Hill Top Sunday School, Westport Road, Burslem

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Date:1836 - 1837 (c.)

Description:The construction of the this chapel was a result of a dispute between the Sunday School teachers and trustees of the Wesleyan Chapel in Burslem. The dispute concerned a writing ban on the Sabbath day which would severely limit many children's education, Sundays being their only days of learning. The clash of views came to a head in May 1836 when the teachers were locked out of the school and at a subsequent meeting of supporters the building of a new school was proposed. In 1843, it was written by Ward that: 'In 1837, they purchased a plot of land in a prominent situation, and at a very great expense erected a building to serve the two-fold purpose of School rooms and a Chapel, which now forms a striking ornament to that part of the Town. The School rooms occupy the basement storey, the Chapel the upper storey which is galleried round very commodiously; along the whole front and in advance of it is a portico of eight Doric columns twelve feet in height supporting an entablature of stone on which is inscribed in large letters, 'Burslem Sunday School'.
The chapel is a large three storeyed brick building with an entrance on the first floor. The side windows are plain with stone lintels and sills; the impressiveness of the building comes from its scale and from its grand five bayed classical facade. It was built by Aaron Sant to the designs of Samuel Sant and Sculptor John Brooks. It cost an estimated £4000 to construct, including £400 for the site. An 1851 map shows that there was originally a single flight of steps at the front. The Sunday school and Chapel are inextricably linked with regard to the functioning and development of the building. In 1843 there were said to be 1354 scholars in the school. In 1849 to 1850 the apse was added, providing the vestry with classroom below. In 1864 a girls school consisting of Infants, Middle and Top room was built at the rear western corner of the chapel. Also at this date pews and an organ were put into the chapel, and a minister's house was built in the other rear corner of the site, fronting Hall Street.
By 1878, both boys and girls were being taught in the separate school building while the chapel itself was able to seat 700. In 1889 the north and south rooms formerly school rooms within the main building, were converted into the Assembly Room and the chapel received a new ceiling and balcony. It is thought that in the same year the single staircase at the front of the building was replaced by the two side flights now present.
By the end of the nineteenth century the role of the Hill Top School had been diminished by the growth of state education. In 1907 the chapel joined the United Methodist Church thereby losing its independent standing. A small extension was made to the rear of the chapel between 1912 and 1924, and in 1923 the building was given new windows and a vestibule. The chapel continued to flourish. By 1940 it was able to seat 900 people, comprised of three Sunday School halls and 23 other rooms. In 1955 with the closure of the Burslem Bethel Chapel, Hill Top became the head of the circuit. It ceased to function as a place of worship in 1977 and has since lain vacant and been allowed to deteriorate. At present only the front of the building still stands.

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Source: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

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