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Downicary Chapel


The original Downicary Chapel, erected by Wesleyans in 1815, was the first chapel founded by non-conformists in the Parish and worship at it and its replacement, built in 1861, lasted almost two centuries. At the time of its 150th anniversary in 1965, Spencer Toy of Launcestion did some valuable research into its history and wrote:-

“A Methodist Society was probably formed at Downicary in the second half of the eighteenth century. Tradition has it that John Wesley met the members in the small building, now known as ‘the hen house’, a little way down the field west of the present chapel. This may or may not have been the case. The present writer can find no mention of it in Wesley’s Journal, but, on the other hand, the tradition has survived orally for two hundred years. Wesley might have gone to the place, when travelling eastward after visiting Week St Mary, perhaps in September 1760 or 1762.”

An old plan suggests that ‘the hen house’ was the first chapel – even before that erected in 1815. However, 1815 has always been taken as the foundation year, as, on 26th August that year, Francis Northey, described as “a yeoman of Bradwoodwedger”, granted a 999 year lease for ten shiilings (and, if demanded, an annual ground rent of one grain of wheat) of “a piece of land at Downeycery”, 55 feet in length and 35 feet in breadth, to nine trustees “who are about to erect on the said land so granted a Methodist Chapel which is to be used for the sole purpose of worshipping Almighty God and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ”, according to the doctrines expounded in John Wesley’s Notes upon the New Testament and in the volumes of his sermons.

The original chapel had stone and earth walls and was probably fairly basic. Toy found an old circuit account book for 1816, which recorded that Downicary then had seventeen members and paid £1-5s-6d to the circuit stewards, but membership by 1830 had sunk to just four. However, there was clearly a revival for, in 1860, it was decided that the original chapel was in such a state that it was better to start again and build a new chapel. The Launceston Weekly News of 15th June 1861 records the laying of the foundation stone of the new chapel by Mr Brown of Carey, and, according to Spencer Toy, it was opened in November that year. There is no account of what the chapel looked like when originally re-built, but it is unlikely to have altered too much over the years. It was built of local stone with a pitched slate roof and has two attractive large three-light Gothic shaped windows to the rear and one at the front, whilst the entrance porch at the front has a small single Gothic light facing the road. Internally, the pitched roof is formed in softwoods with four trusses supported on hammer beams.

What is unclear is whether the lower Sunday School building attached to the chapel was built at the same time or subsequently. The roof construction is different in that it is formed with three rough-hewn softwood A-framed trusses supporting two purlins to each roof slope. However, there is an advert in the Launceston Weekly News for a lecture to be held in the Downicary School Room on 1st December 1866, which suggests that if not part of the original build, it followed closely after. Spencer Toy, in his history of the chapel for its 150th Anniversary, makes no mention of any subsequent additions to the 1861 building.

The sole surviving Trustee in 1861 was James Lane, originally of Broadwoodwidger but now living at South Petherwin, and he arranged in 1862 for further Trustees to be appointed.

In 1872, the Trustees acquired for £5 land described as “part of a Wastrel”, nearly opposite the chapel, and also “the Stable and other Buildings” standing on it. This seems to have been used for the minister’s coach.

Unfortunately, there seem to be no extant records for the chapel from the nineteenth century and I have found no mention of it in local papers so that it is not possible to highlight the stalwarts of the chapel during that period. However, an extant Sunday School attendance log starts in 1908 and this gives a good indication of the families involved at that time and, from the 1930s on, there are also a reasonably full set of minutes, accounts and baptisms.

The Sunday School Log Book 1908-1922

The Sunday School log for 1908 records seven teachers of which four came from the family of local farmer, Richard Bridgman, and over the years, the name of Bridgman is a regular feature both amongst the teachers and pupils. However, the two teachers who are ever present in the annual list throughout this initial log book, which runs until 1922, are Job Newberry, a local farmer, who was aged 64 in 1911, and Arthur Bate, who was a farm labourer. Arthur Bate (1866-1944) had been born in Lawhitton and lived at Peter’s Finger, Yeolmbridge and his son, James Henry Bate (1898-1973), was also very involved with the chapel. Other teachers included William Osborne, who was the railway foreman at Tower Hill, Fred Dark, a platelayer from St Giles with two daughters, Alfred and Lena Johns, A Moore, G. Skinner, H.Crocker and various Bridgmans. In 1908, there were eighteen boys from the Osborne, Bridgman, Pearce, Pooley, Davey, Easterbrook, Buckingham and Oliver families and eleven girls from the Pearce, Skinner, Davey, Moore, Dark and Easterbrook families. In the period to 1922, there were also pupils from the Cudmore, Doidge, Earle, Harvey, Colwill, Parnel and Furse families, but numbers had dropped off to ten girls and eight boys by 1922.

In 1932, the Wesleyan Methodists united with other methodist denominations to become The Methodist Church

Key Figures 1930-1965

From the minute books, it is possible to produce a list of Ministers, albeit as they changed on a frequent basis and were responsible for other chapels as well, none appear to have made an extra-ordinary contribution.

