Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: December 20, 2018
Webpage updated: December 20, 2018

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Ford Baptist Chapel is situated in Alfred Road, Ford, Devonport.

In the Beginning

At first, in 1863, the Baptist congregation met in one room of Emma Cottages, which belonged to the local dairyman, Mr James Blatchford.  This was situated alongside the Eagle Tavern in what was to become Alexandra Road.  By the following year it was found  necessary to use the whole of the ground floor of a house that was in the course of erection next to Mr Blatchford's property and this was fitted out by Mr J Willoughby with seats for seventy people.  It was first used in 1864. 

As that in itself became too small, it was suggested that a new chapel should be erected to serve the local population.  However, before the Chapel came the Sunday School.  This was started on February 10th 1867 by Mr G Turner and Mrs Rogers, with a Mr Emery, a Wesleyan minister, as the superintendent.  On the first Sunday there were eight scholars but this soon increased to 46 scholars and nine teachers.  Unusually, it seems to have been funded by the teachers donating a penny a week rather than the scholars.

The first Ford Baptist Chapel

A piece of land on the corner of Alexandra Road and Alfred Road had been purchased by the Reverend T C Page, the pastor of the George Street Baptist Chapel in Plymouth, for 60 and donated to the cause at Ford.  Upon this site, on the afternoon of Tuesday December 3rd 1867, was laid the foundation stone of the first Chapel. It was supposed to be laid by Mr Peter Adams but as the weather was rather inclement, he did not think it was prudent at his age to be present.   Instead the stone was laid by the Reverend Page.

Before the stone was lowered into place, a bottle containing copies of the "Western Daily Mercury", the "Western Morning News" and the "Devonport Independent and Plymouth and Stonehouse Gazette", a list of the promoters, the names of the architect and builder, and a plan of the eight chapels run in connection with the George Street Baptist Chapel, was laid in a recess underneath.

Amongst those present at the ceremony were the Reverend Doctor Stock, the Reverend C Juke (probably an error for Duke), the Reverend J P Haddy, Messrs S C Serpell, T Nicholson, F Nicholson, J Willoughby, W Willoughby, T Jenkin, C Millar, W C Nicholson, C Watt, H Miller, T W Popham, M Tucker, and J P Bourne.

At 5pm that evening, a hundred of the friends of the cause sat down to a tea in the school-room of the Wycliffe Congregational Chapel in Morice Town, Devonport, which was followed by a meeting under the presidency of Mr Peter Adams.

The architect of the new Chapel was Mr J Ambrose of Plymouth, who gave his services free of charge, and the builder was Mr T Jenkin of Devonport.  The building was expected to cost 500 but in the event the total cost of the contract plus the purchase of the ground and other incidental expenses, the final figure was 549.  All but 61 was raised by public subscription.  Built in a plain Gothic style, the Chapel was 45 feet in length and 25 feet in breadth.

Ford Baptist Chapel was opened on May 11th 1868 but the official ceremony did not take place until Tuesday May 26th 1868.  At 3pm the Reverend J May of Saltash preached a special sermon in the new Chapel, telling of his recent work as a missionary in Jamaica.  The remainder of the service was conducted by the Reverend J P Haddy of the Hope Baptist Chapel, Devonport.   The service was followed -- as ever -- by a tea held in the Temperance Hall and which was attended by about 200 people.

By 1872 the average attendance at the Sunday School had risen to 53 in the mornings and 75 in the afternoon.  With only 106 scholars on the register, some must have attended both sessions.  In May 1877 some members of the congregations at both George Street and Mutley Baptist Chapels had banded together to raise money to erect a Sunday school at Ford.  After appealing to the local supporters, enough was raised and the infants' classroom was opened in 1882.

With continued growth as new houses were erected in the area, it soon became apparent that the Chapel was too small.  An extension committee was formed on July 12th 1897, under the chairmanship of the Reverend A T Head, and a new building was planned.

The present Ford Baptist Chapel

Once again the George Street Chapel had anticipated events and had already purchased, for 400, the lower parts of the gardens of five houses in Cambridge Road, to the north of the existing Chapel.  It was on that land that the present Chapel was built.

The architects of the Late Perpendicular-style building were Messrs Wiblin and De Boinville and the contractor was Mr W Partridge.  The contract price was 2,552 5s.  No fewer than seventeen foundation stones were laid in a ceremony on October 12th 1898, including one by Mr A F Richards on behalf of the Baptist Chapel at Cargreen, in Cornwall.

Beneath the stone laid by the Reverend Samuel Vincent, the Pastor of George Street Baptist Chapel, was deposited a bottle containing copies of "The Western Morning News", "The Western Daily Mercury", "The Freeman", "The Band of Hope Chronicle", the "Alliance News", a list of the 112 Church members, a similar list of the 278 scholars and teachers at the Sunday School (this was three yards long!), a programme of the day's proceedings, the Rules of the Sunday School, a record of the last Sunday School Union Scripture Examination (1898), a copy of the Evangelists' Plan for the fourth quarter of 1898, a programme of the weekly meetings, and a short history of the Chapel and School from 1864 to 1898.  This was placed in the bottle by Mr F T Addyman, who also laid the bottle in position.

Constructed of red brick, with polyphant and Doulton stone dressings, the total cost of the new building was 3,010 4s 7d plus an additional 45 9s 9d for furniture.  It has an imposing frontage, with five tracery windows.   Provision was made for the addition of galleries in due course and there was seating for 480 persons.  The interior measurements were given as 60 feet by 50 feet and included a baptistery of white, glazed bricks.  Behind the rostrum were two vestries and an organ chamber.  The conversion of the old chapel into a Sunday School was another 76 2s 3d.

Between 5 and 7pm in the evening a public tea was served in the Sunday school, during which Mr W Furze, of George Street Baptist Chapel, gave a recital on the organ.  Afterwards Alderman J T Bond, the Mayor of Plymouth, chaired a public meeting.

The new Chapel was opened at 10am on Wednesday November 8th 1899 and was followed by the usual public tea, an organ recital by the organist, Mr W J Tozer, and a public meeting in the evening.  There was plenty of free food around on a Sunday in those days!

It should be mentioned that the Chapel's first organ had been presented by Alderman J T Bond of Plymouth and it was not replaced until November 6th 1907.

Following the Declaration of the Second World War in September 1939, most of the young men of the area went off to fight.  Of those who did not return, the names of Neville Cross (Royal Navy), Hubert Hutchings (Royal Navy), Francis Coles (Army), Vernon Matthews (Royal Air Force), Gerald Collins (Royal Navy), Herbert Ware (Royal Corps of Signals) and Gerald Slade (Royal Navy) are remembered.

With the Chapel being in close proximity to the Royal Dockyard, it is not surprising that it suffered damage during the War.  The windows were repeatedly blown out and the roof in the south-east corner was damaged by fire.  In May 1941 the Chapel was closed because of an unexploded bomb nearby.  The Sunday school ceased to function as the local children were evacuated away from the City.

Ford Baptist Chapel is still in operation, with a youth club, Boys' Brigade and other groups fully functional.