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Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Devon

by Peter Kessler, 22 December 2019

Exeter Part 11: Churches of Central Exeter

Southernhay Chapel, Exeter, Devon

Southernhay Chapel lay on the east side of Southernhay East, precisely midway between the Southernhay Gardens and Cathedral Close junctions. Built in the Romanesque style by Fore Street Free Church's congregation in 1846, problems with ownership forced them to join St James' Free Church in 1860. Presbyterians used it before it was sold as New Wesleyan Methodist Chapel Southernhay in 1865. Briefly home to wartime Congregationalists, it was demolished in 1962.

Southernhay Congregational Church, Exeter, Devon

The original Southernhay Congregational Church was built at the south-east corner of the junction between Southernhay East and Dix's Field. The members of Castle Street Chapel (see links) were becoming somewhat cramped by the 1860s, and required a larger building in a better location. They acquired the site of the former Southernhay Bath House on the corner of Dix's Field and erected their first, Early Decorated church building here between 1868-1870.

Southernhay United Reformed Church, Exeter, Devon

That was destroyed during the Exeter Blitz of 1942, although the tower and spire survived. For a while the congregation met in the former Southernhay Methodist Chapel (see above) while the church was rebuilt around the old tower and other remnants. The mismatch in styles between original limestone and modern brick is clearly evident but certainly does not detract from an elegant building. Following the post-war union the church became Southernhay United Reformed Church.

Elim Pentecostal Church, Exeter, Devon

Elim Pentecostal Church stood on Paris Street (Parrys Street, formerly Shytebrook Street thanks to the eponymous brook which ran from Chute Street to the Exe - 'shyte' is an easy transformation of 'chute'). It opened in 1928 following a visit to Exeter by the founder of Elim, Welsh evangelist George Jeffries. The church's precise location is uncertain even with the help of OS maps, but it was demolished in the early 1960s to make way for the bus station.

Bedford Chapel, Exeter, Devon

Bedford Chapel stood on the eastern side of Bedford Square (also lost). The site is now 'marked' by an open space opposite Debenhams (2019) on what is now Bedford Street, looking down Princeshay (see the next photo). This approximate location was the site of Exeter Dominican Priory & Chapel (the Black Friars) between 1232 and 1539. The earls of Bedford gained the site at the Dissolution and built a town house which survived until that too was demolished in 1773.

Bedford Chapel and Exeter Dominican Priory, Exeter, Devon

Bedford Square was built up in two parts on the cleared land. The chapel was erected in 1832 as an undedicated proprietary chapel at a time at which the city's churches had been closed due to a cholera outbreak. Just 110 years later, both chapel and square were badly damaged by the Exeter Blitz of May 1942 and the remains of the former were finally cleared in 1946. The unhoused congregation was granted the use of the nearby St Stephen's Bow (see below).

St Catherine's Chapel & Almshouses, Exeter, Devon

St Catherine's Chapel & Almshouses stands on the southern side of Catherine Street, and directly south of St Stephen's Bow (see below) on the High Street. The almshouses were founded in the 1400s to house thirteen poor persons, thanks to John Stevens, a canon at the cathedral, whose will bears the date 1457. Various others gave to support the almshouses and it still remained in use in the 1800s, although it had switched to secular control in the 1600s.

St Catherine's Chapel & Almshouses, Exeter, Devon

The chapel stands within the almshouses grounds and towards the back. It is a small two storey building with a small bell turret. Baptists began meeting here from the 1680s as, effectively, St Catherine's Baptist Meeting. By 1712 they were close to reaching 300 members so they moved to a fresh meeting room on Gandy Street (see links). The almshouses were largely destroyed by fire on 4 May 1942 during the Exeter Blitz and have been preserved as a war memorial.

St Stephen's Bow, Exeter, Devon

St Stephen's Bow is on the southern side of the High Street, immediately north of the remnants of St Catherine's Chapel & Almshouses (above) and around seventy metres east of the junction with Queen Street. The 'bow' in the name is for the arched walkway through to St Catherine's Chapel behind it. Whether or not an earlier - probably wooden - building stood here is unknown, but the present building was erected in local Heavitree red stone around AD 1000.

St Stephen's Bow, Exeter, Devon

Unusually for a Saxon church it has a crypt - one of six in the entire country - a place in which relics would be displayed. Some early Norman lengthening of the church was improved further in the 1300s. It was extended again in the 1400s, widened too, and the tower was added. A south chapel was added soon afterwards, by the 1500s. The Protectorate ordered the church sold, but the Stuart restoration negated that act. The building was renovated in 2011.

Nine photos on this page by P L Kessler. Additional information from Discovering Exeter 7: Lost Churches, Exeter Civic Society, 1995.



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