St Edward’s Church, Shaugh Prior

The Parish Church of St Edward, King and Martyr, Shaugh Prior is a beautiful moorland church. Its ancient walls have seen many generations of my own family enter the church building for baptisms, marriages and funerals. The parish is located just outside of the City of Plymouth and still benefits from an aspect of rural charm.

St Edward’s Church, Shaugh Prior (2015)

In 1851 the noted local surgeon and antiquary, John Cremer Bellamy (1812-1854) published within the local press a history of St Edward’s. Bellamy was clearly something of an historian; his research being methodical and thorough into the history of the parish and the church. Of special interest to me are the paragraphs specifically about the church.

St Edward’s Church is an interesting building with a general lack of internal monuments and memorials but with some stunning stained glass and a very impressive octagonal wooden font cover. Bellamy’s report from 1851 contains information about the church, including internal features which, from memory, no longer exist. Of great interest to the modern historian, from Bellamy are the details of an old Altar-stone or Altar-slab then inserted into the floor of the south aisle. This was probably the Altar-stone from the period prior to the Reformation. If so, it is (was?) remarkably important – as Bellamy says.

What follows are Bellamy’s words with modern photographs taken by me.

In the phraseology of the ancient church system, Shaugh, as a dependent of Plympton Priory is styled a “chapel”.

At the dissolution of the monasteries, William Slanning became the purchaser of the manor from the crown, and from him the property passed through the same series of ownerships as did Bickleigh, Buckland, Walkhampton, &c., on to the present time, when Sir Ralph Lopes is found their lord.

At the dissolution, or rather in 1547, Edward granted the entirety of the “spiritual” possessions of the Priory of Plympton to the Dean and Canons of Windsor, comprising tithes with patronage. The tithes are, however, at this moment, the lessees having the nomination and payment of the “Perpetual Curate”, whose income is, also, assisted by “Queen Anne’s Bounty”, and a residence adjoining the church.

Shaugh is comprised in the Deanery of Plympton and Archdeaconry of Totnes.

Now Bellamy gets into the detail of the church itself:

The plan of the church is sufficiently simple: – a shallow chancel not distinguished in height from the rest of the building, a nave, an aisle on either side, a very large and elegant tower of three stages, at the termination of the nave, and a south-west porch (of good dimensions), giving, with the tower door, two entrances.

The interior of St Edward’s Church, Shaugh Prior (2015)

The small projection from the north wall for the stairs of the Rood Loft remains, but the screen itself has disappeared.

There was formerly much painted glass in the chancel window; a pane bearing the shield of the Priory of Plympton is all that now remains through negligence and the efforts of the storm elsewhere noted, and that has been removed to the modern south window of the chancel.

The font dates from an earlier era than the “Perpendicular”, being quite plain like some of the “Early English” and “Decorated” times. It is of Porphyry and octagonal. Its wooden cover or canopy is however “Perpendicular”. It is elaborately, though not well carved with oak and foliage and fruit, and with human figures at the top angles. The original cover was, no doubt, from the marks yet left, a flat one with padlock.

Font and wonderful font cover

A broken projecting piece of stone at the south-west angle of the chancel is judged to have sustained, originally, a figure of the Church’s patron saint, St Edward.

The stoup, piscina and sedilia are all destroyed: a cutting for a “Debased” window abolished the two latter in the south wall of the chancel.

Surmise has not done much in explanation of a squared and elevated recess in the north wall of the chancel; but we may, here, risk the supposition of its once serving as a cupboard for the security of the sacramental vessels and the like. At the west end of the south aisle are some remnants of the old open oak seating, claiming, certainly no antiquity than, if so great as, the “Perpendicular” additions elsewhere spoken of.

East window of chancel, Shaugh Prior (2015)

A Greek cross, crosslet, ornaments on the gable of the south aisle, and a wheel cross that of the chancel.

The porch has a ceiling supported by a groin of two intersecting porphyritic arches, one of which at one end has a human head. Over the porch is a room unoccupied, reached by some stone steps from the interior; it is a parvise, but its lowness makes it difficult to suppose the priest ever used it. The tower has six bells.

South west porch, Shaugh Prior (2015)

There are bossed ceilings to each division of the church, and besides the commoner devices, throughout of leaves, heads &c., the chancel and north aisle present us with the two keys and sword – the shield of the Priory to which the church was attached. These ceilings are not numerous; they look like knotted net-works spread overhead and are almost ever sculptured at the knotted points with grotesque heads, devices of foliage or arms of church benefactors. The cornice and ribs of the framework in the north aisle are sculptured with vine and oak foliage; those of the nave and south aisle are plain. The squared divisions in the south ceiling are parallelograms; those of the nave and north ceiling are nearly equal sided.

