by Chris Robinson
Published December 2012
Our thanks to Chris for allowing the society to use his work in this way.
With the arrival of the railways in Plymouth in the middle of the last century, the South Devon Railway Co, dug a large tunnel under Mutley Plain. On its west side soon after appeared Mutley Station, which remained open until 1939. In recent years this tunnel has been extended a little by the building of Mutley’s multi-storey car park.
The view as seen here is taken from almost directly above this tunnel upon which has also stood since 1869 the impressive Mutley Baptist Church. It was built from the designs of Messrs Ambrose and Snell at a cost of nearly £8,000, and fronting as it does onto one of Plymouth’s main thoroughfares, few people ever manage to take in all of this grand structure in one glance.
As far as the West Country is concerned the design of this church is believed to be unique and certainly the only other type of building I can think of where ‘the front elevation consists of a pediment over a large arched recess flanked by two quasi-towers with high pitched truncated slate roofs’ is a Toytown one made of children’s wooden building blocks. Here, however, the main structural features are of Portland Stone, the front steps and slabs are Cornish granite, while blue Pomphlett limestone makes up the walls.
Opened on Thursday, 11th November 1869, the church was Plymouth’s second Baptist Chapel and for several years it was jointly ministered in the shadow of the earlier George Street Chapel. In 1876, however, it was decided that Mutley, originally designed as a kind of overspill chapel, should go it alone. Consequently in July that year the Rev, Benwell Bird, of Birmingham, became the parish’s first pastor. A popular figure, Mr. Bird remained in Plymouth until his death in 1920 and although he had long since retired (1900) he did return for a brief period during the Great War when the Rev W. Vaughan King served in France for two years as the United Army Board Chaplain. Mr. King was the third minister at Mutley, having taken over in 1914 from Rev. Bell Johnson. Messrs. Franklin (1923), Grey (1932), Gladstone (1955), and Wright (1960) followed, and then in 1966 the present incumbent, the jolly Philip Withers, was called to the ministry.
During the Second World War the time came for Mutley to play host to the George Street parishioners as their chapel sadly fell victim to the bombing, and indeed on more than one occasion Mutley itself was only spared from destruction by the efficient handling of incendiaries. However, survive it did and today the church, having successfully celebrated its centenary, has only pigeons to contend with.