Ilsham Chapel dates back to Saxon times and the Canons of Torre Abbey

Torbay Weekly

The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Ilsham Chapel - Stoodley Knowle site

The blue plaque featured this week is likely to have been viewed by few people in modern times, due to it having been placed on a small church dating back to Saxon times built by the Canons of our Torre Abbey.

Ilsham Chapel was created as a place of solitary retreat comprising three rooms on two floors within the chapel, itself in a farmyard setting which we understand was later occupied in some way by those owning the farm.

By the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the 16th century, the property was in the hands of the Ridgeway family until in 1768 they sold the whole estate to Sir Robert Palk.

It remained farmland until eventually the great grandson of Sir Robert in 1855 went bankrupt.

Now the renamed Ilsham Grange was purchased by William Kitson until later the working farm land and its huge estates fell into disuse, when a large private house was built on the land.

This was eventually turned into Stoodley Knowle Junior Convent Schools for Girls, having a main access road from the top of Ilsham Road, with an exit road at the far end of the estate.

Throughout some four centuries the old Ilsham Chapel survived, although it was rarely used.

Today, of course, the building has been formally listed and although the Stoodley Knowle Independent Girls School run by the Sisters of Les Filles de la Croix from 1924 was purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese Plymouth, they eventually sold all the grounds and buildings having permanently closed them in 2015.

Now a property developer, Bristol-based PG Group, purchased the estate before commissioning Exeter-based Kensington Taylor Architects to create a new development which will see numerous superior homes and apartments being built, while the listed building and chapel will be kept but all other buildings including the new chapel will be demolished.

Torbay Civic Society with a long connection to Stoodley Knowle, had erected one of our earliest blue plaques on the medieval chapel wall in 1987.

Later, during my chairmanship, we arranged a highly successful English Heritage open day event in 2004 following Sister Benignus giving me access to the whole property estate and buildings for members of the public and our society to visit.

We also took the opportunity to have the Ilsham Chapel opened for a few of my committee to see - it having been closed and sealed for a number years on health and safety grounds.

Finally, we noted that a still 'unknown' person had years previous seen fit to remove the blue plaque from its position on the side of the chapel door at the top of the steps, to a new site - a new wall adjacent to the chapel.

Our hope today is that when all the new building development is complete, the owner will allow us to return to the plaque to its rightful place as part of the old medieval listed chapel.

Our blue plaque of 1987 states: 'Along this lane is Ilsham Chapel, originally an oratory of the premonstratensian monks in England - used by the Canons of Torre Abbey - c 1230-1639'.

The society correctly acknowledged that the sponsorship had come via the Sisters of Stoodley Knowle Convent School following a visit by my predecessor, Mrs Ena Hocking, then chairman of the TCS.

Some 17 years later I was similarly privileged to meet Sister Benignus and her staff while making the arrangements for the open English Heritage days which took place on September 11 and 12, 2004.

The original pamphlet produced by Torbay Council with photographs of Ilsham Chapel which provided courtesy of Torquay Natural history Society, text written by Frank Cawson and produced by Denis Walton. Sadly this publication is out of print although the text and a map is available.

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