The origins of Whipton Chapel date back to the early years of this century. At this time Whipton was a small hamlet of some 60 houses, mainly situated on the Exeter Taunton road, along what is now Whipton Village Rd. There was another part known as Higher Village, reached by turning right into Hill Lane at the cross roads in the village and this led up to Whipton Barton Farm and on under the railway bridge to Heavitree.
In Honeylands, a large and imposing house at the end of the village, lived Mr Hare the squire seclusion. Two lodges stood, one at the top the other at the bottom, near Polsloe Bridge at the end of a long drive leading to the house. Mr Hare was driven to Exeter every morning in a horse drawn carriage by a top hatted coachman. Apart from these occasions he was seldom seen by the villagers and was somewhat feared by all. It was a daring person who would trespass on his estate. On the other hand, his two daughters were devout church workers and very kind ladies who made themselves responsible for many of the needs of the villagers.
At the other end of the village stood The Cottage, still thatched even today, in which a kindly gentleman lived named Samuel Ingram, who was the County Surveyor. The Cottage was a contrast to Honeylands because everyone, especially children, was welcome and seldom sent away unrewarded, usually with a bunch of flowers. He just could not say NO. Mr Ingram was the proud owner of the only car in the area and employed a uniformed chauffeur to make his new form of transport as dignified as the old. It was on Mr Ingram's instructions that that the first go slow sign was erected, very near The Mede, then known as Drunken Bridge. Present day drivers would have wondered if there was any need for such a sign if they had ridden in his car.
Up in Higher Village on the site of the present old people's home stood a large farm house called Whipton Barton, with it's outbuildings and land surrounding the village, forming part of Lord Poltimore's estate. In 1901, a Christian farmer, George Alford, took over the tenancy and came to live there with his family. Some years later when the estate was sold he became the owner. Whipton in those days was a part of Heavitree Rural District Council before it was all annexed by Exeter Corporation.
There was no public transport in Whipton. George Alford used a pony and trap to get around. Others had to walk to Cemetery Avenue to catch a horse drawn tram if they wanted to go into Exeter. Polsloe Bridge Halt came much later. There were few public amenities in the village. There was a small infant school and a small shop on the corner of Hill Lane, not particularly well stocked. The village had two Inns. The gas mains had been laid and supplied a few houses but there was no electricity. Some houses had mains water but those not connected used the village well and pump. There were two Blacksmith's Shops in the village for serving as sorting houses for the local gossip) and a Post Office, it being alleged the post mistress was semi-illiterate.
The parish church came under the control of the Vicar of Heavitree and stood alone in anendeavour to present spiritual values to the community. It's impact on the village would have been small but for the devoted services of the Misses Hare. One of these ladies gave her attention to the organ and choir, the other to visitation and in that way kept in close touch with almost every home, presenting the church in respects of christening and confirmation. Their many deeds of kindness added weight to their witness. These ladies also conducted a morning Sunday School before the church service but it was not very well attended. Apart from this nothing was done among young people.
Mr & Mrs George Alford were in fellowship with Fore St Gospel Hall in Exeter where they attended every Sunday with their family, travelling in their pony and trap. There was also a brother in fellowship named Mr Marsom, a bookseller, who became very concerned about the spiritual welfare of the Whipton children.
In the summer of 1906, with the help of a Mr Charlie afternoons on the lawn at Whipton Barton Farm. These meetings continued for two or three years A prominent worker at those early s later, that a ringleader among a troublesome element was the Alford eldest son, Albert. Little did the family think that this boy would be the prime mover in a permanent work to commence a few years later.