1930 Rev. A.F.Walton

1931 Rev. H.W.Price / Rev. G.A.Vernon

1936 Rev. G.J.Gillians

1939 Rev. J.H.Angrove

1941 Rev. W.D.Fisher

1945 Rev. Geoffrey N. Stephens

1951 Rev. Ernest A.Ball

1955 Rev. P.W.James O.B.E.

1956 Rev. J.H.Cherry

1960 Rev. J.B.Healey

1963 Rev. W.J.R. Wescott

In December 1930, the Western Times reported “For the past two weeks revival meetings have been held at Downicary Wesleyan Chapel. Broadwood, conducted by the Deaconess, Miss Gilbard. The meetings ended with a total of seventeen converts. A faith supper was a great success.” (19/12/1930 at p.12)

In 1930, it was time to appoint new Trustees again, as eight had died – John Dennis, Joseph Colwill, Richard Bridgman Snr, William Osborne, Thomas Baker, John Knill, Edward Pethybridge and Philip John Roddall. The continuing Trustees were surprisingly all Launceston residents – namely John Thomas Gillbard (Ironmonger), Richard Uglow Bridgman (Farmer), Charles Crossman (Farmer), James Henry Prout (Outfitter), Charles Henry Gillbard (Wool Merchant), William Mute (Outfitter) and Joseph Venning Jenkin (Clerk). Apart from Richard Bridgman and Charles Gillbard, who made a bequest to the Chapel, none of these Trustees make an appearance in the other records of the chapel. However, a number of the new Trustees appointed at this time, being local residents and, with one exception, all farmers, do become key players. These were Arthur Bate (of Peter’s Finger), Claud Bridgman and Reinfred Bridgman (of Downicary Farm), William Skinner (of Grove Farm), John Moore (Mason of Boxes’ Shop), John Crocker and his son, also called John, (of Sitcott, St Giles-on-the-Heath), Henry Rundle (of Little Downicary), Albert John Fry (of Emsworthy, Broadwood) and Ernest Henry Fry (of Downdown, Broadwood).

The Minutes of what was referred to as the Downicary Trust reveal that key figures were Richard Bridgman, William Skinner, who acted as Treasurer and whose recent death was noted in 1946, Arthur Bate, who died in December 1944, Albert Fry, who was Secretary and who assumed also the role of Treasurer on Skinner’s death but who retired from these roles in 1960, John Moore, whose involvement in the building trade was of immense use, when repairs and re-decorations were required, and who died in March 1974, and John Crocker Jnr, who assumed the role of Treasurer in 1960. Frank Daniel of Downicary Farm assumed the role of Secretary at that time.

The extant book of baptisms commences in 1935 and, in the next thirty years, there were thirty-two children baptised. The families concerned were Jenkinson, Dawe, Ellacott, Moore, Crocker, Skinner, Gliddon, Davey, Walters, Kingston, Turner, Daniel, Jewell, Tunbridge, Orchard, Eppey, Knight, Balsdon, Harris and Nosworthy.

1998 Harvest festival

Income and Expenditure 1930-1965

The earliest surviving accounts date from 1945 and are very basic. In every year, the chapel was completely reliant on the proceeds of the Harvest Festival to meet its annual expenses. Its only other income at this time was from Seat Rents (£3-2s) and the rent of the Stable (£1-10) – and after a few years, even the latter was not collected. Expenditure in 1945 totalled £13-13s-3d, which included insurance, the costs of the caretaker and payments for oil, logs, coal and lamp wicks, for there was no electricity.

In 1932, John Moore’s daughter indicated that she would like to get married in the chapel and so it was first registered for marriages on 25th August 1932. This was the year of the Methodist Union, when various Methodist denominations, including the Wesleyan Methodists, united to become The Methodist Church.

In 1936, it was decided that the provision of conveniences was required and, on 16th November that year, neighbour E.H.Perkin conveyed a small piece of land to enable such conveniences to be built. However, as there was no mains water nearby, these will have been merely holes in the ground. It was also decided that year to effect a major renovation of the interior of the chapel, which led to the chapel going into debt. Loans were made by Messrs Bridgman, Crocker, Moore and Shute to cover the temporary deficit.

In 1946, a bequest of £50 from former trustee, C.H.Gillbard, improved finances and, from 1948, the chapel started to organise fund-raising concerts, which proved increasingly successful. These were important for there was the constant need to effect repairs to the chapel and to keep it well decorated. In 1952, J.Daniels gifted further land so as to enable the car park to be extended, but this necessitated the construction of a new concrete wall to mark the new boundary.

1957 re-opening

1957 re-opening

In 1957, to make up for the loss of Seat Rents, it was decided to hold an annual chapel anniversary celebration on the first Sunday in May and it was only in 1965, after Spencer Toy’s research, that it was realised that a more appropriate date would be in August. Also in 1957, it became possible to install electricity and provide overhead heating, albeit it subsequently transpired that the heater thoughtfully provided over the pulpit proved somewhat trying to those who gave elongated sermons! Photos show a large crowd attending the re-opening ceremony, with tables laid and attractively decorated for a celebratory meal.

