Paignton (Palace Avenue) Methodist Church

Palace Avenue, Paignton, Devon, United Kingdom

Something To Sing About: The Story of Methodism in Paignton in the Wesleyan Tradition

The following pages contain the text of a book written by Sylvia Tancock, a member of Paignton (Palace Avenue) Methodist Church, a Paigntonian born and bred, and proud of it!

Paignton is a seaside resort lying in the heart of Torbay, Devon. Palace Avenue Methodist Church lies in the heart of Paignton

Something to Sing About Cover

Copyright © Sylvia Tancock 1990 (Reproduced here with the permission of the Author) All rights reserved.


The author would like to thank all those, both within and outside the Church community who have assisted in piecing together this story; for those who answered her questions with patience and forbearance; for the interest they have shown; and for the generous loan of photographs by Mesdames Edith Couldrey, Marion Ham, Lily Hurrell, Prue Pearse, Amy Southgate and Barbara Sutton, Dr Nan Kennie, Misses Mollie Brooks and Olive Stidworthy, Messrs John Jeffery, Maurice Phillips and Peter Tully.


In one of his hymns, Charles Wesley wrote 'My talents, gifts and graces, Lord, into Thy blessed hands receive'; Hymns and Psalms Number 767, verse 3. 'Something to Sing About' is the story of a people of God who made that commitment of their talents and abilities in faith. They had been blessed with a vision of a work to be done, and set about doing it with devotion and loyalty. As you will read, the work and witness was not without difficult moments - but the determination of God's people to ensure the witness to His love in the centre of Paignton, was unwavering.

Many who read this history will recall the 'Saints' who are in glory - we pay a lasting tribute to their steadfast loyalty. Many too, will go back in their minds eye and will be serving teas, enjoying Sunday School Outings, listening to the great orators as they proclaimed the message of God's redeeming love. Enjoy the moments of reflection and praise God for all that is past. Indeed, this we can do through Sylvia's history of her Church.

Yes, friends of Palace Avenue, we are indebted to Sylvia Tancock for her painstaking research. She has approached the book in her usual methodical and meticulous way - as a true Methodist would! We thank her for giving us the picture of a people of faith - serving their Lord.

However, the history of Palace Avenue does not end on the last page of the book. We who worship and work there now know we are writing tomorrow's history. As we rejoice in all that has been done to God's glory through his people called Methodists in the Palace Avenue Society, so we pledge ourselves to continuously give of our talents, gifts and graces -with the earnest prayer that the love of God will continue to be known through His people as they worship and work in the Church by the gardens.

I commend 'Something to Sing About' to you as a tribute to the 100 years of Methodist Witness in the centre of Paignton. May this book warm your heart and encourage your faith.


This is the story of generations of Paignton people whose spiritual journeys led them eventually to Palace Avenue. The Methodist Church there is a landmark among many. To members and visitors alike, the warm red sandstone walls predict the welcome which awaits them inside.

One hundred and eighty years have passed since a little band of Wesleyans are known to have formed a housegroup. Several temporary and three purpose built places of worship followed.

What men of vision were they, who laid the foundations. What a testimony of faith they gave. Their legacy still inspires "the people called Methodists" to promote spiritual growth and practical Christian service today.

The church buildings were erected to the glory of God. Yet in the end, the sandstone and stained glass do not matter. They are but vehicles used by generations of committed Christians to further His work.

Each decade has produced an endless roll of people who put service before self, who carry out tasks great or small, who may receive public acclaim or pass unheralded. They are the cornerstones of His Church. Some of them are named within, the majority are not, therefore


In the Beginning

1800 A time to be Born

Slavery had been abolished; the Duke of Wellington was fighting the Peninsular War; Napoleon invaded Austria; Spencer Percival was Prime Minister and Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States of America; Isambard Kingdom Brunel was 3 years old; Joseph Sanders and William Wood lived in Paignton.

Who were Sanders and Wood? They were Wesleyans. Sanders applied for a meeting house certificate for the house of William Wood. The year was 1809. There was a strong Wesleyan presence at Barton, where a chapel had been built in 1802. The Word had spread across the bay to Brixham, and open air meetings were held on the quay. Either of these sources may have influenced Joseph Sanders to make his application.

The next certificate, issued on behalf of the Bishop of Exeter, was dated 8th May 1824, for the house of John Footman. He was a naval man, serving on HMS 'Royal George' at the time of his marriage to Paignton born Elizabeth Dalton in March, 1809. They lived in Fisher Street with their two sons, William and John. John senior was born in Middlesex in 1777. Since he became a Greenwich pensioner, it is likely that he had served during the Napoleonic War sea battles. It may have been injuries which qualified him for a pension. Perhaps he was one of those put ashore at Goodrington for treatment in the naval hospital, and there met Elizabeth. He eventually moved to Winner Street and lived to a ripe old age.

Matthew Henry Churchward received the Sacrament of Infant Baptism on the 4th of May 1845. The son of Thomas and Maria, he was born on the 18th of March in that year. The family lived in Winner Street where Thomas was in business as a cider merchant.

Matthew's is the first entry in the Paignton Wesleyan-Methodist Baptismal Register. It is possible that earlier baptisms were recorded in a general register which was usually carried from town to town by the Minister.

It would be more than twenty years before the Torquay Wesleyan Circuit came into being. Meanwhile, the Teignmouth and Newton Abbot circuit would continue to provide preachers'. It was quite common for the laymen to walk the twenty-odd mile round trip oil a Sunday, preaching at three services en route.

Stone steps behind a house in Winner Street led to one room used. This is where Howard Terrace, or numbers 57-67 stand today. In the true Wesley tradition, a few were gathered for mutual comfort and to encourage one another to grow in grace. Their fellowship included the Lovefeast, which continued to be a feature of the Circuit Plan for a further 50 years. A simple meal of plain cake and water, the sharing of the two-handled Loving Cup and personal testimony were elements of the celebration that John Wesley recommended "In order to increase .... a grateful sense of all God's mercies .... that we might eat bread as the early Christians did with gladness and singleness of heart".

Recollections of those early meetings were recorded about fifty years later (in 1896) when some of those present were still worshipping with the Society.

Just a few doors away from the Meeting house, lived 25 year old Mr Deller, the Paignton born son of a labourer. Already as a plumber, painter and glazier, he now opened a store. He could not have known what part that action would play in the future of Methodism in Paignton.

Winner Street was one of the most densely populated areas of the little town. The cob-houses were a constant fire hazard. There were several workshops and stores and two Inns.

Most of the water supply came from a leat which originally irrigated the 13th century vineyard on Wynered or Winner Hill. The ambitious system was nearing the end of its mile course from Westerland. By aqueducts and leats it wound its way through Blagdon and Great Parks before disappearing into an underground culvert at Primley. It surfaced again at the west end of Winner Street, on its journey via the vicarage garden to the corn mill in Littlegate Road. Here it supplemented the natural spring from Well Street before flowing down to the sea.

The 1840's were hard years. A succession of poor harvests and potato crop failures brought suffering and distress. Nevertheless, from its small beginnings the little housegroup was gaining support.

copy of certificate

A copy of the certificate issued for the Bishop of Exeter, registering a place of worship.
Dated 8th May 1824

On the move

1850 - A time to uproot

The 1850 edition of White's Directory informs the reader that there were three chapels in the parish, belonging to the Independents, the Baptists and the Wesleyans.

Soon after the earliest days in Winner Street, the Wesleyans were invited to hold their services in neighbouring Weston House. The occupier was Mr Jenkins, a cabinet maker and lifelong Methodist This gentleman's son became the Venerable Dr Ebenezer E Jenkins, General Secretary of the Wesleyan Missionary Society and President of the Conference in 1880.

After the death of Mr Jenkins, the society had no established home, and worshipped at various other churches in the town. It was the Revd Nehemiah Curnock who, in about 1857, helped to secure another room. This house, Weston Town (between New Street and West End) was the home of Mr Alexander Fletcher. He was born in Ipplepen, which at that time fielded the second largest chapel in the Circuit. Mr Fletcher, followed by his son, ran an academy for boys. The school was later endowed by that generous local benefaction, the Belfield Trust.

The arrangement lasted only a short while before a new worship centre was needed. A Presbyterian, Mr James McIntyre of Fernham offered the use of a room. Grateful as the people must have been, it would have presented some hardship. There were few habitations beyond Well Street. No street lights, no pavements, only dirt roads existed. Faith was being put to the test.

It was not only in Wesleyan circles that people were on the move. Public transport had been established. By 1856, omnibuses ran from Dartmouth and Brixham to Torquay, calling en route to pick up passengers at the Crown and Anchor. Winner Street now boasted pavements, and a water cart helped to lay the summer dust.

Although the railway served Torquay from 1848, Paington had to wait until 1859 before the Dartmouth and Torbay Railway Company put Paignton on the map. It is said by some (and denied by others) that the official adoption of the spelling PAIGNTON came about because it was thus misspelt on one of the platform signboards. It was the thirtieth and last variation, and appeared from that time on in the Minute book of the Local Board. Railway communication brought commercial growth and had more influence on the development of the town than any other event in its history.

Meanwhile, the devoted band of worshippers choked in the dust or squelched through the mud as they made their way to Fernham. On the way, they passed a couple of orchards and one or two dwellings. The land, Inner and Outer Oldway, belonged to Mr William Pillar. At a place called Ramshorn, stood a barn. It was empty. All it needed was a bit of attention and it would make a fine meeting house.

The Wesleyans had longed for a preaching place of their own. Their goals were set.

Quarterly meeting 1866

Includes consideration of building a new chapel in Paignton

A Home of Their Own

1860 - A time to plant

The barn chapel flourished. Local Preachers were the mainstay of small chapels like this one. At the Quarterly Meeting of September 1860, preachers were requested to meet the Paignton Classes following afternoon services to "attend to this department of the work of God in the Circuit."

Once established as a chapel, the building was ripe for improvement. Extensions were carried out, and within a few weeks plans were being made for a celebratory re-opening service.

