Roman Catholic Chapel, Yealmpton

The historian will find little documentary evidence towards the short-lived history of the Roman Catholic chapel at Yealmpton in the 1850s.

The Very Rev. George Oliver, D.D., Canon of the RC Diocese of Plymouth,  records in his wonderful tome “Collections illustrating the history of the Catholic religion in the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucester”, published in 1857 offers some of the most interesting information relating to the chapel and its benefactor, Mr Edmund Rodney Pollexfen Bastard, 1825-1856.

Oliver says:

About the time that England was maddened with the “No Popery” cry, November 1850, renewed by the restitution of the hierarchy, that calm observer and sincere inquirer after truth, Edmund Rodney Pollexfen Bastard, of Kitley, Esq., received the light of Catholic faith. Some months later he assisted at the solemn consecration by Cardinal Wiseman of Dr George Errington, appointed the new Bishop of Plymouth, at St John’s Cathedral, Salford, on 25th July 1851; and he accompanied his lordship into his diocese, entertaining him honourably at Kitley until the middle of October, when the worthy prelate was enabled to take up his quarters at St Mary’s, Stonehouse.

In his pious zeal, this new convert obtained a chaplain in the person of the learned and Very Rev. John Brande Morris, who had some years before embraced the Catholic faith. And, to extend the blessing of true religion, he converted a handsome structure, near Yealmpton parish church, originally intended by him for a parochial school, into a Catholic church. There Mass was first celebrated on Sunday, 4th July 1852; and I pray to Heaven that through the apostolic exertions of his minister, “aperiat Dominus gentibus ostium fidei.” – Acts xiv. 26.

Since writing the above, I have to regret that this honoured patron of religion has been taken away! He was born 7th September 1825; married Florence Mary Scroope, of the ancient family of Danby, November 1853; ob. 12th June 1856.

What quickly becomes clear is that the church at Yealmpton was in operation from 1852 until (presumably) shortly after the death of Bastard in 1856. The local press of the time making it clear that the local population at Yealmpton had not embraced Roman Catholicism!

The only source to provide a little description of the church, and provide information on its benefactor can be found in the form of Bastard’s funeral report from within pages of the Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse Herald, of Saturday 21 June 1858. This was not a paper sympathetic to the Catholic cause and its occasionally arcane, offensive tone is certainly not something I find comfortable reading. The report said:


Our obituary of this week records the death of Edmund Rodney Pollexfen Bastard, Esq., of Kitley, Yealmpton, in the 31st year of his age. The deceased was the eldest son of the late Edmund Pollexfen Bastard, Esq., who succeeded his uncle, and was one of the representatives of the county of Devon from 1816 to 1830. He was educated at Oxford, where he exhibited considerable talents, took high honours, and was much esteemed. Sometime after leaving college he came to reside at Kitley, much to the satisfaction of his numerous tenantry, who were delighted to find that their landlord was about to reside at his family seat.

Amongst other improvements Mr Bastard undertook to renovate Yealmpton Church, a very ancient structure, at a cost, we have been informed, of about £7000. The work has been carried out, and it is now one of the handsomest churches in the county. He also contributed most liberally to the local charities, and took a warm interest in all matters connected with the prosperity of the neighbourhood; and from his kindness of heart and amiability of disposition he endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact.

So far, this is an almost typical C19 obituary, but it continues:

Unfortunately a few years since, to the great grief of his family and friends, he became a pervert to the Roman Catholic Church. It was generally known that for some time prior he had been intimately connected with the Puseyite or Tractarian party in the church, and the result was that in his case, as in many others, the adoption of extreme views of that party paved the way for his subsequent desertion of the church of his fathers for that of the Roman fold. He subsequently married a lady of the same creed, established a Roman Catholic chapel in the village, and up to his death continued a zealous member of that faith. As he died without issue, his brother, Capt. Bastard succeeds to the family estates.

Such harsh language – but typical as any Puseyite scholar can testify from the mid-C19!

The obituary concludes with a report of the funeral:

His remains were brought from the Isle-of-Wight on Wednesday evening, and were immediately conveyed to Kitley.

The funeral took place on Friday, and was attended by the tenantry, the neighbouring gentry, &c. The body was taken from the mansion to the Roman Catholic Chapel, which had been prepared for its reception, and had a very sombre appearance. The building was hung with black Cobourg cloth, the altar, &c., being covered with black silk velvet. The usual service of the Church of Rome for the dead was performed with great solemnity; the priests, &c., from St Mary’s Chapel, Stonehouse, being in attendance.

The body was then taken from the chapel, and the service of the Protestant Church having been performed, his remains were interred in a vault in the burial ground attached to the church.

The hearse and coaches were supplied by Mr Bate of the Royal Hotel, and the funeral was served by Messrs. P. Adams & Co.

The final paragraph serves to hammer the final nail in the Catholic coffin!

The loss of Mr Bastard will no doubt be a death blow to the Roman Catholic establishment at Yealmpton. It has made little or no progress with the inhabitants; its followers are exotics, who will, no doubt, take their departure from the village now their prop is removed.




Requiescat in pace

© Graham Naylor