OLD PLYMOUTH . UK
www.oldplymouth.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: December 25, 2018
Webpage updated: December 25, 2018

        

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UNITARIAN CHAPELS IN OLD PLYMOUTH

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 authorised 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.

One of those ejected from their parish was Mr Nathaniel Jacob, of Ugborough, south Devon.  He used to ride into Plymouth once a fortnight to preach at the house of Mr William Rowe, the merchant, in Bilbury Street.  It was his meetings that were considered the true foundation of Unitarianism in Plymouth.

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.

Although the register kept by Mr Sherwill gives the address of the meeting place as Treville Street, it would not have been a chapel in the modern sense.  In fact the marriage referred to earlier took place in East Stonehouse, possibly at the home of the widow Menir, whose house was licensed for worship, and the congregation were known to meet in places such as the private residences of Mr John Glanville and Mr Thomas Yeabsley, both of whom had their houses licensed for worship; the 'Greene House, in Greene Street'; and the old Marshallsea in Southside Street, on the Barbican, now the Plymouth Gin Distillery.

In fact the Reverend Martyn performed a baptism at the Greene House on June 12th 1672.

It is thought that the original Treville Street Unitarian Chapel was erected in about 1700. 

By 1831 the Treville Street Unitarian Chapel was 'in a ruinous condition', causing the then pastor, the Reverend Israel Worsley, to tender his resignation on March 25th (Lady Day) 1831.  Within a month plans had been drawn up an agreement signed for the demolition of the building and the construction of a replacement building.  It was opened in May 1832.

During the Blitz of March 1941 the Treville Street Unitarian Chapel was destroyed  and the congregation were forced to move around the City, first to the Synagogue Hall, then, with bombs still falling all around them, to a large room in Miss Drew's house 10 Thorn Park, Mutley.  Finally they managed to rent a small house at number 17 Houndiscombe Road, where they managed to hold at least one service every Sunday for the remainder of the War.

There they remained until, on the afternoon of Saturday May 31st 1958, the new Notte Street Unitarian Chapel was opened.