Tomorrow marks the beginning of Holy Week culminating in the Paschal Triduum – or The Three Days.
For Christians this is of course the most Holy time of year.
It seems fitting therefore to share the following image and short article relating to Palm Sunday at Plymouth in 1903 with a wider audience. The article also gives an insight into a Plymouth custom of the time, which has perhaps, largely disappered…
The following appeared in the Western Weekly News of 4 April 1903…
A PALM SUNDAY CEREMONY
At the “advanced” churches in the Three Towns, Palm Sunday was observed with great solemnity.
The principal service of the day commenced with the blessing and distributing of palms made into crosses, whilst palm branches were arranged on the altars. The distribution of these emblems of the event which Palm Sunday commemorates, was followed by a procession in which the priests and choir carried palm branches over their shoulders, palm being also tied to the draped processional cross. The Gospel for the day was supplemented in some instances by the celebrant reading “The story of the Passion,” and to bring the service within reasonable duration, this recital of the events leading up to the Crucifixion took in one instance, the place of the sermon, but even with this omission the impressive ceremonial prolonged the service, and also imposed no inconsiderable strain upon those who assisted in it.
Just as the fine weather led to large congregations, alike at churches and chapels, so it also enabled another Palm Sunday observance to be largely followed – that of visiting the graves of relatives and friends, as the cemeteries of the Three Towns bore witness during the afternoon. In some parts of the country this respect for the dead is more generally observed on Mid Lent (or Refreshment) Sunday, but in the Three Towns Palm Sunday is the day set apart by most people for carrying flowers to the graves of those who have been near and dear to them.
Although not captioned, the pencil sketch above depicts the ceremonies in St Peter’s Church, Wyndham Square, Plymouth – the well known home of the Anglo-Catholic Fr. George Rundle Prynne who had died just before Holy Week on 25 March 1903.
On Monday 3 April 1939, the Western Morning News published a photograph of the Palm Sunday Procession at St Peter’s, Plymouth:
© Graham Naylor
One of my 5th Great Grandmother’s, Catherine ELLIS has recently proved of great interest as she was the Butt-Woman of Batter Street Presbyterian Chapel in Plymouth.
The Butt-woman was a responsible, salaried role within the life of the Chapel. As the Chapel Keeper she was responsible for keeping the Chapel clean, preparing for services, and for various other duties. Catherine’s second husband, William ELLIS was the Sexton of the Chapel and he had responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the Chapel and burial-yard (probably including the digging of graves, etc).
As tomorrow would be her 254th birthday (!), I thought it might be interesting to share something of the life of Catherine with the wider world since her life may be of interest to scholars and others interested in non-conformity of those days.
Catherine ELLIS was born Catherine ROOK at Petrockstowe, Devon on 9 March 1762; the daughter of John and Elizabeth ROOK, nee ROGERS. Catherine was baptised at Petrockstowe on 4 April 1762.
I’m unsure at this stage whether Catherine was brought up as a member of the Established Church – that is the Church of England. What is clear is that by the time of her marriage to my 5th Great Grandfather, William ARKWRIGHT in 1786 either she or he were almost certainly non-conformist.
The marriage of William ARKWRIGHT to Catherine ELLIS at Petrockstowe on 2 October 1786 was by Licence. Neither bride nor groom appear to descend from wealthy stock so the notion that they married by Licence suggests they negated the usual reading of Banns at the Parish Church as they were probably not regular attenders there. In those days a non-conformist couple, (unless Quaker, or Jew) had to marry in their local Parish Church – and then usually within the bride’s parish.
William and Catherine appear to hang around long enough in Petrockstowe for the baptism of my 4th Great Grandmother, Mary ARKWRIGHT in 1787 but they soon migrate the short distance to the City of Exeter. In Exeter 4 children are born to the couple, of whom 3 pass away in early infancy. What horrendous days they must have been.
By 1800 the couple with their surviving children arrive in Plymouth – what brought them to Plymouth isn’t yet known, nor is William’s occupation which might provide a clue.
Soon after their arrival, and certainly by 1803 William ARKWRIGHT passed away. Catherine with little or no form of subsistence then married her second husband, William ELLIS at Charles Church, Plymouth on 7 August 1803.
