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St Andrew’s Cross is a name familiar to most Plymothians today as it is marked mainly by the large roundabout situated at the top of Royal Parade, near to Bretonside. But what of its older namesake?
The original St Andrew’s Cross stood on the site of the old churchyard of St Andrew’s Church – immediately outside the north porch and entrance.
Over the centuries the churchyard had been used almost continually for burials. Consequently the churchyard became heaped up high above the street level and it hid a good part of the north wall of the church. Under the auspices of ‘improvement’ the churchyard ‘mound’, as it had become known, presented an opportunity for change and civic improvement to the Plymouth Borough Council.
In May 1893, local man, James Hine submitted a plan for laying out St Andrew’s Churchyard to the Hoe and Recreation Ground Committee of Plymouth Borough Council. In his explanation, the Town Clerk explained that it was proposed to erect in the centre of the churchyard a cross to the memory of the old Plymothians buried there. He said that “the cross would be between 60 and 70 feet high, and would break the span of St Andrew’s Church roof which, as they were aware, was quite straight. The mound would be levelled to the level of the street, which would be widened, and paths in the form of a St Andrew’s cross would be cut through the ground, which would be enclosed and laid out with flower beds. The plan had been approved by the St Andrew’s Church authorities. The cost of the work would be £2,500, but the land given to the public would be of considerably greater value. The remains of the persons buried there would be re-interred in the Westwell Street burial ground, except in one instance in which the relatives had expressed a desire that their ancestors should be removed to the cemetery.”
Soon after the plan had been presented to the Borough Council a faculty for the removal of graves was submitted to the Diocese of Exeter by the Town Clerk, Mr. J. H. Ellis. This application resulted in an official enquiry, held on an order of the Bishop of Exeter.
The purpose of the enquiry was to “hear of any objections which might be made as to the alteration or removal of tombstones, &c., in connection with the widening of Bedford Street by the removal of the churchyard.”
At the enquiry the Town Clerk reported that 371 tombs were affected. The relatives of only ten of the persons interred however could be traced as there had been no burials there for some time. They [the Borough Council] had every assistance from the authorities of St Andrew’s Church, but were unable to find more than the number he had mentioned.
The Diocesan representative, clearly in agreement with the proposals is stated as replying saying, almost casually, “That shews how soon people pass out of knowledge”.
The Town Clerk continued in his report by saying that there had been burials at late as 1864 and one in 1890. The relatives of the last mentioned person, a Miss Webber, had been communicated with and they concurred the removal. He next produced the by-laws which prohibited the playing of any games on the open space to be provided. There was no opposition to the scheme to his knowledge.
In detailing the proposal further the Town Clerk said that the Borough Council proposed to level the mound outside the church to the street surface and to erect in the centre a handsome memorial cross, and to surround it by an ornamental railing of appropriate design. There would be gates which would be closed at night to keep people off the ground.
In a major amendment to the original plan, the Town Clerk reported that the removal of the bodied to the Westwell Street burial ground was undesirable on sanitary grounds, and therefore, instead of removing them, they proposed to make a proper receptacle below the surface of the ground in which to place the remains, expect in certain cases where it was desired that they should be removed to the Plymouth Cemetery. In those cases freehold graves or vaults would be purchased and given to the relatives. The surplus soil, the consecrated earth, would be removed to the consecrated ground in Westwell Street.
Surprisingly perhaps, there was very little public opposition to the removal of the churchyard and work on preparing the site for the new memorial began early in 1894 with a completion date for the project of 6 May 1895.
The Western Morning News of Saturday, 2 February 1895 offers us a glimpse towards the great progress made, as follows:
“The partial removal of the hoarding which for some months has hid from view the operations of the workmen engaged in removing the old burial mound opposite St Andrew’s Church, Plymouth, and converting it into an open space, has enabled the public to note the progress made with the work, and to form some idea of the extent and character of the improvement now approaching completion. The remains of some 1,500 bodies buried there have been reverently removed, some, at the request of relatives, re-interred at the Plymouth Cemetery, and the remainder in a large vault excavated below the original graves. The mound has also been lowered to the level of the adjacent streets, the consecrated earth having been removed to the Westwell Street Burial Ground, and the memorial cross erected in the centre of the ground is all but complete. Beyond the finishing touches to this work, all that remains to be done is the removal of the wall and railings which enclose the mound, and the laying out of the ground with intersecting paths in the form of a St Andrew’s Cross. A continuance of the severe wintry weather may cause delay, but it is expected that the work will be completed by Easter, when the latest addition to the open spaces of Plymouth will be dedicated to the public use with some appropriate ceremony, the details of which have yet to be arranged. Already it can be seen that the removal of the unsightly mound, besides enabling the roadway to be considerably widened, will open up a fine view of the handsome block of Guildhall buildings, as well as the ancient fabric of St Andrew’s Church, and effect a most desirable improvement in the centre of the town.”
By April the work of construction was completed with the installation of its finely sculptured figures. The Western Morning News of Tuesday, 23 April 1895 reported that “the memorial cross, which for many months has been in course of construction from the designs of Messrs. Hine and Odgers, is now approaching completion. The services of the sculptors engaged on the Guildhall nearly a quarter of a century ago were happily secured for the present work. The life-size figure representing Hope, by Mr Hems, of Exeter, and the figures emblematic of Charity and Peace, by Mr Trevenen, of Plymouth, were placed in their niches on Friday and Saturday. The figure of Faith, by Mr Bolton, of Cheltenham, will probably be fixed in the niche on the east side today. It is expected that the churchyard improvements will be publicly inaugurated in May.”
Once the final figure had been placed, the date for inauguration was set for Thursday 30 May 1895.
An article in the Western Morning News of Friday, 3 May 1895 reported that “Messrs. Hine and Odgers, of Plymouth, who designed the monument, are to be congratulated upon the production of a very beautiful piece of work. The cross stands on a broad base of polished Aberdeen granite, surrounded by steps laid octagonally, the upper plinth being of local limestone. Above this the whole of the structure is in Portland stone and Mitcheldean red freestone, nearly in alternate layers. The cross itself is in three stages. On each face of the first stage there is a moulded arch with double shafts and capitals. These arches enclose slabs of polished Aberdeen granite, on two of which are inscriptions. That on the northern side reads:
“To the Glory of God, and in memory of parishioners during many centuries buried near this cross.”
On the south side, facing the church, is inscribed:
“Erected Anno Domini 1894. Ven. Archdeacon Wilkinson, Vicar; John. P. Paige, T. G. Greek Wills, Churchwardens.”
The second, or central stage, which is much more elongated, has similar arches and columns. The higher portion of the arches is recessed, and in each of the niches is placed a large sculptured statue, resting on a pillar of polished Aberdeen granite with a carved and moulded capital and moulded base. The figures are carved in Portland stone and are seven feet in height. The one on the east side is emblematic of Faith, and is by Messrs. Bolton, of Cheltenham. On the south side is Hope, carved by Messrs. Hems and Sons, of Exeter, and on the west and north sides are Charity and Peace, the work of Mr Samuel Trevenen, of Plymouth. This stage of the structure is pedimented on each face, and the buttress at each angle terminates with a carved pinnacle. The top stage, which is of lesser width, has also diagonal buttresses, surmounted by smaller pinnacles and the whole terminates in a spiral form with a lofty cross of wrought copper. The structure is finely enriched with carving throughout.