Membership of the Society was very small. Quarterly payments to the Circuit were sometimes less than £1. Presumably, this money came from the one penny per week Class subscription. The first recorded assessment is dated June 1867 and is for the sum of £4.

By March 1866 the Circuit was forming a committee to "consider the practicability of erecting a new chapel at Paignton." The investigators included Messrs Morgan, Yeo, Harvey, Williams and Curwood, all of whom would serve the Society for many years to come. An offer was subsequently made to Mr Pillar for a site at Polsham with a 50 foot frontage, for the intended chapel.

There was growth all around the bay. After much anguish on the part of Teignmouth and Newton Abbot, the Torquay Circuit came into being. The new Circuit served an area with a population of 25,000 inhabitants.

The Paignton Chapel appeared on the first Plan. Services were held twice each Sunday with a fortnightly, mid-week Prayer Meeting. Each Chapel was expected to contribute to a Circuit Aid collection, Education Fund (for Ministers' children) and their Assessment. Holy Communion was celebrated once a quarter by the Minister, the Revd J Morgan. The Lectionary Readings were printed on the Plan.

The earliest list of members, dated 1867, names:

  • William Mortimore
  • Jane Lavers
  • Elizabeth Horswell
  • Mary Mortimore
  • Elizabeth Parnell
  • Mary Jane Warren
  • John Patterson

Patterson was the coastguard. William Mortimore was a mason by trade. Twenty years earlier, the record of the baptism of William and Mary's son was the second entry in the Register. Later in life he was described as "The backbone of the church, a real saint."

Of the twelve Trustees appointed in 1868, six resided in Torquay, and four subsequently emigrated. The only surname which still appears in the Torbay Circuit is that of Mr William Callard. His grandson continues his family's unbroken service to Methodism.

The Winner Street dream became a Polsham Road reality. The chapel was built in 1868 at a cost of £600, and could seat about 200 people.

The first Treasurer was Mr William Lambshead. This twenty-year old came from an Ipplepen family. Could it be only coincidence that it was also the birthplace of Alexander Fletcher? The Fletcher school and the Deller's store were both in Winner Street. William Lambshead came to Paignton to manage the Deller's shop. Before long, he managed to marry the boss's eldest daughter, Elizabeth Ann. He was to continue to use the name Deller in several other business ventures.

The Wesleyan Chapel was now firmly established in the rapidly expanding town, although at this time the residential area had not spread to Polsham. In winter it was still a long, dark walk beyond the apple orchards which lay between Church Street and Polsham Road. Only Winner Street boasted street lights, and they were not lit when moonlight was anticipated!

Chapel 1868




To Grow in Grace

1870 - A time to love

The chapel settled into a period of consolidation and growth.

There were twice-weekly prayer meetings and weekly Class meetings. The Lovefeast was an important element of church life. Members gave their personal testimonies and there was an opportunity for those young in the Faith to learn from their brothers and sisters in Christ. Polsham Road also joined the rest of the Circuit in the quarterly Fast Day which was a feature of Methodism.

The first record of both Good Friday and Christmas Day services date from 1871.

The membership was growing. Within the first ten years contributions quadrupled. Even so, the deficit still stood at £360 when, in 1876, it was resolved to extinguish the debt. Subscription books were issued. The Trustees never allowed fiscal deficiencies to curtail spiritual progress. Seat Rents produced £13.17.6 for the year and an annual collection brought in £17.1.3. Lighting, heating and cleaning cost £5.0.3. and the Chapel Keeper's salary was raised from £2.10s to £3.10s. The debt was reduced each year by sums between £50 and £100.

There were now three Classes, led by Messrs Fogwell, Patterson and Lambshead. Each Quarter saw an increase in membership and a further group of those "on trial".

Following Methodist tradition, contributions were made each year to Wesleyan Schools, General Chapel Fund, Wesleyan Education Fund, Home and Overseas Missions and the Theological Institute, as well as the unfortunately-named "Worn Out Ministers Fund". It would seem that the burdens of the clergy were just as great last century Methodist publications were obtained through the Minister. The Polsham Chapel regularly ordered several copies of the Sunday School magazine, Minutes of Conference, Temperance magazine and Clarkes Comment. The first Minister, the Revd Bourne was appointed in 1875.

The Society was outgrowing its modest chapel. In 1879 a school room was added. The chapel had been enlarged with the addition of a gallery. It would now seat 300. In order to pay for their Minister, a Quarterly Assessment of £17.10s was levied.

When the Trust was first formed, it included ten members from other parts of the Circuit. This was now balanced out with the appointment of Trustees from the Polsham Road Society. They were:

  • William Lambshead
  • Lawrence Pile Foale
  • John Maunder
  • William Sawyer Parker
  • William Hicks
  • Ernest Farrant
  • Robert Cullis

Most of these men continued to serve the Society for the rest of their lives.

School Rooms 1879


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.



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


Sandstone and Stained Glass

1890 - A time to build

The school-chapel was built on a corner of the site, allowing for the church of the future to be erected facing the gardens. It was registered for public worship on the 31st of May 1890, and for the solemnisation of marriage on the 24th July 1890. The signatory was the Revd Edward Ashton Jones. The church was insured for £600 and only seated 200 until the gallery was installed.

The returns for 1890 show an average increase in membership of 3 members each quarter. Seat Rents for the year produced £41.19.6.

The life of the society broadened. Patterns were set. Good Friday teas became an annual and renowned event. In 1893 it was followed by a lime-light lecture by the Superintendent, Revd G Beebee on the subject 'Jesus and Jerusalem'.

Adam, Mortimore and Washington Singer had endowed the cottage hospital. From 1891, an annual Hospital Sunday was held at Palace Avenue to support the work.

Whitsun, Chapel Anniversary, Harvest, Christmas, Watchnight and Covenant Sunday all became regular dates in the diary. Sacrament was still celebrated only once a month, and the Fast Day continued.

There was another 'first' when William Palmer, a 28 year old letter carrier, married Fanny Tucker Heath on the 7th November 1892.

At the Annual Meeting in March 1891, Mr Lambshead read the balance sheet of the building and site, and stated that the full amount had been raised for the first phase with the exception of £4.19.6.

Not daunted by that effort, a special meeting was called in September of the same year to receive a memorial which contained 123 signatures. It read "We the undersigned Seatholders and Members of the congregation worshipping in Paignton Wesleyan School Chapel are of the opinion that it is advisable in the Interests of Methodism in Paignton to endeavour without delay to build the proposed permanent new Chapel." The sum suggested was between £1800 and £2000. Mr Lambshead thought Paignton should aim to raise £250 as a starter, with the Torquay churches doing likewise. A Circuit bazaar was proposed. However, a new scheme at Chelston attracted more interest from the Torquinians. This was a great disappointment to the brothers from Palace Avenue.

There was only £130 in the bank, £300 in reliable promises and a likely £200 from the Connexional Chapel Fund. The staunch Mr Lambshead faltered. He did not think "the Torquay friends were with them", or that they could continue without help. Others disagreed. Plans were submitted by Mr Couldrey and accepted. The Sewing Meeting was as busy as ever, preparing for a spring Bazaar. Little Master Norman Couldrey was in great demand, threading needles for the ladies. It sometimes seems that more walls were built with sewing needles than with bricks and mortar.

A year later the proposed church schedule was sent for District approval. The estimated cost was now £2150, with a mere 10% actually in hand. The budgeted income was very detailed. Dr Pope, on behalf of the Chapel Fund came from Manchester and was pleased with the presentation. He made valuable suggestions regarding finance. It is interesting to note that he would have preferred a central entrance.

Nine tenders were opened in June. They ranged from £1893 to £2270. The lowest tender was accepted on condition that the church would be opened nine months from date of contract. The builder then discovered that there was an omission in his calculations, and withdrew. The contract was then awarded to Mr Samuel Blatchford of Upton for £1991.12.0.

It was about this time that the two sisters who lived next door objected to the line of the building. The infant Paignton Urban District Council refused building permission unless the length of the church was reduced by three feet. This was not the only problem with the staunchly Anglican ladies. To avoid further offence, and with an eye to future needs for a manse in Paignton, an offer was made and accepted to purchase the house. The interest on the money borrowed to finance this transaction would be repaid from rent received in the interim period. The delay in commencing work, caused by the objection, was a great financial blow to the Trustees. They had planned the stone laying ceremony to coincide with Conference, which was being held at Plymouth. With the prospect of several 'big names' being present, it had been anticipated that the coffers would benefit accordingly. Their faith was put to the test.

Mr Lambshead laid the principal stone on 9th October 1895. Others were laid by Miss Bovey, daughter of the Mayor of Torquay and Mrs Taylor. Sunday School scholars who had collected at least one guinea laid stones which bore their initials. The girls were Misses Crispin, Cullis, three Foale sisters, Matthews, Putt, two Simpson girls, and Louise Tout who would become organist one day. The boys were Masters Couldrey, Farrant, Cullis, Foale, Foster, Geriche and Morrish. These were not only the children of very active members, but most of them remained to take office themselves.

Buried under the foundation stone was a bottle containing newspapers of the day. These were recovered during alterations in 1984. The Paignton Echo of the 3rd of October 1895 reported the death of Monsieur Pasteur: Paignton Football played Torquay Athletic at home: Mrs Mills advertised the loss of her feather boa between the Chapel and Winner Street. In the Western Daily Mercury, Spooners were offering Yorkshire woollen blankets at 4 shillings and 11 pence a pair.

After the ceremony 340 people sat down to tea in the Public Hall. This new building was also designed by Messrs Bridgman and Couldrey. Long speeches followed, during which the company was urged to hold all of the services in the church, and not in the hall.

