Paignton (Palace Avenue) Methodist Church

Palace Avenue, Paignton, Devon, United Kingdom

Men of Vision

1920 - a time to heal

Showing great resilience, the Society entered a new decade with vigour and optimism. The years of sorrow and deprivation were left behind. The worst of recession and unemployment lay just beyond the horizon. Work and worship progressed.

The agenda contained the mixture as before, clearing the debt, sales of work, new building plans. If the spiritual life of the community is to progress, then the mundane must be given serious consideration. They go hand in hand. While congratulations were in order at the June Quarterly Meeting in 1920 over reducing the debt by £400, plans were being formulated to co-operate with forwarding temperance work. Miss Tout was well established as the organist. Public subscription had paid for the memorial tablet.

So when the Revd Walter Foxon arrived in 1921, he took over a going concern. The sewing needles were darting in and out toward a great Spring Market the following year, which raised £392.9.1. Over a twelve month period concerts, jumble sales, socials, donations etc. raised a staggering £975.7.11 to prepare the way for a renovation scheme.

All this was possible because the church was alive and flourishing. The Trust increased its annual gift for a choir outing to two guineas. A Young Peoples Guild was started, since the original Guild had faltered. The Sunday School was very active. Congregations filled the church Sunday by Sunday.

In order to install electric light and redecorate the interior, the Revd Foxon moved Sunday services to the Paignton Picture House. An imposing figure, this dynamic preacher delivered a series of sermons based on popular novels. That must have raised a few eyebrows! These summertime services attracted many holidaymakers who would not have searched out a church. After the Avenue was re-opened, some of the picture house patrons continued to attend service. Chairs in the aisle were a norm.

Since the opening of the school-chapel, the kitchen had doubled as a vestry, or vice versa. One long-serving Trustee, Mr Charles Steer saw to it that future ministers would not suffer this indignity. His will stipulated that his bequest should be used in its entirety on a purpose built vestry. Perhaps he did not envisage that the sum would be nearly £2000. The Trustees had difficulty in spending that kind of money, hence the oak panelled elegance. The architect was Major W N Couldrey, son of the original church architect. It was opened by Mrs Couldrey Senior.

Throughout the 1920's, in Methodism negotiations were taking place over Union. There were many differences between the various denominations: Primitive Methodists, United Methodists, Wesleyans. Each had its own traditions, and traditions die hard. There could not be unity without at least some kind of uniformity. Talks dragged on. Perhaps that was the saving grace. People had time to learn, to absorb, to accept that division was not conducive to Christian witness. Union was still some way off.

Palace Avenue was playing its part in local union, albeit for other basic reasons. The church membership stood at 222. Not far away, at Cecil Road was a one-time Bible Christian Methodist chapel. The town was pushing itself outwards. At Preston, near the Torquay border stood a third Methodist church, also of Bible Christian origins. It was deemed desirable to establish a new Methodist church somewhere between these two, the Southfield and Preston Societies. The search for a site began. The first one was unsuitable, and was re-sold. The second, at Mr Paris Singer's stud farm, seemed right for the suggested 400 seater church. A Trust was appointed. There was a barn on the site, and a proposal was made, (but not carried) to start worship there at once. Did someone remember the story about the beginning at Polsham? Both of the United Methodist Societies co-operated with the proposal. They agreed to transfer their members, and sell their premises when the new church became a reality.

When the literary Revd Foxon left in 1925, a welcome was extended Richard B Wilkinson OBE. A pale, thin man, he had served as a chaplain in the war. Not unlike Woodbine Willie, he established rapport with the men through his pipe. He was described as at his happiest in the men's smoking meeting. This popular venue did not detract from the now flourishing Guild which was the major weekday meeting. The secretary was Mrs McMannes. The Guild Choir performed not only ambitious programmes, but a 'Glee Club' also responded to the baton of Mr Wash. An evening meeting for young women and a Junior Guild filled the complement.

Mrs Mountford, widow of a missionary minister, made major contributions to the promulgation of Overseas Mission throughout her long life. In the twenties, while she was a Sunday School teacher, she coached the children for concerts to aid mission funds and educate the congregation. The children rehearsed at her home in Elmsleigh Park. Queenie Robins can still sing 'Jesus loves me, this I know' in a language she believes to, be Afrikaans. It was in this period that Queenie, Lily Hurrell and Gwen Craze were founder members in Miss Margaret Sutton's 'Young Leaguers' - the junior supporters of the National Children's Home and Orphanage.