The couple appear then to have been connected with Batter Street Chapel for the rest of their lives.
It is a sad fact that practically all archives relating to the Chapel were lost during the Blitz of 1941. Other than the surviving Baptism and Burial Registers the only “archive” to survive was a C18 Chapel Account Book that had been taken home for research by a Chapel member as the Blitz occurred. What foresight!
The Account Book, now lodged for safe keeping at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (ref: 2026/1) dates from 1791 and continues until 1820. It provides something of a glimpse into the lives of William and Catherine ELLIS given their roles within the Chapel.
The following are some excerpts from the Account Book:
- 3 August 1805 – William ELLIS received 2s “having broke his leg”
- 1805 – The Butt-woman received an annual salary of £5 5s 0d
- 24 June 1809 – Wm ELLIS for “whitewashing the yard”, £1 3s 0d
- 7 June 1809 – Mrs ELLIS for soap, 1s 1d
- 24 June 1809 – Mrs ELLIS for brooms, 1s
- 11 April 1811 – Mr ELLIS for cleaning the yard, 10s 6d
- 11 April 1811 – Mrs ELLIS’ broom, 8s 1d
- 11 February 1817 – Mrs ELLIS salary increased to £6, 6s 0d per year
- 27 March 1819 – Mr ELLIS opening Mr MENDS vault, 10s
- 8 January 1820 – Mrs ELLIS for sundries, 2s 9d
- 25 March 1820 – Mrs ELLIS for floor cloth, 3s 6d
- 25 March 1820 – Mr ELLIS for whitewashing, etc, 14s
William ELLIS was buried at the Batter Street Burial-Ground on 17 November 1825 aged 77; the Burial Register records that he was the Sexton and that there was “no charge” for the funeral or burial.
Catherine ELLIS was buried at the Batter Street Burial-Ground on 27 January 1829, aged 67; the Burial Register records that she was the Butt-woman.
My ancestors connections with Batter Street were possibly maintained into the 1860s until the death of William GLIDDON, Catherine ELLIS’s son-in-law in 1868.
William GLIDDON had married Catherine’s first born daughter, Mary at Stoke Damerel on 23 July 1804. This couple went on to have a staggering 11 children, all baptised at Batter Street Presbyterian between 1805-1830.
There is still more to discover with this family and their connections with Batter Street. This is what makes researching ones family history so interesting – especially when it connects to fascinating local history as well. For example, one of William and Mary GLIDDON’s grandchildren, George Thomas GLIDDON, 1837-1886 was a well known and successful trader in Plymouth, as the advert below testifies:
The Batter Street Chapel doesn’t exist any longer as a place of worship, indeed it closed in 1922/23 but the Chapel building remains, in part at least, as Lady Astor’s “Virginia House Settlement”.
© Graham Naylor
The beautiful semi-rural parish church of St Mary the Virgin, Bickleigh is a church I’ve known and loved for much of my life. Within God’s Acre lay many of my ancestors who farmed within the Parish during the past 300 years, at least.
My visit was greeted to find the church open – and what a treat. The last time I visited Bickleigh the church was locked, always a disappointment!
St Mary the Virgin isnt overly ornate, nor that ancient, depending on one’s point of view. The bulk of the building is a product of various C19 restorations and a rebuild in 1838. In many ways the pre-1838 ancient building is one I’d dearly love to have seen and the church today has made great steps in modernity! The great east window, is to me, slightly reminiscent of the modern stained glass at St Andrew’s Minster in Plymouth. Im not sure I can say I love it – but somehow it works -and the reredos is jolly spectacular!
There are few vestiges of antiquity left within the church, save a few memorials upon the walls of the north and south aisles as well as in the chancel. The Church borders onto the Barracks of 42 Cdo Royal Marines and this close association with the Royal Marines is well, and importantly so, represented within her hallowed walls.
My own associations with Bickleigh stem from the marriage of George SELLECK and Mary CALLARD at the church on 16 December 1757. Mary’s parents, Edward and Elizabeth had arrived at Bickleigh in the 1720s from the parishes of Holne and Buckfastleigh. In the ensuing generations my ancestors married into most of the local families ensuring that many of the early residents in the churchyard are in one way or another relations of mine. In many ways wandering the churchyard here (and at neighbouring Shaugh Prior) is rather humbling and I feel like I’m walking in their own footsteps.