The work went ahead throughout the winter of 1895-96. Mr Blatchford and his staff, which included his three sons, travelled from Upton each day by horse and cart. Loans were raised. Banks respected these gentlemen of honour, requesting no sureties. The final tenders were agreed. The local furniture maker and auctioneer, Mr Robert Waycott, quoted £157.17.6 for the seating. A small-bore hot water heating system was installed by Hill and Drummond of Liverpool, sixteen air inlet and two large extractors by Boyle of London took care of ventilation, and gas lighting completed the services. Bathstone work was executed by Delafield and Pollard of Paignton. The organ, brought first from Polsham Road to the school-chapel, was now installed in the transept.

New Public Worship Certificates were issued in June 1896 stating "the Wesleyan Methodist Church, being a substitute for the building named Wesleyan Methodist Chapel." This is the first time the title 'church' appears.

On schedule, the church was officially opened on Wednesday, the 1st of July 1896. The event was reported in the Paignton Observer as "quite a holiday for the town" with all denominations attending. The total cost, including a gallery and all fittings was £2557.15.6. Lunch, served in the schoolroom was followed with long speeches. Then, the door was unlocked by Mrs Lambshead using a silver key given by Mr Couldrey. After the service, tea was served to 400 people in three relays. The evening service was fully attended. The Mayor of Torquay, Alderman Bovey said that the building was not only erected to look at and meet in, but for the purpose of God's glory and saving of souls. He suggested that the Society had that aim in view and it would then be their earnest endeavour to support the ministry by doing all they could to lead others to the truth.

The leader column in the Paignton Echo congratulated the Wesleyans, saying that it not only added another most handsome and imposing public building, but indicated the growth of population and wealth. It went on to say that a few years before, a denomination that only partly filled a back street, small building now required the largest ecclesiastical building in the town after the established church - and that it also occupied the best site in town.

Just one week later, the first wedding took place. Scotsman John Manson Ramsay, a forgemaster, married Miss Agnes Lambshead. She was the second daughter of William. The church was filled with plants and ferns loaned by Mr Burridge and Mr Rossiter, a market gardener. The church overflowed, and a crowd gathered outside. The bride wore an elaborate gown of white satin, made by Daw's of Victoria Street. The bridesmaids' hats were supplied by Rossiter's of Palace Avenue, next door neighbours of the Lambshead's. The Trustees presented the couple with a Bible and hymnbook.

The church settled down, ready to build up the spiritual life while reducing the heavy debts. Seat rents brought in a steady income. A seating plan was displayed in the vestibule and indicated the seats reserved for visitors. Collections were made every Sabbath for connexional and local funds.

The first church anniversary took place on the 4th of July 1897. There was a sacred concert on the pier, an edifice designed by the ubiquitous Mr Bridgman. The augmented choir and orchestra were conducted by Mr G Tout. The Sunday school treat took place at Luscombe Castle Park near Dawlish. In the school room, the gallery was removed and a platform was erected.

Church membership continued with a small but steady growth. The Society Stewards were Mr Tout and Mr Farrant, the Poor Stewards Mr Dawe and Mr Maker and the Chapel Stewards Mr Codner and Mr Cullis. The church's contribution to Circuit funds was set at £22.1.8 per Quarter.

The rest of the decade was a financial struggle. Without clearing off the various loans, the Connexional grant was not forthcoming. More time was pleaded. The Circuit seemed reluctant to assist. One bold venture took place on August Bank Holiday 1897, and the following day.

Mr Paris Singer graciously lent his house, Redcliffe Towers, and Mrs Singer opened the event. The Paignton Echo commented that she was "not of that community, but held an open mind." A guide book showed the layout of events both indoors and out. The drawing room held fancy stalls. The sewing one was presided over by Mrs Couldrey. There was a Busy Bee, fancy and general, china and many more. Downstairs were provisions, poultry and dairy, flowers and fruit. Ice cream proved very popular. The entertainment highlight was a camera obscura. Outside was a working model with mill, tunnel, gondola and swings. The miniature zoo was full of children dressed as animals. The grounds contained numerous other attractions, such as cocoanut shies. There is no record of the winner of the men's hat trimming competition! The Paignton Volunteer Band played, in addition to the musical accompaniment at the afternoon and high teas. A grand concert took place in the evening and the show continued until 10.30pm.

On Monday over one thousand people passed through the gate. It must have been Paignton's major Bank Holiday event. Proceeds were £97.12.2, with a further £35 on Tuesday. Compared with the Christmas Bazaar of 1895 which raised £160, the profits were surprisingly small. It is to be hoped that the publicity brought another kind of reward to the hard working, hard playing Wesleyans.

In June 1899 Mr Lambshead put a proposition to the Circuit Trustees. Palace Avenue would guarantee £300 if the Circuit would raise £200. The only response was a special Trustees meeting to consider ways and means. A new Minister, the Revd E Sholl Richards, would be stationed at Paignton. The Circuit agreed to assist with furnishing 9 Madiera Terrace. Gas was installed, walls papered, and the house painted inside and out. The Paignton Manse was ready for occupation.

These were not easy years. The membership which stood at 90 in June 1898 plummeted to 72 by December 1899. It would be interesting to know what message the new Minister gave at the Watchnight service as the people prepared themselves for the twentieth century.





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 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.



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.

War and Peace

1910 - A time to weep

King George V's coronation celebrations were hardly over when the new minister, the Revd T Arthur Bailey was welcomed in 1911. Membership stood at 152. During this ministry it was increased by 36. In March 1914 it was noticed that "two Sunday evenings in succession had witnessed penitents at the communion rail."

The Revd Bailey was a man of many parts. He introduced the Wesley Guild. Mr F E Craze and Mr L Morrish became secretaries in addition to their many other offices. They organised events like the County socials. Newcomers would entertain the Devonians in the style of their home county. Later the 'Janners' reciprocated with a farm supper, complete with hams hanging from the rafters. Naturally, junket and cream featured in the meal. When one remembers that Fred Craze was manager of the Palace Avenue branch of Deller's and John Morrish had a high class grocery store in Winner Street, the success of the venture is not so surprising.

Many of the members were self employed business men. When the Circuit Quarterly Meeting met at Palace Avenue in June they were served with strawberries from the garden of Mr Simpson and cream from the Hick's dairy. These men were just as generous with their time, bringing their business skills into their church offices. All were men of principle. That they were highly successful in their business life was in no small measure due to their integrity.

The clouds of war loomed overhead as the Revd Williarn Holford brought his wife and son to Palace Avenue. He must have realised something of the trial which would face his congregation when he started a young men's Society Class. They met on Sunday mornings at 10.00. So many boys went from that class into the services. The marble memorial in the church lists those who made the supreme sacrifice. Of those who came back to continue their service to the Lord were Vic Farrant, Frank Foale, Fred Green, Walter Bourne, John Sutton and the Harvey twins.

Meanwhile, the church served the community. The Quarterly Meeting of September 1917 saw a protest from Palace Avenue, Victoria Park and Union Street at the Assessment. It has a familiar ring. At this time the organist was paid £2.1.8 per month and the organ blower £1 a quarter. The chapel keeper earned £7.6.9 per quarter. Seat rents produced £70.2.0 in 1917. The following year the Easter collection was £4.13.1 and for Harvest, £15.8.1.

By the time the people were rejoicing at the declaration of the armistice, a new minister was occupying the pulpit. The young widower, the Revd Holmer Keall and his 3 year old daughter were taken to the hearts of the people. A Sunday school teacher, Miss Gertrude Morgan, became his second wife. She played an active role, running a junior Society Class for girls and presiding over the weekly sewing meeting.

Family life resumed as men came home from the war. Sunday school outings still brought great excitement. A tram ride to Babbacombe, or a charabanc to Kingskerswell. Foale's field was also a favourite. Coal carts were scrubbed clean to transport the children. Traditional teas included tuff buns with cream and strawberry jam and gallons of lemonade.

These outings are recalled by Miss Olive Stidworthy and her sister Mrs Amy Southgate. Granddaughters of Alfred referred to earlier, they are pictured opposite with their parents and older brother and sisters. The happiness captured in this snapshot taken soon after their father's safe return from the war, was short lived. Emmanual succumbed to the scourge of tuberculosis and the family was left fatherless. It is sad to relate that their story is not an isolated one. Death stalked the streets in many guises which would not be recognised today.

The trauma of the trenches did not go unrecognised. Consideration was given to the men who were now trying to resume normal life. Some had experienced a deepening of spiritual life but others had become indifferent, or had lost their faith altogether. The Leaders, to whom psychology was probably an unknown science, set about finding ways to help the individual. They determined to "extend the Right Hand of Fellowship" to all. No war had ever been so all-embracing, so bloody, so destructive of body and mind. The task ahead would need delicacy, diplomacy and, most of all, dedication if these sons and daughters were to survive.

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.

Spread the Word

1930 - a time to speak

There were changes ahead during this decade. Not the least was the demise of at least three of the early Trustees. Mr John Taylor, Mr Gilbert Tout and Mr William Lambshead all died within a short period. These gentlemen had not stinted the use of their God given gifts.



The most amazing must have been William Lambshead. Continuing his story from an earlier chapter, his Deller's Cafe "gave a new meaning to the word cafe." The suite of rooms gave scope for wedding receptions, balls using three dance floors, two restaurants etc. His two sons, Herbert and William developed the other Deller's Cafes in Exeter and Taunton. His public service was all-embracing. The third Chairman of the Paignton Urban District Council, he was Chairman of the water committee responsible for building the Venford reservoir. He took an active part in constructing Queens Park from marshland and was instrumental in acquiring Victoria Park for the town. He was a committee member of the School of Art, Chairman and Director of the Palace Hotel, first Director of the Paignton Electric Light and Power Company, a Director of the Harbour Company and President of the Bowling Club. Until a few days before his death in March 1932 at the age of 84, he was described as "vigorous and upright".

The cycle of life continued. There were new leaders looking to the needs of a new generation. Mr Harold Hurrell was elected as a Church Steward and Mr John Sutton became Treasurer. From this time on, the church used the title 'Methodist'. The denominational label 'Westerns' disappeared and was eventually removed from the church facade. Only the asymmetrical carving of the stonework remains as a reminder of the original name. From 1930, observers from the other chapels attended the Quarterly Meetings. A debt of gratitude is owed to the courageous people who made the changeover as smooth as possible in the local context, when union came about two years later.

