The original settlement was based on its market and local industries. The arrival of the railway in 1846 brought with it many hundreds of employees as well as extensive locomotive and carriage maintenance works. More recently much of the railway premises became redundant, some being occupied by the publishers David & Charles.
Methodism reached the town about 1770, when a Mr. Richards, a Cornishman, gathered a group to meet in his house. In August 1789 two women of the group, Mary Rowe and Susanna Walling, walked to Exeter to hear Wesley preach on his last visit. When Richards left the area, Mary Rowe became the Class Leader and also preached. In 1801 a Methodist minister met the two women by chance. In 1804 another minister came and preached in the open air and the house services continued. The first chapel was built in Mill Lane in 1817, replaced by a larger one in 1848 in Courtenay Street. This in turn was replaced in 1868 by a larger chapel, seating 1,100, and Sunday School premises, elsewhere in the same street. This was used until 1966, when the congregation joined with the former Bible Christian congregation in a new church built on their site in The Avenue. The Wesleyan building in Courtenay Street has been demolished.
The town expanded with the building of housing estates and in 1909 the Wesleyans opened a second chapel seating 150 in Keyberry Road. This closed in 2015.
The Free Methodists built a chapel in Courtenay Street in 1854, seating 400. It closed about 1915, when the congregation joined the former Bible Christians at Jubilee Chapel.
The Bible Christians were strong in North West Devon, but had just three circuits on the South Devon coast, one of which, Newton Abbot, by 1907 was comprised of just Jubilee Chapel and a small country chapel, with a total circuit membership of just 93. Jubilee Chapel, opened in 1865, together with a minister's house, was built at the junction of The Avenue and Queen Street.
By the 1960s two town centre Methodist chapels could not be maintained. Jubilee Chapel was demolished and a new church was built on the site, bringing together the former Wesleyans from Courtenay Street and the former Bible Christians as a single congregation. In 1984 they were joined by many of the congregation of the Congregational/URC church whose large limestone building in Queen Street was closed and sold.
The last Methodist chapel to be built in the town was opened in 1975 in Shaldon Road and continues to thrive.
Entry written by: RFST
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