History Files


Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Devon

by Peter Kessler, 22 December 2019. Updated 14 February 2020

Exeter Part 13: Churches of Central Exeter & St Sidwell's

Castle Street Chapel, Exeter, Devon

Castle Street Chapel is reached via Castle Street but is also viewable here from Northernhay Place, high above the city wall. The site was originally the High Gaol, but when this was demolished a group of Congregationalists who wanted to leave the Arian Presbyterian ministry of George's Meeting bought the site. Their chapel opened in 1797. The split had occurred because nonconformist views were still being explored and crystallised in the century since its beginnings.

Castle Street Chapel, Exeter, Devon

The chapel used some of the fabric of the old gaol in its construction, despite this being where many early Exeter Dissenters had been imprisoned. A slim section of land lay around the chapel on several sides, to be used as a burial ground until 1854. A Sunday School building was added to the site in the mid-1830s. Both that and the chapel became increasingly cramped so in 1870 they moved to a new church at Southernhay. Today the old chapel is the 'Timepiece' club.

St Bartholomew's Old Church, Exeter, Devon

St Bartholomew's Old Church stood immediately inside the city wall where Boots now stands, on the northern side of the High Street. The main entrance to this retail block virtually marks the inner side of the East Gate. This parochial church (which operated as a local church for a larger parish) existed by 1243, by which time it had been annexed to St John's Hospital opposite (below). It had to be rebuilt in 1459 when the gate collapsed. Its final closure date is unknown.

St John's Hospital & Chapel, Exeter, Devon

St John's Hospital & Chapel stood on the High Street's southern side, bounded by the city wall and the East Gate (to the left of this steel line engraving). The hospital was founded about 1239 by Gilbert and John Long, merchants. Initially it apparently consisted of brethren and sisters. In 1240 the hospital of St Alexius on Gandy Street was united to it, although it needed some urgent restoration work itself. It also became decayed when Henry VIII deprived it of its revenues.

St John's Hospital & Chapel, Exeter, Devon

In 1623 it passed into private hands and was fully restored becoming, in part, a school. Much of the hospital was demolished in 1880 after the school had moved to a new site. Any remnants were destroyed in 1942. Today the course of the city wall at the East Gate lies along the left-hand side of the Eastgate passage, shown here to the left. Hospital and chapel fronted the High Street where the shops stand to the right, but continued all the way back to Roman Walk.

Zoar Chapel, Sidwell, Exeter, Devon

Zoar Chapel stood at the eastern end of Longbrook Terrace, described as being 'at the corner...', on the southern side next to No 11 (now gone but No 10 survives - the cream-colored house, centre). An early 1900s motor works stood at the corner itself. The chapel was built by Strict Particular Baptists. They left after the 1870s and in 1883 the Plymouth Brethren took over. By 1983 they were the Isca Christians, but the chapel was demolished between then and 2009.

First Church Christ Scientist, Sidwell, Exeter, Devon

First Church Christ Scientist stands flush against the pavement on the eastern side of Longbrook Street, around forty metres south of the Queen's Crescent junction and just one side-street away from Zoar Chapel (see above). This chapel was built into the garden of Harry Hems' Queen Anne Flemish chapel-like monument next door which now serves as 'Harry's' restaurant amongst other multipurpose uses. The present chapel building was erected in 1938.

St Sidwell's Chapel & Community Centre, Sidwell, Exeter, Devon

St Sidwell's Chapel & Community Centre occupies a deep-set plot on the northern side of Sidwell Street and partially overlooking the junction of Cheeke Street. The first church on this site was Saxon, built as an overflow for St Michael & All Angels Heavitree (see links). It was rebuilt in the Gothic style during the building boom at the start of the 1400s. In 1812 it was rebuilt again, as depicted in this print of 1845 which appeared in the Illustrated London News.

St Sidwell's Chapel & Community Centre, Sidwell, Exeter, Devon

The 1812 rebuild was in the neo-Gothic style to a design by William Burgess. The church reopened in 1813. In 1823 the tower was repaired and given an octagonal spire. Yet another rebuild was necessitated by the fact that the 1812 building had been almost completely blown apart by a German heavy bomb during the Exeter Blitz of 1942. The present version was erected in 1957-1958 during which services were held in a Nissan hut. A tower was too expensive.

Exeter Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Sidwell, Exeter, Devon

Exeter Seventh-Day Adventist Church is on the north side of King William Street (formerly Church Lane), almost directly behind St Sidwell's Chapel (see above). A mission was held at the Savoy (later ABC) cinema on five Sundays running in 1938. A derelict property was acquired in Church Lane for a meeting place in 1940 on part of what, until 1854, was a graveyard, presumably for St Sidwell's, and then a green space. In 1977 the property was fully rebuilt and rededicated.

Eight photos on this page by P L Kessler. Additional information from Discovering Exeter 7: Lost Churches, Exeter Civic Society, 1995, from The Route Book of Devon, Second Edition, Anonymous (Henry Besley of Exeter, circa 1846, available via The Victorian Maps of Devon website), and from Discovering Exeter 4: Pennsylvania and Discovering Exeter 5: Sidwell Street, both Hazel Harvey, Exeter Civic Society, 1984.



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