Efforts were being made to integrate with Southfield. It was neither easy nor very successful. There were no doctrinal differences but the two congregations, in their needs and styles of worship were so different. Many people found this period quite painful, despite a common will to unite.

Methodist Union was completed in 1932 and gave impetus to new ideas. Mr Craze thought they should be looking to build a new church beyond St. Michael's to cater for a growing population. This idea was not pursued. One reason given was in consideration of the proposed Brethren Mission at Great Parks. Pew Rents were on the way out. The envelope scheme was adopted and proved to be a great benefit. Senior members still talk with affection about the Revd Norman Landreth who had arrived in 1931 with his talented wife and two sons. He made many innovation's during his five years at Palace Avenue. This was the longest ministry to date, and was highly productive.

After guiding the congregation through Union and the introduction of the new Hymn Book, he promoted the Easter decorations. Senior Sunday School scholars were encouraged to go out on Good Friday to collect masses of primroses. It was not, of course, considered to be an anti-social or anti-ecological pastime in those days. On Sunday evenings there was a Friendship Hour for young people at the home of Miss Lavers. When the group became too large, it moved to the schoolhall, and was later taken over by Miss Margaret Sutton.

The Guild flourished, with over 50 members plus a further 40 in a Junior Guild. Not so lively was the sewing meeting. After half a century of being one of the financial and social mainstays, the needles appear to have become blunt, and it was nearly defunct. The minister saw an opportunity for a fresh start. The Sociability Club was born.

He could not have chosen a better secretary than Mrs Clare Wilkins. This intelligent and lively lady who, during her long lifetime filled so many roles, spent the next 50 years catering for this club. Programmes of a social or serious nature were provided for the 100 strong mixed club. Members took it in turn to provide delicious fare and preside over a teapot. The long tables were covered with white damask cloths. Master Landreth and his chum Eric Tancock attended nearby Brownston School. It was their habit to arrive in time for tea. They were encouraged to do so until the day they let their white mice loose at the tea table, when they were sent home in disgrace.

The Sociability Club became an important feature of the social and financial life of the church. Regular participation by the ministers over the years has promoted the spiritual dimension. The absorption of newcomers and deepening of friendships has provided, and still provides a valuable asset.

Spreading the Gospel was not confined within the walls. Open air services were conducted on the Green after evening worship throughout the holiday season. Young people were encouraged to witness to their Christian experience.

The Quarterly Meeting was ever conscious of outside events. Representations were made whenever legislation or local decisions were contrary to their code of conduct. Football pools, temperance, licensing hours and Sunday trading were all subjects which demanded action.

Palace Avenue was becoming known as a great preaching centre. The Revd Landreth's sermons were regularly quoted verbatim on the front page of the local papers. His own fine contribution was complimented by the great names in Methodism he invited to occupy the pulpit.

The congregation was pulling its weight. In 1933 -

  • Mr Winter was thanked for painting the parlour, and -
  • Mr Beer for framing the plans [He was an art dealer with a shop in Hyde Road], and -
  • Mr Ricks [of Mortimore Ricks] for a new clock, and keeping the clocks in order, and -
  • the Boys Club for redecorating the Schoolroom

While some of the painting was sub-contracted, a response was made to a request from the Rotary Club to give work to the unemployed. Since many townspeople were suffering hardships, the harvest supper was replaced with a tea, and gifts, including all the fruit and vegetables, were made to the poor and unemployed.

The church was valued at £16000. Membership would soon reach 300 and the Sunday School had 116 scholars. Although the formidable iron railing gave an appearance of a 'closed shop', this was not the case. The church was open daily "from 08.00 till sunset, for prayer and meditation".

The property was in need of attention. A proscenium arch was erected in front of the stage, while complaints about the church were many. The pulpit needed additional lighting, the church needed decorating, it was draughty, there was difficulty in hearing. The recommended remedy for the latter was a notice in the pulpit requesting the occupant to speak up!

At the farewell arranged for the Revd Landreth in 1936, tribute was paid to his achievements. He was described as well informed and zealous. He had entered into town affairs and supported the YMCA. Together with the Vicar, he conducted August Bank Holiday Sunday services on the Green. He was remembered as a "wise and cheery counsellor, a faithful pastor and a preacher of origination and power.''

Time for a change. So popular had Mr Landreth been that one might have thought he was impossible to follow. The Lord knew better. Palace Avenue was fortunate to be served by the Revd Bernard Harvey. Like his predecessor, he was blessed with a wife ready to use her talents in His work, and two sons.

The latter years of the thirties saw many changes, both within the church and in the world outside. A monthly newsletter, 'The Record', showed events to suit all ages. The new Book of Offices, authorised at the 1936 Conference, was put into regular use. Choir outings by charabanc still favoured Hay Tor, Lydford or Looe and Polperro, with a cream tea absolutely essential. Miss Sutton's Young Leaguers were raising money for National Children's Home & Orphanage with the sale of 'Sunny Smiles'.

Morning Sunday School was not proving popular. The Revd Harvey replaced it with Junior Church under Mr Philip Bethel. Afternoon school was graded and there were Bible Classes for both young men and women. The minister pleaded for co-operation between parents and leaders. He said that some parents regarded Sunday School as a dumping ground.

He had served as a missionary in China and was able to inspire overseas mission support. He also begged for extra financial effort to support an evangelist, and for campaigns to be organised. Special collections were made for relief in distressed churches in Wales, where the suffering was particularly acute.

It must have been a great joy to the minister to conduct the valedictory service for the Revd Leslie Craze on his departure to India. Mr and Mrs Craze's son was the first member of Palace Avenue to candidate for the ministry.

A decision was made to commence building the proposed new church at Preston within two years. A target of £500 was set by Palace Avenue as their share. Membership now stood at 333 and the life of the church was making definite progress. The services were advertised in two local papers and the hoardings at West End and Dendy Road were discontinued. The depleted Wesleyan china was replaced with the green and gold banded design.

There is evidence of the good relations with other denominations, especially in a request from the Vicar to use the church for the overflow during the Bishop's visit.

And seat rents were finally abolished.

A great event of this period was the Bicentenary of John Wesley's conversion. It appears to have been a much more low-key celebration than the 250th. Nevertheless, the fine heritage of Class Meetings, lay-leadership and personal salvation was not ignored. Special services were held on Sunday 22nd May, and another on the actual anniversary Tuesday the 24th. The Trustees' comment was "a service is sufficient"

Clouds were appearing on the horizon. There was talk of war. In February 1939, the ARP were looking to establish their depot on the premises, without seeking consent. By June, a list was being compiled of men joining the Militia, in order that they would be cared for spiritually,

The Revd Harvey was a Chaplain in the Reserves. He was called up for service on the last day of August. Mrs Harvey took over his Fellowship Class.

The country was at war.


dated March 1938

Marching as to War

1940 - a time for war

Splinterproof muslin was pasted over the windows. Fire buckets and stirrup pumps stood on each landing. Emergency Rest Centre equipment filled every corner. Mrs. Wilkins was requested by the Women's Voluntary Service to provide helpers for an emergency Rest Centre. The outside transformation was even more apparent when the great iron railings were 'surrendered' for scrap. Evening services were brought forward to the afternoon during the winter months, until adequate blackout could be provided. The Royal Air Force held their own services in the church for the duration.

Church business went on, though not quite as usual. Left without a minister, two Supernumeries stepped in. The Revd E J W Harvey and the Revd T F Lewis. Mrs Bernard Harvey was a great support. Although the Revd Faulkener was appointed by the 1940 Conference, ill health, his own and his family's forced him to withdraw within the year. The Preston Project was put on ice, and eventually the site was 'sold. Meanwhile, Christian values were being challenged. The opening of the theatres on Sunday caused consternation. A protest was sent to the Member of Parliament.

Firewatching was obligatory. Since most members were involved in overnight duty at their place of work, it was usually necessary to pay the caretaker to undertake this task. Local experience proved that it was a worthwhile service.

Barbed wire and concrete tank-traps barred the way to the shore. The greens and parks echoed to the drill of the RAF Cadets who were occupying every hotel. Food queues became longer, the shops emptier. Cockney voices intermingled with European accents.

Paignton saw the reality of war first hand one dull day in June 1940. The great doors leading to the railway platform rolled opened as long trains disgorged their precious cargo. Out shuffled the long, silent columns; grey faces, torn and bloodied uniforms, they bore no weapons. These were the fortunate ones. Many local boys were never plucked from the beaches of Dunkirk. One, a St John Ambulance Member turned RAMC orderly volunteered to stay behind and care for the wounded. Andrew Morrish was to spend the rest of the war practicing his skills in POW camps. At home his father, John Morrish, counted the ration coupons in his shop, and Auntie continued her lifelong battle, promoting temperance through the National British Womens Total Abstinence Union.

The country stood alone. Life was changing for everyone. One day, a carefree teenager, the next a serviceman in uniform away from home. Many found a second home and a warm welcome at Palace Avenue. Despite bare larders, supper would be offered to any personnel attending service. These people brought new life to week-night activities too. Table tennis bats were never idle. The piano lid was never shut.

When bachelor the Revd H Trevor Greeves arrived in 1940, he found many needs and he set to work with great zeal. Houses were overcrowded with evacuees. All the churches were used by Devon County Council as temporary classrooms. Evacuees and local children alike took turns; half a day in school and half a day in a hall. The Minister started a youth club with nine members of the Sunday School.

The 12-16 club grew rapidly. A lively and imaginative programme was drawn up. One of the helpers was Miss Kim Miller, an effervescent evacuee schoolteacher. Together, she and Trevor saw to it that minds and bodies were satisfied. The art of debate, great personalities, music and literature all found ready ears. On Saturdays there was the countryside to explore. Parents were known to complain that their offspring were never at home. Apart from clubnight, there were elocution, drama, shorthand, choral singing, handicrafts, gymnastics for the boys and eurythmics for the girls, and country dancing. It also came to be an unofficial marriage bureau in time.

