Our History

Welcome to our historic church.  What you see today is the second building on this site, opened in 1869.  Our story begins, however, in 1641 when two resolutions were passed by the House of Commons that in churches where there was no preaching in the afternoon, a lecture was to be given, either by a Lecturer or the Vicar.  The Revd. William Bartlett was appointed Lecturer of Bideford in the same year by the Parish Church and moved into the Town in 1647 or 1648 when he was appointed to the living.

Bartlett's views did not always meet with agreement and an Independent Meeting House was established by him.  In 1648 a covenant was voluntarily signed by a number of people by which they were -
                "Recognised by each other as the people of God,
                and together engaged to act as such."

The Act of Uniformity of 1662 required every Minister publicly to declare "his unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed in and by the Book of Common Prayer".  Bartlett was one of many Ministers who felt unable to make that commitment and he was ejected from the living of Bideford.

Bartlett remained in Bideford and was joined by his son, John, who had been ejected from the living at Fremington.  They continued to hold services (probably in secret), meeting in private houses and, on occasions, in Ford Wood. The two Bartletts continued to serve the Independents without proper buildings until their deaths.

The Bartletts were followed by a Revd. John Bowden, assisted by a Mr. Wood. The latter "fell from grace" and was forced to resign.  Later, however, he repented and a small section of the congregation, loyal to him, rallied round him.  In 1694 (5 years after the Act of Tolerance) they erected a small building for him to preach in, known as the 'Little Meeting' off High Street.

This split the congregation and two years later in 1696 Bowden's (larger) congregation built what was to become known as the ‘Great Meeting’ on the site of the present Church.  Happily, in 1760, during the Ministry of Samuel Lavington the two congregations re-united.  The Great Meeting was to serve the congregation for over 100 years. A picture of it can be seen in the west side room at the rear of the church along with other pictures and documents.

Lavington had been appointed in 1752 and served the Chapel for 60 years.  During this time the Congregation grew considerably, and a plaque to Samuel Lavington can be seen on the front left-hand side of the Church.  Lavington was followed by his son-in-law, Samuel Rooker (memorial on front right-hand side of the Church) and during this ministry it was decided that a new Chapel would be required to meet the needs of an ever growing congregation.  The 'Great Meeting House' was demolished, the present building erected, still on the original site, and it was dedicated in 1869.  It was estimated that the cost of the new church would be £500 and would take less than a year to build.  It actually cost about £1,610 and took 13 years!  It was named Lavington Chapel in memory of its former, long-serving minister.

The Sunday School was founded in 1787 and a new school-room was opened in 1862.  The side wing of classrooms was opened in 1877 and the current Primary Hall was erected in 1923 (opened in 1924) as the Church's War Memorial. In the same year the Church acquired the freehold of the site.

From being an Independent Chapel, the Church became affiliated to the Congregation Union, later the Congregational Church of England and Wales, and in 1972, on the occasion of the Union between the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church, became a part of the United Reformed Church of England and Wales.  Lavington was initially part of the Torridge Group of URCs linked with Northam and Appledore.  Today Lavington is linked with the United Reformed Church in Bickington.

The Interior of the Chapel remains largely unaltered although it was originally decorated in the ornate Victorian style.

The Clock is one of two, the other being owned by the Town Council and originally situated in the Market but now in the Court Room of the Town Hall.  It was built in Bideford by Ephraim Dyer and is a relic of the Great Meeting, for which it was made.

The Pulpit Chair is a replica of John Calvin's chair at Geneva Cathedral.  Calvin (1509-64) was one of the Reformers.

The original Organ was built for the Church in 1863 by W. Sweetland of Bath.  It is a two manual organ with 22 speaking stops, and is known affectionately as ‘The Old Lady of Lavington’!  This instrument is still used but is in need of some restoration work.  Thanks to the generosity of The Bideford Bridge Trust a modern Allen Organ is also used to accompany the services.

The Pews are also of interest with their numbered doors, complete with linen fold decoration.  So too is the carving at the top of the front choir gallery.  This front was also highly coloured at one point and bits of this can still be seen through the varnish.