CHURCH HISTORY

Commander Peter WilliamsThe beginnings of Methodism in Plympton can be traced back to one family - the family of Royal Navy Commander Peter Williams (pictured, left) and his wife Grace. Peter Williams was born in Liverpool on 12 April 1766, and joined the Royal Navy in his early twenties. After his ship arrived in Plymouth in 1794 he met Grace Shea, and the couple married on 7 November 1797.

Whilst her husband was away at sea, Grace joined a Methodist Society in Plymouth, and after Peter returned home he accompanied her to a meeting and decided to join the Society himself. Although the family moved to Ireland shortly after the turn of the century, they returned to Plymouth a few years later as Peter was spending much of his time away at sea. Peter Williams retired from active service in 1814, and with his retirement he settled with his family in Plympton.

Original Building on Market RoadThe Williams family bought a house "at the foot of Gas House Hill" (pictured, left), now 36, Market Road (which runs south from the lower end of the Ridgeway), and Peter and Grace lived there with their five surviving children. Having been Methodists for many years, the Williams' were keen to continue worshipping in a Methodist chapel but there were none in Plympton at that time. They converted the coach house at the back of their home into a small chapel and it was licensed for services on Tuesday, 21 November 1815.

Early services were family affairs, with the children leading the singing and music, and were arranged so as not to coincide with services at the parish church (Plympton St. Mary), so that people could attend those services as well. When the family decided to leave their house and move into rented accommodation in Plymouth, the local Methodist Society decided to find another meeting place, and found a large room on the ground floor of a house in Dark Street Lane, further up the Ridgeway.

The new chapel was licensed for worship on 18 January 1823, and Sunday School activities began a couple of years later. When the Williams family returned to Plympton, they did not actively rejoin the chapel but Peter Williams did continue to support the Sunday School work. Peter Williams died on 6 April 1839, just days before his 73rd birthday. He was buried at St. George's Chapel Royal, Stonehouse.

Old Building on the RidgewayBy the early 1860s, the chapel in Dark Street Lane had been serving the local community for nearly 40 years but the growth in numbers meant that the building was no longer big enough. Land adjoining the Ridgeway itself was acquired in 1861 and 1862 and in April 1866 the building of a new chapel was authorised. Foundations were laid in 1868, and on 25 August 1869 the first service was held in the new building (pictured, right). The chapel in Dark Street Lane was converted into a cottage and survived until 1967, when it was demolished to allow the road to be widened.

Early in the 20th Century, new rooms were required and two vestries and a schoolroom were added to the west side of the existing building in 1902. The schoolroom was extended ten years later, and with increasing demands for children's work a new wooden room was build on the other side of the chapel in 1925 (coinciding with the centenary of the Sunday School).

Ridgeway Methodist Church underwent major renovations in the 1960s. Only the organ was left in place as everything else in the building was replaced and the wooden schoolroom was replaced with a new suite of rooms and an entrance hall for the church. In 1982, a new extension to the Church was added on to the back of the existing buildings. This extension added a better kitchen facility and allowed the Church Hall to be extended, and also added another Sunday School room next to the kitchen. An upper floor was also added above these new rooms which provided two more rooms for use by the Sunday School and for other activities.

View from Mudge WayAs the end of the 20th Century approached it was decided that the ageing building, by then more than 120 years old, should be replaced with a more modern Church building. Land for the new building was acquired on Mudge Way, near to the junction with the Ridgeway, just slightly further up the road than the existing building. The new building (pictured, left) would cost £500,000 to build.

Work began on the new building in 1993 with the foundation stone being laid on 23 October, and was completed the following year. With work continuing on the chapel, early services were held in the hall, the first taking place on Sunday, 1 May 1994. By August the chapel was ready for use, and the new building was officially opened on Saturday, 22 October 1994.  The new building has now been in use for more than twenty years, continuing to serve the local community into the 21st century.The old church building on the Ridgeway was eventually demolished and replaced by shops.