It is always special to locate the final resting places of my forebears. The churchyard at Bickleigh (which contains a majority of headstones from the C19 to current) still hints at the past with a small number of pre 1800 headstones dotted around the churchyard, some marking their original places. There are a good number of SELLECK headstones still visible and in some cases one is able to see head and foot stones in their original places. The footstones being especially interesting as they are often carved with lines of text from scripture.
The pre-1838 church is one we today can only imagine – although we can find some help from John Cremer BELLAMY, a surgeon in Plymouth, in the words of a newspaper article published in Plymouth during the late 1840s or early 1850s.
Bellamy provides much information of interest. The quotes below are taken from his article.
Bickleigh parish is in the Hundred of Roborough. The population is scarcely 400.
The minister of the church is a Vicar, appointed by Sir R. Lopes, as patron and impropriator; the chapel of Sheepstor is a Curacy, an adjunct of Bickleigh, the two being one gift; by which it would seem as if, when Sheepstor was thus joined as a dependent, the district of that chapel was either part of the parish of Bickleigh, or else not yet parochially constituted.
That an ecclesiastical building for worship existed here in the 13th century is clear from a taxation by Nich. 4th., made during 1288 to 1291, in which “Bikgelegh cum capell (de Shipstor)” is valued at £6, the tenths appearing at 12s., and the ecclesiastical benefice at £4 6s. 8d.
Of the edifice standing in the “Decorated” period, we find no decided remnant. That which stood up to 1838, and of which the present building is the restoration, seems to have been wholly “Florid” – nothing of a previous age, a font excepted, was left to be carried onward in its memory. It was built upon the customary plan of giving sufficient accommodation to the parish in a nave and single aisle, and leaving it to a posterity whose equal or greater devotion would induce it to add the second aisle and complete the plan of symmetry first devised. But it is very remarkable – and I here state the fact, one for all, in reference to a number of our churches, – that before the energy of that posterity had arranged for the addition of such aisles, time had effected such encroachments that the entire edifices had crumbled.
The restoration of 1838, effected at the charge of Sir R. Lopes, may be thus briefly delineated:- a tolerably large chancel, a nave, a north and a south aisle, a porch near the south-west corner, and a vestiarium on the south side of the chancel. The square tower at the west extremity is the original member.
All this perpendicular work had been, in its pillars, doorways, mullions, etc., wrought in Roborough Down stone, and the same excepting only the shafts of the arches, suffered a re-working with the tool, and looks exceedingly handsome. This porphyry entered into various details of the edifice, seeming to have been a favourite and generally used substance in sacred buildings in that era. However the old shafts of porphyry have given place to some of granite, and these are moulded differently to the original. Of course an arcade had to be formed on the north, where, in the old building, there stood the boundary wall of the nave, with its windows.
At the entrance of the porch may be noticed the remains of the old dedication cross in sunken sculpture, in a slab of porphyry. On the green, without the wall of the grave-yard, is a tolerably perfect Cross, about 12 feet, or more, high, the substance chiefly porphyry. I am told it originally stood within the church-yard. I have elsewhere noted that an antique tomb is of the same substance. So also is the large elegant Font, covered with the foliations and tendrils of the vine, worked on eight sides. The surface produced by the tool on this stone, does not proceed beyond roughness.
The tower, a pinnacled one of fine proportions, had 6 bells, of good tone. They occasionally chime forth a merry peal after evening service, a custom continued down from very ancient times when such things were not deemed – as indeed they are, not yet, proved to be – infringements on the character of the Sabbath. But, I may here say this, that at Bickleigh and elsewhere, generally, many ancient customs, games, and gatherings especially, are being discountenanced, and lost but in the chronicles of the antiquary, not from any vice essentially inherent to them, but, because from the pressure of these times, multiplied temptations and increased population, there is a liability about them to involve the poor in degradations and mischiefs peculiarly their own.
