Paignton (Palace Avenue) Methodist Church

Palace Avenue, Paignton, Devon, United Kingdom

The Relief of Moneymaking

1900 - a time to dance

The plans of the Palace Building Estate development consortium were now reaching fruition. By 1900 most of the buildings had been completed. The deeds show that strict covenants were imposed on the houses regarding the size, composition and use. It was forbidden to "trade in any business of a soap boiler, tallow chandler, tripe dresser, fellmonger, working blacksmith or any other noxious or offensive trade or manufacture."

The elegant houses and prestigious commercial premises all complemented the public buildings. The Post Office, YMCA, Police Station, Public Hall and Wesleyan Methodist Church circled the gardens which were still graced with a few of the original trees. Tucked away around the corner were the Fire Station and the public mortuary. One more addition came all too soon. The gardens provided a tranquil site for war memorials. Paignton's sons who were denied burial in its red earth were at least remembered in its warm red sandstone heart.

It is still worthwhile, to stand in the centre of the gardens, and to look up and around. The imposing and complementary architecture will give some indication of how the town centre was envisaged. In the ensuing years, piecemeal transformations have diminished the grandeur and elegance of a once gracious and well planned street.

One of the Church Trustees, Mr Callard of Torquay moved that an appeal should be made to reduce the debt in the coming year. An extension had been granted until the May Synod of 1901 and there was a promise of £60 or £70 from the Circuit Bazaar in the spring. On the 1st of January 1901 the debt was declared cleared with the receipt of the Connexional grant. It may have been as a thanksgiving gesture that Mrs Couldrey presented the Baptismal font and Mr Tincomb the Communion table during the following year.

The emphasis on moneymaking did not overpower the heart of the community. In 1902, membership rose to 100 for the first time. By the end of that same year it was 110, and still rising.

When the Revd Norman Startup arrived in 1902, there was an air of progress. The Trustees supported the Circuit record "that this meeting declares its great satisfaction that His Majesty's Government have brought forward a proposal for legislation for the better regulation of the Liquor Traffic, and for the diminution of some of the mischief's arising therefrom, and expresses its earnest hope that the Licensing Bill introduced in to the House of Commons by Mr Ritchie, may become law in the present session of Parliament."

Crockery bearing the legend 'Wesleyan Church Paignton' was in regular use. It was in great demand on occasions like the Good Friday tea, which drew people from across the Circuit.

Minute books reveal the kind of details which are not uncommon in church history. In February 1903 -

  • the treasurer reported an adverse balance of £22.2.5;
  • a committee was formed to consider replacing the organ;
  • the manse drains were causing problems;
  • there were complaints about the Chapel Keeper;
  • a notice board was required;
  • the organ blower was paid 1 shilling per week.

It was to be a busy year.

When the church was built, the wall behind the communion table was left blank. The proposal suggested, when funds permitted "filling it up with wood or stone panels with illuminated texts etc, which will have a good effect from the body of the church." Now the time was ripe. Fresh ideas were mooted. The results were the marble cladding together with the bathstone and marble reredos which is now hidden.

THE REREDOS AND MARBLE CLAD WALL ERECTED IN 1904

THE REREDOS AND MARBLE CLAD WALL ERECTED IN 1904

The Revd Startup seems to have lived up to his name. He was described as "a man of vision". During his ministry the Sunday school flourished and music became an important element of worship. With Mr Mansfield at the organ and Mr Tout as choirmaster, the minister encouraged an augmented choir to present its first cantata, a rendition of 'Ruth'. So it was not surprising that the Polsham Road organ was no longer considered adequate.

PURCELL JAMES MANSFIELD

PURCELL JAMES MANSFIELD

A budget was produced to cover the wall, organ and additional schoolrooms. The total was not to exceed £550. It would seem that careful negotiations took place. The wall cost £145 and the organ £293, less £25 for the sale of the old one which went to Harlow. Consideration was given to the installation of a motorised blower. It was not all plain sailing. The pulpit was too near the organ and had to be moved. The organ was unsatisfactory and part payment withheld. It finished with solicitors letters.

This time the Circuit came up with help. From the very successful bazaar, £100 was given to Paignton towards the extensions.

By the time the Revd Alfred Dickerson arrived in 1906, the Sunday School was becoming a great asset. From the roll call of its teachers and officers, it is obvious that the members of the Society saw the true importance of this work. Those who were already in high office, such as Mr Lambshead and Mr Tout, and those who were to become the Trustees and Leaders of the future, all played an active part. Anniversaries were highlights of the church calendar. A tiered platform was erected across the front with the choir at the top and the babies at the front. The children were resplendent in new dresses and bonnets or stiff collars and shiny boots. Three times during the day they recited and sang, accompanied by the Union Street string orchestra. How much panic, how many tears, there must have been as the nervous children faced a packed church. Only the thought of the outing must have driven them on. But what a platform for future appearances, for budding public speakers, actors and local preachers. There can have been no better grounding.

Outreach was always on the agenda, and everyone played their part. Alfred Stidworthy was no exception. He was organ blower for many years. He lived in York Road and opened his house for a class meeting. So popular did this become that it was obvious that a new meeting place was needed.

Some years earlier, in 1893, that benefactor Mr Washington Merritt Grant Singer purchased Cross Orchard. To help alleviate unemployment as well as provide modest cost living accommodation, he caused Merritt's flats to be built. He wanted the project to cater for all needs, and included a working men's club. It comprised a billiard room and three other small rooms. It seems that the Devonport Arms was a greater attraction and the club became defunct. Just the place for the York Road housegroup.

St Michael's Mission was registered as a place of public worship on the 14th October 1907. The property was rented for £16 per annum, including rates. The later owners, Investment and Land Owners Ltd., wished to sell in 1963. Messrs Eastley, pleading the interest of the late Mr Singer in the work of the Mission, and of his generosity, obtained the property for the church at half the going price.

Interest in Overseas Missions received impetus during the next ministry. In 1908, the Revd Robert Tebb with his wife and daughter had recently returned from Ceylon. Perhaps it was their influence which led Mrs Kate Rockett to start the monthly Women's Work meetings which grew up during this period. Her dedication did much to build up missionary interest. The mighty efforts of "WW" over the years is a legacy which does credit to her memory.

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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