The low boundary wall and railings will be completed by handsomely-designed and decorated wrought iron gates, the work of Messrs. Hardman and Powell, of Birmingham. The whole of the works have been carried out to the design and under the direction of Messrs. Hine and Odgers, the contractor being Mr J. Finch, of Plymouth.
To complete the dedication of the newly erected Cross, a hymn was specially written by the Borough Librarian, W. H. K. Wright and was set to music by the organist of St Andrew’s Church, Harry Moreton.
The completed Cross and gardens provided a beautiful space for relaxation and contemplation within the busy and rapidly expanding town centre until the dark days of World War Two.
During the second night of the Plymouth Blitz – Friday 21 March to the early morning of Saturday, 22 March 1941 St Andrew’s Church and the immediate vicinity scored direct hits by incendiary and high explosive bombs. The destruction of this night did great damage to St Andrew’s Cross – the story goes that a large land mine, or other high explosive bomb, fell just outside the north porch of the Church and close to the Cross. Although the detonation of the bomb didn’t destroy the Cross structure (or the church), the Cross was said to have been entirely lifted and dropped back to the ground – leaving the memorial unstable and unsafe. Its removal therefore became inevitable and it began being dismantled and removed in November 1941.
Happily however, we in Plymouth today can see something of the remains of the cross in a number of places. The wrought copper cross was salvaged and presented to St Andrew’s Church. This beautiful piece of metalwork is viewable to day inside the church towards the west of the north aisle.
The original site of St Andrew’s Cross, just outside the north porch, is marked by an original piece of the Cross structure. The marker, which is the original inscribed south panel of Aberdeen granite south panel reads (albeit now very faintly) –
ERECTED A.D. 1894
VEN ARCHDEACON WILKINSON, VICAR
JOHN. P. PAIGE [- CHURCHWARDEN]
T. G. GREEK WILLS [- CHURCHWARDEN]
ST ANDREW’S CROSS
WAS DESTROYED BY ENEMY ACTION
ON THE 21ST MARCH 1941
AND THIS GARDEN REDESIGNED
I wonder how many people walk over this piece of the original structure without even noticing its worn inscription?
Finally, two of the four statues from the original Cross structure survive and can be found close by at Plymouth Guildhall. One statue stands in the former main entrance to the Guildhall, as approached from Guildhall Square, now the carpark. This statue depicts Peace and was carved by Samuel Trevenen. It formerly stood in the north niche – facing over Bedford Street to Spooners Corner. It is a particularly beautiful statue and demands close attention.
The second statue to survive is also the work of Samuel Trevenen and depicts Charity holding a young child. This statue is often mistaken as the Madonna and Child – and as much as I love that idea, we know that isn’t factually correct. This statue once stood in the doorway on the north western side of the Guildhall – i.e. that side nearest Royal Parade and facing Dingles. It was moved afterwards beside the main west entrance to the Guildhall, facing the Civic Centre. In its former life, this statue stood in the western niche of the Cross structure. It’s really pleasing to know the work of Samuel Trevenen, of Plymouth survives.
Quite why the statues of Faith, by Messrs. Bolton, of Cheltenham and Hope by Harry Hems, of Exeter do not survive isn’t clear. Perhaps they were too badly damaged during the bombing raids of the Plymouth Blitz to be saved? Perhaps someone may find that missing piece of the jigsaw someday…
We have therefore some very important remains of the original St Andrew’s Cross in our midst today, whether many Plymothians realise it or not. Perhaps next time you are walking past St Andrew’s Minster Church, or the Guildhall, take a moment to remember the stories and people associated with those sacred spots. I know I will.
© Graham Naylor [archive images supplied courtesy of and copyright to Plymouth Library Services]
I’ve been lucky enough to be have had associations with St Aubyn’s Church for a number of years and to know it in two quite different incarnations.
I was first became associated with the building when it became clear in 2009 that it would become the new Devonport Library. I was fortunate to see the building during its transformation and now I spend time working at this fantastic facility offered to the people of Devonport and Plymouth.
In my view this building forms a perfection – a combination of church and library!
Prior to the opening of the new Library in 2011 I researched something of the history of the Church. What follows is taken from my notes of that time.
St Aubyn’s Church was erected as a Proprietary Chapel under the authority of an Act of Parliament passed in 1768. The costs of passing the Act and completing the chapel were to be raised from “the sale and disposition of the pews or seats to be erected and set up in the said chapel” – the final building cost amounted to £7000.
St Aubyn’s Chapel was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Exeter on 17 September 1771. The sermon given in the Chapel at its consecration was delivered by the Vicar of Stoke Damerel, the Rev. Edward Bridges Blackett
The affairs of St Aubyn’s Chapel were overseen by a board of trustees. The trustees were responsible for the day to day running of the Chapel and are named amongst the subscribers to the first organ placed therein in August 1772. The names of the first trustees were Sir John St Aubyn, Rev. Edward Bridges Blackett, Thomas Mangles, Dionysius Williams, George Wills, Richard Nelson, William Billing, John Croad, John Spurril, Nicholas May, Timothy Bayley, William Stephens, Benjamin Parham, Thomas Thorn. The curate of St Aubyn’s Chapel was Rev. Amos Crimes.
The earliest accurate description of St Aubyn’s Chapel is found in Hoxland’s ‘Plymouth Dock Guide’ published at Plymouth Dock [the pre-1824 name for Devonport] in 1799.
This Chapel was built under the authority of an Act of Parliament about the year of 1771, as appears from the date on its front. It has a gallery on the north side, and part of the south with the west end, where there is a small Organ. It has Divine Service regularly twice every Sunday, except Easter Day, when its Minister pays homage of duty to and at the Parish Church. Every Wednesday evening also there is a Sermon and prayers on Friday evenings. Christenings, burials and all other occasional duties its Minister is excluded from; which are entirely in the province of the Parish Church, and performed by the Minister or his Curate. The exterior of the Chapel is in the style of modern architecture on which we shall not enlarge. It has a dial plate to the west to show the time to the inhabitants; and on its small square tower which contains but one bell, a neat and plain octagonal spire is erected, surmounted by a vane to discover the current of the wind. It is surrounded by a wall and balustrades; and has three entrances all at the west end, to the several Iles [aisles] and to the galleries. The present Curate is the Rev. Jonathan Williams.
The Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Directory of 1830 records further information
St Aubyn’s Chapel is a building of substantial and plain appearance, with an octagonal spire, rising above a Doric portico. This chapel was erected by subscription in 1771, an Act of Parliament having been obtained for the purpose. The interior is neatly fitted with galleries on both sides and at the western end, supported by stone columns. It contains a good organ, has a choir of singers, and is attended by a highly respectable congregation. A very handsome pew is set apart for strangers. Incumbent – Rev. J. Jacob, LLD; Clerk – T. Badge; Organist – T. Birkhead – Chapel Wardens – John Gilbert, Richard Snow.
On 10 June 1840 James Davidson, author of “Church notes on the South of Devon” visited St Aubyn’s Chapel and recorded the following
A large stone building consisting of a nave and side aisles with Doric columns and sashed windows with a spire at the western end – erected in 1771 – no baptisms or burials take place here and there are no monumental inscriptions.