The arrangement of furniture space, &c., in the interior is as follows:
The communion table is raised a trifle and the chancel is here railed across for convenience of communicants; the vestry opens into the chancel just westward of these rails; the chancel is itself sufficiently raised above the church to aid the voice and sight of the minister; the raised flooring extends a few feet into the body of the church, indicating the point where the rood loft stretched across, and on it at the junction of the chancel and nave, are the small reading desk or lectern and the finely carved new stone pulpit, while on either side at the ends of the aisles are respectively the manor seat and the minister’s family seat; the poor have the nave devoted to them, a double row of comfortable oak benches being provided the whole length, the women in the south row and very agreeably to an ancient and faithfully preserved custom; the farmers occupy closed seats in the two aisles; just within the south-west doorway is the font, and a similar enclosure at the west end of the north aisle is given to strangers; under the bell loft of the tower is the small but good organ, and in advance of the tower arch are the singers, school children and clerk with his lectern. The rebuilding of this church on the medieval pattern had secured it the best architectural qualities and the present good management of the church matters in the parish enables the authorities to second those features by admirable cleanliness, and, in winter, by comfortable warmth.
The chancel window is elegant though simple. In the upper spaces of its tracery appear, in the centre the Royal Arms; on the north side those of the See and Province, and on the south side the Arms of Lopes, from whose property the restoration was defrayed. Under this window there is some elegant tabular work to receive texts of scripture, &c.
The only other entrance to the church, besides the south-west one, is an elegant doorway on the west side of the tower, but it admits only the singers, and those who have to ascend the tower by the flight of steps in its north-west angle. Besides the chancel window, the aisles are lighted by 4 windows on the north and 3 on the south, whilst over the tower door is a similarly constructed one lighting the building from the west. The roofs are at several points ornamented with Greek crosses.
Interestingly, and importantly for family/local historians, Bellamy provides monumental inscription details from the memorials within the church at the time of his writing.
The records of deceased persons buried in the church, with the dates of decease are as follows:
Here lyeth the body of the pious and charitable Madam Mary DEAN, daughter of Sir James MODYFORD, Bart., and grand-daughter of that loyal gentleman Sir Nicholas SLANNING, Bart., who lost his life fighting in the defence of his Royal Master King Charles the 1st. Date 1734.
Here lyeth the body of the pious and charitable Lady Elizabeth MODYFORD, relict of the Honble, Sir James MODYFORD, and daughter of the loyal gentleman Sir Nicholas SLANNING, who valient and heroically ventured and lost his life fighting for the good of his country, and his Royal Master King Charles the 1st. Date 1724. Age 91.
(The annotators of Prince and Risdon mention this lady as sister instead of daughter of Sir Nicholas, and as a daughter instead of grand-daughter of Gamaliel.)
___ ROWE, A.M., 1791
Eliza. ROWE, 1795
John HERRING, “Vicar of this Parish”, 1743
Rebecca, wife of same
Thomas Arthur CREW, “Vicar of this Parish 26 years”, 1785
Three of the children of Sir R. LOPES, Bart., and Dame Susan Gibbs LOPES, his wife, of Maristow, 1823, 1826, 1832
Nehemiah Augustus HUNT, 1818
Rev. Warwick HUNT, D.D., “Vicar of this Parish and of Tamerton Foliot”, 1830
Thomas Horatio WALKER, M.A., “10 years Vicar of this Parish”, 1841
Emma Maria and Maria Stevens WALKER, his children, 1837, 1840
John MEARDON, 1812. A faithful steward to James MODYFORD HEYWOOD, Esq., and Sir Francis Henry DRAKE, Bart., and latterly to the Right Hon. Lord Heathfield, and Sir Masseh LOPES, Bart.
Ann, his wife, 1807.
Dame Charlotte LOPES, relict of Sir M. M. LOPES of Maristow, 1833
“Sir Manaseh Masseh LOPES, Bart., of Maristow, in the parish of Tamerton Foliot, who died March 26, 1831, in the 77th year of his age. He established himself at Maristow in 1798. He was for many years a magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant of this county. He served the office of High Sheriff, in the year 1819, and was Colonel of Local Militia. He was Recorder of the Borough of Westbury (Wiltshire), and a member of the House of Commons in several Parliaments. Sir Ralph LOPES (his nephew), who succeeded to his title and estates erected this”.
