Plympton St Maurice

A dry Sunday afternoon enabled me to get to another of my local parish churches today – that of Plympton St Maurice.

Plympton St Maurice, unlike her sister parish, Plympton St Mary, retains somehow her rural village like charm and made for a very pleasant hours stroll.

Plympton St Maurice, (2016)

My visit to the church was somewhat scuppered since the church was locked; however this setback enabled me to wander the ancient churchyard and explore the environs around the church – including the magnificent ruins of the Norman castle.

The dedication of the parish church is to St Maurice – and reflects therefore the name of the parish. However in its earliest days, from a deed dated sometime before the year 1300 the church was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury, archbishop and martyr. Joshua Brooking Rowe in his superb ‘History of Plympton Erle’, 1906, records that:

The devotion to the memory of St Thomas commenced very soon after his cruel murder in 1170, and the dedication of churches to God’s honour and in memory of His latest saint soon commenced and became very widespread…

To commemorate the dedication of the church to St Thomas of Canterbury the church today holds a lovely statue of St Thomas of Canterbury in a niche over the north doorway. The statue was the work of J. T. Trevenen of Plymouth in 1895.

Statue of St Thomas of Canterbury, carved 1895, (2016)

The church dedication appears to have reverted to St Maurice at the time of the Reformation – sometimes then known as St Thomas and St Maurice.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the church is of its lovely tower. Brooking Rowe informs us that the people of Plympton appealed to the Bishop of Exeter in 1446 for assistance in building this structure in order to make the original tower more “in-keeping” with their newly rebuilt Perpendicular church. We can assume therefore that the church we see today was largely complete by the middle of the C15.

The interior features of the church will have changed considerably since the C15 of course – and a full appreciation of those will have to wait for a future visit.

The churchyard provides the visitor with much of interest. Many ancient headstones remain from the mid-late C18 with one or two more ancient stones.

Spending time in God’s Acre enables one to contemplate! It had been many years since I last visited Plympton St Maurice for family history and it was good to locate one or two headstones to members of my own long departed family. The most touching family plot relates to my 3rd Great Aunt, Eliza Barbara Horne, nee Selleck, (1853-1880), and to her children.

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Plympton St Maurice Burial Register, 1880
In Memory of Eliza Barbara HORNE, 1853-1880 and her children, RIP

The churchyard is also the resting place of the noted antiquary and historian, Joshua Brooking Rowe who died on 28 June 1908. His solid tombstone stands in the shadow of the church he loved, and of the historic castle.

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Plympton St Maurice Burial Register, 1908
Joshua Brooking Rowe, died 28 June 1908, RIP

Of equal interest, ecclesiastically, is the tomb of the Rev. Henry Tubal Hole, Vicar of Plympton St Maurice from 1877 to 1921. His is an interesting tomb which carries an incredible carving of the Crucifixion to one side and the inscription the other. I suspect the Rev. Hole was a keen Anglo-Catholic…

Far from being morbid, a wander in an ancient churchyard provides so much of interest and mingles the C21 into the lives of past residents.

Of great interest is the magnificent churchyard cross, located outside the south porch. The shaft of this cross was found when alterations were being made to the Plympton Guildhall in 1861. Dating to circa 1380 the cross was restored and placed in its position in 1900. This is certainly one of the more splendid churchyard crosses present in the local area and creates a nice link back to a vision of the past.


© Graham Naylor