The Founding of the Church
The earliest records of Baptists in Haverfordwest and its environs stem from the later seventeenth century. In 1689 two of the members of Rhydwilym Baptist Chapel lived in Prendergast and one in Uzmaston.
In 1740 a Baptist Meeting House was established in Prendergast. This was a preaching centre, which had no minister. Those who attended were members of older Baptist Churches at Rhydwilym, Llangloffan and Molleston.
The first recorded in baptism according to Baptist principles in Haverfordwest took place in the river near the Old Bridge in 1777. Under the influence of Revd. Benjamin Davies who became minister of Molleston in 1786, the number of Baptists in Haverfordwest grew to 60. These required a larger Meeting House, which was built on the site of the present building in 1789 at a cost of £200 for the site and £308/68p for the building. So the new church was established.
In 1800 it became a wholly separate church and in the same year Revd. Benjamin Davies resigned from the pastorate of Molleston to concentrate on the work in Haverfordwest. Under his leadership membership continued to grow and reached 200 by 1816, the year of his death. Again a larger building was required. The extension of the building was begun in 1816 and completed in 1817. This new building was the first to be given the name Bethesda. After the death of Revd. Benjamin Davies in 1816, the church went through a period of difficulty and was in a "low state" when Revd. David Davies of Evesham, the son of the first pastor, accepted an invitation to become minister of Bethesda. His pastorate, which lasted until his death in 1856 was "a season of sweet peace and prosperity".
Haverfordwest Baptist College
In 1839 a college for ministerial students was opened in Haverfordwest. Revd. David Davies and his successor Rev. Dr. Thomas Davies combined the roles of minister of Bethesda and President of the college, until it moved to Aberystwyth in 1893, almost two years before Rev. Dr. Thomas Davies died. During its existence around 500 ministerial students, including several men of distinction, were trained in this college.
Other Baptist Churches Founded
Itself the daughter of Molleston Baptist Church, Bethesda played a part in founding several other local churches. In 1819 members were dispatched to Horeb Baptist Church, Popehill (now Johnston). Bethlehem Baptist Church, Spittal was opened in 1820 and South Dairy Baptist Church in 1832. The dispatch of members from Bethesda to these churches contributed to its decline in membership in these years.
Some members of Bethesda were among those who wished to set up a Welsh Baptist Church in Haverfordwest and in 1856 were dispatched to found such a church. So it was that Hill Park Baptist Church was opened in 1858. Bethesda also founded two mission churches. Machpelah Chapel was built in 1842 to serve the growing community in Portfield and to provide a chapel for the Baptist burial ground there. A second mission chapel was established in Prendergast in 1862. Both flourished for a while but failed to take permanent root.
The New Building
The chapel of 1817 had suffered from a gas explosion in 1842 - some take this as evidence that gas lighting had already been installed in this building. It was quickly restored but by the 1870's demands for more space, especially for Sunday School classes, led to plans for a new building.
The present building, erected on the same site as its predecessor and, using existing walls where possible, was opened on 11th August 1880. It was designed by George Morgan of Carmarthen, a respected architect of this period, who built numerous chapels in South Wales, especially for the Baptists. Measuring 63' by 45', it cost £2,199. The builders were Morgan and Thomas of Haverfordwest, the stone carving was by E. Powell of Abergavenny and the decorative glass by Cox & Sons.
Romanesque in style, Bethesda has been described as "possibly the finest of his (i.e. George Morgan's) Romanesque works" and "The centre piece of an extraordinary few years in which he introduced the style to Wales". Another interesting description of Bethesda is as one of the 4 "muscular" chapels he built.