The parish church of St John the Evangelist is the second church to bear that name, not only in Ivybridge but in the same churchyard.
The foundations of the old chapel of St John can still be seen just above ground level to the right of the gates of the churchyard, on a large area of grass devoid of graves. Ashes from cremations are located in this portion and the stones do not follow straight lines, a consequence of having to avoid the foundations. The original entrance gates are still in evidence in the south east corner.
The original chapel of ease, a building of Georgian architecture, was built in 1789 at a cost of £800 on ground donated by Sir Frederick L. Rogers. Such chapels provided more accessible places of worship where existing parish churches were far away. The nearest parish churches would have entailed a walk of around 3 miles.
Later, in 1835 the chapel was enlarged to meet the needs of the growing population. The chapel, together with the burial ground, was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Exeter in October 1835 and officially recognised by the Diocesan Authorities. The first baptism took place on 11 October 1835 and the first burial on 14 January the following year. In 1836 the Ecclesiastical District of Ivybridge was formed from parts of the neighbouring parishes. The first marriage took place on 17 December 1837. From April 1838, it was decreed that the chapel should henceforth be known as the Church of St. John the Evangelist.
Due to the very low remuneration offered, Ivybridge had a series of curates during the ensuing period but the arrival of Rev. George William Anstiss in 1872 marked a period of stability. The Rev Anstiss inherited a well-appointed parsonage which had been built when Rev. Richard Pering Cornish was curate between the years 1855 and 1862. With initial financial assistance from William Cotton and built on land donated by Lady Blachford, Rev. Cornish went on to substantially improve the property, spending around £7,000, ‘the house and surrounding grounds displaying no ordinary taste’. When he resigned from his position, he was under obligation to sacrifice the property as well. The Rev. George Anstiss chose not to live at the parsonage but instead, according to the census of 1881, resided at 2 Station Road and later at 5 Erme Terrace (census 1891). Perhaps he felt uncomfortable living is such opulent surroundings and chose somewhere more modest and in keeping with the post. Alternatively, as it seems the parsonage was rented out during his incumbency, it could have been another method to raise funds for the church. George Anstiss was to remain in the village for the next 37 years, only infirmity in old age forced him to retire on 14 October 1909 and he sadly died less than a year later in August 1910.
The Rev. Anstiss realised that the church structure was in a poor state of repair, desperately needing a new roof, whilst the congregation believed the chapel was unsuitable for enlargement to meet the demands of the increasing population. With the strenuous efforts of Rev. Anstiss, together with the support of Lord Blachford, the Lord of the Manor, a fund was opened to finance the building of a new parish church. By 1881, with the church building fund reaching £2,000, work commenced just west of the old church. The foundation stone was laid by Lord Blachford on 8th June with the assistance of the architect Mr Hine and the builder Mr Finch. Mr Hine deposited a bottle containing the Western Morning News and the Western Daily Mercury and the order of that day’s service in a cavity under the stone. Lord Blachford using a specially inscribed trowel to mark the occasion, spread a quantity of mortar and lowered the foundation stone into place.
He then proceeded in making a speech which helps to paint a picture of Ivybridge at the time