Our Parish is made up of people from all walks of life and from many different nations. We love diversity and we love to see new people. We really hope that you will feel right at home. Our Sunday mornings begin with a warm welcome and an invitation to join in celebrating the good news about Jesus. Our worship is dynamic and lively with a mix of older hymns and more contemporary songs as we seek to lift up His name together. We expect God to meet with us and speak to us.
We are also very active in our local community working alongside other agencies as well as running our own projects as an expression of the love of God in a practical way.
History of the Church
Stoke Damerel is one of the the oldest churches in the Plymouth area. There was possibly a building on the site before the time of the Norman Conquest, and documentary evidence for its existence dates back to the 13th century. The earliest visible part of the present day church is the tower which was built in the 15th century. Most of the rest of the building dates from the 18th century. Officially the church is not dedicated to any saint, but two early carved figures now in the South Porch are believed to represent St Andrew and St Mary who may have some special connection with the church.
The population of Stoke Damerel grew rapidly at the beginning of the 18th century due to the building of the Dockyard. Soon the church became too small for all the people who wished to worship there, so it had to be enlarged. In 1715 the church was extended to the south. The southern colonnade now stands on the base of that wall. In 1750 it was further extended to the south so that, unusually, the nave is now wider than it is long. As this building work was carried out for the benefit of Dockyard employees, the Admiralty was asked to help pay for the work. No money was forthcoming but, according to tradition, payment was given in kind, and a variety of components from ships were used in the construction. This may be so, or it may be that Dockyard labourers were used for the work, and they used building techniques they had learned in shipbuilding, which produced similar results.
The church is known to have had four bells in 1553, but by 1788 three of these were cracked. The congregation wished to replace them with a peal of six bells but the rector wanted them to be recast into a single tenor bell because ‘six bells would be productive of more idleness and drunkenness than is in the parish already………’! He was overruled and the new bells were first rung as King George III drove past in 1789. These bells were replaced, again, by a peal of eight smaller bells in 1977.
Stoke Damerel Church is connected with a number of colourful characters and historical incidents. In 1733 Bampfylde-Moore Carew married Mary Grey there. He was the son of a clergyman and had thus received a respectable upbringing. He exchanged this for a more bohemian lifestyle which shocked his contemporaries, eventually becoming ‘King of the Gypsies’.
In 1788 the churchyard was the scene of the murder of Dockyard clerk Philip Smith. His murderers, one of whom was motivated by revenge as Smith had dismissed him from his job, were hanged at Exeter. Their bodies were then returned to Stoke Damerel where they were suspended in iron cages until they rotted away, a process which took seven years.
In the early 19th century the church at Stoke Damerel was still in an isolated position in spite of the growing population, and it was surrounded by a high wall. This made it ideal for body snatchers who disinterred corpses form the graveyard and sold them for medical research. In 1830 a gang which had worked there for some time was caught by the parish constable. Two complete bodies, many teeth and a quantity of grave clothes were recovered, and the grave robbers were transported to Botany Bay.
The churchyard achieved further notoriety in 1871, by which time it had become full to overflowing. Action had to be taken after complaints about the smell were received from the nearby Military hospital. It was closed and replaced by a new burial ground and chapel in Milehouse. Then, in the 1960s, it was landscaped and turned into a public open space. Most of the old headstones were placed round the walls or laid out as paths, and the remains of those buried there were re-interred at Efford.
So the church at Stoke Damerel has developed over more than thousand years from a small rural chapel, though its heyday which coincided with that of the Dockyard, to its present position as a major city church with a wealth of unique historical and architectural interest.
All of these items are available in the Local and naval Studies department of Plymouth Central Library:
Anson, T G. Stoke Damerel Parish Church, Devonport; an essay.
Gray, Patricia. The haunt of grave-robbers and murderers: the history of Stoke Damerel Church, Devonport.
Power, W J. A layman’s view of some Plymouth churches. Part 1. 1977.