A new and improved Organ was “erected by the offerings of the trustees, proprietors and congregation” in 1866. This refers to the organ still in place in the Church in 2009. After the restoration and transformation of the Church the Organ was moved to its original home – the west gallery – however the inner workings of the Organ were removed – leaving the Organ Case we see today.
The tower contains one bell, cast in 1873, and inscribed: CAST BY JOHN WARNER & SONS LONDON 1873. It is in the note of F# and weighs 12 1/2 cwt. It is unclear whether or not this replacedan earlier bell, although this would seem logical.
There is a full description of St Aubyn’s Chapel available in the 1878 Devon Directory as follows
St Aubyn’s Chapel, in Chapel Street, is a large and handsome building, which was erected under the powers of an Act of Parliament in 1771 at the cost of £7000, raised by subscription. It forms an oblong square, and contains three aisles, with galleries at the sides and west end. The entrance is beneath a well designed portico, above which rises an octagonal spire. The interior is neatly fitted up, and most of the pews are private property. Various improvements have been effected during the last 25 years, including the building of a new organ, the addition of a new vestry and the insertion of stained glass windows, the whole at a cost of £1200, raised by subscription. The benefice is a perpetual curacy, valued at £200 in the patronage of the rector of Stoke Damerel, and incumbency of the Rev. Pitt Johnson, B.A.
St Aubyn’s Chapel was assigned its own parish on 5 December 1882 and became known as St Aubyn’s Parish Church. The parish had been formed out of the parishes of Stoke Damerel and St Paul’s, Devonport.
On 17 December 1884 the foundation stone for a new chancel was laid by the Rev. W. St Aubyn, the Rector of Stoke Damerel. The land upon which the chancel was to be built belonged to Raglan Barracks and therefore permission needed to be granted from the War Office to use part of their land. A Western Morning News article of 18 December 1884 reported that
The War office authorities have kindly allowed the chancel to be built protruding into the barrack ground, the space occupied being 27ft by 40ft. It is proposed to take out the present east end of the church and rebuilt it 22ft eastward. The side walls and the roof will, of course, have to be entirely new work. The chancel will be built from plans prepared by J. Piers St Aubyn of London, and will be carried out under the direction of Mr H Luff, the manor office architect. The builder is Mr Westaway of Cumberland Lawn.
The completed chancel was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Exeter on the 18 July 1885. The total cost for the chancel was £863.
Alongside the erection of the chancel, part of the north gallery was removed to make way for the organ which had formerly stood in the west gallery.
The portico outside the western entrance of St Aubyn’s Church was removed in 1896 to enable Chapel Street to be widened for the placing of tramlines. The outline of this portico can still be seen on the facade of the building.
In February 1926 a faculty was granted by the Diocese of Exeter to erect a stained glass window in the east window of the chancel to act as a war memorial.
The faculty recorded that the window was to have the following inscription
The East Window is erected by the members of this Church to perpetuate the Signing of Armistice, and in grateful recognition of the sacrifices made by all ranks for the peace of Europe.
The window was paid for from the Free Will Offering Scheme with donations and cost over £600. The window was unveiled on Ascension Day, 1926.
On 13 November 1930 a newly erected Vestry was consecrated by the Bishop of Exeter.
The church was damaged by enemy action during the Blitz in 1941 and was temporarily closed.
After the demolition of St Mary’s Church on James Street, Devonport in 1959 St Aubyn’s Church was the only remaining Parish Church in Devonport. It had been deemed by the mid 1950s that St Aubyn’s Church was capable of serving the whole community and its religious needs. This was in stark contrast to pre-war church accommodation in Devonport which was then served by a total of six Church of England churches; St Aubyn’s, St James the Great, St John’s, St Mary’s, St Paul’s and St Stephen’s. All of these churches had been either been destroyed during the bombing raids of World War Two or had been demolished by 1960.
In 2001 the spire of St Aubyn’s Church was restored and was dedicated by the Bishop of Plymouth. The spire had been damaged during the Blitz in 1941 and by the 1960s it had become so dangerous that it was reduced in height on safety grounds. The Devon Historic Churches Trust and English Heritage provided £6000 for the restoration work.
Due to a dwindling congregation alternative uses for St Aubyn’s Church needed to be found to preserve the building for future generations of Devonport residents.
In July 2008 architects Gilmore Hankey Kirke unveiled proposals for the future use of St Aubyn’s Church. An article in The Herald of 15 July 2008 reported that
following repairs to the church, GHK proposes to move Devonport Library – which is located in the Devonport Guildhall at the moment – to the ground floor of St Aubyn’s.
On 3 June 2009 St Aubyn’s Church celebrated its last service before closing to begin the transformation into the new Devonport Library. The final prayer was especially poignant:
God of our beginnings and endings, we celebrate all our memories of St Aubyn’s Church and its long history in Devonport; we ask your blessing on its new life to come with Devonport Library. May the love which is in our hearts be a bond to unite us forever, and may the power of your presence bless all our hopes, and calm all our fears; this we ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
An article in The Herald for 4 February 2011 reported that
St Aubyns Church was falling into disrepair before undergoing a £2.2 million transformation, funded by the Devonport Regeneration Community (DRC) Partnership. The Grade II listed Georgian building is now a state of the art library and a worship area for church services.
The newly refurbished and restored Church and St Aubyn Library opened on the 21 January 2011 and was formally opened on 11 February 2011.
It seems that this excerpt from an article reporting the laying of the Foundation Stone for the chancel and printed in the Western Morning News on the 18 December 1884 is as true now as it was then
The building of 1771, however fit it might have been for the wants of worshippers at that time, was not adapted for modern wants. Things had changed since then, and, amongst other things a great change had come over the modes of religious worship…
These days I’m very fortunate to work within the building to manage the outstanding Naval History collection owned by Plymouth Libraries. The collection is in its natural home – Devonport – and represents many aspects of the Royal Navy over the last 400 years. It’s a goldmine for naval, local and family history researchers alike and I’d be delighted to see you there!
© Graham Naylor
In some ways I have been putting off recording something of the history of St Peter’s. Not because it’s not fascinating and wonderful, but because there is so much! So where to begin?
Many have written about St Peter’s over the last 160 years or so. Articles, books and other records commemorate the great works delivered to cholera victims by the Sisters of Mercy and the remarkable Rev. George Rundle Prynne. There is a wonderfully detailed biography on the Rev. Prynne by A. Clifton Kelway (1905) and many other books recording something of the development of the Church at Wyndham Square.
So I’m not looking to replicate that work; instead today’s post takes its historical account from notes written on Plymouth Churches for the Anglo-Catholic Congress at Plymouth in 1929:
S. PETER’S CHURCH (Wyndham Square) will be forever memorable in the history of the Catholic Revival for the long years and devoted labours of Fr. Prynne, whose name is a household word among all Anglo-Catholics who remember his defence of the Sacrament of Penance and his restoration of the daily Eucharist in the Church of England. His long incumbency of 55 years covers the whole period of the fight for the Catholic cause of which he was indeed the leader for the West of England. If only for his sake, S. Peter’s has been, and is, a place of pilgrimage and interest to the Anglo-Catholic, who has entered into the inheritance for which he fought.