Sunday School anniversary continued in importance. Some of the new dresses were enhanced with fresh buttonholes provided by Miss Hingston, who also invited her class to a party at her home, Netherton in Sands Road. Songs were practised with Miss Tout at the organ. The following Wednesday the outing took place. Perhaps a train ride to Lustleigh with races and games in a field.

By now only a few of the early Trustees remained. They were -

  • William Lambshead - cafe proprietor
  • John Taylor - chemist
  • Ernest Farrant - plumber
  • Gilbert Tout - cornstore manager
  • Edgar James Dawe - butcher
  • Charles William Maker - grocer
  • Lawrence Pile Foale - provision merchant

The new Trustees elected were -

  • Joseph Green - storeman
  • William Allen Roper - gentleman
  • Frederick Craze - cafe manager
  • John Sutton - stationer
  • Robert Holroyd - gas engineer
  • John Bourne - newsagent
  • Arthur Baker - optician
  • Cecil Smith - bootmaker
  • Charles Brown - boarding house proprietor
  • Frederick Green - electrician
  • Frank Hastie - outfitter
  • Frederick Eld - manufacturers agent
  • Robert Ellis - gentleman
  • Samuel Rumbold - coal merchant
  • Alfred Kingdon - secretary
  • Walter Bourne - bookbinder
  • John Morrish - grocer
  • Alfred Fenton - gentleman
  • James Mackmurdo - grocer's assistant
  • William Serpell - hardware merchant

Older Paigntonians will recognise many of these gentlemen as being leading councillors and businessmen. Local shops, with very few exceptions, bore the names of private traders. It is sad to note that, sixty-odd years later, not a single surname from that list appears on the church membership roll.

While the life of the church appeared to be progressing, it is difficult to assess the effect of financial constraint and anxiety which must have dogged people at this time. Was the burden beginning to tell? Apparently the Trustees were not as active as their predecessors, for the minister was calling them to task in January 1928. He appealed to them to play their part in the spiritual life of the church, Guild and Sunday School. The latter had been a source of trouble to him through insufficient helpers.

But Trustees were not the only ones due for some censure. The attitude of some Seatholders toward visitors also caused loving concern. The minister was left to draw up a suitable notice to be given out from the pulpit.

The Trustees pulled no punches. When in 1926 the organist asked for an evening off (there was long term sickness in the house) they called an extra-ordinary meeting. It was pointed out that this was not in accordance with the agreement, that the organist must find a substitute of sufficient standard, and that this dispensation should not be taken as a precedent.

Concern for the other churches in the circuit extended to commiseration to Union Street, which had suffered a disastrous fire. In that same year of 1926 a gift was made to St Michael's of the original Polsham Road pulpit. Until this time, it had remained in the schoolroom. Plans for the church anniversary included a lecture on Monday evening. The distinguished Wesleyan layman Mr Isaac Foot was invited, but was unable to attend.

In the standard three year pattern, a new minister, the Revd Harry G Tunnicliffe was due to arrive in 1928. This brought a flurry of activity in the manse. A new kitchen range was installed, the outside painted, the water tanks renewed, various doors and flooring required attention and the bath 'needed doing up'. A sum of £60 was allocated.



The minister found the congregation full of ideas. The Guild suggested that seat rents should be abolished. That did not meet with approval. The organist requested, and received, a rise. The salary was now fixed at £35 per annum. Mrs Foale offered the gift of a salver for the offertory. The need for a further three dozen hymnbooks was met yet again with a gift from Mr John Sutton. Do we hear some voice of discontent at the decision to discontinue the Introit & Vespers? Could it be that there was a temporary lapse in the quality of choral effort?

Music played a central part of the life of the church. The Easter cantata, with a choir augmented by members of the Baptist and Congregational churches, was performed by 50 voices. Principal soloists were paid for their services. Choir discipline was strict and an attendance book reported any absences from practice.

The Harvest lecture was replaced with a supper. This became a men's function. The first one was organised by John Morrish. Who better, to know a good gammon when he boned one.

For fund raising, a Spring Market was planned. Mr Lambshead, now the venerated Old Gentleman presided. Trust funds benefitted by £110. With a bill for £324 for attention to the central heating, this was very necessary.

The Revd Tunnicliffe introduced the Oxford Movement, in which interdenominational teams worked to revitalise all the churches. A party of undergraduates (from Cambridge University) arrived for a week to inaugurate the scheme. The principles were not universally appreciated. Nevertheless, it resulted in a young people's fellowship which was much valued by its members.



The activities of the church grew significantly. Both inside the premises and outside, Christian witness emanated from the dedicated members.

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.

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The Story of Methodism in Paignton in the Wesleyan Tradition

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