(A handsome hatchment of the Arms of Sir M. and his lady, formerly hung in the church. At the renovation it was sent to the school room; but though not legally replaceable in the church itself, it was very properly set up in the vestry, as hereby saving it from the injury it might elsewhere receive.)
Henry BECHER, “nominated to this vicarage, which he lived not to take possession of”, 1753
Caleb MARCH, 1753
Jonathan MARCH, 1892
Daniel MARCH, 1801
James HEYWOOD, 1784
Eliz. Coyte HUNT (widow of Warwick HUNT, Vicar of this Parish), 1849
Eliz. Hill HUNT, 1825
Next, Bellamy provides invaluable information relating to the SLANNING memorial that once stood in the church. The “modern” memorial in the church being also described:
Against the east wall of the south aisle adjoining a door which once led to into the vestry, stood the monumental work in memory of Nicholas SLANNING and his wife, – the grand-parents of the more celebrated Sir Nicholas. It comprised a square, ornamental and sculptured work in divisions with emblems and inscriptions; under which, on an altar tomb, appeared the effigies of the deceased. When Prince wrote his “Worthies”, 1790, this monument was dilapidated and the inscriptions scarcely legible. Accordingly, at the restoration of the church in 1838, one course only remained open to the renovators – the reproduction of the whole (the brass excepted) in facsimile. A gift of £30 from someone kindred I believe to this notable family. I have learnt that a few years since the embers of the race had not quite died out in Plymouth – enabled the parish to produce a very elegant copy. Only, the effigies are not restored and the distich spoken of by Prince, beginning “As time” &c., does not appear. Neither was the same spot chosen, for, the monument now stands over the south doorway towards the west end of the aisle.
The SLANNING monument as it now exists, is a square work in several compartments, the whole bordered. Just over the top border is Slanning’s coat of arms complete, with those of his wife; beneath that border is a horizontal rib of stone having three other coats of arms cut in it; then follows a semicircular sunken space with a Latin inscription; then an oblong slab having a death’s head and motto, and on either side, a coat of arms; then, inserted in an ornamental division of the work below the bottom border, is a plate of brass with some lines of poetry, date of decease, &c. Surmounting the entire work is a helmet and glove of steel.
The Latin inscription is this:
Idem caedis erat nostrae simul auctor et ultor
Trux homicida mei mox homicida sui
Quemque in me primum mox in se condidit ensem
O! nostrum summi judicis arbitrium
Round the sculptured medallion-like skull are the words, “O man remember thy end”.
The moralities and reference to the qualities of Mr SLANNING on the brass tablet, are engraved in the old English characters, and are as follows:
Mans lyfe on erth is, as Job sayth, a warfare and a toyle
Where nought is wonne, when all is donne, but an uncertayne spoyle
Of things most vayne, and for long payne, nothing to man is lefte
Save virtue sure, which doth endure, and cannot be berefte
A prouffe of this apparent is by Nicholas Slannyng here
Who, as we sawe, alpt for God’s lawe right famouse did apperee
In just and right was his delyght to exercise the laws
To wrong no weigh but as he myght to help the friendlesse cause
The fere of God and his rod was styll before his eies
Constant in fayth and no wise the truth would he disgies.
Each line of the above contains in itself a rhyme complete, besides a terminating syllable to rhyme with another line.
Immediately below this effusion we have in the same characters and on the same brass:
“Nicholas SLANNYNG, Esquier, lyvd 59 yeres, and endid the 8th day of Aprill, in the yere of our Lorde God, 1583”
The several armorial coats represent families into which the Slanning’s married, one of the nearest being the Champernon’s.