By 1962, the conveniences, unsurprisingly, needed further attention. The ladies of the congregation were invited to Moore’s premises to view the Elsam toilet but decided that they would prefer flush toilets and so arrangements needed to be made for a water main to be laid to the property. In 1963, the Sunday School ceiling needed repair, and, in 1964, the chapel was closed for a time, while a series of improvements were effected by John Moore. These included the provision of the new toilets and associated drainage works and the exterior decoration of the chapel. The chapel was, therefore, in good order, when its 150th anniversary was celebrated in 1965. Membership at the time was 23.

1982 Chapel Anniversary

Cover of 150th Anniversary Souvenir Brochure

150th Anniversary Celebrations

The programme of events, which contained Spencer Toy’s history of the Downicary Methodists, has survived. The Thanksgiving Day was held on Thursday 29th July 1965 and comprised Divine Service at 3 p.m.(which included a guest soloist and former minister, the Rev. Ernest Ball, performing on the bugle), High Tea at 5 p.m., Community Hymn Singing at 7 p.m., a Sacred Concert by The Mount Pleasant Quartette at 7.30 p.m., with supper to close.


The minister at the time of the 150th Anniversary was the Rev. Wescott. Those that followed were

1968 Rev. G. Barnes

1972 Rev. W.P.Jubb

1977 Rev. Hugo Squire

1981 Rev. A Sowden

1987 Rev. R.O.Dunstone

1993 Rev. Linda Chester

1997 Rev. Andrew Prout

2003 Rev. Cathy Arscott

The need to appoint new Trustees once more was first raised in the 1948 annual meeting and was repeated each year, but it was not until 1957 that any action was taken. In 1962, the Trustees comprised, from the 1930 Appointment, Richard Uglow Bridgman, Albert Fry, John Moore and John Crocker Jnr and, from the 1957 Appointment, Frank Daniel, Horace Skinner (Farmer of Grove Farm), Walter William Fry (Farmer of Emsworthy), Brian Franklin Tunbridge (Schoolmaster of Tower Hill House), Frederick Palmer Stanbury (Farmer of Poole Farm), William John Harris Jnr (Farmer of Milford, Lifton), Fernley Charles Davey (Farmer of Sitcott, St Giles-on-the-Heath), William John Balsdon (Farmer of Peter’s Finger), and James Henry Bate (Farmer of Peter’s Finger), who was Arthur Bate’s son and had married John Balsdon’s sister, Linda (1900-1946).

Another Sunday School log book, for the years 1962-1975, has survived and, during this period, regular teachers were Frank Daniel, Mrs Marina Crocker, Mrs Fry, John Balsdon and Jean Orchard. In 1962, there were nine children from the Skinner, Daniell, Jewell, Orchard, Balsdon and Edwards families, but this had increased to sixteen children by 1968. Other families whose children attended during these years were Nosworthy, Dulloway, Kimberlee, Palmer, Jeffrey, Wonnacott, Cann and Evans. However, baptisms since 1965 were just twelve – the families concerned being Nosworthy, Wonnacott, Cann, Drowne, Reynolds, Balsdon and Williams.

Frank Daniel continued as Secretary for many years and played a prominent role in the chapel’s affairs. On his death in 2002, his family gave the chapel £250 and this was used to commission a cross from David Lancaster to go over the pulpit and this was dedicated at the Harvest Festival in 2003. John Crocker continued as Treasurer until 1984, when this role was taken over by John Balsdon. His wife, Margaret, was also involved on the committee, as were Clifford and Phyllis Nosworthy of Little Downicary, and, from the 1990s, Rosemary Wonnacott, who lived in Launceston and was the organist, Vera Thomas and Iris Medd-hall.

In 1982, the membership remained at 23 and the account balance was just £278, but it appears that great efforts were made to organise fund-raising events during the 1980s and 1990s as by 1996 the account balance was £3369. This enabled two of the Sunday School windows to be replaced and for woodwom affected areas to be treated. As always, the decoration of the chapel was kept up to date, so that when the quinquennial reports for the Methodist authorities were instigated in the 1990s, the chapel was found to be in excellent shape.

In 2005, the Stables property was sold for £10,100 and has since been converted into a holiday let. The sale proceeds were able to fund a series of necessary repairs and some redecoration, but such costs were now expensive. In 2010, it was reluctantly decided to close the chapel and it was sold through Kivells in 2013 with a guide price of just £75,000.

Interior of Chapel in 2006 showing the cross commissioned from David Lancaster in memory of Frank Daniel

Interior of Schoolroom in 2006

In 2005, the Stables property was sold for £10,100 and has since been converted into a holiday let. The sale proceeds were able to fund a series of necessary repairs and some redecoration, but such costs were now expensive. In 2010, it was reluctantly decided to close the chapel and it was sold in 2013 through Kivells with a guide price of just £75,000.

Newspaper report re closure in 2010

Interior of Chapel as shown in the 2013 sales particulars