Birkenhead Beckwith Street Primitive Methodist Chapels

Chris Wells

I have not been able to find a definitive description of how the Beckwith Street PM society developed, so what follows is my ‘best guess’ based on numerous small items of evidence. A more detailed description of this society can be found in the attachment to this piece.

Beckwith Street

Beckwith Street is part of Birkenhead’s new town grid plan designed by the Edinburgh architect James Gillespie Graham in the 1820s.  It lies between and parallel to the main WNW-ESE roads of Conway Street and Price Street and appears on an 1844 map but largely without any housing.  A Mr Beckwith is shown on the same map as owning land within the street grid nearby.

The 1840s Beckwith Street Chapel (south side)

1850-52: A 1923 booklet states: ‘In Birkenhead and district we have two strong circuits.  Their history looks back to 1850-52 and the first sanctuary was an earthen floored smithy in Beckwith Street.’  The history probably began rather earlier than this.  The smithy has not been identified.

1850: Kelly’s 1850 directory (p. 678) includes: ‘the Primitive Methodists have a small chapel in Beckwith Street’.

After this, numerous references to this chapel have been found in a variety of documents:

  • the Birkenhead section of various trade directories between 1850 and 1874, both under Places of Worship and in the street directory section; the Post Office Directory of 1878 was the first not to show a PM chapel in Beckwith Street but only the new PM chapel in Grange Lane.
  • the 1859 Q2 Preaching Plan for the Liverpool Circuit and the 1869 Q3 Preaching Plan for the Birkenhead Circuit (a copy of which was put in a time capsule under the foundation stone of Grange Lane chapel and is now in the Cheshire Archives)
  • the Minutes of the Trustees Meetings of the Camperdown Street chapel 1855-68 (Cheshire Archives); it seems that the trustees had responsibility for both chapels from about 1862.
  • The 1861 census – but not in the 1851 or 1871 censuses (unoccupied buildings were often not listed).

I conclude that the chapel was built in the late 1840s and ceased operation in the mid-1870s.  Did the Beckwith Street society then merge with Grange Lane but subsequently decide to build a new chapel in 1880 back in Beckwith Street?

I have not been able to determine the location of this chapel.  It could have been near the junction with Cathcart Street (see sketch map above) or opposite where the 1880 chapel was subsequently built – the inconclusive evidence is discussed in the attached document.

The 1880 Beckwith Street Chapel (north side)

As mentioned above, a 1923 booklet states: ‘ … and the first sanctuary was an earthen floored smithy in Beckwith Street.  There is still a cause on the site, the church [the 2nd chapel] having been built in 1880.’

After this date, numerous references have been found to this chapel in a variety of documents:

  • many newspaper reports between 1882 and 1906 of events held in the chapel or by the society in larger local buildings
  • various trade directories of 1883, 1902, 1910 and 1914
  • the 1891 Census which lists a Primitive Methodist chapel between nos. 56B and 58 (see below). There is no mention of chapels in the 1881 or 1901 censuses
  • the Preaching Plan for the Birkenhead Circuit 1899 Q2
  • various maps which show the chapel up to 1925; a 1936 map shows a space where the chapel used to stand.

Unlike the earlier chapel, I am confident about the location of this chapel once it has been distinguished from the adjacent General Baptist Chapel at no. 58.  That chapel scales at 20’wide x 48’ deep.  By 1864 according to a trade directory, the chapel had been converted into Miss Susan Newton’s infant school.

The 1891 Census shows that what had been no. 60 had been replaced by the 1880 PM chapel.  An 1899 map shows that no. 58 had been demolished and five houses (nos. 52, 54, 56, 56A and 56B) had been built on its site and part of the adjoining builder’s yard.  The PM chapel scales at about 20’ frontage x 45’ deep.

The modern location of the chapel is in the garden of 14 St Anne’s Close, over the road from no. 6 Beckwith Street East CH41 3JE.

The Relationship between the Beckwith Street and Camperdown Street Societies

At the same time as the Beckwith Street PM society was developing, another society was developing in the east end of the town (see a detailed history here).  As mentioned above, the Camperdown Street PM Trustees Minutes 1855-68 survive (Cheshire Archives), giving a wonderful insight into the life of the society. The trustees purchased a Welsh Calvinist Methodist chapel in Camperdown Street in 1856, and opening services were held in September 1859.  Up to this time it seems likely that Beckwith Street was the head of the circuit.  However, the Minutes Book after 1862 contains numerous references to decisions made by the Camperdown Street trustees about the Beckwith Street chapel, suggesting that they were by then responsible for both chapels.  Also in 1862 the trustees started thinking about building a new chapel. They began planning and fund-raising, and in July 1869, laid the foundation stone of an 800-seat chapel in Grange Lane (a history of this chapel can be seen here).

A much more detailed description of the Beckwith Street PM society and its chapels can be found in the attached account.

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Comments about this page

  • On further investigation, Chris Wells wonders whether the return from a Primitive Methodist preaching place in Birkenhead to the 1851 Census of Places of Public Religious worship actually relates to the forerunner of this chapel. Certainly the dates match.

    You can see the Return and Chris’ evidence here.

    By Christopher Hill (11/03/2022)

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