A decision was made to form an open Youth Centre. Soon there was a waiting list. A plan to turn the manse into a club house did not come to fruition, but Devon County Council approved the appointment of a full-time Youth Leader. The obvious choice was one of the volunteers, Miss Gladys Smith. She filled the role for the next 25 years. In her book, 'They Came to Club', are pen portraits of some of the more colourful characters.

Despite the blackout and the presence of thousands of servicemen, the boys and girls walked through the pitch black streets without fear. Torches were soon discarded, as battery stocks ran out.

The open youth club created its own problems, especially of behaviour. Attendance at club prayers was obligatory, attendance at church encouraged. The church was providing a real and much needed outreach. It was in contrast to the pre-service units which were compulsory to all who were 16 or over.

Trevor Greeves used his talents to the full. His deep knowledge of music matched his artistic ability. His wit and eloquence enlivened any social event, when he was sure to produce some teasing song or poem. In contrast, his sermons and Bible studies proved to be a source of inspiration .

The standards he set for the congregation were just as high for the young people. His annual youth conference, over three days, included groups from other denominations. The questions posed and studies recommended would have done credit to any age group. Yet he skillfully described it as a "Conference organised by Young People for Young People but open to all interested in the spiritual life."

Sixty eight young men and women of the congregation went to the war. They were remembered at the weekly prayer service of intercession. The Sunday School Superintendent, Mr W G White and his gentle, smiling wife showed their deep abiding Christian faith when their only son, Douglas was killed in a flying accident in 1943.

In that same year, the uniforms and accents changed. South Devon was invaded - by the United States Army. For the first time, private billeting and canvas camps were added. Jeeps roared and tanks rumbled around the town. Churston Common and the surrounding fields were stacked sky high with ammunition. The boatyards hammered away, even louder than before. The gum-chewing, polite, smart boys outnumbered the townspeople. They were made welcome by the members of the church, and how the GI's enjoyed the singing.



They brought a picture of America that Hollywood failed to portray. Some were homesick and scared. They filled many vacant chairs in local homes, these surrogate sons. The only difference was that they addressed the lady of the household as "Ma'am instead of "Mum".

One morning the town woke up to an eerie silence. The streets were empty. Many roads were closed. Buses stopped. Out in the bay was open space where hundreds of craft had been riding out the storm. 'D Day' was about to begin.

A little more belt-tightening, a little more thrust. By December 1944, the 'battlescarred' schoolroorn was being re-decorated. There was talk of planning victory and peace services. Perhaps they were a little premature but hope was of paramount importance.

The minister was making plans of his own. When he left Palace Avenue in the summer of 1945, he would take with him a choir member. He was about to marry Miss Mary Williams.

With the blackout material removed (and sold) and 'VJ Day' imminent, the congregation looked forward to a new beginning. But after the elation of Victory came a period of anomalies. While planning for a brave new future, the present was full of difficulties. Housing shortages were acute. Shared homes were the norm. Rationing was, in some cases, even more severe than during the war. Relationships were subject to strain. Men returning from service seemed reluctant to assume responsibility. Those who had remained at home were exhausted. Everyone had worked long hours, many after normal retirement age.

It was in these circumstances that the Revd Alfred T Johns, his Italian wife and two young sons moved across the bay from Wesley Church, Torquay. He exuded a sense of a quiet mind, of unswerving faith, and enduring stability. Sermons were of paramount importance in his work schedule. Monday mornings would see him in his sunless study preparing for the following Sunday. His academic intellect and teaching ability awakened minds. The Minister's Class gave way to a Bible Study School. It is interesting to note that during the Revd Johns three year stay, a high proportion of young people were received into membership. He encouraged the annual Youth Service, conducted by nervous teenagers. The Youth Club Dinner became an annual event.

Like so many clergymen, he wisely chose a hobby far removed from his professional life. He had a passion for trains. Most afternoons he could be seen with little Steven in the pushchair, standing on the footpath between Roundham bridge and Youngs Park watching the activities of the goods yard and turntables The great hissing monsters with gleaming brasswork wore the proud livery of the Great Western Railway, otherwise known as God's Wonderful Railway, and were symbols of power and efficiency in an age of change and decay.

1946 did not have a good beginning. On the 28th January, the boiler burst. Morning services were held in the Public Hall. Evening worshippers spluttered their way through services in the hall, with sooty oil fire accompaniment. People were accustomed to hardships, after six years of deprivation, so weekday meetings went ahead without heating of any kind. It was three months before repairs could be completed.

In that same year, the church celebrated its half century. From the 7th to the 14th of July there was a full programme of events.

Sunday began with 08.00 Communion. Praise and thanksgiving continued throughout the day. During morning service, the Te Deum was sung. William Jackson's setting was always a great favourite with both choir and congregation. It was a ritual on Easter Sunday, when the combined voices lifted the roof in praise. For many years, canticles were sung at every service. The week of celebration included a service of dedication and renewal, a gift day and further worship. The Revd Harvey returned to unveil the war memorial. At the same time, the oak panelled Ministers Roll was officially received. This board and other gifts, were presented by Mr Leslie Hicks in memory of his parents. Mr Albert Hicks was baptised at Polsham in 1871 and served the church throughout his life. There was some light relief, in the first presentation of Gladys Smith's 'Scrapbook of Palace Avenue.' She had compiled and dramatised a history of the Society, drawing on written records and recollections of the more senior members. With characteristic perseverance, she cajoled anyone and everyone into taking part in this pageant.



The stimulation of the Jubilee took a hard knock in the winter that followed. Those who lived through the ice age of 1946-47 will never forget the hardships. Meagre coal rations, lack of warm clothing, the shortage of bread and potatoes which were now rationed for the first time, were all exacerbated by the worst winter on record. Deep snow was followed by heavy frosts. Few properties escaped frozen or burst pipes.

The Guild had declined, and was replaced with the Wesley Club. Less formal than Guild, it was enjoyed by many during its few years of existence.

The local Council of Social Service, a voluntary organisation, was forming OAP clubs around the town. Most of these were hosted by the churches and Palace Avenue was no exception.

A drama group was formed. The producer was the Revd Victor L Tudor, a Congregational Minister from Torquay. The Palace Players reached a high standard under his tuition and frequently won the youth cup for drama in the Paignton and South West of England Festival. Started as a war time event to boost the spirits of homesick evacuees, the Festival grew to become one of England's major festivals. Many individuals from the Sunday School and Church also took part in a variety of classes.

One of Methodism's great strengths is the 'travelling' of its ministers. Each Society should find itself stimulated by the change. At an early age one learns that ministers do not come out of a set mould. At Palace Avenue, it must be true to say that each minister has been a complete contrast to his predecessor. This was never more so than the stationing of 1948 when the Revd Frank Mitchell, with his wife May came to Paignton. Their lively teenage daughters, Jackie and Pat took an active part in the Youth Centre, while Mrs Mitchell served the church in numerous ways. Their story really belongs to the fifties. Ultimately it went much further than that.

Finances were once more the dominant feature. Frank Mitchell's business acumen and organising ability were demonstrated by his imaginative "Feast of Lanterns" and "Snowball" efforts. The former event brought in a magnificent £1005.7.8. There would be no problem about spending the money. Steps were being taken to find a new manse. Few ministers enjoyed "living over the shop". In addition, the organ needed extensive repairs, despite the fact that a considerable sum had been spent on it four years earlier.

Another Kind of Uniform

1950 - a time for peace

Like her father before her, Miss Louise Tout gave a lifetime of service to the church. A pianoforte teacher by profession, she played the church organ for over 30 years. Following her death in 1951, Mr Percy Pearse was appointed organist, while Mr Wash continued as choirmaster.

Mr Pearse was well respected in music circles, especially the local male voice choirs. His was not a technical performance. He played from the heart. From the organ stool, he would lead not only the choir, but the whole congregation by playing each note in relation to the printed word. Hymn singing took on a new significance and the roof beams groaned even louder.

Knowledge of hymns was one of the great interests of Frank Mitchell. He could relate the history of each hymn and its writer. No mean musician himself, he would drop in at the youth club and sit down at the piano, if the boys and girls wanted to dance. For many teenagers in the open club, he was the first proof that men who wore dog collars were real flesh and blood.

It was not only in the pulpit that his lively delivery was sparked with telling illustrations. He was soon known throughout the town as a speaker with an understandable message. This was certainly the case in Paignton Hospital. Taking ward service for a captive and often reluctant congregation could have been daunting. Not for Frank Mitchell. He could attract and hold the interest of any non-believer with his strong voice and assured utterances.

The Holy Week services now included a Maundy Thursday Communion. A simple sharing of the Last Supper, on this most poignant day of the Christian calendar, became a tradition. Another innovation was the Christmas Eve midnight Communion service. This was appreciated by nurses, busy mothers and anyone who would be working on Christmas Day.

It was a period of new ventures. The monthly Bulletin, forerunner of the 'Newslink' appeared.

Then came Cubs with Mrs Jean Parry, and Brownies under Mrs Mildred Oates' leadership. Natural events led to the subsequent formation of Scout and Guide Companies by Mr Ken Williams and Miss Marion Burnham respectively. For the first time, there were non-conformist groups of these organisations in Paignton. The liaison became even closer when Jean Parry and Ken Williams were married!

The fact that the Revd Mitchell was invited and re-invited to remain for 7 years speaks for itself. To everyone's advantage, the three or four year pattern had been broken. Palace Avenue was very fortunate that the Mitchell's later chose to retire in Paignton. They both continued to serve, through many difficulties, for the rest of their days.