Also, of special interest is the information regarding the supposed tomb of a medieval priest buried in the churchyard. Happily the slab described still exists in good preservation:
The only monument of high antiquity, and that but medieval, in connection with the church, is one belonging to a series now, through the work of time and carelessness, becoming extinct. It is a low altar tomb external to the southern aisle. The stone employed is the same porphyry as that used for the pillars, mullions, and arches of the church; the covering slab has on it a very strange device unaccompanied by any direct intimation of name, circumstances, or date – a Latin cross raised on a pedestal, the three points with a fleur de lis to each, and each of the arms of the cross supported, as it were, by a long rib or stay reaching nearly to the foot. At a certain point in the left hand stay occurs the interruption of a figure like a goblet or chalice, and in the opposite rib, at a similar spot was some other interrupting figure (query the “Host”), but it has been broken off. Conjecture as to the party entombed seems to promise no satisfactory result. The Rev. Mr. Cork seems to think the emblems denote the deceased to have been a Roman Catholic Priest; and, I think it may safely be said, the work is nearly coeval with the last medieval building of the church. A tomb, somewhat of the same kind in symbol, but having a date occurs at St Burian, in Cornwall, and those are churches where such tomb coverings, or slabs in pavements are not few.
On the exterior of the east wall of the north aisle, there is a monument to John HERRING, apothecary of Plymouth, son of Rev. John HERRING and Rebecca his wife. Died at Bickleigh, his native place, 1778.
So thanks to Bellamy, we can glimpse something of this beautiful church 160 years ago. But as is importantly the case, the church at Bickleigh is a living church and changes to the church since then reflect changes in liturgy and taste. St Mary the Virgin is a special church indeed, one I love to visit and contemplate in, and one I hope to visit again soon!
© Graham Naylor
A visit to Tavistock presented the opportunity to visit the wonderful parish church of St Eustachius. This is a large church with a fascinating history spanning almost 700 years.
There is much of interest within the church; fantastic ancient memorials and beautiful stained glass windows alongside intricately carved bench ends and an unusual large organ screen which is well worth noting.
The early life of the Church was linked with the neighbouring Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady and St Rumon. The Abbey, completed by 981 remained in existence until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII in 1539. How different our religious and ecclesiastical history might be if this incident in British history had not occurred! But, for the citizen of the C21 we benefit from viewing some of the wonderful relics of the former Abbey still in existence in Tavistock today.
The parish church is one of only two in England dedicated to the roman soldier martyr, Saint Eustachius. Records exist which refer to this dedication at Tavistock as early as 1265.
No remnants of the earliest church survive; the building we see today being largely a product of a rebuild by Abbot Robert Champeaux and dedicated in 1318 and of a later rebuild towards the end of the C14.
During my visit today I paid special attention to the many varied stained glass windows. The windows are the work of many different companies and portray a wide range of stunning images.
There are no windows existent in the church prior to the mid-C19 and the church guide makes clear that the most ‘notable’ window is that erected in the St Mary Magdalene Chapel which was made by William Morris from designs by Edward Burne-Jones. This window which dates from 1876 is magnificent indeed.
Gerry Woodcock’s “Homage to St Eustachius: a history of Tavistock Parish Church” reveals some of the background to this window:
The second Gill window was the work of the renowned designer William Morris. He was the nephew of Thomas Morris, the first managing director of the spectacularly successful Devon Great Consols Mine, who lived at Abbotsfield Hall, where William was a regular visitor. In 1864 Alice Morris, Thomas’ sister and William’s aunt, married Reginald Hornbrook Gill, heir to the Gill family’s commercial and industrial fortunes. Ten years later Reginald’s father, John, died. Reginald requested his wife’s nephew William, by now an eminent public figure, to design a memorial window. The result is near the north-east corner of the chancel, and is the single most visited, and most admired, piece of art and design in the building.
There are two particularly interesting monuments in the church; the Fitz monument and the Glanville monument.
The Fitz monument commemorated the memories of John Fitz (1528-1589) an his wife Mary Sydenham. An effigy of their son, John, kneels behind them.
I found the Glanville monument especially interesting. This monument was erected in 1615 to the memory of Sir John Glanville (1542-1600) by his wife, Alicia (then married to Francis Godolphin). The life-size effigies of Sir John and Alicia are really remarkable; although the smaller effigies of their children (minus their heads!) is somewhat disturbing. Perhaps these smaller effigies suffered during the English Civil War in the C17?
The font dates from the C15 and bears a modern cover and pedestal. The church guide informs the reader that there are no surviving Baptism Registers prior to 1614 which is rather a shame. It’s been though that Sir Francis Drake could have been baptised at this font since the Drake family of Crowndale resided in the parish.