This phase of the work came to an end because of Albert's serious illness, which continued for some years and caused him much suffering and to become a cripple for the remainder of his life. Miss Hare was a frequent visitor over this village. They were often in distress on account of poverty and sickness. One of the sought to remedy, but because of his period and brightened many hours for him for it was during this time that he came to know Christ as Saviour who gave him a younger This illness, which humanly speaking brought Albert so much loss, was a great blessing with a desire to tell others about their spiritual need. In 1913, a new family called Buck arrived in the boys, Charlie Buck, seldom want to school and, although 10 years of age, could neither read nor write. Albert became very interested in Charlie, not only because of his illiteracy, which he te ignorance of simple Bible stories. Perhaps there were other children like Charlie who did not know about Jesus why not start a Sunday School? Albert had his eye on a large disused room in the farm house, just the place to start a work. But Albert's father had some misgivings about this laudable project. Would his cripple son find it too taxing or soon tire of the novelty and leave it to him to carry on? Past probability gave him reason for these misgivings and he was, no doubt, aware of his own limitations in this kind of work. However he gave his consent, if somewhat reluctantly, and some children were invited. Half a dozen came. The villagers were a little taken back because religious services were the monopoly of The Church. But the boy on crutches, who they knew had been desperately ill for so long, had won their hearts and soon they were giving their son permission to attend and numbers steadily increased. George and John Alford joined the venture. A girls class was then started on Friday afternoons by Kkatie Alfard (later to married Mr Arthur Kingdon of Bridford Mills. She died only last year aged 93). This soon grew into a large class and several girls professed conversion. The church became rather troubled about this turn of events and decided that they too must commence a afternoon Sunday School of their own. However only a few children left the farm Sunday School, the progress of which was maintained. Albert never regained his health and was called home to be with the Lord in 1917. The question may well be asked whether the work would have started but for his poor health During the First World War a weeknight study group was commenced when young people met to knit "comforts for the troops followed by a short Bible study. A later development was a Sunday evening service in the farmhouse which soon became well attended, many coming who would never have entered a church building. Mr Jack Harris, later a missionary in Mexico and Mr Charles McEwen the evangelist gave considerable help in this new venture. With the ending of the war the first of the council estates was built, between the village and Polsloe Bridge. It was dubbed "Chinatown" by the locals. This development brought a great influx of people and soon the Sunday School was overflowing with children, numbers in the farmhouse reaching over 100. Providentially the need for teachers was met by the Exeter Fellowships. At the farm, room after room was invaded, a corridor was brought into service and even a bedroom was used. The need for Bible study was now apparent so a Bible Teaching Meeting was started in the Whipton Institute building with speakers drawn from the surrounding district Evening Gospel Meetings were started by Mr Hitchman and continued until the opening of the ap It became clear that a permanent building was necessary and this need was met by Mr George Alford who for some time had in mind a building as a memorial to his deceased son Albert. Mr Alford gave the site and met the cost of building, the work being carried out by a Christian builder, Mr Fred Wakeham. The building was erected in part of a field where the Village Church was situated next to the Infants School and it became known as Chapefeld. A footpath went from the top churchyard gate across the field (where soon was to be constructed the Whipton By-pass later part of the main Pinhoe Road) to Whipton Barton Farm. Another path led in the other direction to Honeylands. Albert's grave is just inside the church gate The building, known as Chapelield Hall, was opened in 1931 before a large gathering from many areas. The speakers at the op Both were well known in Assembly circles, Mr Pester as one of the leaders of Fore St meeting were Mr Fred Pester and Mr Fred Glove Gospel Hall, convenor of the Exeter Half Yearly Meetings held for many years in the Civic Hall and a helper in the growing work at Whipton over the years. Mr Glover was an evangelist and conducted a children's mission on the opening of the chapel.
The Lord was pleased to prosper the work and a good number of younger people were willing to help. The first Sunday in the chapel was 26th April 1931. 14 were present and within 12 months numbers rose to 23 and from thence built up steadily. There was a good team of Sunday School and Youth Workers and, besides the Sunday Gospel Service, there were junior and senior clubs for both boys and girls. In 1959 there were 135 in fellowship at the chapel and it was clear more space was required for the expanding work. It was therefore decided by the Trustees and Elders, lead by the Assembly Secretary Mr Bill Steer, to build a new hall backing on to the existing one with the entrance on Pinhoe Road. Sir John Laing was involved, giving help in advice and encouragement, and as was his usual practice matched local giving pound for pound up to £1000. Other local Christians gave generously. The total cost of the new hall was £6821-5s-1d. The building work was again carried out by Mr Fred Wakeham, one of the most able builders in the district. The opening date was 26th May 1961. Sir John Laing was to have been present at the opening but unfortunately he was unable to attend because of ill health. The new hall wasalso called Chapelfield Hall but this was changed in 1964 to Whipton Chapel.
One feature of the new hall was the "Covvie Den', an upstairs room over the entrance lobby designated for youth work. It was here Boys Covenanter groups met, both Sundays and Fridays, under the leadership of Mr Don Maxwell, Mr Leon Davey and others. In 1962 a Girls Covenanter group was formed and ran with considerable success under the leadership of Miss Mary Howard and Mrs Winifred Alford. Other helpers included Joyce Cox, Vera lsaac and Barbara Davey. By 1965 the number of girls attending had grown to 80. The enlarged premises were again proving too small so the Institute was again brought into use. The Sunday School work also expanded by having a class in the Recreation Hut in Bennett Square.
it was an attractive sight to see Duffy Finch, leader of the Infant Class in Sunday School, rounding up 20 or more 3- and 4-year olds on Sunday afternoons and bringing them over the pedestrian crossing to the chapel. I hope Duffy will meet many of them in heaven