Lavington United Reformed Church


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Bridgeland Street, Bideford, Devon, EX39 2QE


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Statutory Address:
Bridgeland Street, Bideford, Devon, EX39 2QE

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Torridge (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


United Reformed Church, 1856-1859 by EM White of Bideford; attached Primary Hall and schoolroom, rebuilt and extended in 1923-1924.

Reasons for Designation

Lavington United Reform Church, Bideford, dating to 1856-1859 by EM White; and the attached Primary Hall and schoolroom, rebuilt and extended in 1923-1924, are listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * the church is a well-detailed and competent interpretation of the Decorated Gothic style by a local architect, EM White, intelligently planned on a restricted urban site; * the church design shows early application of the Gothic Revival style to non-conformist church and chapel design in a national context; * as an intact early example of a non-conformist church, with good-quality timber fittings and distinguished towers.

Historic interest: * within the development of the Independent church in Bideford; * the Primary Hall and schoolroom extension represent a period of growing demand for provision for the congregation; * the Hall and schoolroom stand as an eloquent witness to the tragic impact of world events on the local community, and the sacrifice it made in the conflicts of the C20.

Group value: * with the many Grade II and Grade II*-listed buildings on Bridgeland Street.


Before 1658 an Independent church gathered in Bideford, led by the Reverend William Bartlett. This ended in 1662, but in around 1694 the ‘Little Meeting’ was formed with the Little Meeting House located behind 8 High Street (the meeting did not conform to orthodox standards and was disbanded by 1760). Shortly after its formation, in 1696, an Independent Chapel was built on Bridgeland Street, contemporary to the building of the street; this was known as the Great Meeting House. A survey of the Bridge Trust lands of 1745 shows this chapel as a ‘meeting house’. Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) visited in the early C18.

The Great Meeting House was demolished to meet the needs of a growing congregation, and the replacement chapel - Lavington Chapel - was opened with dedicatory services on 26 and 30 October 1859. It had taken 13 years and £1,610 to build (it had been estimated to cost £500 and take one year). The church was originally called the Lavington Chapel after the Reverend Samuel Lavington, pastor at the Great Meeting House from 1735 to his death in 1807. Lavington and the Nonconformists jointly funded the first Sunday schools in the town in 1787. The Great Meeting House became Lavington United Reformed Church in 1972 as a result of the union between the Presbyterian Church of England and the congregational church.

EM White of Bideford was employed mainly in the town as a builder, responsible for building the 1850 part of Bideford Town Hall and the rebuilding of St Mary’s in 1862. At Lavington Chapel he was both the architect and the builder. Little is known about his original designs, but the interior of the chapel was originally painted with bright colours, in the High Gothic Victorian style. Alterations, mainly a new heating system and an enlargement of the organ gallery, were made by RT Hookway of Bideford in 1884.

In 1862 a new schoolroom was opened to the rear (north) of the church. This is shown on the first edition Ordnance Survey (OS) Town Plan of 1888 (1:500), which labels the schoolroom as a Sunday School and also states that Lavington Chapel had seating for 600.

A plaque in the schoolroom records that it was constructed and extended to commemorate the sacrifices of the First World War in 1923. In the same year the freehold of the church site was acquired from the feofees of Bideford Long Bridge. The extension was on the north side into the back garden of Strand House (Grade II listed) on Rope Walk, and this plaque suggests that the 1862 schoolroom may have either been rebuilt or at least refurbished to match the new extension. The extension was opened as the Primary Memorial Hall by Mr Norman Walls of Bristol on 16 April 1924. It had cost £1,200, much of which was raised by public subscription.


UNITED REFORMED CHURCH United Reformed Church, 1856-1859 by EM White of Bideford.

MATERIALS: coursed rubble stone with details in limestone (possibly Beer stone); west elevation rendered. Slate roof.

PLAN: a simple oblong plan with a porch at the south (entrance) end and a small square apse (now containing the organ) at the north. The main body of the church is galleried, with the rostrum at north end.

EXTERIOR: the church is an exotic design in a Gothic style. The front (south) has a gabled central bay with three windows, and a low, gabled entrance porch below the middle window. At either side is a square, projecting tower with an octagonal steeple, each corner of the towers carrying a tall octagonal finial. The entrance porch has a pointed-arched doorway with multiple mouldings springing from paired shafts, timber double-doors with traceried panels and ornate strap-hinges. The porch is buttressed at either side, and the gable has kneelers and carved finial, the latter surmounted by a cross. Behind it, 3 very tall windows with pointed arches, the centre window with three transomed lights, those at either side with two; all have head-tracery, including the lower lights of the centre window. All three windows have coloured and leaded glass. In the gable is a small traceried light with pointed head and a carved stone cross on the apex above it. The towers each have a two-light window - a plainer version of those in the centre - above which is a round stone panel enclosing a quatrefoil. On the inner face of each tower at ground-floor level is a doorway with four-centred arch containing a plank door with ornate iron strap-hinges. The towers are finished with heavily-moulded cornices with a large gargoyle in the form of male and female heads at each front corner and the two outer-rear corners (the others are not visible). Above the cornices are open-traceried balustrades with crenellated tops. The finials are plain, consisting of a base with moulded cornice, from which rises an obelisk. The tower spires are divided into six stages by moulded stringcourses, the lowest stage with four lucarnes; carved finials at the top, that to right carrying an elaborate iron cross. On the base of the west tower is a stone plaque inscribed THE / GREAT MEETING-HOUSE / WAS BUILT A.D. 1696. In a similar position on the east tower is a plaque inscribed THIS / PLACE OF WORSHIP / WAS ERECTED A.D. 1856. / E. M. W. ARCH. The rear (north) elevation is visible from the Ropewalk, and has a large three-light traceried window in the apse and a round traceried window at either side.