The parish dates from 1848, when it was carved out of the mother parish of S. Andrew, under the Church Extension Scheme of Bishop Phillpotts. At the time its population numbered 5,137. In 1874, when the daughter parish of All Saints was separated, it had reached 15,414. Today is is about 11,000.
The church in its present form dates only from 1882, but the chancel and vestries were built in 1850 as an addition to an old rectangular chapel, known as Eldad*, which was secured by Fr. Prynne on his appointment in 1848, as the nucleus and foundation of his future work. It is for this reason that October 5th, 1850, the date of the consecration of the chancel, has always been looked upon as the date of the Dedication, rather than February 1st, 1882, when the actually existing church was consecrated. The tower was completed in 1906.
The Schools were built in 1858 from the design of Mr G. H. Street, and the Mission Chapel in Octagon Street in 1862.
Fr. Prynne, who died on the Feast of the Annunciation, 1903, was succeeded by the Rev. H. M. Downton, who held the living for sixteen years, and faithfully maintained the traditions of the parish. It was largely through his efforts that the present useful Parish Hall and the Vicarage House were secured, though the purchase of neither was actually completed at the time of his regretted death. It is to Fr. Downton also that we owe the securing of S. Dunstan’s Abbey as a Girls’ School by the Community of S. Mary the Virgin, Wantage.
Two beautiful memorials commemorate the first and second Vicars of S. Peter’s; the painting of the Church Triumphant over the chancel arch being the memorial to Fr. Prynne, and the Rood that of Fr. Downton.
As April marks the anniversary of the Plymouth Blitz, 1941 it would be remiss of me not to mention the destruction of the beautiful interior of St Peter’s by enemy action.
St Peter’s Church was hit during the night of Monday 21 April and the early morning of Tuesday 22 April 1941. Although not demolished (the church wasn’t hit by high-explosive bombs) the church was entirely destroyed internally by incendiary bombs. Therefore the exquisite detail and beauty of this church was entirely lost.
This particular air-raid formed the first night of the “April Blitz”. In all there were to be three successive nights, 21, 22, 23 April and 28, 29 April. Much damage has already been dealt to Plymouth during the “March Blitz” although St Peter’s had escaped that tragedy.
The Church was reconstructed in the post-war years and continues to be a bastion for the Anglo-Catholic branch of the Church of England. A reordering and restoration in 2007 enhanced the beauty of the interior of the building, although its modern crucifix and other fixtures divided opinion amongst some.
Regardless, it is very good to know that something of Fr. Prynne’s legacy lives on in Plymouth today.
[*A separate post about Eldad Chapel will follow – as will further information on St Peter’s and the wonderful Fr. Prynne…]
© Graham Naylor
Recently I was fortunate to purchase a unique piece of Plymouth’s religious history; a ceremonial trowel – the one used to lay the foundation stone of the Wycliffe Chapel at Morice Town on 7 May 1855.
The trowel is engraved:
Alfred Rooker Esquire
on the occasion of his
laying the foundation stone
of the Congregational Chapel
May 7th 1855
Eager to read about the ceremony attached to the laying of the foundation stone I took a look in the local press of the time and found a superb article within the Devonport Independent and Plymouth and Stonehouse Gazette* of 12 May 1855, as follows:
LAYING THE FOUNDATION STONE OF WYCLIFFE CHAPEL
On Monday last, the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of Wycliffe chapel, to be erected at Morice Town, for the use of the congregation worshipping under the ministration of the Rev. John Pyer, Independent minister, was performed by Alfred Rooker, Esq., of Plymouth.
The site selected is on the south side of Navy Row, [now Albert Road] adjoining the road leading from Tamar Terrace, (where the natural fall of the ground will render the edifice an open and conspicuous object), and is peculiarly suitable as there is to be a school-room and apartments under the chapel. The design is by Mr James Hine, architect, of Plymouth, and the contract of Mr Torring, builder, has been taken for the erection of the building, exclusive of the boundary wall and railings for £1810.
The chapel will seat about 600 persons. It will be in the style of architecture which prevailed in England in the fourteenth century, and will consist of a nave and aisles, with an entrance porch at the north end; the length of the building within the walls will be 65 feet, and the width 44 feet. There will be a vestry at the south end, from which the pulpit will be approached. In front of the pulpit will be the communion enclosure, raised two feet above the floor of passages, and surrounded with a rail and ornamental iron work. A gallery will be provided at the north end for children. The roofs wil be open, of red pine, and stained; the walls of dark limestone, with free-stone door ways, windows, pillars and arches. The two south windows will, probably, be filled with stained glass. Below the chapel will be a large school room, two class-rooms, chapel keeper’s rooms, &c., and adjoining the chapel on the east, a parsonage house, containing ten rooms.
Though the weather was very unpropitious, rain having come on just previous to the appointed hour, eleven o’clock, there was a large number of persons present to witness the interesting ceremony. The assembly having joined in singing two hymns, the Rev. John Pyer, engaged in prayer, after which the architect presented Mr Rooker with a silver trowel bearing the following inscription: – “Presented to Alfred Rooker, Esq., on the occasion of his laying the foundation stone of the congregational chapel, Morice Town, Devonport, May 7, 1855, by James Hine, architect.”
The trowel was then used by Mr Rooker to spread the mortar, on which the stone was laid; the plumb and square were applied, and the ceremony of laying was complete.
Mr Rooker gave a long, eloquent and most appropriate address, in the course of which he said, – We desire that it should be regarded as a solemn service when we seek to lay the foundation stone of a building that is to be devoted to the service of God. Succeeding generations did not stand alone, for they were each one united with the past, and had definite relation to the future. We labour for the future, when we endeavour to advance the moral and religious condition of the present, or when we so labour, that its material results shall be enduring. We seek to effect both these objects today in laying the foundation stone of a building, which is to be permanently set apart for the worship of God in this place, and for the religious instruction of a people. But there are special claims which render such services as the present deeply important. Not only is the population of this country rapidly increasing, but the tendency of modern society is to aggregate an undue proportion in our larger towns. In this immediate neighbourhood especially, the population has grown most rapidly, and it is evident that if in every place of religious worship in this suburb, the gospel were simply and purely taught, there would still be a necessity for more. But we are engaged today, not only in the discharge of a duty, but in this solemn act we bear our testimony to important principals. Against prevailing and avowed scepticism we thus express our assured belief that the gospel of Christ shall continue to be taught, and that firmer than this foundation stone it will still resist the assaults of infidelity; and on the other hand, in the erection of this simple structure, for plain and scriptural worship, we bear our testimony against superstition and formality. We erect this building as Protestant Dissenters, and in doing so we affirm our belief that our nonconformity is in accordance with the Bible, and is worth all the sacrifices we make for its maintenance; in erecting this chapel we express our conviction for the value of evangelical truth – taught in the Sabbath school, (and there is to be the school as well as the chapel) and taught from the pulpit, as it will be taught by the reverend friend, earnestly, lovingly, and faithfully. We trust that our friend who is most intimately concerned in this event may be spared to witness the completion of the building – speedily, with satisfaction to himself and without accident to those who are engaged in its erection: that he may find the hearts of the people open to liberal contribution; that he may be permitted to labour successfully, with the divine blessing within its walls; and that here in time to come, when we have all passed away, the truth may be fully and faithfully preached by those who may follow him.
