 1700s there were only the churches at Queenborough and Minster for the dockyard workers to visit and after many complaints the dockyard men begun to meet on Sunday afternoons for a dissenting service at a small room in a building in Bluetown. The workers from Chatham Dockyard would also join them when they were working in Sheerness Dockyard.

William Shrubsole joined them around 1750 after moving to the area and gaining employment in the Dockyard, by this time the small room being used was becoming too small for the growing group. Reverend William Shrubsole moved the group in 1763 to a new room at 26 High Street Bluetown, this became known as the Old Meeting House.

1784 saw a new chapel built at a cost of £900, this was situated in Union Road. The group was still growing and more pews were added in 1787, it was also agreed that the chapel needed to be extended by 15 feet at a cost of £300, this happened in 1812. The chapel has a datestone engraved with the initials “WS” and the date 1787, it was a two storey building with the inscription “he shall establish his strength”. A new chapel house (Manse) was also built the same year, the house was the residence of the minister, the building works cost £780.

The Church approached the local freemasons in 1813 for use of their hall to teach the local children. The hall stood in Sheerness High Street where Woolworths now stands. The request was granted and a Sunday School was established on 12th September 1813. The school proved so successful that a plot of land was bought and a school building was constructed in Hope Street, Sheerness. The foundation stones were laid on 29th February 1832, with further additions being contructed in 1863 and 1872 to the front and back of the building.

From 1811 until 1838, pastoral care fell to Reverend James Prankard who died on 11th January 1838, he was buried at Minster Abbey close to the burial place of Reverend William Shrubsole. John Gordon joined the church in 1845 when he joined the dockyard, he served as Deacon of the church for 41 years. It was he who designed the additions to the school building in 1882 and also designed chapels in West Minster and Grain. The additions to the school building came after talks were held in 1865 to buy the adjacent land and build another hall. John Gordon and W. T. Rule laid foundation stones on 25th November 1882 with the hall opening on 25th March the following year.

The chapel in Bluetown was beginning to show it’s age at the end of the 1800s, there was discussions of leaving the chapel and moving everything to Hope Street permanently however it was decided to temporarily move to Hope Street in 1893 while repairs were undertaken to the chapel. Around this time the congregation was made up of 374 members and 923 children used the school.

In 1921 it was finally decided to convert the buildings at Hope Street into a chapel and school and leave Bluetown, the buildings at Unity Street Bluetown were sold in 1923. The last act of worship at the Bluetown chapel was held on 5th November 1922, afterwards the organ, pews and other items were moved to Hope Street Sheerness with the first service being held here on 17th December the same year.

Unfortunately while work to repair the roof were being carried out in 1978 some young boys climbed the scaffolding of the Hope Street Chapel, they found a way inside and started a fire. The fire caused much damage with the first storey room, the original schoolroom, being demolished due to the extent of the fire damage and a flat roof added.

In 2002 the congregation amounted to five people, talks were in place for the chapel to be repaired and updated with the intention of the building to be used as a social meeting place. It was hoped to add internet facilities and receive a grant from the government to help with funding. The following year a UK online computer and internet facility commenced with a KCC sponsored youth drop in centre added and the hall was being hired by organisations and groups. Work to the Grade II listed building was completed in 2007 at a cost of one and a half million pounds and has become reasonably popular. The cost of the building works was helped by grants from Hope in the Community, Thames Gateway, Southern Province Trust, The Big Lottery Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation and Wren.

Designed & built by - Kevin Ali