20th Century through to present day Emmanuel Church
The Move to Wilder Road and the laying of The Foundation Stone (from the ‘Ilfracombe Chronicle,’ Saturday 9th October 1897)
For the ceremony on Tuesday the Wesleyan friends were favoured with beautiful weather; and nothing occurred to mar the proceedings which began at 3.30 pm, when a large company of the townspeople, as well as a good number from the other places in the circuit, assembled at the site, and all around it. (After the opening hymns, prayers and readings the laying of the memorial stones commenced). In a hollow beneath the first stone was placed a bottle, containing a current circuit plan, a local paper, three pennies and one halfpenny of 1897, and two halfpennies taken from beneath the foundation of the old chapel, and dated 1862, the year of its erection. A public tea took place in the Market, and about 250 sat down. In the evening at seven o’clock a public meeting was held in the Town Hall. The hall was crowded.
To replace the old Wesleyan Chapel which stood on land now forming part of the Ropery Meadow pleasure grounds, memorial stones of a new church to be erected at the foot of Market Street, Ilfracombe, were laid in October last. Since then the work has proceeded apace, and although the buildings are not yet completed, the work was sufficiently advanced to permit of dedication services being held on Tuesday last. We congratulate the Rev. J. Pellow and his co-workers upon so successful a completion of their scheme.
The glazing throughout is in leadwork with square quarries in shades of green, and borders in white, ruby and amber. The walls and the facing are in local stone, pointed, and with freestone dressings. The floors are wood blocked. With the addition of a commodious gallery at the west end, the church has comfortable accommodation for 630. A notable feature of the east end will be two handsome polished brass gas standards, presented by the Ilfracombe Gas Company.
The exterior of the building is in "bunch-faced" stone from South Devon with freestone dressings. At the north-west angle is a tower and spire, which, when completed will rise to a height of 130 feet, and will form quite a prominent feature in the neighbourhood. The church reflects considerable credit upon the architect, Mr W H Gould, of Ilfracombe, who has utilised the site to the very best advantage.
Methodists all over Great Britain, and indeed also overseas, who cherish happy memories of holidays - or honeymoons! learn that the famous North Devon marine resort is now celebrating a hundred years of Methodism. Happening to be on holiday myself at Woolacombe, I was fortunate enough to meet one of the oldest active Methodists, in this healthy coastal district, Mr W H Gould, JP, who knows more about the history of Ilfracombe Methodism than any other person.
The Following Years
The organ, the mural Commandment tablets and sundry memorials to the departed were brought from the old church. The magnificent stained-glass window was presented as a memorial to Robert Pickett, the builder, by his family, and the font was a gift in memory of Ellen Pickett, his wife. A wooden cross and brass vases for the communion table were given in memory of a former minister, the Revd F Howell Everson. After the First World War, during which several members gave their lives, as a thank-offering an electric lighting system was installed and the marble panels fitted behind the communion table. In 1948, as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations, gas heating was installed in place of a coal fired hot air system, which had become worn out.
High Street and the coming together of the Methodists and United Reformed Church (written by Freda Gent)
The United Reformed strand of Emmanuel Church takes us back at least to 1687 when the Revd John Berry, MA, who had been ejected from the living of East Down and Landkey in 1662, was appointed as the first minister of the Dissenting interest in Ilfracombe. There was almost certainly a group of worshippers even before that date.
The first Dissenters’ Chapel was built in 1728 - 1729 on the High Street end of the present site, during the ministry of the Revd Josiah Follett. Nearly a century later the Revd Henry Besly (1814 - 1844) was such a popular preacher that the old Chapel was not large enough to hold all who wished to hear him. Nonconformist families from Bath and Bristol took their holidays in Ilfracombe so that they could hear him, and members from the Parish Church attended the Independent Chapel in the evenings when they had no service of their own.
So in 1819, a much enlarged building was opened. set back further from the street and approached through a graveyard. When further burials were forbidden in 1834 the forecourt was incorporated into the building. Records show that 68 people are buried under the present church building in addition to any burials which may have taken place within the Old Chapel. Numbers dropped somewhat in the 1830s when the Wesleyans, who had been occupying the gallery of the Chapel, built their own Chapel in Ropery Meadow in 1833 and a new Vicar instituted evening services at the Parish Church.
