Webpage created: July 21, 2017.
Webpage updated: August 29, 2018
BATTER STREET CONGREGATIONAL CHAPEL
Batter Street Chapel and its Sunday School,
with Palace Court Board Schools
During the English Civil War the townsfolk of Plymouth sided with Parliament against the King. Although Parliament won that War, the Restoration of the Monarchy brought a new King to the throne with revenge on his mind. He authorized the building of the Royal Citadel, which it was observed had guns pointing over the Town as well as out to sea, and Plymouth had a visit from the Commissioners appointed to regulate corporations. They ejected the Mayor, Mr William Allen, replaced the Corporation with new men, and dismissed the vicar of Saint Andrew's Church, the Reverend George Hughes, the lecturer at Saint Andrew's, Mr Thomas Martyn, and their sons, Mr Obadiah Hughes and Mr Samuel Martyn.
And all that had taken place a week before the Act of Uniformity came into force on The Feast of Saint Bartholomew, August 24th 1662. This required the Book of Common Prayer to be used in all churches in the Kingdom, which the vicar of the newly built Charles' Church agreed to do but many others did not. In all it is said that almost 2,000 ministers were ejected from their churches as a result of this measure.
Those who refused to use the Book of Common Prayer were known as Nonconformists and it was once of the supporters of the Reverend Hughes, Mr Nicholas Sherwill (or Sherwell) who started the first Nonconformist meeting in Plymouth in September 1662. On September 17th 1662 he officiated at the marriage of Mr Walter Trowt and Miss Katherine Crampron and on November 28th 1662 he baptized Mary, the daughter of George and Mary Lapthorne.
This last event is rather puzzling, however, because on October 6th 1662 he was visited by some officers from the Plymouth Garrison, who invited him to visit a tavern in the Town to meet with the Governor, the Earl of Bath. He complied with the request -- it was probably more of an order, anyway -- and not surprisingly found himself surrounded by a military guard. He was detained in custody, possibly on Drake's Island, and not released until December 4th 1662. So how did he perform a baptism in November? The main possibility is that he was in fact released earlier than December 4th.
Meetings were continued in a number of different locations to avoid the attention of the troops and the magistrates until the Toleration Act of 1689 permitted dissenting ministers to preach and administer the Sacraments on certain conditions. In 1704 or 1705, during the pastoral care of Mr Nathaniel Harding, a chapel was erected in Batter Street, the deeds describing the plot as a garden bounded by Pomeroy's Conduit Street (otherwise Batter Street), Bull Lane (later known as Peacock Lane) and Seven Stars Lane (Stillman Street). The deed was kept in a box with four locks, each key being carried by one of four people.
It was at that time a Presbyterian Chapel, partly because the Government had contributed money towards its construction so that it could become a place of worship for the Scottish regiments who were sent to the area after the Union of England and Scotland in 1707. A Manse was erected in about 1708.
In 1760 a serious dispute arose, when the congregation appointed the Reverend Christopher Mends as pastor but the trustees appointed the Reverend John Hanmer instead. The former was a Trinitarian while the latter was an Arian. The argument ran for two years and was finally settled when the Court of King's Bench ruled in favour of the Reverend Mends. During this time his congregation had been meeting at the Huguenots' chapel in How Street but after the settlement they returned to Batter Street and the Unitarians took over the Treville Street Chapel.
The Batter Street Chapel was the mother of the Emma Place Congregational Chapel, East Stonehouse, 1787; the Courtenay Street Congregational Chapel, Plymouth, 1848; and was also responsible for the revival in 1798 of an early Chapel at Plympton.
There were twenty large square pews and 22 single pews in the main body of the Chapel, with a further 50 in the gallery. The seats in each pew accommodated from 4 to 10 people and they were divided into three classes: 1st, which cost 4 pence per quarter per sitting; 2nd class at 3 pence and 3rd class at 2 pence. There were three services on Sundays and one on Wednesday evenings. Internment in the burial ground was initially subject to a voluntary payment, which was not a sensible idea in Plymouth. Later the fees had to be prepaid. Collections were only to be taken if the weather was fine, otherwise it was deferred.
