Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: December 20, 2018
Webpage updated: December 23, 2018

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The Congregational Church is the oldest group in the Nonconformist church, tracing their origins back to the days of Queen Elizabeth I.  Their beliefs brought them into conflict with the Church of England, naturally, and their followers fled first to Holland and then to Scotland, where they were imprisoned.  They eventually returned to Holland from where they were amongst the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail for the New World in 1620 aboard the "Mayflower".

But the biggest event in their creation happened on August 24th 1662, Saint Bartholomew's Day, when 1,909 ministers were ejected from their churches for refusing to conform with the policies of the Church of England.   One such person was the vicar of Plymouth's Saint Andrew's Church, the Reverend George Hughes.  Along with two others of note, the Reverends Thomas Martyn and Abraham Cheare, he was imprisoned on Drake's Island.

The effect of this ejection was to create a number of small congregations of puritans whose members were forced to worship in secret.   The Conventicle Act of 1664 made it illegal for more than five people, in addition to the family of the house in question, together for religious meetings not in accordance with the prayer book.  This persecution continued until 1689, when the passing of the Toleration Act allowed dissenting ministers to preach a and administer the sacraments, albeit under certain conditions.  Slowly these congregations came out of hiding and built themselves places in which to hold their services but they were small and usually hidden from general view.

Second only to the Baptist meeting-house in the Pig Market (Bedford Street), which which opened in 1651, the oldest of Plymouth's dissenting places of worship was the Batter Street Congregational Chapel, erected in 1704.  Forty years later Mr Andrew Kinsman, the son of a grocer at Tavistock, set up business in Breton Side, Plymouth, and formed a small congregation.  He built the Tabernacle in the back garden of his shop.

In 1751 Kinsman started to spread the Word at Plymouth-Dock by securing a room in a house in Queen Street in which to hold meetings.   This became known as the Lower Room a few years later when a new chapel, which became the Higher Room, was erected in Granby Street.  This was the first dissenting chapel to be erected in what was to become Devonport.

When Mr George Whitefield visited Plymouth-Dock in 1746 he preached in what was known as the Higher Room in Granby Street.  In 1801 those premises were replaced by the brand new Princes Street Congregational Chapel.  

The Congregational Union of England and Wales was formed in 1831.

In 1856 the Wycliffe Congregational Chapel in Albert Road, Devonport, was opened.

In 1932 the Princes Street Congregational Chapel in the centre of Devonport was closed down following the realisation that it was badly placed to service the population of the newer areas to the north.  It was replaced the following year by the Whitefield Congregational Chapel in Saint Levan Road.

The Pilgrim Congregational Chapel in Saint Levan Road, Devonport, owes its existence to the wartime destruction of both the Whitefield, also in Saint Levan Road, and the Wycliffe in Albert Road.  It was decided to combine them into a new chapel and a temporary Nissen hut opened in 1950.

The temporary building at Saint Levan Road was demolished in 1957 and two years later the permanent Pilgrim Congregational Chapel was opened.

In 1972 the Congregationalists joined forces with the Presbyterian Church of England and became the United Reform Church.