Sheffield’s Carver Street Methodist Chapel, built on what was the edge of town in 1800, is now a buzzing Australian sports bar in the centre of Sheffield’s entertainment quarter.
Its founders and the successive generations of teetotal worshippers would be appalled, but Grade II listing protects the historic fabric, and the income from customers has guaranteed that the building is well maintained.
There were Methodists in Sheffield almost from the very start of John Wesley’s great crusade, and they built a succession of modest chapels from 1741 until the Carver Street building was opened in 1805 at a cost of about £4,720 to seat 1,500 people to the designs of the architect-minister Rev William Jenkin (1788-1844).
The plain but imposing building was described by the Sheffield poet and hymn-writer James Montgomery (1771-1854) as “one of the best planned, most elegant and commodious places of worship in the country”.
Services were often packed to capacity, and the congregation spilled over into the yard outside.
Sheffield was a predominantly nonconformist town: in 1841, when the population was 112,492, the nonconformists had 25,000 sittings, a third of them free, in comparison with the Anglicans’ 1,500.
The Methodists were strict and ascetic in their private lives and public worship. The first Methodist Conference at Carver Street in 1805 passed a resolution prohibiting the use of musical instruments in worship “except a bass viol, which was permitted when the principal singer required it”.
The Carver Street congregation was strict but not rigid. When the chapel was refurbished in 1839, with new pews and double-glazed windows, an organ was inaugurated by the organist of Doncaster Parish Church, Jeremiah Rogers, “who on that occasion performed some of Bach’s organ music for the first time in Sheffield”.
The congregation flourished for 150 years. Its prestigious members included the ironfounder Henry Longden (1754-1812), who is buried in a vault at Carver Street, the steelmaker Alderman George Senior (1838-1915) of Pond’s Forge, Lord Mayor in 1901, and Sir Samuel Osborn (1864-1952), Lord Mayor in 1912.
The premises were repeatedly extended, by a schoolroom in the yard (1834), vestries at the rear of the building (1883) and a new block of schools and classrooms, at a cost of £5,000 in 1897.
The church was reseated in 1902 and a new organ by the Hull manufacturers Forster & Andrews was installed. It cost £1,200, the gift of Samuel Meggitt Johnson (1836-1925) of Endcliffe Court, sole proprietor of the George Bassett confectionery company.
The congregation continued to thrive between the wars: in 1934 the adult membership was 550 and the Sunday Schools had 900 on roll.
The Institute was wrecked in the December 1940 Blitz, and the church itself suffered damage, yet the community played a significant part in the war effort, and was still flourishing at the time of its sesquicentenary in 1955.
By the 1970s, however, there was a decline in numbers, and in 1990 the congregation combined with that of the demolished Wesley Methodist Church in Broomhill and occupied a new building on that site in 1998.
The Carver Street building was sold and converted into a pub, in which the paraphernalia of a modern bar sits incongruously in the intact surroundings of the Grade II-listed galleried chapel, with the pulpit occupied by the DJ’s desk, and the organ intact but mothballed behind. The graves outside are protected by timber cladding. The entire pub-conversion is reversible, so that in future the space can be restored to its original elegance and the building put to another use: https://www.walkaboutbars.co.uk/sheffield.