Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 23, 2017.
Webpage updated: July 23, 2017




Sherwell Congregational Chapel, now known as Sherwell United Reformed Church, is still situated in Tavistock Road, Plymouth, just at the bottom of North Hill.

The Chapel was erected on the site of one of the Higher Grist Mill, which had been destroyed by fire in 1859.  The site was purchased in 1861 for 1,675 and the foundation stone of the Chapel was laid on Thursday September 4th 1862 by Mr David Derry, son of Mr Richard Derry, who had helped to build the old Norley Chapel.

An early drawing of Sherwell Congregational Chapel, Plymouth.

An early drawing of Sherwell Congregational Chapel,
from Doidge's Annual.

Sherwell was designed in the Gothic style by Messrs Paull & Ayliffe of Manchester and was built by Mr John Finch of Plymouth.   The Clerk of Works was Mr Simon Ockley.   It was built of limestone rubble and still has its 135 feet tall tower surmounted with a spire, reaching a total height of 150 feet.  The inside was divided into a nave and two aisles by two rows of iron columns, six inches in diameter, coupled transversely, with 3 inches between, and each pair thirteen feet apart.  There were side galleries and an end gallery over the front vestibule.

The internal dimensions were stated at the time of laying the foundation stone to be 53 feet wide by 94 feet 6 inches in length exclusive of the organ recess, which would add another 15 feet on to length.

A prayer meeting was held in the schoolroom at Norley Congregational Chapel at 7am on that Thursday morning, followed at 1pm by the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone.  A sealed bottle containing a parchment, a copy of each of three local newspapers, the Patriot, the Western Daily Mercury and the Western Morning News, and several coins was placed beneath the stone, which was then lowered into its place.  Mr Derry then applied the trowel, the mallet and the plumb and declared the stone to be well and truly laid.

Mr Alfred Rooker then read to the gathering the words that had been written on the parchment:  The chapel intended to be erected on this site by the Congregational Church founded in the year 1796, and at present worshipping in Norley Chapel, Plymouth, is dedicated to the glory of God, with fervent prayer for the Divine blessing.  The foundation stone of this building is laid this 4th day of September, 1862, by David Derry, Esq.  There then followed the names of the minister, deacons, architect and builder.

Many of those present gathered again at Norley Congregational Chapel at 3 that afternoon to enjoy a cold buffet provided at the expense of Mr Derry.

Sherwell Chapel was opened on September 22nd 1864 and the smaller Norley Chapel was then closed. The adjoining school was added in 1867.  It could accommodate 900 children.  The cost of the entire building is reputed to have been 13,000.

The Chapel took its named from the nearby Sherwell House, which stood on the opposite side of Tavistock Road.  It is said that the occupier of the House kept a peacock and in 1879 the secretary of the Church was instructed to write to him and request that he kept it muzzled during divine service.

As Sherwell preceded the erection of Truro Cathedral by a few years, it was apparently known for a while as the Cathedral of the West, because of its grand architecture.

In 1897-98 the adjoining public house, the "Dartmoor Inn", was acquired and demolished at a cost of 2,330.  The free land was then laid to grass, giving the location a more pleasant look.

In 1905 the Chapel opened a Mission Hall on the corner of Clare Street, Coxside.

A falling City Centre congregation has meant that the old Chapel has been turned over to a part of the University of Plymouth.  In 1972 the Congregational Church and the Presbyterians joined forces to form the United Reformed Church.

Sherwell United Reformed Church

On Sunday February 26th 1995 the congregation moved in to the new Sherwell United Reformed Church, which had previously been the Shelley Hall.  The minister at the time was the Reverend Ambrose Wright.

During 1994 the Hall had been renovated while services were held in the main hall of the University of Plymouth.  The limestone exterior had been cleaned and the Hall fitted with a new, glazed roof.  A brand new boat-shaped font, carved form an oak tree felled in Saltram Park, was installed.

Sherwell Congregational Mission Room, Mount Street

At some point, probably 1864 when the Norley Chapel was closed, the Sherwell Chapel took over responsibility for the Mount Street Mission Room.