Interestingly, inside the porch remain the carved stone Arms of Queen Elizabeth I. These probably came from a memorial to the Queen once inside the church and likely removed during a restoration of 1844-46.
The churchyard retains only a small portion of ancient headstones. These are the family historians dream not only for the surviving inscriptions but also from their intricate carving and style. These really are a rare treat and deserve special attention.
Many of the headstones are mid C18 with one or two exceptions; the large stone to John Cornish, Gent., of 1625 is a very special survivor. Probably this stone lived in the church for much of its early life and was possibly moved outside during the C19.
In all, I consider this to be one of Devon’s very finest parish churches. Its size and spendour are evident signs of the importance of Tavistock and its place within Devon’s history for 700 years. No visitor to Tavistock should bypass this wonderful House of God!
© Graham Naylor
The recent discovery that one of my 5th Great Grandmothers was the rather oddly named “Butt-woman” of Batter Street Chapel has led me to find something of its history.
My ancestor, Catherine ELLIS, formerly GLIDDON and nee ROOK was the Butt-woman (or Chapel-keeper) from about 1805 until her death in 1829. Her 2nd husband, William ELLIS was the Chapel Sexton and he was responsible for the Chapel and its Burial Ground. In her role as Butt-woman Catherine earned a salary of £5, 5s in 1805; her salary increased to £6, 6s by 1817.
Having an ancestor so connected to the daily running of the Chapel prompted me to find something regarding the life of this former Chapel in old Plymouth.
My research led me to discover the lecture notes of Mr Stanley Griffin, a former historian in Plymouth. His notes on the history of Batter Street Chapel and of non-conformity in old Plymouth is reproduced in full as taken from the “Transactions of the Plymouth Institution” published in 1944. In turn Griffin has gleamed much from a C19 history* of Batter Street written by a former Church Secretary, Mr John Taylor in December 1889. [*ref: Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, 2026/3]
Taylor’s notebook records that practically all records appertaining to Batter Street Chapel were destroyed during the Plymouth Blitz of 20/21 March 1941.
What follows are Griffin’s notes:
A HISTORY OF THE BATTER STREET CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, 1704-1921.
LECTURE BY MR. STANLEY GRIFFIN.(Given at 13 Alexandra Road, July 6th, 1944.)
It may help you to visualise Batter Street Congregational Chapel, if you realise that it is now the Virginia House Settlement, the Chapel having been purchased by Lord Astor in 1923.
Although the Chapel was built in 1704, the history of the Church commences with the Ejectment of 1662, that period pregnant with events of intense interest and importance to civil and religious freedom. On St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24th, 1662, nearly 2,000 ministers were ejected for conscience’s sake.
The Conventicle Act of 1664 made illegal meetings of more than five persons in addition to the family in the house, for religious meetings not in accordance with the Prayer Book. This Act was repealed by the Toleration Act of 1689, which allowed dissenting ministers to preach and administer the Sacraments on certain conditions. During these 25 years Nonconformist worship could only be held stealthily and in great danger, generally in private houses, or, as at Newton Abbot, in woods or pits. The worshippers were ministered to by occasional preachers, who were, of course, in more danger than the members of their congregations. These services were “irregular,” and a risk to all concerned. The various conventicler were watched by the soldiery and other informers. The lowest types of spies followed the suspects, and the enrolled were admitted by passwords, through obscure entrances. Craning their necks, the soldiers listened intently, and as soon as the praying commenced they rushed to the nearest magistrate. Their own movements being as closely watched, the signal was given for the worshippers to disperse. From house to house they migrated, changing their hours to upset the plans of the authorities, but the prosecutions were frequent, and the sufferings of the leaders poignant.
For many years following the Toleration Act numbers of Free Churches were established, and many Meeting Houses erected. We can see the chief reason why these Meeting Houses were very plain and unostentatious, and often hidden away from main thoroughfares. Sherwell was the first Chapel in the West of England to aspire to the Gothic style, and the spire filled many people with dismay. It may be heaven-pointing, but they thought it to be only so in form, and that in spirit it did not point in that direction.
The early history of Nonconformity in Plymouth is somewhat obscure, but almost certainly there was a mixed congregation of Baptists and Independents worshipping together, early in the 17th century. It was this mixed congregation which is referred to in the inscription on the Mayflower Tablet—” after being kindly entertained and courteously used by divers friends there dwelling.” With the exception of the Baptists at Moretonhampstead, this was the first dissenting community in the West of England.