The Reverend Christopher Mends was minister from 1762 until 1799, assisted by his son, the Reverend Herbert Mends from 1782 until his death in 1819.
A new entrance to the Chapel was opened from Stillman Street in about 1882, for which Mr William Derry made the gift of a 74 feet tall spire.
The Manse was demolished in 1895.
'At the time of its erection', reported the Western Morning News in December 1905, 'it stood in the most prosperous portion of the town, and its congregation for years were well to do. Gradually, however, as the centres of business were moved to other parts of the town, the prosperity of the old church waned. Other chapels sprung up in various parts of the district. To-day Batter-street Chapel stands in the poorest part of Plymouth, and undoubtedly offers a great field for vigorous mission work'. These remarks were made on the occasion of the renovation and reopening of the Chapel as a Congregational forward mission. This had been the idea of the Reverend Rhys Harries, the pastor of Norley Congregational Chapel. In the school rooms adjoining the Chapel a gymnasium has been fitted up, along with reading and recreation rooms. The cost of this has been £150 but at least another £100 was needed for furnishing the rooms. The new Chapel was inaugurated on Thursday November 30th 1905, after which the premises were thrown open for inspection, a sermon was preached, and the inevitable tea was largely attended.
Batter Street Congregational Chapel closed in 1921 and the human remains in the Burial Ground were removed to Efford Cemetery.
On March 23rd 1923 the Charity Commission authorised the Trustees, Mr Ernest Frank Anthony, solicitor; Mr George Henry Widger, colour merchant; Mr Richard Smerdon, retired grocer; and Mr William Henry Lester, civil engineer, to sell the land and property. Extending over 8,800 square feet, fronting Higher Batter Street, Stillman Street and Peacock Lane, it comprised not only the Chapel and Sunday School but also two garages and a store which Messrs Twiggs and Chapman were renting at £16 10s per annum.
Thus this 'valuable freehold property' to the south of the Victory House Boys and Girls Club was put up for auction at 4pm on Tuesday July 22nd 1924. The Chapel was described as being built of limestone with a slated roof and measured some 50 feet by 40 feet with a gallery on three sides supported on iron columns. A vestry and lavatory were adjoining. The Sunday School building, on the corner of Higher Batter Street and what was by then Palace Street rather than Stillman Street, was similarly built and consisted of a classroom of 30 feet by 20 feet on the ground floor and a school room, 54 feet by 33 feet, with gallery, on the first floor. This was separated from two adjoining rooms, each 35 feet by 12 feet, by a sliding partition. Also on the first floor was a lecture hall of 28 feet by 16 feet in dimensions, a class room, and two rooms for the caretaker, plus a scullery, lavatories and a coal house. There were eight more class rooms and a lavatory on the second floor.
On August 15th 1924 the Charity Commission authorized the sale of the land and hereditaments for £2,700.
The premises were sold to Lord Astor, who was anxious to expend the work of the Victory Club next door. The buildings were reconstructed and reopened on Saturday December 5th 1925 as the Virginia House Settlement.
While working on war damage repairs to the dance hall of the Virginia House Settlement on Saturday September 29th 1951 workmen uncovered 'three strange brick mounds a few inches below the floor level'. As they interfered with the laying of the new dance floor the men started to demolish them only to find themselves staring at two coffins. The mounds were actually burial vaults, each measuring about 9 feet by 6 feet. The second mound contained two coffins and a third appeared to house at least three caskets. One one of the coffins was the date "1851" worked in brass studs. It had been assumed that all burial remains had been removed at the time it was closed and taken to Efford Cemetery but clearly this was not the case.
It was also revealed at that time that in 1923 the records of the Chapel had been removed to the Union Congregational Chapel in Courtenay Street but they had been lost when that Chapel was destroyed in the Second World War.