In 1866 there were extensive interior alterations and an entirely new front built on the old foundations, giving the building very much the same appearance as today. Then in 1884 an adjoining cottage and land were purchased to enable the building of the spacious schoolroom and classrooms. At the same time there were further extensions within the church. The most recent interior alterations were in 1953. In due course the Independent Chapel became the Congregational Chapel. There were outstanding ministries by the Revd Joseph Morris (1879 - 1899), and the Revd Henry Hewen (1912 - 1936).
Coming to more recent time, in October 1972 the Congregational Church nationally united with the Presbyterians to form the United Reformed Church. It was felt that this was only a start and that it should be not just a ‘united’ church, but a ‘uniting’ one In Ilfracombe the Revd Margaret Howard of the United Reformed Church and the Revd William Kent of Wilder Road got together with a small joint committee to explore closer relationships. The first experiment was to hold a joint evening service once a month from October 1973 to March 1974, alternating the buildings and with both ministers taking part. By the autumn of 1975 the services were twice monthly (both at High Street because it was warmer!). United morning services were held for special occasions and various midweek activities were united. So things ticked over for a number of years in the winter, with the churches going their separate ways in the summer. It was not until 1985 that the united services were continued through the summer. From then on events rapidly gathered momentum.
And so the High Street story drew to a close. There was a wonderful week of celebrations in June 1987 to mark the 300th Anniversary. Then on 13th September 1987 came the special service marking the inauguration of Emmanuel Church. The buildings were used alternately while protracted consultations, discussions and negotiations continued on their use, and it was not until the end of 1988 that the decision was taken that the High Street premises should be sold. The final service there was held on the morning of 18th June 1989, and in the evening the congregation met there and formally walked in procession to Wilder Road.
The Church for some time had wanted to improve the interior of the premises, and the planning for this started late 1992. All the modifications were paid for from the assets accruing from High Street United Reformed Church. The alterations were done on both floors of the building. The minister’s vestry and toilet became a suite of toilets, including facilities for the disabled. What had been ‘glory holes’ - convenient dumping places for furniture and other surplus items - in two corners of the sanctuary were transformed: one became the new minister’s vestry, and the other became the kitchen The pews and raked wooden floor under the gallery were taken out and a screen to match the external arched windows was constructed, and so the Gallery Room came into being, which has been a great asset for the church’s life. The room has been used for church Coffee Mornings, a meeting place for the Women’s Fellowship and Bible Study, a serving area for concert audiences during the summer season of Wednesday concerts, as well as a committee room. Being double glazed and sound proofed from the main church, it is also a useful area that people with young children can go into during the church service, it being served with a loud speaker from the main sound system.
To bring us up to date (by Andy Criddle, July 2008)
In 2006, after lengthy consultations at local and national level, it was decided and agreed to make further radical improvements to the church. This came about in conjunction with an agreement with the Ilfracombe Arts Society who wanted to use the downstairs hall as an Art Gallery. One of the most important and possibly controversial improvements was the removal of the pews in favour of individual upholstered chairs. A number of the pews were quite special and uniquely angled towards the pulpit and many people thought that we should perhaps keep some of these along with the new seating plan. However, In November 2006, decisions had been finalised and work began on the removal of the Pews. The plan also included the construction of a new screen to be built from the kitchen to the organ thereby creating a new room on the left side of the church.
The refurbishment work was mostly undertaken by Chris Redmore and the carpentry was expertly matched to the existing screen that separated the church and Gallery room at the back. The new room has subsequently and very appropriately been named the “Millman Room” in recognition and remembrance of Queenie Millman who devoted much of her life to the church and local charities. Queenie sadly died in August 2005 and had been Church and Circuit Secretary for 30 years . She had contributed to many of the suggestions regarding the future alterations at Emmanuel. Chris Redmore also refurbished the kitchen and we managed to double the size of the existing room, new units, worktops and a new floor were fitted along with some new kitchen equipment. In the church itself, the wood block flooring was stripped and re-varnished before the new seating arrived.
Whilst all this work was undertaken, services transferred to the gallery room for a few weeks, it was all a bit cramped but we managed very well.
At the end of 2007 it was decided that it was time that Emmanuel had a new functional website in preference to the very basic locally hosted site. This new site was individually designed and built together with my nephew Andrew Priddle, and we launched the first version early in 2008. The site continues to grow and is updated on a daily basis. Improvements to the design, content and functionality are ongoing. I would welcome any suggestions for additional content and features - please contact me by e-mail at