Mr Rooker then referred to the design of the building, complementing the architect on its chasteness and suitability.
It was intended that the Rev. E. Jones, of Plymouth, should deliver an address on the occasion, but in consequence of the state of the weather, it was deemed advisable that it should be deferred until the meeting in the evening.
The Rev. A. Hampson, of Princess-street Chapel, in an eloquent and fervent prayer, asked for divine aid to crown with success the work they had that day commenced. The proceedings then terminated.
The building work was completed by the following summer and the Chapel opened for worship on 26 June 1856.
It was to continue in regular use from 1856 until the dark days of WW2
Modern day residents of Plymouth can be forgiven for knowing little, or nothing of the Wycliffe Chapel. Like much else of interest, both historical or socially, the Chapel was lost during the April Blitz of April 1941 when so much of Devonport, Morice Town, Stoke, Keyham and surrounding areas were destroyed by the Luftwaffe.
The ruins stood on Albert Road until their eventual demolition in May 1957 – just 102 years since the great foundation stone laying ceremony.
After the Blitz, the Wycliffe congregation continued to worship together with other Congregationalists and later in 1959 they built the Pilgrim Congregational Church on St Leven Road, Keyham – not far from their former home on Albert Road.
Interestingly, the foundation stone laying for the Pilgrim Chapel in January 1959 incited a great interest from those connected to this new church, or to the former Wycliffe Chapel.
The Western Independent of 18 January 1959 reported the ceremonies, similarly to those in 1855, but rather more briefly…
Watching the foundation stone laying ceremony of Pilgrim Congregational Church yesterday afternoon, was Mr Ted Slade, – the man who struggled in vain to save its predecessor, Wycliffe Church, Albert Road, during a devastating air raid 18 years ago.
On the evening of April 21st 1941, incendiary bombs rained down on Devonport during one of the German raids: six of them crashed through the high gabled roof of Wycliffe Church. Mr Slade who lived only a few yards away at 1 Drummond Place, hurried to the church with which he had been associated since his Sunday School days.
“It happened between eight and nine o’clock in the evening” Mr Ted Slade told a Western Independent reporter (he still lives at Drummond Place). “I managed to put out five of the bombs, using sandbags, but one caught in the rafters where I could not reach it.”
Realising that the church was going to be destroyed, Mr Slade made his way through the burning building to the vestry. “I opened a drawer and took out some of the church records. The others were locked away in a safe and I could not open it and they were destroyed.”
The records saved by Mt Slade who works in Devonport Dockyard, turned out to be the marriage register.
“We had to wait for six hours before the fire brigade came – from Launceston” he declared. There were fires everywhere, of course.
“The remarkable thing was that, although the stone church was gutted, the wooden Young Men’s Club adjoining the Church was not badly damaged”. This hut was used by the congregation after the loss of their 100 years old pseudo-Gothic church.
Mr Slade although just recovering from an attack of bronchitis, took part in the ceremony yesterday. He offered a prayer of thanksgiving.
The foundation stone of the new church was laid in drenching rain by the Minister, the Rev. Ralph L. Ackroyd.
Before the ceremony, a service, attended by about 100 people, was held in the hall, which has served as a church since 1953. Among those present was the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, Alderman and Mrs G. J. Wingett, and Miss Joan Vickers, MP, for Devonport.
A threshold stone from the old Wycliffe Church was laid by Mr Harold Dollimore, a senior deacon.
After the destruction of the Wycliffe Church by enemy action in 1941 only 15 to 20 members of the church remained, said Mr K. A. Hancock, the church secretary. They met until January 1950 in a small wooden club hut which stood next to the church but had survived when the limestone built church was destroyed.
Then, nine years ago, a temporary nissen hut church was opened in St Levan’s Road, on the site on which the new church will stand.
Among those taking part in the Service were Mr David Parkin, secretary of the Plymouth Congregational Council, the Rev. E. Quick, chairman of the Devon Congregational Union, and Mr H. J. Wheeler, chairman of the South Devon Congregational Union.
A guide published in 1959 to record the opening of the Pilgrim Congregational Church made reference to Wycliffe Church:
In April 1941, the buildings in Albert Road were gutted by fire from incendiary bombs, but a remnant of the members met at once and decided that the life of the Church must continue. For nine years they worshipped in the Men’s Club Hut at the rear of the ruined Chapel.
In 1949 during the ministry of F. J. Holley, the decision was made after long deliberation and much prayer to unite the remnants of the two Churches, Wycliffe and Whitefield. It was no easy decision as the future of Albert Road was not then decided, nor the extent of the new Dockyard. Through the help of the Reconstruction Fund, raised by all the Churches of the Congregational Union of England and Wales during the war, a nissen hut was bought and erected on the site in St Leven Road. It was beautifully furnished, partly by the generosity of the members and partly by gifts from many Churches all over the country. In January 1950 the new Church was formed and took the name of ‘Pilgrim’.
Plans were drawn at once so that a permanent building could be erected as soon as possible. A start was eventually made in December 1952, just as the ministry of R. L. Ackroyd began. This Hall-Church – now the Whitefield Hall – was completed and opened in December 1953, and was used for worship and for many of the Church’s activities until 1959. It was paid for by War Damage compensation from the old Whitefield Chapel, and was furnished by the giving of members and friends.
The War Damage Commission agreed to port the compensation for the Wycliffe Chapel and schoolrooms; the old site was sold to the Plymouth Corporation and the money invested.
In the summer of 1957, the way opened for plans to be approved, and in August 1958 work began on the site, the nissen hut having been demolished in part by the Church’s own voluntary labour.
The link with the old Wycliffe Church has been further preserved by the laying of one of the outer threshold stones from Albert Road in the entrance of the new building. This was laid by Harold Dollimore, Senior Deacon, on behalf of all who laboured to keep the Church alive during the long years of war and gave themselves to its rebuilding. The main threshold stone, over which for a hundred years men and women, boys and girls, passed for worship at Wycliffe, lies buried directly beneath the Communion Table in the new Chapel.
The new Chapel opened for worship on 28 November 1959.
The creation of the new Pilgrim Church stirred up memories from some former Devonport residents:
It is most pleasing to see that the Pilgrim Church thrives in Plymouth today; therefore something of the spirit of Wycliffe Chapel lives on in Plymouth and that is a wonderful thing indeed.
Pilgrim Church, Plymouth has a website: http://pilgrimchurchplymouth.org.uk/
NB: I would be delighted to hear from anyone who knows anything more on the history of the old Wycliffe Chapel or has photographs of the building they would like to share. This is one of those blitz casualties whereby little photographic evidence seems to exist…
* Microfilm for this title and various other newspapers for Plymouth from the 19th century to present day are available for consultation at the new Plymouth Central Library, Armada Way, Plymouth [email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information]
© Graham Naylor
Tomorrow marks the beginning of Holy Week culminating in the Paschal Triduum – or The Three Days.
For Christians this is of course the most Holy time of year.
