Exminster Methodist Church, Main Road, Exminster EX6 8BT
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, Minister: Rev Ben Haslam, Telephone (01392) 256716
Methodism in Exminster
Methodism in Exminster
Information contained in this History has been mainly compiled from Circuit Records (held at the Devon Heritage Centre), an Invitation Booklet produced on the occasion of the church’s 75th Anniversary, and information gathered by Ken Beer, a recently deceased long-standing member of Exminster Methodist Church.
1739 to 1890 (the Early Years)
The Methodist Church in the Exeter area goes back to the middle of the 18th Century and John and Charles Wesley are recorded as making their first visit to Exeter in 1739. The population in general and particularly the established Church were very intolerant of the Methodist movement and an extract from the Morning Post of the 16h May 1745, portrays the prevailing attitudes of the day:-
“In Exeter the Methodists had a meeting house behind the Guildhall, and on May 6th the mob gathered at the door, and pelted those who entered with potatoes, mud and dung. On coming out, the congregation were all beaten, without exception. Many were trampled underfoot, many fled without their hats and wigs, and some without their coats or with half of them torn to tatters. Some of the women were lamed, and others stripped naked and rolled most indecently in the gutter, their faces besmeared with lampblack, flour and dirt. This disgraceful mob consisted of some thousands of cowardly blackguards, and the disturbance was continued until midnight.”
In spite of the opposition, Methodist Churches and Societies were established in Exeter and the surrounding district. One of these Churches is Exminster.
The history of Methodism in Exminster can be traced back to 1826 when it is known that meetings were being held. Worship and meetings invariably took place in cottages. In 1878, three men, Messrs Brock, Barnett and Parkhouse formed a Committee, and in 1881, open-air services were being held. The Clergy and members of the Parish Church are known to have been actively hostile to the intrusion of non-conformists into the village.
Later in 1881, a Miss Vinnicombe opened her cottage for worship and from 70 to 80 people would often crowd the room and about the door. In 1882, Mr Barnett reported to the church’s circuit meeting that “much good had been the result of services held at Exminster” and that a converted cottage/chapel had been offered at a rental of £6-6-0 per annum and he believed that the expense would be met without assistance from the board. He requested permission for the chapel be taken and a new committee was set up consisting of Messrs Brock, Barnett and Parkhouse, and in addition Messrs Rowe, Guest, Oliver, Stokes, Grant, Butcher and Littlejohn.
By December 1883, with an average membership of 12, the recommendation was made to the Circuit Quarterly Meeting that Exminster be placed upon the Circuit Preaching Plan. By the following November, this was taking place with regular Sunday Services at 3.00pm and 6.00pm. Membership continued at a similar level for the next few years with 14 in 1884, 11 in 1885 and 10 in 1886.
In 1887, with a membership of 11, Mr Barnett asked to be relieved from the responsibility of the rent for the Exminster Room; and later that year Mr Littlejohn reported to the Circuit that the Room at Exminster could be taken for a further 3, 5 or 7 years at £4 per annum. Messrs Barnett, Butcher, Hill and Finch were appointed as a sub-committee and were instructed to take the room for initially one year and to retain the monthly collections to defray the expenses. Membership started to grow, reaching 16 in the years 1888 to 1890.
1891 to 1910 (opening of the present church)
In 1891, something happened. A committee was formed to handle the local finances with the Junior Circuit Steward acting as Treasurer and a Local Steward appointed to pass collections and bills to the Treasurer. At the same time, membership increased from 16 to 37. By the end of the year a Committee had been formed to consider and decide upon a scheme to erect a suitable Chapel for which Rev Harding stated that he had a stamped offer for the present site until the first of May 1892.
In March 1892, an Estimate of Expenditure & Income for the new Chapel was produced to the Circuit Meeting and it was resolved to proceed with the matter as vigorously as possible. The total expenditure was estimated as £500; financed by an Extension Fund of £75, a Local Surplus of £100, £125 to be raised at the Foundation Stone laying, £100 of Loans and £100 debt.