New Trustees were appointed. They were:

  • Messrs
  • F E. Martin
  • F A W Williams
  • H. Hurrell
  • T. Hobson
  • P.H.V. Mansfield
  • W.L. Hannaford
  • R. Fenton
  • H. Gowman
  • L A King
  • H. Copp
  • A W Cornwell
  • C E. Hicks
  • L.H. Lucy
  • P. Pearse
  • W G. Everson
  • B W. Madge
  • W.F. Shillabear.

All these men held a variety of offices in the church. Like their predecessors, they brought their own skills and business experience, and used them to the glory of God.



From 1955, the occupants of the manse were the Revd J Owen Clutterbuck, his charming wife and three vivacious daughters. Young men in the Youth Club took a sudden interest in their appearance when these girls came on the scene.

This was a family whose members all showed concern and compassion Owen Clutterbuck was a minister in every sense of the word. A practical man with an industrial background, he knew and understood the common upheavals of life. His help also extended to invocation. His Prayer Circle had over 100 participants who would pray regularly at 8.30am on Sunday mornings. A few came together in the church, while others linked from home.

Although there had been a huge circuit effort the previous year, more money was needed to bring the manses up to date. At the same time, the organ at Palace Avenue needed urgent attention. Despite the expenditure six years earlier, only a re-build would suffice.

Their forbears had raised extra cash by means of bank loans, usually at about 3% interest. The practice now adopted was for interest free loans from the members for a set period. Owen Clutterbuck encouraged direct giving. Members were asked to take collecting boxes, which were received for opening at intervals. This system proved very satisfactory, and has been repeated down the years.

The organ repairs were met with interest free loans and gift boxes, which covered the total cost of £1100. All this was achieved in one year. The organ was reopened on the 16th May 1956.

This busy minister found time to start a Sunday afternoon class for young men who had outgrown the Youth Fellowship. His efforts proved fruitful. Dennis Bussey later candidated for the ministry. Two boys became Local Preachers, one of whom, John Jeffery is on the Plan today. Others took a variety of offices within the church. These young men received encouragement at a vital and impressionable age.

These five years were a time of consolidation. Modest, Christian witness and dedication were the breeding grounds for spiritual growth and awareness.

Untying the Apron Strings

1960 - a time to scatter stones

When post war Paignton was being planned by the local authority, the churches were careful to ensure that new housing estates had a spiritual centre. The non-conformists agreed not to vie with each other for representation. When the Congregationalists proposed building a church on the Foxhole council estate, the Methodists were content to support them.

In the fifties it was the building of private dwellings that raced ahead. In the south, the building boom at Goodrington had escalated with the opening of the Standard Telephones & Cables factory in 1956. It became obvious that a new church was an essential part of that scene.

The Circuit took up the challenge. A small amount of cash was available from the sale of the former Zion chapel in Torquay. When a suitable site was finally purchased in 1961, a Trust was appointed.

Naturally, the nucleus of a new Paignton church would be provided by Palace Avenue. For some years, those residing in the catchment area had participated in house fellowship groups. With other interested people known as 'The Friends of Goodrington' they were fund raising. Palace Avenue not only met the financial target set by the Circuit, but held other special efforts, and personal donations were also made. Goodrington took precedence over all Palace Avenue functions over a long period.

From his arrival in 1960, the Revd Raymond V Horn continued to further the work at Palace Avenue. He introduced the Christmas Family Service, and encouraged Easter cantata or Passion plays. As the Circuit Superintendent, he was personally involved in all aspects of the birth of Goodrington. Since it was decided that there should be a resident minister in situ when the church was opened, Raymond Home moved into Goodrington in 1966.

Seventy two members were transferred to the new church. These included many of the younger and most dedicated workers, already holding offices across the breadth of the Society. Their achievement at Goodrington serves to show how much of a loss was suffered by Palace Avenue by their departure. The years of fund raising, coupled with the reduced membership proved to be a great challenge in the coming years.

Another farewell had taken place. In October 1965, Mr and Mrs Frederick Craze left Paignton. For half a century this charming couple, and later their son Leslie and daughter Gwen, had more than filled practically every office open to them.

Fred Craze was manager of Mr Lambshead's grocery store in Palace Avenue. When all four Deller's stores were sold to Chards in 1920, he became manager of Deller's Café then in its tenth year.

He served the community as a town councillor, and was twice Chairman of the Paignton Urban District Council. His Christian values were never compromised in his public life. Sunday observance, total abstinence, and gambling were all subject to his witness. He served at a time when party politics did not enter the Council chamber. Like the other public servants Palace Avenue has produced, party labels could not gag him. It is interesting to note that in the year of Mr Craze's departure, another member of the church was Chairman of the Council. Mr Frank E Martin also served a second term as leading citizen when he became Mayor of Torbay.

On a Sunday in early summer each year, there is an obvious absence of some of the stalwarts. The Sociability Club and friends have gone on holiday. After one particularly happy holiday of their own, Mr Harold and Mrs Mabel Reep agreed to organise a coach tour for others. For the past 26 years now, an average of 30 people have enjoyed tours from the Isle of Skye, to Jersey and all points in between. Mrs Norrie Geake stepped in to assist after Harold's passing. Mabel Reep says that it is a valuable opportunity to get to know one another better. Having laid aside their various church offices, they can relax and enjoy each other's company. Some of them would otherwise stay at home, or face holidaying alone, and they appreciate the work done on their behalf. For several years there was also an autumn break at Sidholme or Treloyan Manor Guild Holiday Centres where a deep sense of fellowship was experienced.

A rest home for the elderly was opened at Seapoint, Adelphi Road. When the charitable trust was formed, Mrs Sadie Benefield was asked to serve. Since that time she has encouraged the church to support the home in many ways. Not only does she continue this contact, but includes in her regular duties assistance at a baby clinic and working in the Oxfam shop.

The minister appointed to succeed Raymond Horne was the Revd R Harvey Field. Sadly, serious illness delayed his arrival by several months. He then took up residence in the new manse in Paris Road. The church members had to prove that all are "ministers of Christ".

The Revd Field used his dramatic talents to advantage. In the pulpit he employed vocal techniques to emphasise his message.

He influenced the long awaited re-decoration of the church interior. The soft terracotta walls now became pale cream and blue. Wilton carpet silenced the aisles, and rich blue and gold brocade covered the Communion Table. With its pinnacles shortened, the reredos disappeared behind blue velvet curtains.

The new decor had a deep impact on the senses and, needless to say, caused a variety of comment. Some deplored the loss of the carved white stone and green marble, while others found the richly textured but simple design produced an overall tranquillity. Few would deny the value of the illuminated cross.



A further innovation of this minister was the Birthday Party. Members with a birthday during the current month were invited to a social gathering at the manse. This was an opportunity to meet in a sufficiently small but random group.

The 'swinging sixties' seemed to affect the youth club. Formality no longer appealed to the average boy and girl. There was still a small, strong Youth Fellowship. The Sunday School had an average attendance of 65 scholars, supervised by 17 teachers. An active council watched over its affairs.

In 1969 the Revd Arnold Bellwood and his wife Janet arrived at Palace Avenue. No controversy too difficult, no situation either literally or physically too dirty, Arnold Bellwood would be found where he was needed most. One day he might be attending a national council, the next at the local police station or law court, or maybe at a bedside. It could be anywhere - except his own armchair. A fellow-minister, a Bishop or an Abbot was introduced as "my friend and colleague." It was he who innovated the widespread use of Christian names. At first this shocked some people, but the effect of the extended family was noticeable.

Janet Bellwood was a member without par. Her alto voice was an asset to the choir. She also introduced a more modern and spectacular style of flower arranging.

There would be new ventures in the church too. Modern hymns were being introduced. People attending services were less formally dressed. The pace of life was quickening.



A Facelift

1970 - a time to gather stones

The Leaders Meeting was looking forward to making a greater impact both within and outside the church family. In 1971, celebrations took place to mark the 75th Anniversary of the building of the present church. The Revd Kenneth Waights, President of the Conference, conducted worship. There was a dramatic presentation of the updated version of the 'Scrapbook of Palace Avenue'

Membership totalled 350. The October returns show 305 attending morning worship and 116 in the evening. In the same year, the question of a Stewardship programme was entertained. Over several months, Trustees and Leaders studied the literature and held discussions. After a visit from the District Director, a vote was taken. The results were:

  • For the scheme 8 votes
  • Against 33 votes

After twenty years dedicated service, ill health forced Percy Pearse to resign as organist. He had made a great contribution to the act of worship, and was sorely missed.

Arnold Bellwood made determined efforts to work with other denominations, especially through an active Council of Churches. He successfully united Palace Avenue with the Parish Church in several ventures. At Christmas there was a united prayer meeting. The premises provided additional reception rooms when the Anglicans were celebrating Confirmation services.

A Flower Festival was organised by Janet Bellwood, with the help of the Paignton Flower Club. So popular was this event that it set a pattern for the future. Other ladies were now practising the art of floral decoration and interpretation.

By 1972 it was apparent that the organ was not living up to expectations. Further repairs were quoted between £1925 and 2535 at least. The traditional pipe organ is such an integral part of a church, that the thought of installing an electric or electronic instrument struck terror in the hearts of music lovers. About this time, new techniques were being employed in organ design, using intelligence gained from space programmes. The most popular instrument demonstrated was the Allen Digital Organ. After the 31st March 1973, VAT was to be introduced. This acted as a spur to make a decision to purchase the organ, which cost £3500. Recitals by esteemed organists followed. Anyone hearing Dom Sebastian Wolf playing a Bach Toccata would almost believe they were listening to his Buckfast Abbey organ, rather than this small miracle of modern science.

An exchange of ministers was arranged for Arnold Bellwood and the Revd Paul Stephenson of Munster, Indiana, USA. Of that experience, Paul now writes:

It was 1973 when Mrs Stephenson and I first came to Palace Avenue. We came with many misconceptions of what English people would be like, and only a hazy understanding of Methodism in the Mother country! We must have entertained some of American popular views of English life and people - stiff, formal, slow to change, lacking in humour - etc. My, how Palace Avenue folk shattered those ideas!!

