Bethel Chapel, Luton, began through inauspicious circumstances in the year 1873. A few people had met by arrangement for prayer in the cottage of an old lady, too ill to get to chapel. One of the number, James Newman, who had recently come to Luton and started a shop in Chapel Street, announced a hymn and afterwards made a few comments. Those present so enjoyed what was spoken, that it was agreed this meeting should certainly not be the last.
Soon the cottage was too small for the meetings. After much prayer, on June 14th, 1874, “The Particular Baptist Meeting Room” was opened on part of the ground where the chapel now stands. This was made by Mr. Newman converting some of his workrooms. James Newman’s himself preached regularly but was never formally the pastor. In June 1881 he became pastor at the Particular Baptist chapel at Redbourn, a few miles away, but maintained a close, loving connection with Bethel till he died rather suddenly in December 1888.
Because of the unsuitability of the old chapel (part of it of corrugated iron, and approached by steps at the front), the possibility of a new chapel was mooted as far back as 1888. From time to time the matter was raised and from 1901 plans proceeded apace. After various options were considered it was agreed to purchase from Mrs. Newman, the land, buildings, etc. at present used and to build an entirely new chapel. This was completed in 1906 at a cost of about £1,250. Opening services were held on Monday, November 26th, 1906.
This is an outline of our beginnings. A more detailed history of Bethel was published in booklet format in 1976, and this was updated 25 years later in 2001. You can read this booklet here. Alternatively you can download the booklet in PDF format which you can save to your computer if you wish. Click here to load the PDF version.
The Sunday School
From its earliest days Bethel has always had a Sunday school. This was begun on the first Lord’s day of 1875 with 8 scholars and 3 teachers –
Our Sunday school still continues, and the great day alone will declare what real blessing has resulted from the teaching of God’s Word. The number of children varies as some start and other leave but averages around 35. Our deacon, Mr. Christian, has been the superintendent for many years. Our Pastor used to come in to address the school once a month, but with increasing age this is not possible now. He always gives a special address at Christmas time and in the afternoon of our anniversary services in June.
One striking incident may be mentioned. At the beginning of the 20th century, a boy named Frank Bennett began to attend Bethel Sunday school. He belonged to a very high church and was not happy at his own Sunday school. A friend asked him, “Why don’t you come to ours?” and persuaded him to come to Bethel. Frank was much touched by the kindness of his teacher, Miss Geary, and eventually attended all the services, being blessed and then baptized in 1905, though much persecuted at home. Sad to say, the boy who invited him drifted away from chapel and Sunday school altogether. “One shall be taken, and the other left.” Frank Bennett became pastor of a church in Shoreham, Sussex and died in 1959.