Paignton (Palace Avenue) Methodist Church

Palace Avenue, Paignton, Devon, United Kingdom

Men of Vision

1880 - A time to tear down

There was an air of enthusiasm as the congregations continued to increase. The membership of 54 was divided into three Classes. There were 14 for Brother Lambshead, 7 for Sister Simpson and 33 for the Minister.

The railway was attracting an increasing number of summer visitors to the town. A decision was made to "adopt the offertory during the summer months." This must have helped the coffers. Contributions to the Circuit funds more than doubled during this decade, as membership steadily increased. The efforts to clear the debt continued. In 1884 this stood at £415, all of which was paid off within the next five years.

Like the chapel, Paignton was expanding rapidly. The 1881 Census quoted a population of 4613. By the end of the decade it had nearly doubled.

The old town, centered around Winner Street and Well Street, was overcrowded. In the usual pattern, the early settlement surrounded the ancient parish church. Water from the great well in aptly named Well Street, flowed down to the corn mill in Littlegate Road. Much of the land below the railway line was still undrained marsh which also acted as an open sewer. For this reason, the usual routes to the shore were either Lower Polsham Road or Fisher Street both of which still retain buildings of great age. Water was first piped into town in 1872 from the Great Parks reservoir.



The local entrepreneurs - who just happened to be non-conformists - saw a need to develop the town. They comprised -

  • George Soudon Bridgman
  • Walter George Couldrey
  • Onesimus Smart Bartlet
  • William Lambshead

A golden opportunity presented itself when, on the 20th October 1885 an auction was held of "two fields commonly known by the name Homer or Nearer Gerstons, one field adjoining the Totnes and Torquay Turnpike at True Street [about Lloyds Bank corner], messages etc ….." It was in these gardens that some of the famous Paignton flat-pole cabbages were grown.

Paignton Cabbage Patch


For the sum of £4250 they purchased enough ground to make the new centre of Paignton a reality instead of a pipe dream. Their combined expertise and business acumen ensured a broadly based plan catering for the needs of the town.

Mr. Bridgman was already an architect of renown. While working on extensions to the Victoria and Albert Hotel in Belgrave Road, Torquay, he came to the notice of an American guest who was house hunting in the area. When that gentleman, Mr Isaac Merritt Singer purchased the Fernham estate he appointed Mr Bridgman to design the first Oldway Mansion, known as the Wigwam, and the riding and exercise pavilion. Mr Couldrey was joint architect in some of his projects, and also designed Christ Church, Paignton. Mr Bartlett was a solicitor. Mr Lambshead was expanding the late Mr Deller's grocery store. He was one of the first occupants when the new Palace Avenue shops were ready and installed the first electricity generator in the town.

A century later, in the 1980's, the desirability of adopting Stewardship was the subject of debate at Palace Avenue Methodist Church. Agreement to proceed was eventually conveyed by the Church Council to the Home Missions Division, who allocated May 1988 for its implementation.

The significance of this year escaped notice at the time, but exactly one hundred years earlier the forefathers had been putting into practise the very essence of Stewardship. No doubt they were quite unaware of that fact. Their evangelism had filled their first purpose-built chapel to over flowing. They saw a need for a new place of worship in a more central position. So they were motivated to implement the three principles of Stewardship, namely time, talent and money. Their long term plans were bold. The way would open up to overcome the financial obstacles. No doubt the cynics considered them foolhardy. They would have called it faith in action.

It was just such an act of faith that made the Wesleyan Trustees purchase a large plot in the newly designated Palace Avenue. The cost of £325 was later defrayed by Mr Lambshead. In December 1889, the Circuit Trustees convened a special meeting to give "consent to dispose of the present chapel and site in Polsham Road."

Mr Lambshead presented a scheme which included erecting a school-chapel, vestry and rooms on a site in Palace Avenue. Plans, prepared by Mr Couldrey, were placed before the meeting. A tender from brothers Christopher and Robert Elliot Drew was submitted. The Drew's had agreed to purchase the freehold Polsham site and buildings. They would then take down the chapel, stone by stone and re-erect it on the Palace Avenue site. Both proposals were approved.

It seemed appropriate for the Wesleyans to build a central place of worship. The Congregational church had been a landmark in Dartmouth Road since 1875, the Baptists had settled in their Winner Street chapel in 1882, and the Brethren erected the Torquay Road chapel in 1888. It would appear that Christian witness was as active as the commercial growth of the town.

And Polsham Road was free from debt.

School Chapel 1890


Copyright © Sylvia Tancock 1990 (Reproduced here with the permission of the Author)
If you wish to use any of the material please contact us first to obtain permission.

Something To Sing About

The Story of Methodism in Paignton in the Wesleyan Tradition

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