In 2018 NAA was asked to perform a Level 2 building survey on the Methodist Chapel in Middleton-in-Teesdale, located 15km up the Tees valley from Barnard Castle. The Methodist Church has been a key part of the Teesdale community since the arrival of Methodism in the valley at the turn of the 19th century.
Middleton-in-Teesdale’s history stretches back to before the Conquest, and much of its current layout was designed following the Harrying of the North in the 11th century. Yet most of the village’s growth can be attributed to the arrival of the London Lead Company in 1815, at which point trade and tourism in the village expanded considerably due to increased lead mining in the area.
At the same time that Middleton-in-Teesdale was expanding with the mining industry, John Wesley’s religious movement of Methodism was gaining in popularity with the working classes. In the late 18th century, the founder preached that anyone, no matter their wealth or status, could reach heaven – a message that had a deep resonance with miners, factory workers, and labourers across Britain. Wesley believed that the Church of England had become elitist and distant from the working classes, who, in an increasingly industrialised Britain, were those who he thought most needed the comfort of the Christian message.
Wesley’s message was preached wherever people would gather, spreading a message of salvation to the nation’s poorest people, often in industrial areas. Towards the end of the 18th century, following the death of John Wesley, the movement underwent a schism between the Wesleyan Methodists and the new Primitive Methodists. This new movement believed that Wesleyanism itself had become too elitist and part of the establishment, with its own clergy, schools, and foreign missions, and the splinter group sought to return to the movement’s origins of preaching in the streets.
It is no surprise then that this form of religion had a popular following in the area, so much so that both a Wesleyan Methodist and a Primitive Methodist Chapel were built in town. Eventually, Primitive Methodists showed signs of increased conformity and in 1932, the two churches were reconciled.
However, this reunification took a long time to reach Middleton-in-Teesdale, which saw the construction of a Wesleyan Methodist and Primitive Methodist Chapel in 1870 and 1872 respectively, both probably replacing earlier buildings. It is likely that by this point the two churches had been united in the village but still had their own separate congregations.
The Methodist Chapel of Middleton-in-Teesdale stood relatively unchanged until its recent conversion to accommodation in 2018. The chapel was built as one large open space, with an upper-storey circular gallery overlooking the services that would have taken place below. This design, along with the adjacent Sunday School, was typical of Methodist chapels built earlier in the 19th century. The walls had simple decorations, largely white plaster, with painted mouldings and fake ashlar behind the alter. Most of the colour in the chapel came from two colourful ceiling roses overlooked the space.
The only physical changes the chapel saw over the years was the installation of memorial windows to different members of the community and the addition of a plaque to commemorate those lost in First World War, which is a testament to the fact this Chapel formed part of the community until its recent closure. The current congregation still gathers but now in the Sunday School building.
The Methodist Chapel served as a key gathering place for many of the poor and disenfranchised of Middleton-in-Teesdale’s during the village’s-mining industry through much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the congregation has now moved to a smaller space, the building remains a reminder of the Teesdale’s community spirit in an industrial past.