Our history

Over 350 years and still going strong.

OldChurchBuildingImageRobert Collins, a vicar from Talaton, joined other clergy in defying the political control exerted over the church in the 17th century. In 1662 he started an independent church of dissenters, meeting in the family home, Chanters House. You will find it just across the west wall of the parish church graveyard.

It cost him dearly. He was fined, imprisoned in Exeter Gaol, suffered a breakdown and eventually forced into exile in Holland for his faith in Jesus. On his return to Ottery, in 1688, he found that a church had been built as a meeting place for his congregation. It is one of the oldest non conformist churches in England and a grade II listed building.

Following the death of Robert Collins in 1697 the Revd. John Walrond became the Minister. He is remembered on the wall plaque to the side of the pulpit, alongside John Lavington and Samuel Buncombe.

Western College Plaque on the eastern wall inside the sanctuary.

The Test Act prevented Non-Conformists gaining a degree from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and although some Dissenters Academies had been established such training was not available in the South West. In response to this problem, following a meeting in Exeter of Congregational Ministers, a new Dissenters Academy, later called Western College, was established in 1752 and based in Ottery St Mary under the tutelage of the Revd. John Lavington.

The 19th Century was a period of great change both in England and Ottery St Mary. The Church went through some turbulent times. During this period the Church affiliated with the Congregational Union

Between 1814 and 1893 a number of new building projects started including the new schoolroom at the rear of this church. These were needed to cope with the growing number of church members. In 1842.the original pulpit was removed and a new organ was installed.

During the 1870s the church experienced very mixed events. The average church attendance declined and in 1881 there was no money to pay for fuel to heat the church which brought about the end of week night meetings.

Nevertheless, in the last quarter of the century it was recorded that the Sunday School had 150 scholars and 22 teachers. A new Organ was installed, two new gas stoves replaced the old coal stove, the old box pews and gallery were removed (1899) and the present semi-circular pews were put in place.

At the beginning of the 20th century the church was still struggling with multiple issues with ministers. To meet debts, various properties, including some cottages in Batts Lane, were sold. However the day to day records of the church improved and are documented in a booklet by Gladys Tucker, which has been republished.

The Second World War saw the building being used for food distribution and also as a respite center for those impacted by the bombing in Exeter and Plymouth. In 1954 the lower floor school room was used by the Primary Day School.