Bishop Street Methodist Church has been here since 1815 and is an important part of Leicester's Heritage. Like most places of worship the Chapel building has been adapted and extended over the years with different generations of the people who have worshipped here each leaving their mark. The building and fittings have changed to meet their needs and those of the city. This is a process which is still going on today.
The frontage of the Chapel now looks out onto Town Hall Square, with its cherry trees and central fountain. Handsome buildings dating from the later nineteenth and early twentieth century make up the Square the Reference Library (1904), the former Central Post Office, and of course, the Town Hall itself (1873).
The front of the Chapel has altered relatively little since it was built. The design is symmetrical, with ordered rows of round-arched windows. There are details taken from classical architecture and this is very typical of building style in the Georgian period. This Classical style with its elegant simplicity was popular for nonconformist places of worship at that time.
The architect of this Chapel was himself a Methodist Minister, Rev. William Jenkins. He knew from personal experience what was important in a Chapel building. Jenkins designed chapels across the British Isles. The best preserved of these is Walcot Chapel near Bath. The closest in appearance to Bishop Street is the Chapel he designed in Carver St, Sheffield.
Inside the Chapel
The central door is a later addition to the Chapel, one of the many alterations undertaken in 1883. Originally the Chapel was entered by the large doors on the left and right. The foyer was created in the late 1960s and refurbished in 1994.
The original Chapel building was practically square with a high flat ceiling. This 'box-like' design was intended to enable the congregation to hear the preacher clearly and such churches are called 'auditory' churches (churches for hearing).
The Worship Focus
In central place, encircled by a wooden rail, is the communion table for the celebration of Holy Communion (also known as the Lord's supper). This commemoration of the Last Supper, in which worshippers share in bread and wine, is very important to many Christians. Those partaking can kneel at the rail. The small regular holes pierced in the wooden ledge behind the rail are designed to hold the individual glasses typically used in Methodist celebrations of the Lord's Supper. From John Wesley onwards the Methodist Church has had a strong tradition of opposing the abuse of alcohol. For this reason, by the late nineteenth century, most Methodist Churches stopped using alcoholic wine at communion. The individual glasses, an innovation from America, prevented the spread of disease once alcoholic wine was abandoned.
Above the table is a broad pulpit. The elevation of the pulpit expresses the centrality of preaching in Methodism. It also serves a practical purpose enabling the preacher to be seen and heard by the many worshippers seated in the gallery. Beyond this are the choir stalls. On either side are boards for the display of hymn numbers.
Members and Memorials
On either side of the worship focus are First World War Memorials from this Chapel and from sister congregations who formerly met at the Temperance Hall and Mansfield Street Mission. Many of the individual fittings in the Chapel were given in memory of members of this church or other associated churches which are no longer open. Further names are recorded in our church records. If you think that an ancestor of yours may have been a church member, our War Memorial names and our Baptismal register from 1877 onwards are now on the heritage section of our website at www.bishopstreetchurch.org.uk
Rooms and Meetings
The recent changes to the main church have involved removing the side pews, which opened up areas under the galleries for exhibitions, stands and displays. More recently we installed a ramped entrance and a more open layout for the area where we worship, which is now open to the public all through the week with 'The Chapel Café'. The new layout gives much greater flexibility of use while protecting and sustaining the heritage of the chapel, with a high quality worship, performance and meeting venue and an exhibition space for art and heritage exhibitions and to showcase our own heritage, activities and concerns and the work of local groups, charities and organisations. The serenity and beauty of this historic space is accessible to the people of Leicester, not only during special events, but every day.
A short booklet, John Wesley in Leicestershire, published by Kairos Press in 1988, provides fuller information on this, and is available from Kairos Press, or direct from Bishop Street Methodist Church.