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History of Loughwood Meeting House

wintery view across countryside with stone built thatched building and gravestones in foreground
Loughwood chapel and graveyard on a crisp winters day | © National Trust images/Meg Vallender

The history of Loughwood is a story of secrecy and persecution. The first known record of the chapel is in 1653 when a Baptist parish from nearby Kilmington sought an isolated place to worship. Find out more of its story up until it was handed to the National Trust in the 20th century.

Baptists meeting in safety

By deliberately constructing the building into a hill surrounded by woodland, Baptists hoped that they would be able to meet in safety at Loughwood. The meeting house may have been positioned on the county border to allow preachers to flee into the neighbouring county when threatened.

A dangerous time for Baptists

Attending a service was risky and guards were often stationed outside to warn of approaching soldiers. Tales recount how the congregation arrived one morning to find an armed soldier at the door, with orders to attack the first person attempting to enter.

Another story describes worshippers arriving to find a huntsman blowing a horn while hounds sniffed around the pews.

The inside of Loughwood Meeting House with white walls and wooden pews
Inside the Loughwood Meeting House | © National Trust / David Cousins

French refugees at Loughwood

Protestant refugees (Huguenots) fleeing persecution in France were crucial to the founding of Loughwood. A Huguenot named Jean de Phippen may have provided the site on which the meeting house was built. It is believed these refugees were nicknamed ‘French’, which they adopted as their surnames.

The mother church

As attitudes towards Baptists softened so Loughwood became a mother church creating new parishes in the region. In 1832 a new church was openly established in Kilmington and it retains close links with Loughwood.

Loughwood today

By 1969 damp and rot forced church services to move permanently to Kilmington Church and Loughwood was given to the National Trust to care for. A restoration programme was launched to halt the decay and restore the thatched roof which had been replaced with slate in 1871.

Outside the Loughwood Meeting House, Devon, in spring.

Discover more at Loughwood Meeting House

Find out when Loughwood Meeting House is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

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Things to do at Loughwood Meeting House 

Explore the historical features of Loughwood Meeting House, one of Britain's earliest surviving Baptist meeting houses, as well as what to see and do in the surrounding area.

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Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.