In 1796 the ship in which two Irish preachers,Adam Averell and Matthias Joyce, were returning from the Conference in Bristol, had to take shelter from storms for a week in Ilfracombe harbour. Averell took the opportunity to preach in the Ropewalk despite the opposition they encountered from the vicar. But the earliest reference to a Methodist society in the town is in 1808, the result of an initiative of the Rev. William Beal, then stationed in Barnstaple. A society was formed, meeting at first in a boat-shed, then in the gallery of the Independent Chapel. In 1830 the Ilfracombe society was still described as 'feeble', but was given a boost by the Rev. John Smith, with membership rising from 16 to 70 by 1833 when the first chapel was opened. The arrival in the town of William Shippary, a landed gentleman from Berkshire, gave them moral and financial support.

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The chapel opened in 1833 was 'a small barnlike building near the sea', in Ropery Meadow, now a putting green in Jubilee Gardens. It was replaced in 1864 by a second chapel on the same site, designed by the Barnstaple architect Alexander Lauder. supported by a grant of £300 from the Watering Places Fund.

By 1887 the society had risen to 213 and eventually, with the growing popularity of Ilfracombe as a seaside resort, the present Gothic church was built in 1898 on a new site in Wilder Road, obtained by an exchange of sites with the local Council. Designed by a local Methodist architect, W.H. Gould, JP, it owed its existence largely to the energetic initiative of the Rev. John Pellow, minister from 1894 to 1898, including an extra year approved by Conference specifically to enable him to see the scheme through).

Initially in the Exeter Circuit, the society became part of the Barnstaple Circuit in 1811 and eventually the head of a separate circuit in 1869.

Notable among the names of later ministers are those of Kenneth L. Waights (1930-1931), F. Howell Everson (1955-1960) and J. Russell Pope (1976-1979).

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The post-war years saw increasing co-operation with the URC congregation in High Street (now the Lantern Community Centre). As a result, in September 1987 the two congregations were united in the Wilder Road premises, now known as Emmanuel Church. Modernisation of the interior in the 1990s made for their much more versatile use.

A Bible Christian chapel in Oxford Grove closed in 1936, following Methodist Union, the congregation joining with that of Wilder Road.

  • Leslie Hayes, A Short Account of the History of the Wilder Road Methodist Church, Ilfracombe (1968)
  • Crossing the Meadow: the Wilder Road Centenary 1898-1998