History prior to moving to Abbey Chapel.

The Bible Christian Chapel in Bannawell Street, Tavistock





Dear Brother


I am fully persuaded that all the facilities and appliances of which we can avail ourselves for the purpose of advancing the cause of God, are insufficient to accomplish the end designed with our the influence of the Holy Spirit. At the same time I am convinced that, in these days of refinement and competition, suitable places in which to exercise our ministry stand intimately connected with the permanent establishment Christian societies.

 Our friends at Tavistock greatly needed a chapel for some time past; but insuperable difficulties have appeared to stand in the way of getting one. Seasons have repeatedly returned when, by the necessity under which they have been laid of removing meetings, they have been reminded how advantageous it would be to have a chapel in which they could conduct their services in peace, and when they felt disposed. We have not been under the necessity of changing our place of meetings since I have been in the circuit; but, as the room we occupied is situated in a public establishment, and is used for many purposes, we are frequently prevented from holding regular meetings. This is the case why I am writing.

About 12 months ago, the subject of building a chapel was brought before the Circuit Chapel Committee, who viewed it with approbation, and suggested the propriety of taking steps to obtain a spot of ground, and also of getting Trustees to undertake it. The Missionary Committee was also consulted who appeared favourable, and promised assistance. Finally a piece of ground was obtained on lease from His Grace the Duke of Bedford, situated in Bannawell Street; a part of the town where there is no Chapel near at present. 

Plans and specifications for the work were prepared and about two months ago the work was lit and the necessary excavations having been performed, the foundation stone of the chapel was laid, on Tuesday, 6 October and religious services held in connection therewith. At 2:30 o'clock in the afternoon, our esteemed brother, Mr W Reid, preached a sermon from Psalm xc.17 in the Wesleyan Chapel, which was kindly lent us for the occasion. In pointing out the characteristics of the work in which we might reasonably expect the approbation and blessing of God, our worthy Brother laid great stress on the work being done from pure and proper motives. I had previously taken the same view of the subject, this reference to the work in hand could then have explained,   “perish the whole scheme if our motives are wrong”.

At 5 o'clock a Public Tea was provided in the Temperance Hall, to which 100 persons sat down. Tea being ended, the tables were soon removed, and a public meeting commenced. The gentleman who had signified his intention to take the chair if business did not call him from home was prevented from being with us by sickness; and there being a celebrated lecturer about to lecture in the town that evening in connection with the Natural History Society, some were thereby prevented from remaining with us to the close of the meeting; and others, I have no doubt, by the same circumstance, kept from the meeting altogether, notwithstanding which we had a congregation and a good meeting.


Extract from "United Methodist of Magazine" of January 1931.

The work in the town of Tavistock was begun in the year 1830. A few services were held in the market house: then a garret, in which 20 persons might squeeze themselves, was rented for a shilling a week. A comfortable room in King Street was next taken and fitted up with pews, and about 20 members were soon gathered. The society rapidly grew in numbers and spiritual power and felt the need of a commodious chapel long before they were able to build.

At length the way was open and on September 23, 1847 fine premises in Bannawell Street were opened, (It is said that Billy Bray preached here). At the stone laying ceremony in 1846, the Rev William Reid, father of the Rev W.B. Reid of Bideford, and grandfather of John Ford Reid, as President Designate, was the preacher in the afternoon and the chief speaker in the evening.

When the chapel was opened for public worship, James Thorne was the morning preacher and James Way, President of Conference, preached in the evening. These two Brethren also occupied the pulpit on the first and second Sundays following the opening. It must not be thought that progress up to this date has been continuous and in uninterrupted.

In 1845, the Tavistock cause was reported very low. The missionary deputation of that year was entertained by Congregationalists, and the Congregationalist minister sent 10 shillings to the collection! The new Chapel was to see better days, and soon justified the faith and venture of the builders. In 1848, 20 conversions were recorded and 48 new members were added to the 38 then on the books.

The minister, James Hinks, wrote concerning the reception service, “It  was a pleasing sight when the new members were received into the society to see the old members in the body of the chapel; on the left sixteen who had fulfilled their probation and on the right young people who were still on trial with the faces sparkling heavenly fire, outnumbering the older members “.


In the town of Tavistock, the Bible Christian Church in Bannawell Street combined with United Methodist Free Church, Russell Street in 1911. The premises in Bannawell Street was sold for £1145 and the sum of £1300 was spent on improvements at Russell Street.


Bannawell Street Chapel

A site for the chapel was provided by the Duke of Bedford. It sloped steeply upwards from Bannawell Street towards Glanville Road-so much so that the gardens at the rear of the building were almost level with the roof. The site was levelled in 1846, it was necessary to cut back into solid rock. An elderly lady who was a member of the Bible Christian congregation but too poor to contribute financially to the new Chapel, pushed a wheelbarrow along the planks and helped to carry out the stone as it was excavated.


Building was of stone obtained from Buddle Quarry (since worked out) and sometimes called Buddle Quarry stone. It is greenish in colour, rather soft, and tends to flake, especially when built with the grain vertical. The roofs were slated. The property including two cottages. The lower one (No. 9) was formerly the caretakers residence and the higher one (No 10) was intended for the Minister. No. 10 was later occupied by the caretakers, rent-free for their services and number nine was let out at a weekly rental for many years and until 1961 of 10/3p including rates, the landlord being responsible for repairs.


The Chapel was approached by a flight of steps. The grass plots on either side were formerly enclosed by iron railings. At the foot of the steps was a pair of iron gates surmounted by an iron arch carrying a gas lamp. This ironwork, clearly shown in the 1903 watercolour now in the Abbey Chapel tower room, was removed to make munitions during the Second World War.

Interior of the chapel

The building had a large window in the front wall. Flanked by two smaller windows, and four windows in each side wall. All these windows had leaded lights with coloured glass. There was a gallery on three sides of the building supported by seven round iron pillars, and approached by two wooden stairways from the entrance hall. Laws from the front ends of the gallery leading to the school room.

The large platform was approached by steps on either side. In front, under the floor, was a very conveniently arrange baptistry, constructed in 1912. Behind the platform, under a round arch, with the seats for the choir and a space for the pipe organ which was removed in 1911 and went to Harrowbarrow Methodist Chapel.


Interior woodwork in the chapel was pine. The front and back of the platform in front of the gallery were beautifully ornamented and contained openwork panels of cast iron. The whole building was heated by hot water circulation from a solid fuel boiler. Originally the lighting was by gas and electric light was installed in 1920.


Our thanks go to Heather Bond, daughter of the late N.M. Bond, for the history gathered by her father in connection to the Christian witness in the town.