On 17 September 1892 the Foundation Stones of the present building were laid by Rev Harding, Alexander Lauder (Architect), Charles Manley (Builder), Daniel Hunt (Exeter Wesleyan Mission Band), together with Messrs Holman (London), Stoate (Watchet) and Bailey (Exeter) together with Mrs Ella Holman of Streatham. The Exeter Flying Post Newspaper recording the event (by Carrier Pigeons). It stated that the site had been secured for £53.5.0 from Mr Manley (a local builder) who would erect the building for £410. It was estimated that when completed and fitted, the total cost would be £550, towards which £100 had already been raised. At the subsequent Quarterly Circuit Meeting, Rev Harding was reporting that £220 had been given at the laying of the Foundation Stones.
By January 1893, with a further meeting 3 months later, arrangements for the opening of the new chapel were being discussed. Meanwhile, in March 1893, each chapel in the circuit was asked to hold a collection in aid of the Exminster Building Fund. It was agreed that the chapel would be opened on Saturday 28 May 1893 as the previous building was about to be demolished to make way for cottages, believed to be on the site of the Wesley Cottages which still exist in the village. It was agreed that Mrs Holman would open the door, and that the Rev Marmaduke Riggall would preach at 3.00pm to be followed by tea and a public meeting. One of the suggestions for raising money at the opening ceremony was a Gold collection. The day after the opening was a Local Preachers Day and being before British Summer Time was introduced, the Trustees were presumably glad of the two lamps that the builder had provided for the chapel. Average membership that year was 50.
After the opening, the following statement of expenditure was produced:
Cost of Land £ 33. 5. 0
Paid to Contractor £300. 0. 0
Due to Contractor £156. 0. 0
Vestry and closets £ 64.10. 0
Seats (est) £ 36. 0. 0
Architect £ 10. 0. 0
Sundries £ 22.18. 4
Total £622.13. 4
At that time, £250 was in hand and a £95 grant had been made by the Chapel Committee in Manchester. There was seating for 160 and ample room to extend the building to provide a vestry and a schoolroom. At the opening, Rev Harding had stated that he regarded that “a chapel without the two last named adjuncts was like a coach without wheels.”
By today’s standards, the cost of the church was very low. The architect’s £10 fee was nominal, but perhaps that is all he was worth, for within a year of the opening the question of the position of the closets was being discussed and it was resolved that they would be removed to the back of the chapel, and that there be two doors instead of one, presumably the two doors that currently exist at the back of the church and in the Community Room.
The contractor soon received his balance, partly due to loans made by several friends. In December 1897 a debt of £110 was still outstanding and the Circuit Meeting directed that £55 from the Extension or Bazaar Committee be used towards this debt and by 1899, the balance had been cleared.
It is to be hoped that Rev Riggall, and the Local Preachers who took part in the services during the opening weekend and subsequently were tall men; because as late as February 1910, a Mr Chorley was authorised to report on the advisability of securing (if suitable) a rostrum formerly used at Crediton. Perhaps, though, it was not so important for it is possible that the congregation were for some time sitting on the floor! Before the opening ceremony, the Trustees had one of the Forms from the King Street Mission scraped, stained and varnished to see if the Forms would be suitable for Exminster. Apparently, they were not, because they decided to buy some new seats said to be similar to those at Silverton and Whitestone. However, a year after the opening we learn that the question of seating in the chapel had been discussed and “it was thought desirable that it should be done. It was resolved that a Committee make enquiries as to the cost of the same! In May 1894 it was decided that the Chapel Anniversary be held as soon as the seating of the chapel was completed. By the following October, 18 months after the opening, the Trustees appeared to be in possession of seats for they decided that ‘sittings be set at 6d per quarter as far as possible. In 1894 membership was down to 44, possibly as a result of the initial lack of seats!
The original layout of the church included side, rather than a central, aisles and included a high central pulpit, with a large scroll across the eastern wall with the words “O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness” in various shades of green.
