The first St Michael’s church 1843-1941
Much rightly is made of the 22nd April each year. This was the day in 1941 when so much of Devonport was razed to the ground, and although the years pass, there are still so many folk with memories of this occasion, and the town itself still bears the scars.
St Michael’s itself is part of that story, although its story is little told. Four bombs destroyed the site and the debris blocked the main London to Penzance railway line behind the church. A church member who had been evacuated to Cornwall but still worked in the city was unable to travel into Plymouth because, as she would say later, “her church was sitting on the railway line”.
We have very little to remind us of the old church. We have the original foundation plaque from 1843; three memorials to two former vicars and a Victorian mayor of Devonport; the roll of honour from WW1, and not an awful lot else. We would love to have more information and memories of the first church.
St Michael’s is also part of the post-war story of Devonport. Unlike many churches it was rebuilt, and the work started in 1951. Yet as with so much of Devonport, money was tight and the construction methods were poor. Over the years the water seeped into the walls to such an extent the heating and the electrics were condemned, and eventually (and with a heavy heart) the decision was made to demolish the second church on the site – just in the same way so much else of post-war Devonport has had to be demolished for redevelopment.
So on 22nd April 2007 – 66 years to the day after the first church was destroyed, the last service was held in the second St Michael’s – and soon it was reduced to a pile of rubble.
But the story of St Michael’s, just like that of Devonport, is of a community that refuses to die. The third church opened on the site on 31st May 2009, a modern building, which also seeks to capture the extraordinary history of St Michael’s, with at its centre a cross made from the roof timbers of the previous church.
The story of St Michael’s is a story of survival against the odds, very much in tune with the story of the local community. Next year it will be 175 years since the foundation stone of the first church way back in 1843. Today St Michael’s is by God’s grace a growing community seeking very much to reconnect with the local area . We want to tell the story of the church because we have common roots with the people we serve, and we look forward with confidence to being part of the story of Devonport for many years to come.