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Gallery: Churches of Devon

by Peter Kessler, 22 December 2019

Exeter Part 12: Churches of Central Exeter

Holy Trinity 'Shoemakers', Exeter, Devon

Holy Trinity 'Shoemakers' stood on what is now Musgrave Row, behind the High Street. It would have been on the eastern side of Musgrave's Alley, the short north-south passage with associated dense housing which reached the High Street (shown here), between Lloyd's Bank and Jessops. Musgrave's Alley was originally known as Trinity Lane for the church which existed in 1200 and survived until it was transferred to Dissenter use after 1711 (see below).

Christ Church Old Church, Exeter, Devon

Christ Church Old Church has a debatable location, either closer to the High Street than Holy Trinity (above) or further back. Either way it was very close, perhaps holding land up to Holy Trinity itself. It seems to have existed by the late 1000s and perhaps even came to be physically merged into a single enlarged Holy Trinity in later years. The medieval map here shows a substantial structure immediately behind St Lawrence (below), just off the High Street (both circled).

Musgrave's Alley Chapel, Exeter, Devon

Musgrave's Alley Chapel stood on what is now Musgrave Row, on the eastern side of the short north-south section at its centre - this was formerly part of Musgrave's Alley which reached the High Street (see above). The present stone-surrounded doorway to the BT centre is noted by SW Heritage as 'doorway to chapel', seemingly the chapel's only surviving remnant. Presbyterians began worshipping here in what had been Holy Trinity (above) at a point in the 1700s.

Musgrave's Alley Chapel, Exeter, Devon

Wesleyan Methodists took it over from the 'seceding Presbyterians' in 1779, expanding it after John Wesley himself had visited and the congregation moved from 'Ten Cells'. In this period the chapel was often called Gidley's Meeting. The Bible Christians were using it around 1840 (prior to taking over 'Market Hall' from the Brethren), and the Baptists around 1890 (perhaps prior to joining the expanded 'South Street'). Musgrave's Alley was destroyed by bombing in 1942.

St Lawrence Old Church, Exeter, Devon

St Lawrence Old Church once sat on the northern side of the High Street, about forty metres west of the modern junction with Castle Street. This illustration is a postcard facsimile of a drawing from Worth's Art Gallery, tentatively dated to the 1920s (probably a publication date as the costumes are clearly Victorian). It existed by 1202 and possibly predated the Norman takeover in 1066. After passing though other hands, it fell under the control of nearby St John's Hospital.

St Lawrence Old Church, Exeter, Devon

The church's fabric was largely replaced in the fifteenth century and also by later modifications. The south (High Street) wall was rebuilt in 1674, and the west wall in 1830. Brice, writing in the 1760s, commented that the church's High Street wall was often used as a public convenience, a city centre problem that still persists! The church was burnt out during the city's worst bombing raid of the war, on 4 May 1942. The basic fabric survived but in 1946 this was cleared away.

St Mary in the Castle, Exeter, Devon

The chapel of St Mary in the Castle once stood at the north-east corner of the present lodge, in the western corner of the castle grounds. Shown here is a steel line engraving of the by-then lost chapel by C J Sprake in 1831. The first castle worthy of the name on the site is recorded as having been built by Athelstan. This was destroyed by Danes in 1003. In 1068 William the Conqueror, after having besieged Exeter, selected Rougemont as the site of a strong, new castle.

St Mary in the Castle, Exeter, Devon

John Norden's 1617 plan of the castle shows the chapel at 'L' (thanks to George Oliver's annotations of 1861), with the main entrance into the castle grounds being the modern Castle Street. The chapel consisted of nave and chancel and was founded some time in the first half of the twelfth century. Described as a small building it survived until 1774 or 1792 (sources conflict), by which time the castle was being used by the county as Devon County court and gaol.

Castle Lane Meeting, Exeter, Devon

The precise location of Castle Lane Meeting is unknown. It lay on Castle Lane (shown here on Roque's 1744 map of Exeter, with the High Gaol and Castle Chapel (above) also visible and with Castle Lane and the gaol highlighted. Castle Lane was later straightened as Castle Street while much of the lane became Old/Little Castle Street. There are no surviving records for the meeting, but it existed by 1691 under John Ashwood, survivor of the Monmouth Rebellion.

Castle Lane Meeting, Exeter, Devon

Ashwood moved to London about 1698. Early in the 1700s Rev James Pierce introduced 'new notions' which failed to find favour with many members. He resigned and took some of them with him to a new meeting house in Mint Lane by 1720. While the site of the Castle Lane meeting is uncertain, a small chapel-like building next to the later Castle Street Chapel (to the right of this photo - see links) looks very chapel-like, if somewhat Georgian (and therefore later).

Five photos on this page by P L Kessler. Additional information from Discovering Exeter 7: Lost Churches, Exeter Civic Society, 1995, from The City of Exeter in the County of Devon map, Historic Cities Research Project, from The Route Book of Devon, Anonymous, Henry Besley of Exeter (Second Edition), circa 1846, and from Nonconformity in Exeter, 1650-1875, Allan Brockett.

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