It seems fitting therefore to share the following image and short article relating to Palm Sunday at Plymouth in 1903 with a wider audience. The article also gives an insight into a Plymouth custom of the time, which has perhaps, largely disappered…
The following appeared in the Western Weekly News of 4 April 1903…
A PALM SUNDAY CEREMONY
At the “advanced” churches in the Three Towns, Palm Sunday was observed with great solemnity.
The principal service of the day commenced with the blessing and distributing of palms made into crosses, whilst palm branches were arranged on the altars. The distribution of these emblems of the event which Palm Sunday commemorates, was followed by a procession in which the priests and choir carried palm branches over their shoulders, palm being also tied to the draped processional cross. The Gospel for the day was supplemented in some instances by the celebrant reading “The story of the Passion,” and to bring the service within reasonable duration, this recital of the events leading up to the Crucifixion took in one instance, the place of the sermon, but even with this omission the impressive ceremonial prolonged the service, and also imposed no inconsiderable strain upon those who assisted in it.
Just as the fine weather led to large congregations, alike at churches and chapels, so it also enabled another Palm Sunday observance to be largely followed – that of visiting the graves of relatives and friends, as the cemeteries of the Three Towns bore witness during the afternoon. In some parts of the country this respect for the dead is more generally observed on Mid Lent (or Refreshment) Sunday, but in the Three Towns Palm Sunday is the day set apart by most people for carrying flowers to the graves of those who have been near and dear to them.
Although not captioned, the pencil sketch above depicts the ceremonies in St Peter’s Church, Wyndham Square, Plymouth – the well known home of the Anglo-Catholic Fr. George Rundle Prynne who had died just before Holy Week on 25 March 1903.
On Monday 3 April 1939, the Western Morning News published a photograph of the Palm Sunday Procession at St Peter’s, Plymouth:
© Graham Naylor
One of my 5th Great Grandmother’s, Catherine ELLIS has recently proved of great interest as she was the Butt-Woman of Batter Street Presbyterian Chapel in Plymouth.
The Butt-woman was a responsible, salaried role within the life of the Chapel. As the Chapel Keeper she was responsible for keeping the Chapel clean, preparing for services, and for various other duties. Catherine’s second husband, William ELLIS was the Sexton of the Chapel and he had responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the Chapel and burial-yard (probably including the digging of graves, etc).
As tomorrow would be her 254th birthday (!), I thought it might be interesting to share something of the life of Catherine with the wider world since her life may be of interest to scholars and others interested in non-conformity of those days.
Catherine ELLIS was born Catherine ROOK at Petrockstowe, Devon on 9 March 1762; the daughter of John and Elizabeth ROOK, nee ROGERS. Catherine was baptised at Petrockstowe on 4 April 1762.
I’m unsure at this stage whether Catherine was brought up as a member of the Established Church – that is the Church of England. What is clear is that by the time of her marriage to my 5th Great Grandfather, William ARKWRIGHT in 1786 either she or he were almost certainly non-conformist.
The marriage of William ARKWRIGHT to Catherine ELLIS at Petrockstowe on 2 October 1786 was by Licence. Neither bride nor groom appear to descend from wealthy stock so the notion that they married by Licence suggests they negated the usual reading of Banns at the Parish Church as they were probably not regular attenders there. In those days a non-conformist couple, (unless Quaker, or Jew) had to marry in their local Parish Church – and then usually within the bride’s parish.
William and Catherine appear to hang around long enough in Petrockstowe for the baptism of my 4th Great Grandmother, Mary ARKWRIGHT in 1787 but they soon migrate the short distance to the City of Exeter. In Exeter 4 children are born to the couple, of whom 3 pass away in early infancy. What horrendous days they must have been.
By 1800 the couple with their surviving children arrive in Plymouth – what brought them to Plymouth isn’t yet known, nor is William’s occupation which might provide a clue.
Soon after their arrival, and certainly by 1803 William ARKWRIGHT passed away. Catherine with little or no form of subsistence then married her second husband, William ELLIS at Charles Church, Plymouth on 7 August 1803.
The couple appear then to have been connected with Batter Street Chapel for the rest of their lives.
It is a sad fact that practically all archives relating to the Chapel were lost during the Blitz of 1941. Other than the surviving Baptism and Burial Registers the only “archive” to survive was a C18 Chapel Account Book that had been taken home for research by a Chapel member as the Blitz occurred. What foresight!
The Account Book, now lodged for safe keeping at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (ref: 2026/1) dates from 1791 and continues until 1820. It provides something of a glimpse into the lives of William and Catherine ELLIS given their roles within the Chapel.
The following are some excerpts from the Account Book:
- 3 August 1805 – William ELLIS received 2s “having broke his leg”
- 1805 – The Butt-woman received an annual salary of £5 5s 0d
- 24 June 1809 – Wm ELLIS for “whitewashing the yard”, £1 3s 0d
- 7 June 1809 – Mrs ELLIS for soap, 1s 1d
- 24 June 1809 – Mrs ELLIS for brooms, 1s
- 11 April 1811 – Mr ELLIS for cleaning the yard, 10s 6d
- 11 April 1811 – Mrs ELLIS’ broom, 8s 1d
- 11 February 1817 – Mrs ELLIS salary increased to £6, 6s 0d per year
- 27 March 1819 – Mr ELLIS opening Mr MENDS vault, 10s
- 8 January 1820 – Mrs ELLIS for sundries, 2s 9d
- 25 March 1820 – Mrs ELLIS for floor cloth, 3s 6d
- 25 March 1820 – Mr ELLIS for whitewashing, etc, 14s
William ELLIS was buried at the Batter Street Burial-Ground on 17 November 1825 aged 77; the Burial Register records that he was the Sexton and that there was “no charge” for the funeral or burial.
Catherine ELLIS was buried at the Batter Street Burial-Ground on 27 January 1829, aged 67; the Burial Register records that she was the Butt-woman.
My ancestors connections with Batter Street were possibly maintained into the 1860s until the death of William GLIDDON, Catherine ELLIS’s son-in-law in 1868.
William GLIDDON had married Catherine’s first born daughter, Mary at Stoke Damerel on 23 July 1804. This couple went on to have a staggering 11 children, all baptised at Batter Street Presbyterian between 1805-1830.
There is still more to discover with this family and their connections with Batter Street. This is what makes researching ones family history so interesting – especially when it connects to fascinating local history as well. For example, one of William and Mary GLIDDON’s grandchildren, George Thomas GLIDDON, 1837-1886 was a well known and successful trader in Plymouth, as the advert below testifies:
The Batter Street Chapel doesn’t exist any longer as a place of worship, indeed it closed in 1922/23 but the Chapel building remains, in part at least, as Lady Astor’s “Virginia House Settlement”.
© Graham Naylor
The recent discovery that one of my 5th Great Grandmothers was the rather oddly named “Butt-woman” of Batter Street Chapel has led me to find something of its history.
My ancestor, Catherine ELLIS, formerly GLIDDON and nee ROOK was the Butt-woman (or Chapel-keeper) from about 1805 until her death in 1829. Her 2nd husband, William ELLIS was the Chapel Sexton and he was responsible for the Chapel and its Burial Ground. In her role as Butt-woman Catherine earned a salary of £5, 5s in 1805; her salary increased to £6, 6s by 1817.
Having an ancestor so connected to the daily running of the Chapel prompted me to find something regarding the life of this former Chapel in old Plymouth.