After the opening of the church, Membership fell away to 26 in 1896, then crept up to 30 by the turn of the century. It is, however, recorded that in 1896 Exminster had its own Mission Band and in 1897 the Circuit were emphasising the importance to Preachers, Stewards and Prayer Leaders that during the summer months Open-Air Services should be held whenever Practicable. In February 1901, a Sub-Committee previously appointed by the Circuit passed the Resolution that:
1) It was desirable to engage a Joyful News Evangelist to labour in the villages of Alphington, Exminster and Kenford.
2) A prospective Subscription be opened to aid this object and to guarantee expenses
Possibly as a result of this, membership continued to slowly increase; peaking at 41 in 1904, then drifting backwards to 31 in 1908. We have no further membership figures after this date until 1941.
At the turn of the century, the Trust Treasurer managed the day to day running of the church. In 1902 the income from the Harvest Festival, collections, rent etc. totalled £7. 9. 4, but it was more than enough to pay for the lighting, warming, cleaning, insurance etc., which amounted to £4.19.8. The ‘warming’ seems to have fallen short of requirements, for that same year, the Trustees resolved to install a ‘heating apparatus’ before the winter set in. This was done at a cost of £27 by a Mr Walter Perkins who offered to store the old warming stove until a use could be found for it. In 1903 there were two weddings and the couples were each presented with a hymn book.
The increase in membership in the early part of the century must have improved the finances of the church because in 1906 the Trustees agreed that Mrs Frost, the Chapel Keeper, be paid 12/6d per quarter instead of 10/-. They also agreed in 1908 that “as the amount in hand was satisfactory, a special contribution of 10/- be made to circuit funds.”
In 1907, it was reported that “Our cause is healthy and vigorous and bids fair, through the blessing of God, to continue to prosper.”
In 1910 lino was purchased for the church and a sub-committee was set up to advise on extending the building for Sunday School purposes, but it was not until 1929, that the schoolroom (now the church hall), was built. In February 1914, the comment appears in the records that “The Chapel Extension Fund having ceased, the contribution of 5/- was made to the Worn-out Ministers Fund.”
1925 to 1968 (the church grows)
We are now beginning to move into modern times because in 1925, the Trustees resolved to provide an entrance and gates to admit motor cars!
The premises as we know them today were completed in 1929 when the schoolroom, kitchen and toilet accommodation were added at an approximate cost of £1,000; the foundation stones having been laid by the Superintendent, S Ouick on 8 December 1928. The toilet was, however, the now disused outside toilet located behind the existing facilities. Some of the fund-raising was done by purchasing named bricks which can still be seen down the side passage beyond the door leading to the hall. Much of the work was carried out by skilled volunteers.
Early in 1932, relatives of the late Daniel Hunt, a Home Missioner in the Exeter Circuit, who had exercised a tremendous influence at Exminster in the first part of the 20th century presented the Church with an oak pulpit, communion table and panelling as a memorial to him. It is perhaps appropriate that we pause at this moment to consider the work and personality to Daniel Hunt.
Mr Hunt first attended the Quarterly Circuit Meeting in 1889 when he was 35 years old. He regularly attended the meeting and was also one of the named individuals who laid the Foundation Stones of this church in 1892. When, in March 1894, a ‘Hearty Vote of Thanks’ was given to the Supernumerary Ministers, Mr Hunt and the Local Preachers; Mr Hunt responded that “he would rather do the work than talk about it”. Later the same year a Committee was appointed with reference to Mr Hunt and his missionary work in St Sidwells; then, in December 1900 he was presented with a Bicycle, the gift of some friends, in token of their high esteem and appreciation of his labours. We are told that Mr Hunt was taken by surprise and suitably responded. Recently, whilst replacing the floor in the Church Hall we found 2 bicycles which we believe have been there since the Hall was completed in 1929. It is easy to speculate that one of these might have been Daniel Hunt’s bicycle; as he died in 1926 age 72, after, we are told, almost 40 years of service.
When the church opened we were part of the Exeter Circuit; but at one time, we became part of the Exmouth Circuit and the Minister used to travel to Exminster via the Starcross Ferry. At another time we were linked to Topsham from where the Supernumerary Minister (who had a wooden leg), travelled by bus to Countess Weir, walked across the river bridge, then caught another bus at Matford. Two of our ministers (Messrs Waights and Stuckey) became Presidents of the Methodist Conference.
