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Updated:  01 October 2011 


The origins of the Plymouth Brethren movement go back to 1825 and to religious meetings held in Dublin, Eire, by Lord Congleton, and Messrs Edward Cronin, John Nelson Darby and Anthony Norris Groves.  So how did it come to get associated with Plymouth?

It transpires that Mr Groves had been practising in Plymouth as a dentist before he emigrated to Eire to train as a missionary.   He may have kept in touch with people in the Town because it was three gentlemen who were later involved with the local movement, Captain Percy Hall, Mr George Vicesimus Wigram and Mr Benjamin Wills Newton, who in August 1830 invited him to Plymouth to preach.

At first the meetings were held in private houses in King Street but such was the effect that the congregation grew rapidly and a chapel was needed.   In February 1831 a Mr Samuel Westlake, acting on their behalf, purchased a site on a new road that was being created off Frankfort Street.  The site cost him 120 16s.   Upon the site in Raleigh Street were erected a chapel and a residence, both designed by the eminent local architect Mr John Foulston.

Upon its completion in December 1831, the chapel was sold to Mr G V Wigram for 749 19s, to be held on trusts to be decided upon by Mr Wigram, Mr Newton and a Mr Herbert Mends Gibson.  On December 12th 1831 the Providence Chapel was registered with the Bishop of Exeter as a meeting place for Protestant dissenters.  The registration was in the name of Mr George Vicesimus Wagram, Mr Arthur Backalake, a builder, and Mr John Snook, yeoman.  The Chapel was re-registered on December 28th 1836, possibly because of a change in the people responsible for the running it.

This was the first chapel erected in England for the Brethren movement.  As they started to spread to other parts of England they became known as the 'Brethren from Plymouth', which became shortened to the Plymouth Brethren.  For the next fourteen years it progressed until the Brethren transferred to new premises in Ebrington Street in around 1840, leaving the old rooms to be used for missionary work.

In 1842 a Mr B J Newton published a book about the Apocalypse which Mr Darby thought was heretical.  Mr Darby attempted to get the book condemned and on Sunday October 26th 1845 he left the Providence Chapel to set up his up branch of the movement, the Exclusive Brethren, in Compton Street.  He held his first service there on Sunday December 28th 1845.  The old congregation then became the Bethesda Chapel.

The arguments between the two factions brought about the end of the Plymouth  Brethren first in the town of its birth.  Exactly when they ceased is not yet known but on Sunday July 9th 1848 the Reverend Henry Bulteel, a Calvinist, commenced taking divine service in the former Plymouth Brethren Chapel, apparently in connection with his existing services at the Ebrington Street Chapel further along the Street.  The services were at 10.30am and 6.30pm.  The Brethren failed to make returns in connection with the Ecclesiastical Census of 1851 but it would appear that they did continue to meet in Plymouth because in 1878 they were listed as having meetings in Raleigh Street, Park Street, Manor Street, Shaftesbury Street and Notte Street.

In 1864 the Chapel building in Raleigh Street became a Temperance Hall.  By the 1890s it was a public hall.  The premises in Compton Street had become the home of a Evangelical Protestant Chapel by 1878. 

The building in Raleigh Street was destroyed in the Second World War.  The one in Compton Street survived the Blitz only to be pulled down by the Council when the Drake Circus shopping area was erected in the 1970s.




  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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