St. Lawrence Chapel was originally built around 1301 and was Bishop Stapledon’s chapel, dedicated to St. Lawrence and adjacent to his home in the town, sometimes referred to as his ‘palace’. In 1314, Bishop Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter, granted the chapel to the town of Ashburton on condition that prayers should be said for his soul. For this purpose, a chantry priest was appointed and the Guild of St. Lawrence founded around that time, to manage the chantry chapel’s affairs. Chantries were important in medieval life for secular and religious reasons. It was common for endowments to be made for educational and public services. The Guild of St. Lawrence had obligations to support a priest and probably supported a small school, although records do not confirm this until a reference in 1546 concerning payment of the priest responsible for education. The Guild was also responsible for maintaining the chantry chapel.
At the time of the Reformation most chantry chapels were forfeited to the Crown. However, in the case of St. Lawrence Chapel, the priest was teaching and his post was allowed to continue. The school was therefore spared.
At a later date, December 1594, the chapel was in the ownership of John Caunter. Records show that the school was supported by income from lands owned by the Guild. In 1596, the site was purchased by the parish. Endowments were gradually made to ensure the continuance of the school, now known as a Grammar School.
It remained a Grammar School right through to 1938, when the County Council took a decision to close it due to decreasing numbers of pupils and following the opening of new schools in Newton Abbot and Totnes. A County school continued to use the building until 1958 and it was used as a primary school until right up to the 1980’s.
In 1984 The Guild of St. Lawrence was re-formed and its first official meeting was held on 4th December 1984. Its purpose was to protect and preserve this ancient building, which was in danger of collapse through neglect. With the support of the Dartmoor National Park and finance from English Heritage, a major restoration was carried out in 1986. St. Lawrence Chapel is now a Heritage, Cultural and Community Centre, owned and run by The Guild of St. Lawrence.
Founded 1314. Owned by the Guild of St. Lawrence. Registered Charity number 290810
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