INTERIOR: the roof of the main body of the church is low-pitched with moulded beams and carved bosses; that of the apse has arch-braced trusses with open Gothic tracery in the spandrels. The galleries are carried on triple-shafted cast-iron columns and run the length of the east and west walls, and have Gothic timber-panelling to their fronts. All the walls are plastered and plain-painted. There are enclosed timber pews to the centre and side aisles, with Gothic panelling to the pew-ends and linen-fold panelling to their doors; the latter retain their pew numbers. The gallery and rostrum fronts have similar Gothic panelling, and the treads to the rostrum steps have tusked-tenon joints onto the string, akin to an Arts & Crafts-period detail. The organ at the north end has an elaborate timber Gothic case and was made for the church in 1863 by W Sweetland of Bath. Either side of the rostrum are timber panelled doors with Gothic details and decorative iron door furniture; adjacent to the east door is a marble memorial to Reverend Samuel Lavington and his wife Mary. Narrower examples of the doors are located at the north end of the galleries.

An inner porch at the south end is a modern addition, but continues the Gothic detailing in its glazed panels. Mounted on the inner porch is a large clock made by Ephraim Dyer of Bideford and is a relic of the Great Meeting House, for which it was made. C20 etched-glass double doors lead to the external porch.


Attached Primary Hall and schoolroom, originally built 1862; extended and possibly rebuilt or remodelled in 1923-1924.

MATERIALS: rubble stone construction with red-brick dressings (west section); schoolroom and Primary Hall constructed of a mix of rubble-stone and brick. Slate roofs with terracotta copings. PLAN: the extensions comprise three sections all rectangular in plan. The Primary Hall (1862 or remodelled 1923-1924) is accessed from doorways either side of the church’s apse; the schoolroom (1923-1924) is then to the north. To the west of the schoolroom a door leads to an inserted C20 corridor which in turn leads to a two-storey western wing (probably 1862).

EXTERIOR: the Primary Hall and schoolroom, and attached western wing, are of a plain and functional design. The western wing has a chamfered stone and red-brick plinth, and is three bays wide with gabled end bays. Each bay contains paired windows with red-brick dressings; those to the western gable have pointed heads. Ground-floor windows are timber casements and there is a panelled timber door at the west end; these probably date to the mid-C20. First-floor windows are metal casements with opening central lights. At the end of the range a late-C20 door within a sandstone-surround with keystone leads to the schoolroom. This elevation is constructed of a mix of rubble stone and red brick. The north elevation has four mullioned and transomed timber windows; the east elevation has a large C21 fixed casements at the upper level in the gable ends of the schoolroom and Hall. Due to the confined nature of the site, access to all elevations is not possible and the above description is not exhaustive.

INTERIOR: the two-storey western wing was remodelled in the C20 to create a corridor and kitchen on the ground floor; these areas have no features of special interest. A C20 staircase at the west end leads to a landing corridor with a boarded floor, with four small rooms off to the north. The rooms have simple timber-panelled doors set within chamfered architraves. At the east end of the landing is a further timber staircase with chamfered newel posts and an open-panelled baluster (probably 1862). Adjacent to the stairwell is a blocked three-light window with a timber lintel; this was probably blocked during the works to the schoolroom and Hall in 1923 or later.

The schoolroom and primary Hall are double-height, and approximately six-and-a-half bays east to west defined on the north side by windows as described above, and by trussed ceilings with iron cross-ties to both spaces. At the west end of the Hall is a C20 triangular roof-light in the hipped-gable end, below which is the inserted structure of the C20 corridor which contains C20 flush double-doors. Two identical C19 timber doors lead through to the north end of the church; these have decorative chamfered panelling and moulded architraves. The eastern bay of the schoolroom is partitioned off with a panelled-timber sliding screen (now fixed) with a later glazed partition above, and an identical bi-fold sliding screen in two parts can be used to separate the schoolroom and Hall. There are cast-iron columns to the break between the two spaces. Both spaces have timber matchboard dado panelling and timber mullion and transom windows with top-casements to the north wall, and C20 windows on the east elevation, as described above. The floors are boarded. Features from the historic ventilation system survive in the Hall. At the east end of the Primary Hall is a bronze plaque stating LAVINGTON PRIMARY HALL / AND SCHOOLROOM EXTENSION / ERECTED 1923. / TO THE GLORY OF GOD / AND AS A / MEMORIAL TO COMMEMORATE / THE SACRIFICES MADE IN THE / GREAT WAR 1914-1918 / IN THE SAME YEAR THE FREEHOLD OF / THE CHURCH SITE WAS ACQUIRED FROM / THE FEOFEES OF BIDEFORD LONG BRIDGE.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Stell, C, An Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting Houses in South West England, (1991), 61
P Christie, Secret Bideford, 2015
Explore Churches: Lavington United Reformed Church, accessed 14/05/2020 from
Heritage Gateway: Devon and Dartmoor HER: HER Number: MDV79699 Lavington United Reform Church, Bridgeland Street, Bideford, accessed 14/05/2020 from
Bideford Weekly Gazette, ‘Lavington Chapel’, October 18 1859
Bridge Trust survey of lands (1745) (North Devon Record Office ref: 4272-1/1Folio1)
Devon and Exeter Gazette, April 16 1924, p5
Ordnance Survey, Bideford (Town Plan, 1888) (1:500)
Ordnance Survey, Devonshire (1889) (1:2500)
The Bideford Weekly Gazette, December 24 1861, p4


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 14 Feb 2006
Reference: IOE01/14348/24
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr John Warlow. Source Historic England Archive
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