A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE STRAND CHURCH
(formerly Dawlish United Reformed Church)
There was a parish church on the records in Dawlish from 1438, but no official nonconformist presence is known of until 1814. However, nonconformists held their first meeting in 1808, and started regular services in 1810, meeting in friends’ houses and then in a barn. In 1818 they formally covenanted to become a Congregational Church.
Ingram Cobbin, possibly their leader from about 1810, took on the immense task (as it was then) to raise the necessary £600 required to build a chapel in what was then known as Chapel Street (now Albert Street). This was opened for worship in 1814 with 25 members. There is a record in the baptismal register of 14 baptisms between 1815 and 1817, so it is safe to assume that the congregation was thriving and that services were held regularly. Thomas Comyn was their first minister.
There is a continuous record of ministers who served the church. In the early days this was usually for only two or three years but later for longer periods. In 1823 Thomas Collett, who had been trained at Hackney College, was ordained and served the church for 42 years. Under his leadership the church grew in numbers and in 1831 it was decided to join the Congregational Union of England and Wales.
In 1870 the present site was purchased for £900 for a new church, and the foundation stone of the building was laid in the same year. The entire cost of the new church was £3,000 and it was opened free from debt; it was dedicated on Thursday, 9th March 1871. Shortly after the church was built, a piece of land and store room towards the rear and side of the church was bought and the new school hall was built and opened in 1884. In 1877 a second-hand organ was bought from Gloucester Congregational Church. The old chapel was firstly used as livery stables, then a mission hall, then the Salvation Army headquarters and finally it became a cinema in 1920.
The church is built of lime stone in Gothic style which the builders used to increase space and height and it was of a lighter construction. It is 90 feet long and 36 feet wide. The capacity congregation was 350 people on ground floor and 150 in the gallery. The pulpit is of Bath stone. The broad spire is 100 feet high.
The financial accounts record the careful spending of money for the upkeep of the building, but also collections for the poor, widows and orphan and the London Missionary Society. In 1833 there was a collection for the Cottage Hospital and in 1929 for the Lord Mayor’s Fund for Miners.
During 2010 the church records were discovered, some pre-dating the move to the present building in 1871. These have been catalogued and are being kept by the County Record Office, pending a volunteer willing to begin to write a full history of the congregation.
Since 2010, major works have been completed to modernise the building and turn it into a multi-function space that can be used as a public resource for the people of Dawlish as well as place of worship: The pews have been replaced with moveable chairs and the platform in the apse made a lot smaller. There is now a cafe in the foyer and the Eastern entrance is being converted into a “Street Chapel”, here you will find a stone ‘altar’, a prayer board for where people can leave requests for intercession and a ‘candle tree’ for those who would like to light a candle as well as request a prayer. There is is a short weekly service held here on Tuesday mornings, in the Orthodox tradition, at which all the prayer requests are brought to God.
Eventually, there will also be a daily service conducted in the Chapel, with a liturgy created by the minister. This will take place at a different time to the Orthodox service, and the chapel will be open all day for private prayer.