From the very first moment when off the train we met John and Eve Perkins, and were taken to the manse and treated to a beautiful meal, we knew we were in the right place - and that the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord was in this place! I confess to being scared and nervous when I first climbed those steps into your pulpit - but the reception of my 'strange' accent and poor English was very kind and warm - and I was so humbled and grateful! Your lovely church is so beautiful and its location right in the midst of your busy city is so right - and your recent remodelling of the narthex - so that you are wide open to the sidewalk and street - all speak of your firm purpose to take Christ to all people - Just as John and Charles Wesley did in our earliest time. All the members of Palace Avenue received us with such warmth and Christian love that we were at home immediately with them. Our second exchange in 1976 only confirmed and reinforced our impression, and deepened our love for you and increased our respect. I was never sure exactly what the two pastoral exchanges did for you folks, but it greatly warmed our hearts, and gave me a new feeling of comfort and courage in my ministry. You will always have a very special place in our hearts God be with you!

And Ernie (as she prefers to be called) adds:

We fell in love with beautiful Devon and especially Palace Avenue church folk during our two exchanges. We have visited twice since to keep in touch with you good friends of our common heritage. These experiences have enriched our lives and ministry!

Finally - with words our good friend Arthur Mitchell once wrote us:

"For recollections of past sights and sounds,
Moments of eternal hope, and music to enthrall,
Friends old, and new, and beauty that abounds,
We thank our Father God, whose love enfolds us all."

John Perkins, who with his wife Eve, hosted the visits, says:

A memory lasts of an emotional farewell on the occasion of their last service.

The congregation sang at the close of the service,

"God be with you 'till we meet again".

Paul stood in the pulpit, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Nationally, a major change was about to take place in Methodism, introduced as 'Restructuring'. Trustees and Leaders Meetings would be replaced by a Church Council. At Palace Avenue, the newly elected body held its first meeting in the parlour on the 3rd of December 1973. The current Treasurer, Ron Elliott applied his legal skills to the great tome of 'The Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church'. For some time to come, he would bring the attention of the meeting to the right and proper way to approach a particular task.

The following summer, Arnold and Janet Bellwood took their leave. They 'retired' to work with the Langley House Trust, a cause near to their hearts. Into the manse came the Revd C Dennis Phippen and Mrs Margaret Phippen together with their sons.

Members continued to support local needs. A wayfarers hostel, Seapoint, Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon, and the newly opened Day Centre were all encouraged by the new minister.


On the occasion of the 10th anniversary

Dr Nan Kennie appealed to her fellow members for support for the Day Centre for the Elderly planned by Torbay Voluntary Services. The well attended meeting, held at Palace Avenue, produced many offers of help. The Centre opened in November 1975 in the old Post Office building and moved to larger premises in Torquay Road in 1980. The day to day expenses still rely on self-funding. The ecumenical nature of the venture extended to the Thanksgiving services held on the 1st, 5th and 10th anniversaries at Palace Avenue, the Parish Church and Christ Church respectively.

Of a total of 98 helpers listed over that period, more than 30 were members of Palace Avenue. Dr Kennie says: "The association of our Church and the Day Centre is a long and happy one. When, in 1988 the Queen saw fit to award me an MBE, it was not so much a personal honour as the recognition of the importance of the Centre to the town and appreciation of all who had served there." The congregation was delighted at her award. After a devoted professional life, she has spent an equally busy and demanding 'retirement'.

There were now 94 children on the Sunday School register, with an average attendance of 70. Work was hampered by a shortage of teachers. 21 sat for the Scripture Examination, and there was good support for JMA. A favourite venue for the outing became Mr Berlyn's farm at Marldon. Derek Elson took over as pianist. He soon had the children playing recorders and percussion instruments, graduating to clarinets, flutes and a trumpet. They performed during services, at coffee mornings, at the hospital and nursing homes. As far as children are concerned, Derek is Mr Magic and they respond to his every word.

The first lady to be elected as a Church Steward was Mrs Phyllis Srodzinski. She set a high standard. She had already taken responsibility for all floral arrangements and festival decorations. Her artistry and dedication made a fine contribution which could not be matched.

The Church Council had to decide if they would support the reduction of the Circuit Staff by one minister in 1975. At the same time, they were being asked to accept an Assessment increase of 22½%. Inflation was a problem for the church as well as for members, and there were structural problems. It was perhaps by way of some light relief that the Friendship Group organised a Barn Dance to follow the Harvest Supper.

Efforts were made to improve worship, and to accept changes if they meant progress. The family Service and Church parade was established once a month. Candlelight carol services were still popular, attracting non-regular church goers. Attendance at normal evening services continued to decline, and a move was made to the hall for the winter months. Experiments in the format or style of worship did not prove popular. The ladies Friendship Group gave way to a mixed Unity Group. It became a power house, comprising many younger couples with energy and ideas. It did valiant service before too many people moved away from the town.

The annual Dartmoor walk was inaugurated in 1977. Usually on May Day, it was planned to cover remote, open moorland with points of interest. Younger children ignore the fact that the walk is limited in length for their benefit, and insist on dashing forward and back, covering twice as much ground. The day provides a valuable break in the church calendar when people are able to share their thoughts with fellow walkers.

The organist, Mr Bernard Butler left the area. He had proved an energetic worker, and was involved at events like the Strawberry Fayre held in the beautiful gardens of Mr and Mrs Starkey. He was succeeded by Mr Ron Pooley, a painstaking planner who always found music appropriate to the moment. When illness forced him to resign, his participation in worship was sorely missed.

The Methodist Church Act of 1976 introduced a central Trust and disbanded the local Trust. The Church Council took over the management from the Trustees.

Conference, Synod and Circuit were all studying the 10 Propositions with regard to Church Unity and the appointment of Bishops. Opinions were expressed, and traditionalists had to search their hearts.

The Circuit expanded in 1977 to include the former Brixham and Dartmouth Circuit under the new title of the Torbay Circuit. It was a hectic period. Market Street and Union Street sites had been sold, and the churches, together with the Belgrave Road Congregational Church, demolished. The new joint Methodist and URC Central Church was now pointing its modern edifice skywards on the Belgrave site. Such was the value of the sites sold, that there was. a considerable sum left over. Other churches were able to promote imaginative schemes as a result.

The hall and ancillary premises at Palace Avenue were causing concern, not the least because they were a fire hazard. With Circuit Advance Fund assistance, the opportunity to redevelop the entire shell was feasible. Architects plans were submitted to the Church Council and the Town Hall. Two rooms would be created from one, and an extra room added. A spacious kitchen and good toilet facilities would replace the outdated arrangements. New staircases and entrances would improve access and safety.



A splendid dinner at Oldway Mansion inaugurated fund-raising. The transformation work would take five months to complete. During this period, only the church sanctuary would remain open for use. Even the vestry was out of action. The church vestibule (a narrow passage) served as a vestry.

All water, including that for the flowers, had to be brought in, and refuse taken away. Weekly mini-markets on the forecourt boosted funds while at the same time proving to be a source of witness and counselling. The YMCA offered storage space. The Parish Church willingly opened the doors of the Parish Hall to the Sunday School and other functions.

The Property Stewards and committee carried a heavy work load during this period. Not the least was Gerald Srodzinski. During the years he has served the society, Gerald has used, and does use his expertise and Christian commitment to further its work.

The alterations were carried out by Sherwell Valley Builders with satisfaction. The final costs amounted to £58,886.17 The Circuit Advance Fund granted £40,000 and a further £1,500 was received from Connexional Funds. The opening ceremony was performed by the Revd J Russell Pope, the former Chairman of the District.

The premises now comprised a fine set of rooms, light, comfortable and warm. The bronze and glass vestibule in Tower Road showed the public that the church was open and ready to receive them. Soon, there was a demand for rooms for a variety of purposes. For many townspeople, this proved to be a first contact with the church and its members.

The redevelopment put a considerable workload on the Revd Phippen who, as Superintendent, had been involved with the completion of Central Church at the same time. Dennis is a fine preacher in the true Methodist tradition, as befits the son-in-law of the late Dr Sangster. He encouraged groups to reach their potential. Given a few spare minutes, he loved to sit on the organ stool and open up the stops.

Miss Gladys Smith could only be described as a pillar of the church. She died quietly in January 1978. All her adult life she suffered increasing pain and limitation of movement, about which she said little. She served her Lord in every way that she was able. The first woman to be appointed a Local Preacher in the Circuit, a Sunday School teacher, Class Leader, Youth worker, author, poet, producer, secretary - the list is, endless. She corresponded with the young people when they left the town, keeping their contact with the church alive. In a typical letter, addressed to Barbara Green and dated 17th October 1962 she refers to 3 one act plays currently under her direction, the recent anniversary, and other activities of the moment. She was writing from her sickbed.

Time for another change. Once again, the incoming minister was a complete contrast to his predecessor.

Fling Wide the Gates

1980 - a time to embrace

A growing number of families were attending the Family Services and the recently installed Rev G Jeff Thomas introduced new ideas. Traditionalists were cautious. He tried to make people aware of external changes, especially in teaching methods and to relate church conduct accordingly. He was ably supported by his wife, Christine, with son Paul and daughter Kathryn fully entering into the fellowship.

There were setbacks ahead. The Sunday School lacked sufficient teachers, and the faithful few found this generation difficult to reach. The untimely deaths of Jack Loynton, Jack Bolt, and Len Hannaford robbed the Vestry, Property and Communion of devoted Stewards. The choir was not attracting younger voices. The dwindling number of mostly aging members decided, with great reluctance and sadness, to stand down. Their contribution to worship cannot be measured, and they sorely missed their own fellowship. Phyllis Srodzinski had attended to all floral arrangements and festivals for seven years. She felt that she needed to withdraw. The long serving Treasurer, Ron Elliott also resigned. All the members of the youth fellowship, Segment, went into further education or left to follow careers elsewhere. The Unity Group came to the end of its life.