Moving forward, in the history of this church, to the War Years; we find that the church membership varied from 33 to 37. After the War, a Report by the Rural Methodism Committee in June 1947 stated that “at Exminster, the Committee ascertained that the Society was in a healthy condition, that the congregation was being maintained, that there were increasing activities, and that in one or two instances during the winter months there had been additional oversight which was fully appreciated.
The church continued to expand, with the Junior Church increasing in size from 25 in 1959 to 47 in 1965.
On Sunday 19 May 1968 the church celebrated 75 years since the opening of the present building with special services at 11.00am and 6.30pm conducted by Rev David Francis, who was previously in charge of the Preachers’ Department of the Methodist Church. The minister at the time, Rev Peter Bolt, reported that the Society in Exminster at that time was “bursting with life, and on Sundays the congregation was made up of a remarkable number of children and young people, and the Church was often full to capacity.” He stated that “from time to time experimental forms of worship were attempted, including the use of Drama, Film and Modern Music. An experimental form of Holy Communion was in regular use, and United Services with the Parish Church were established practice.” He went on to say that “the Good Friday Youth Service was a great inspiration.”
As part of the 75th Anniversary celebrations the church launched an appeal towards modernising the building and replacing some of the furnishings. It hoped to make “desirable renovations” to the Church and Schoolroom, and to make the Vestry more suitable for small meetings. What the Trustees had in mind was:
· To re-position the pews to form a central aisle
· To carpet the new central aisle
· To re-position the pulpit and Communion Table
· To re-decorate the Church, including a false ceiling
· New floor covering
· Sealing of the floor
· A new formica working surface
· New floor covering
· Replacement of 50 wooden chairs by 50 stacking chairs (approx.. cost £2.10.0 each)
· 2 dozen new hymn books
· 1 dozen Divine Worship Books
· A Hymn/Tune Number Board
· A Modern Pulpit Light
· New Linen Communion Cloths
· An additional tray for Communion Glasses
· New Tablecloths
1970 to date
Despite a worshipful atmosphere being created, attendances and membership reduced, and by the turn of the century it was less than half of the present level.
With Christian Witness and prayer by the faithful few, assisted by an expansion of the village, membership started to grow again. Premises were maintained to a high standard and the relationship with our Anglican colleagues deepened, with a number of joint services taking place again, as had been happening in the 1960s.
In 2011, a modern kitchen was added to our Hall; followed by internal toilet facilities, which are now disabled and infant friendly. This has resulted in a greater use of our facilities by Village Groups and Organisations.
In 2014, the church was fitted with a modern Audio/Visual system, enabling hymns and prayers to be projected for use by the congregation.
In 2015, a new floor was laid in the Church Hall, to replace the original 1929 floor. During the work, historic bicycles and post office scales were found under the old floor (possibly one of these bicycles belonged to Daniel Hunt). Heating in the hall and vestry was also up-graded.
In 2017, the church was re-carpeted to replace the previous carpet laid following the 75th anniversary celebrations in 1968, and a new lectern was obtained in memory of a long-standing church member, Ken Beer.
The membership reached 38 in 2016, and whilst it has since dropped to 36 as a result of the recent loss of a number of elderly members, new people have joined the congregation, some of whom will hopefully shortly take the decision to become members.
The decision has already been taken, and funds are available, to modernise the décor at the front of the church, emphasising the importance that we place upon the Cross. The church is also in the process of upgrading the chairs in the Hall, and hopes shortly to install a large screen for use by Premises Users slideshows, films and videos together with any Outreach that it is decided is appropriate. Members of our church regularly invite those from the rest of the village into our premises, including the Gardening Club and History Society. A highlight of the year is the annual Christmas Tree Festival which involves groups and organisations from the village and beyond displaying their own trees, and with visits by many, not otherwise connected with our church, including the village school.
Methodism has been an important part of Exminster for almost 200 years and with God’s help will continue to be so for many years to come.
Updated – October 2017