My research led me to discover the lecture notes of Mr Stanley Griffin, a former historian in Plymouth. His notes on the history of Batter Street Chapel and of non-conformity in old Plymouth is reproduced in full as taken from the “Transactions of the Plymouth Institution” published in 1944. In turn Griffin has gleamed much from a C19 history* of Batter Street written by a former Church Secretary, Mr John Taylor in December 1889. [*ref: Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, 2026/3]
Taylor’s notebook records that practically all records appertaining to Batter Street Chapel were destroyed during the Plymouth Blitz of 20/21 March 1941.
What follows are Griffin’s notes:
A HISTORY OF THE BATTER STREET CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, 1704-1921.
LECTURE BY MR. STANLEY GRIFFIN.(Given at 13 Alexandra Road, July 6th, 1944.)
It may help you to visualise Batter Street Congregational Chapel, if you realise that it is now the Virginia House Settlement, the Chapel having been purchased by Lord Astor in 1923.
Although the Chapel was built in 1704, the history of the Church commences with the Ejectment of 1662, that period pregnant with events of intense interest and importance to civil and religious freedom. On St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24th, 1662, nearly 2,000 ministers were ejected for conscience’s sake.
The Conventicle Act of 1664 made illegal meetings of more than five persons in addition to the family in the house, for religious meetings not in accordance with the Prayer Book. This Act was repealed by the Toleration Act of 1689, which allowed dissenting ministers to preach and administer the Sacraments on certain conditions. During these 25 years Nonconformist worship could only be held stealthily and in great danger, generally in private houses, or, as at Newton Abbot, in woods or pits. The worshippers were ministered to by occasional preachers, who were, of course, in more danger than the members of their congregations. These services were “irregular,” and a risk to all concerned. The various conventicler were watched by the soldiery and other informers. The lowest types of spies followed the suspects, and the enrolled were admitted by passwords, through obscure entrances. Craning their necks, the soldiers listened intently, and as soon as the praying commenced they rushed to the nearest magistrate. Their own movements being as closely watched, the signal was given for the worshippers to disperse. From house to house they migrated, changing their hours to upset the plans of the authorities, but the prosecutions were frequent, and the sufferings of the leaders poignant.
For many years following the Toleration Act numbers of Free Churches were established, and many Meeting Houses erected. We can see the chief reason why these Meeting Houses were very plain and unostentatious, and often hidden away from main thoroughfares. Sherwell was the first Chapel in the West of England to aspire to the Gothic style, and the spire filled many people with dismay. It may be heaven-pointing, but they thought it to be only so in form, and that in spirit it did not point in that direction.
The early history of Nonconformity in Plymouth is somewhat obscure, but almost certainly there was a mixed congregation of Baptists and Independents worshipping together, early in the 17th century. It was this mixed congregation which is referred to in the inscription on the Mayflower Tablet—” after being kindly entertained and courteously used by divers friends there dwelling.” With the exception of the Baptists at Moretonhampstead, this was the first dissenting community in the West of England.
Incidentally, as Mr. Bracken points out, the Pilgrim Fathers and Huguenots afford an interesting paradox in local and national history. In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers left England to secure freedom of worship. Sixty years later the Huguenots came here for the same reason.
George Street Baptist Church was founded about 1620. In 1648, Abraham Cheare was baptised; when he became minister a year later, there were 150 members. Their first Church was in the Pig Market, now Bedford Street, near the Frankfort Gate. In 1789 it moved to How Street, into the building formerly occupied by the Huguenots. George Street Church was built in 1845. In a history of that Church by H. M. Nicholson, we read: “it appears that this was the only Congregational Church then existing in the Town, and that it was composed of Independents, as well as Baptists.”
Batter Street Church can claim descent from George Hughes, the Puritan Vicar ejected from St. Andrew’s in 1662. With Hughes was associated as Curate or Lecturer, Thomas Martyn, who with Abraham ‘Cheare and George Hughes suffered banishment on Drake’s Island. Although the appointment of Lecturers was regularised by Parliament in 1641, they had existed in. Plymouth certainly as early as 1620, and continued until the Municipal Reform Act, 1835.
Another who suffered under the 1662 Act was Nicholas Sherwin, a .gentleman of Plymouth who lived on his own estate. After being educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, he was ordained in 1660. He returned to Plymouth in 1661, and gathered together the adherents of Hughes and Martyn (then in durance at Drake’s Island). Sherwell Church is named after him.
Worth tells us that until the building of the Batter Street and Treville Street Chapels, Sherwill’s flock met at the “Old Marshall’s,” the Town Marshalsea or prison, then a part of the ancient Friary building (probably of the Dominicans) in Southside Street, still known as the “Black Friars.”
Batter Street Chapel was erected in 1704, and four years later a Manse was added. The population of Plymouth at that time was about 8,000, and Batter Street was then central. The deeds describe the original plot as a garden, bounded by Pomeroy’s Conduit Street (Batter Street) and Bull Lane (Peacock Lane). Another boundary was Seven Stars Lane (Stillman Street). These deeds were kept in a box with four locks, a key being carried by each of four persons.
It was known as the Scotch Kirk, or Presbyterian Chapel. Jewitt states that the Government contributed towards its erection, so that there might be a place of worship for the Scotch regiment sent to Ply-mouth. Following the Union between England and Scotland in 1707, English regiments were sent to Scotland and Scottish regiments to England. This remained the Kirk until the erection of the Presbyterian Chapel at Eldad in 1862, the Minister being also Chaplain to the Scottish troops. When the 93rd Highland Regiment left here for Balaklava, the Minister preceded them to the port of embarkation. The Chapel never was strictly Presbyterian in the modern sense of the term, as the Minister was chosen by the free voice of the members, the Chapel not being subject to a Presbytery.
In 1760 a very serious dispute arose. The Congregation appointed Rev. Christopher Mends, but the Trustees appointed Rev. John Harmer. The former was Trinitarian and the latter Arian, i.e. partly Unitarian. There was big controversy in the West of England over this question. Incidentally, Mends was converted by the preaching of George White-field, as also was Andrew Kinsman in 1744, by reading one of Whitefield’s sermons. Kinsman was the founder of Sherwell Congregational Church. The dispute was settled by the Court of King’s Bench, which issued a peremptory mandamus, in favour of Mends. In the Settlement Deeds of most Independent or Congregational Churches, the Trustees are bound by a resolution passed by a fixed majority at a duly convened meeting of the members. During the two years of this dispute, Mends’ congregation were allowed the use of the Huguenots’ building in How Street. After the settlement the Unitarians received the building in Treville Street.
We read that in 1800 vine and jesamine grew over the porch and windows of the Manse. The burial ground was a compromise between a cemetery and a garden, with a row of lofty trees. Inside the Chapel, the high straight-backed pews almost hid some of the congregation from the Minister. Over the Pulpit was a canopy or sounding-board, like a cover for a huge snuff-box, surmounted by a carved and gilded pineapple. From the ceiling were suspended three brass chandeliers, the central one being very massive and gorgeous, “grand enough to have done duty in Solomon’s Temple.”
A portrait of Mends shows him in full wig. Wigs were then going out of fashion, and most of the men had their hair powdered, and tied up in perukes or queues. They wore long waistcoats and long-tailed coats, with large rolling collars and brass buttons, the cloth being blue, green or brown. Breeches or pantaloons, with buckle shoes, made up the picturesque attire.
