Charles’ ChurchPlymouth
2 Charles Cross
Devon PL4 0BA
 
 
In the middle of busy Charles Cross roundabout is the bombed out shell of a 17th century church. This is one building damaged in the Plymouth Blitz during the Second World War that has never been restored. This was no accidental oversight but a deliberate act.
 
The church has been left as a graphic reminder of the destruction and as a memorial to the 1200 local civilians killed during the bombing.
 
Charles’ church is Plymouth’s second parish church and is still consecrated although Charles parish services are now held at St Mathias. Visitors will notice that the building is not dedicated to a saint and there is an interesting reason for this.
 
Plymothians have always been independent people and good at getting their own way in things.
 
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A Catholic Minister in a Puritan Town
Although King Charles I was a Catholic monarch, Plymouth was a Puritan town. The King appointed a Catholic minister to the Parish Church of St Andrew but the assistant who helped with the sermons and other duties, was appointed by the town. Also the King would regularly interfere with the appointment of a Puritan assistant.
 
In 1734 the town decided to petition the King for the establishment of a second parish on the grounds that the town was growing so quickly. It wasn’t, but the town wanted a second church with a Puritan minister. The King delayed 7 years before signing the ‘Letters Patent’ in 1641. The legislation which passed through Parliament and was given Royal Assent allowed a very large parish to be created and ruled that it must have a different clergyman to that appointed to St Andrew’s.
 
King Charles insisted that the parish be named after him. Building started immediately but the Civil War intervened and the Royalist cause was lost. The church was completed after the Civil War but not dedicated until 1665 after King Charles II was restored to the throne.
 
The Bishop of Exeter wanted to make the dedication to ‘Charles, King and Martyr’ but Protestant Plymouth was not to be messed with. They insisted the church be named according to the 'Letters Patent' of 1641 signed in Charles’s own hand.
 
Firebrand Preacher Hawker
The most famous minister of Charles’ Church (from 1784-1827) was Dr Robert Hawker. He was sometimes called the "Star of the West", due to his superlative preaching that drew thousands to hear him speak for over an hour at a time.
 
He trained initially as a medical doctor and surgeon and joined the Navy but was so appalled at the brutal discipline meted out to sailors that he left and trained to become a minister. He was a bold Evangelical, caring and compassionate and much loved by his parishioners. He was active in education and did much to help the poor and needy.
 
His seafaring background religious life must have influenced his grandson the Rev. Robert Stephen Hawker, extraordinary vicar of Morwenstow.
 
Memorial Plaque
A plaque within the remains states:
'Charles Church Built 1641 Consecrated 1665 Completed 1708 Named in honour of King Charles I Ruined by enemy action, 21 March 1941 Partially restored 1952, by the City in co-operation with the Ministry of Works'. The idea of restoration having been sponsored by the Old Plymouth Society, as a memorial to those citizens of Plymouth who were killed in air-raids on the City in the 1939-1945 War' 
 
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Google Map - Charles' Church