The risings towards and in the chancel, are altogether four in number; the first constitutes a stage about three feet wide, and simply relieves the ascent to the intra-cancellated  part; the second is the stage on which the cancellated or “tabernacle” work rested; the third, is a square platform, just in advance of, and running back into the chancel, but not reaching sideways to the aisles; and the fourth is a small square in the chancel, enclosed by rails on three sides, on which the minister stands and moves in the office of communion. The general ascent which, in this way, the floor of the church has from about its middle, is met in another portion of the architecture, namely, the height of the shafts of the two series of arches, which at the east end of the church are shorter than those at the west. The parallel of this is seen in Wembury church. The small square chancel platform is not an original erection; the tombs in it are dated at the earliest juncture of the 18th century, and it rests on a tomb dated 1661.

The most remarkable item in Shaugh Church is an Altar-slab of porphyry, having on it the customary five small crosses (crosses with crosslets) set symmetrically. It now lies in the floor of the east division of the south aisle. It is about two feet broad and rather above five feet long; its surface is not smoothened. The extreme rarity of this article of ancient Church-furniture should induce the proper authorities to have it restored, as at St Columb, setting it in a wooden or other framework, and adopting it instead of the present table, which is excessively poor.

The existing parish registers commence their dated in 1565, a date unusually early for these documents, though the Landulph and Bere Ferrers dates begin in 1540, being two years after Cromwell, a Vicar-General, ordered their being kept.

Of great interest to family historians are the details of memorials in the church (some of which no longer exist?):


Charles MARSHALL, 1726

Ellen MABBOTT, 1711 : (it appears by the record on the slab that she gave £40 per year to the poor of the parish; but it does not appear, even after investigation of the Commissioner, this charity – like too many others – has ever been known beyond an intention).

Here lieth the body of Frances, ye daughter of Francis ___sdon of Bickleigh, Esquire, the wife of Arthur HELE of Pethill, gent., who died the ___ day of April Anno Dom. 1661 : (although the stone is defective where the name of the parent occurs, there is the greatest reason to infer from the right hand division of the impaled shield bearing three arrows or bolts, that is was RISDON. He may have been the son of Thomas, the son of “Giles RISDON of Bableigh”, (Westcote). Arthur HELE may, possibly, have been the son of Sampson HELE of Holbeton, (Sheriff 18th, James 1st.) and Joan, daughter of Judge GLANVILLE, his wife. Pethill is in Shaugh Parish.)

[NB – the Shaugh Prior parish registers record: “Frances HELE, the Wife of Arthur HELE, gent., was buried the 11th day of April 1661”

SOUTH AISLE – Mural Monument

Sacred to the memory of William MARTYN, Esq., the last of an ancient family, who died (at Coldstone, in this parish), April 20, 1758, aged 74, and was buried near this place. This pile was erected by Mrs Joan COLE and Mrs Jane TOZER, his sole executrixes. His natural endowments were briefly Humanity, Generosity, Sagacity. In Literature, he was superior to most men. In temperance he was almost unparalleled. He chose a sequestered life, preferring learned east to the noise and bustle of the world; hating as Horace elegantly expresses it “Funum et opes strepitumque Romoe”. Shield – a chevron with three hounds thereon, crest, an eagle with expanded wings, resting on a globe.

In the churchyard is a large altar tomb of granite, sculptured in two spots on the sides, as in preparation for armorial bearings. At one end if a sculpture indicating two hearts entwined, and on the top there had, once, been a plate of brass with inscription. However, with these difficulties in the way of determining its history, it was lately, accidently disclosed the tomb encloses the remains of two sisters, named BOYS who in the year 1711 died at Lower Ley, in the parish, of some contagious malady, on two consecutive days.

Altar tomb, Shaugh Prior (2015)

In another part of the yard, an example is presented of the fondness of our rustics to name, in a painstaking manner, circumstances, that seem to them remarkable without really belonging to a higher class than unusual coincidences. Thus, it is recorded of Richard LILLICRAP, that dying aet: 80 in 1744, he had “lived to see seven kings and queens reign”.

Headstone for my 8th Great Grandparents, Richard and Ipsibeth LILLICRAPE, 1664-1744 (2015)

In the churchyard is the lower portion of a cross, the pedestal of which is buried under a seat in the south of the nave; at the distance of a stone’s throw, roughly located on the top of a hedge, or boundary of great unhewn stones, is a second, dilapidated; whilst at about two miles from the village, on the approach from Plympton, is a ruined third, occupying an open spot, where the road divides itself into two smaller ones, proceeding, each, to a different part of the village.

The magnificent tower at Shaugh Prior (2015)

© Graham Naylor