The elderly ladies were carried to Chapel in Sedan chairs, the streets being so narrow and the hackney carriages so very clumsy and inconvenient. Women of the humble classes all wore pattens. Some of them came late, forgot to take off their pattens in the Porch, and so disturbed the service. At one service they were admonished from the Pulpit; and so the Deacons provided a wooden frame in the Porch, in the charge of the buttwoman.
Umbrellas were just coming into fashion. They were large cumber-some things, even bigger than gig-umbrellas. It was quite a distinction to have one in the family, and two were a sign of extravagance. Young men would not carry them, because it was thought foppish. Weak old people could not carry them on account of their weight. In case of rain a large checked handkerchief would be tied over the bonnet.
At this time the congregation formed an influential centre for good, and for many years comprehended a large proportion of the wealth, intelligence and piety of Plymouth. The Choir had a full band of instruments—violins, ‘cellos and flutes and had a very high reputation in the Town.
In 1785, Herbert Mends, son of Christopher, founded a Charity School styled “The Benevolent Institution for Educating the Children of the Poor.” At first both sexes were trained, but in 1806 boys were given up, and 50 girls were clothed and educated. The School first met in Broad street (Buckwell Street), and then in Tin Street (Vauxhall Street). In 1806 it was held in a low room in the Chapel, which should have held 20, but 60 children were crammed in, and a good woman taught them week-days and Sundays. The girls had to wear uniform, “which,” as the records say, “was not thought any disgrace.”
Among the rules were:—
“1. Every child to appear at School clean and neat in her person and dress; her hair combed and kept short; no earrings or ornaments worn, and always to have a pocket-handkerchief, with thimble and needles.
2. Every child to be admonished not to spend money on the Lord’s Day; and that fruit or sweetmeats will be immediately forfeited, if brought to School.”
The Girls’ School was placed under a School Board, “which after carrying on for ten years in our room, they quietly stole from us, not without regret on our part.”
The Mayor and Corporation attended the Anniversary Services.
Mends assisted to educate, and granted the loan of his books to a poor Workhouse boy living in Seven Stars Lane. This boy grew up to be Dr. John Kitto, the famous Eastern traveller.
Batter Street Church was the mother of Emma Place Church, built in 1787, of the revival of an old Chapel at Plympton in 1798, and of Courtenay Street Chapel, built in 1848.
In 1785 Mends formed the Association of Independent Ministers and Churches in the West of England.
The Dissenters of Plymouth and neighbourhood were indebted to Mends for the removal of a disability respecting the Dockyard. A prospective apprentice had to produce a baptismal certificate signed by an Anglican clergyman. Mends was instrumental in getting a rule adopted that the registers of Dissenters should also be accepted.
Candles cost from £10 to £15 per annum, 63 being allowed on Sundays and 35 on Wednesdays–4 to the lb. for the Pulpit, and 6 to the lb. in the body of the Church. They were expected to last four evenings each in the winter.
There is a charge of 18/- for drink for the Painters cleaning the meeting-house.
In 1801 the Church entertained the Association, and a grand dinner was given at the Pope’s Head Inn, Looe Street, at a cost of £25 3s. 0d.
In the area of the Chapel there were 20 large square pews, and 22 single pews, “varying very much in length.” There were 50 pews in the Gallery. The seats accommodated from 4 to 10 persons, and there was a waiting list for vacancies. The seats were 1st, 2nd or 3rd Class-1st Class, 4d. per quarter per sitting ; 2nd Class, 3d. ; and 3rd Class, 2d. per quarter. Voluntary contributions varied from 4/- to 10 guineas per annum.
We have to remember that the Minister had to conduct three services •on Sundays, as well as one on the Wednesday evening.
Mends died in 1819, and it is said that 1,400 or 1,500 people were present in the Chapel and Yard, and as many went away in vain. The service was conducted by the Rev. William Rooker of Tavistock, the father of the late Alderman Alfred Rooker. He could not get in at the door, because of the crush, so a ladder was placed in the graveyard to a window in the Gallery, and another ladder placed in the Pulpit. On the Sunday following, sermons were preached at the Tabernacle, and in Baptist and Methodist Chapels, and without a knowledge of each other’s design, four Ministers chose the same text.
In 1828 two whole seats in the Gallery, and many single sittings were vacant. Two of the Deacons were instructed to prepare an address on this important matter, calling upon all persons to pay up their arrears; and inviting others to take sittings. This address was read by the Minister from the Pulpit on the first convenient and clear Sunday. Burial fees were voluntary, and we find the following entries:—
“No money received for the burial of Mrs. Way.”
“April 1834. Mrs. Morrell. Party snatched money.”
Later the fees had to be prepaid. The charge for breaking the ground in the Yard was 12/3, and in the Meeting House £2 2s. 3d., plus the cost of removing and refixing pews, flooring, etc. From 1806 to 1820, 172 adults and 164 children were buried. In the cholera epidemic of 1832, the Register gives 4 burials for one family, 3 for another, and 2 for another family.
A resolution provides for collections “if fine weather, but if foul to be deferred.”
In 1837 Chapel Wardens were appointed in writing by the Minister. They were a Treasurer, a Secretary, and two Collectors, to meet twice a quarter, or oftener if requisite.
In 1867, the Rev. William Whittley became Minister. He wrote a series of sermons on the panels on the outside of the Guildhall.
In 1882, out of about 500 scholars in the Sunday School, so large a proportion were from 14 to 18 years of age, as to render it desirable to form a number of additional classrooms. A new entrance to the Chapel was opened in Stillman Street, surmounted by a spire 74 feet high, which, as a tablet records, was the gift of Mr. William Derry.
Owing to migration of population, the attendance at the Church declined at the beginning of this century, following two centuries of very useful work.
The Manse was demolished in 1895, and in 1923 the other premises were sold to Lord Astor, in order to extend the work of the Victory Club. After undergoing considerable reconstruction, the buildings were opened by Lord and Lady Astor on 5th December, 1925, and, together with the premises formerly occupied by the Victory Club, became known as the Virginia House Settlement. The human remains in the Graveyard were removed to Efford Cemetery. Another Church in this district—Holy Trinity—has been closed, and the remains in the vaults have been buried in the Old Cemetery.
LIST OF MINISTERS
1704-1719 John Enty Co-Pastor
1704-1758 Peter Baron Co-Pastor
1727-1760 John Moore
1760-1762 John Hanmer
1762-1799 Christopher Mends
1782-1819 Herbert Mends
1819-1821 Thomas Mitchell
1823-1836 Richard Hartley
1837-1839 William Morris
1839-1846 Thomas Collins Hine
1846-1851 Joseph Steer
1851-1854 John Burfitt
1855-1860 William Robert Noble
1860-1867 Edmund Hipwood
1867-1885 William Whittley
1886-1888 Sampson Higman
1889-1893 Alfred Cooke
1893- J. Bertram Rudall
1907-1917 Charles Farmer
1917-1920 Oliver James Searchfield, (With Emma Place Church).
© Graham Naylor
[Chapel photos are reproduced courtesy of and © to Plymouth City Council Library Services]