Yet out of these adversities there were new beginnings. Mrs Christine Thomas took over the role of Superintendent of the Sunday School, followed by Mrs Susan Gibb. They attracted new teachers who benefitted from training and use of modern aids. An augmented choir sang modern Christmas cantate on three consecutive years. A Flower Club was born, employing a professional tutor to replace enthusiasm with skill. Under the organisation of Joan Hancock, the team became capable, and could now mount flower festivals without calling on outside help. The office of Church Treasurer was filled by Roger Gibb who adopted modern accounting methods. A new youth fellowship, Impact, was taken over by John Lakin and Margaret Eden, who were also appointed as Organist and Deputy. An adult group, Impulse also saw light of day.

At the same time, housegroups were being formed. They followed BBC Radio Devon's Lenten courses with other denominations. Weekly Prayers for Health and Healing brought in people from around the bay. New Service Books and Hymns and Psalms were taken into use. Many copies were provided by individual members as gifts, or memorials which have been beautifully inscribed by Miss Nancy Collings and other calligraphers.

The church was delighted to support Pamela Pettitt when she candidated for the Ministry in 1983. She had made her own 'impact' within the church.

The children visited a recording studio and made a tape of Derek Elson's songs. They also appeared on BBCTV in 1982 singing Derek's Mothers Day song. He then wrote a musical "An Ordinary Day in Nazareth" which was performed for the Sunday School Anniversary. He followed this one with "He will take You There". His professional engagements now limit the time he is able to spend with them to a few weeks each year, but he still affects them like the 'Pied Piper'.

Women's Work and Women's Fellowship went from strength to strength. Now known as Network, it became a power house.

Support for the National Children's Homes never faltered, and continued to be the major charity supported by this church. Thousands of pounds have been raised. The children's Christmas gifts of money were presented to the National Society for the Provention of Cruelty to Children for local use. The work of Home Missions and Overseas Missions (including JMA) continued quietly.

In order to lift flagging spirits, a great West Country Festival was planned for 1984. It incorporated a flower festival, concerts by the Torbay Brass Band, The Plymouth Praisemakers and Mevagissey Male Voice Choirs, among a varied and ambitious programme. A Question Time had as its panel, the Abbot of Buckfast, the Dean of Exeter Cathedral, the Moderator of the United Reformed Church and an ex President of the Methodist Conference. Festival profits were divided between the building fund, general funds and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It was a happy time, when everyone worked together.

Proposals had been put forward as early as 1981 to open up the church vestibule, and build a single, glass entrance onto the street. There was some concern regarding the actual effect, and also the prospect of raising the necessary cash. Plans went ahead slowly, in parallel with the Festival. Once again, it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who hastened the decision. From the 1st June 1984 all building alterations would be subject to 15% VAT. Work was put in hand with Sherwell Valley Builders. Of the total £19,716, the Circuit Advance Fund contributed £6,000. So another round of original and imaginative moneymaking events was planned. It was estimated that if every member put aside the price of a pint of milk each week, the sum of £3,000 would be raised in one year. The current Milk Marketing Board slogan, 'Gotta Lotta Bottle' was adopted (with the Board's permission) and plastic milk bottles were distributed. They were opened at intervals, and produced a significant sum.

So it came about that the opening of the new entrance happily coincided with the West Country Festival. It was a glorious nine day event.



The great glass doors now show the passer by that the church is alive and welcoming. The illuminated cross over the Communion Table is visible from the street, particularly after dark. The literal opening up to the public was also echoed in a metaphorical sense during this decade. More than ever before, outreach was expanded.

On the local front, links were forged with the United Reformed Church. Good Friday services were held jointly and the choirs combined at Christmas. Young people from other towns used the premises for holidays. Children and staff from a National Children's Home and other uniformed organisations particularly enjoy their visits. Since the inception of a refuge for women and children was sponsored by the Paignton Council of Churches, Palace Avenue has given moral and practical support.

For decades the church had participated in the pulpit exchange during the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For the first time, a Roman Catholic Priest was welcomed into the pulpit. This was followed by reciprocating visits by youth and adult groups. Palace Avenue played host to another Paignton Council of Churches venture, the Messiah 'Sing-in', which was a popular event.

The service of Holy Communion was incorporated within the morning service once a month, thus significantly increasing the number of communicants. At the same time the Benevolent Fund benefitted, enabling the Church Council to widen the range and value of gifts to local, national and international causes.

In 1982 there was another USA pulpit exchange, when Jeff Thomas went to Dandridge, Tennessee. The Revd Bill Kilday and his family were warmly welcomed at Palace Avenue and went to the hearts of the people.

The most poignant open-door venture has been the link with the German Lutheran Church. In the Torbay twin town of Hameln, Pastor Hans-Dietrich Ventzky and his wife Elisabeth have opened their doors and their hearts. During an exchange visit, the Pastor told Jeff Thomas of a further twinning. The Münsterkirche enjoyed links with the Lutheran Marienkirche in Werdau in the Eastern part of Germany. The iron curtain division of families and friends had caused much heartache and anxiety. The Hameln congregation corresponded, visited and sent regular parcels to Werdau.

At Dieter Ventzky's invitation, Jeff Thomas joined him in 1982 on a visit to the DDR. He returned chastened, and determined to do all in his power to alleviate their isolation, and to support their courageous stand. On two occasions young people from Palace Avenue have participated in the Easter Youth gathering in Werdau. For five days, boys and girls from West Germany and Holland have also joined in their intensive study programme. They have enjoyed some fun and been given hospitality in private homes. They learned at first hand what it meant to be a Christian in a communist state.

There have also been a further three visits by adult groups, at no small personal cost or danger. They tried, in some small way, to lighten the darkness of their beleaguered friends. Regular correspondence continues and the churches exchange their monthly publications. The congregation has supported these exchanges in practical terms and with prayer. Each visit has also been blessed by friends in Hameln offering hospitality en route, without which the journey would be almost too strenuous. As the decade came to an end, the climate of change encouraged an invitation to be sent to the Pastor of the Marienkirche. It was hoped that friends from Werdau would be able to join the celebrations in Paignton in 1990.

New support for the adoption of Stewardship and the need for more commitment led the Church Council to reconsider the scheme. When finally the General Church Meeting and the Home Mission Department both gave assent, May 1988 was allocated for the implementation.

The delay between approval and inception was due to a change of minister, which necessitated a waiting time of at least one year into the new appointment. Jeff and Christine Thomas left for the north east in 1986. A true 'Geordie', he would be on familiar ground. Likewise, Palace Avenue now received a couple with local backgrounds. The Revd George A Courtenay (bearing the name of Devonshire nobility) was raised in Totnes, and his wife Janet was a former member of the Palace Avenue youth club. They soon settled in to familiar surroundings.

The appointed Stewardship Steering Committee met, together with Mr Ron Paige the Home Missions director, in November 1987. It set about establishing a professional package, in order to make the greatest impact. The 'PA' logo, so familiar to regular worshippers, was superimposed with the campaign slogan 'PEOPLE IN ACTION'. A brochure was designed to spell out the aims. At the committee's request, Derek Elson composed a Stewardship song, using the headings of the brochure as the basis of the lyrics. 'Only for You' made a valuable contribution to people's understanding of the meaning of Stewardship. Workers were recruited to cover all the campaign functions, particularly hostesses and visitors. A computer was used to collate all data received.

The results were rewarding. Over 200 Time and Talent folders were returned. There were new offers of help. A few results fell below expectation while others, like the birth of the Men's Fellowship gave cause for rejoicing. Increased participation in the Envelope Scheme as well as new or increased Covenants produced a healthy financial situation. Most significantly, there was a greater experience of fellowship. More personal contacts were made during the four week intensive period than at any other time.

The timing was perfect. The Campaign climax coincided with the 250th anniversary of John Wesley's conversion, with synergetic results. The new awareness more hearts were 'strangely warmed'. Throughout the year all sections of the church had participated in studying Wesley biographies, history and doctrines, and adopting Wesley themes in their activities.

The Quinquennial Inspection of the buildings in 1987 highlighted the fact areas needed attention. Due to the increased income, together with some legacies, essential repair work was carried out between 1988/1989 without any special effort or appeal. It was also possible to install tailor made public address and lighting systems. The final property project was the redecoration of the church interior. The total expenditure was £14,000.

During this year of regrouping, another 'think tank' set about planning the 1990 celebrations. It had been action an packed decade.

Quo Vadis

1990 - A time to search

One hundred years ago the brothers watched their Polsham chapel being dismantled. The rest of the town must have raised a few eyebrows when they saw it being rebuilt on the former cabbage patch. The achievements of all those who have followed, are causes for celebration.

As the story unfolded, it became obvious that this was not a band of insular people. They took their Faith and Christian principles into the workplace. The same is true today. Just as the buildings are part of the integral design of the avenue, so these people are to be found in the integral life of Paignton. This book has become a facet of the history of the town.

The landscape, the lifestyle and the forms of worship have changed, almost beyond recognition. Matthew Henry Churchward of Winner Street would be surprised to see the carpet, the facilities for the disabled, take part in a Sunday fire drill, receive a cup of coffee after service, or be called on by a Pastoral Visitor.

Less than ten families live within a half mile radius of the church. Less than ten families have three generations worshipping there. Most of the hilltop, bungalow dwellers have come to the town to retire. The members number 234, with a greater number of adherents. A large proportion of the worshippers have lived in Paignton for less than twenty years. The congregations fluctuate with the seasons. Worship is stimulated by the presence of visitors, many of whom come from the (Methodist) Park Hotel. The Church Council is ever vigilant to the changing needs of the people. According to Isaiah, the Lord said -

Forget the former things,
Do not dwell on the past.

While never allowing the pioneers to be forgotten, while ever trying to emulate their dedication, the 'people called Methodists' face the future with confidence. They still have




Something To Sing About

The Story of Methodism in Paignton in the Wesleyan Tradition

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