Incidentally, as Mr. Bracken points out, the Pilgrim Fathers and Huguenots afford an interesting paradox in local and national history. In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers left England to secure freedom of worship. Sixty years later the Huguenots came here for the same reason.
George Street Baptist Church was founded about 1620. In 1648, Abraham Cheare was baptised; when he became minister a year later, there were 150 members. Their first Church was in the Pig Market, now Bedford Street, near the Frankfort Gate. In 1789 it moved to How Street, into the building formerly occupied by the Huguenots. George Street Church was built in 1845. In a history of that Church by H. M. Nicholson, we read: “it appears that this was the only Congregational Church then existing in the Town, and that it was composed of Independents, as well as Baptists.”
Batter Street Church can claim descent from George Hughes, the Puritan Vicar ejected from St. Andrew’s in 1662. With Hughes was associated as Curate or Lecturer, Thomas Martyn, who with Abraham ‘Cheare and George Hughes suffered banishment on Drake’s Island. Although the appointment of Lecturers was regularised by Parliament in 1641, they had existed in. Plymouth certainly as early as 1620, and continued until the Municipal Reform Act, 1835.
Another who suffered under the 1662 Act was Nicholas Sherwin, a .gentleman of Plymouth who lived on his own estate. After being educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, he was ordained in 1660. He returned to Plymouth in 1661, and gathered together the adherents of Hughes and Martyn (then in durance at Drake’s Island). Sherwell Church is named after him.
Worth tells us that until the building of the Batter Street and Treville Street Chapels, Sherwill’s flock met at the “Old Marshall’s,” the Town Marshalsea or prison, then a part of the ancient Friary building (probably of the Dominicans) in Southside Street, still known as the “Black Friars.”
Batter Street Chapel was erected in 1704, and four years later a Manse was added. The population of Plymouth at that time was about 8,000, and Batter Street was then central. The deeds describe the original plot as a garden, bounded by Pomeroy’s Conduit Street (Batter Street) and Bull Lane (Peacock Lane). Another boundary was Seven Stars Lane (Stillman Street). These deeds were kept in a box with four locks, a key being carried by each of four persons.
It was known as the Scotch Kirk, or Presbyterian Chapel. Jewitt states that the Government contributed towards its erection, so that there might be a place of worship for the Scotch regiment sent to Ply-mouth. Following the Union between England and Scotland in 1707, English regiments were sent to Scotland and Scottish regiments to England. This remained the Kirk until the erection of the Presbyterian Chapel at Eldad in 1862, the Minister being also Chaplain to the Scottish troops. When the 93rd Highland Regiment left here for Balaklava, the Minister preceded them to the port of embarkation. The Chapel never was strictly Presbyterian in the modern sense of the term, as the Minister was chosen by the free voice of the members, the Chapel not being subject to a Presbytery.
In 1760 a very serious dispute arose. The Congregation appointed Rev. Christopher Mends, but the Trustees appointed Rev. John Harmer. The former was Trinitarian and the latter Arian, i.e. partly Unitarian. There was big controversy in the West of England over this question. Incidentally, Mends was converted by the preaching of George White-field, as also was Andrew Kinsman in 1744, by reading one of Whitefield’s sermons. Kinsman was the founder of Sherwell Congregational Church. The dispute was settled by the Court of King’s Bench, which issued a peremptory mandamus, in favour of Mends. In the Settlement Deeds of most Independent or Congregational Churches, the Trustees are bound by a resolution passed by a fixed majority at a duly convened meeting of the members. During the two years of this dispute, Mends’ congregation were allowed the use of the Huguenots’ building in How Street. After the settlement the Unitarians received the building in Treville Street.
We read that in 1800 vine and jesamine grew over the porch and windows of the Manse. The burial ground was a compromise between a cemetery and a garden, with a row of lofty trees. Inside the Chapel, the high straight-backed pews almost hid some of the congregation from the Minister. Over the Pulpit was a canopy or sounding-board, like a cover for a huge snuff-box, surmounted by a carved and gilded pineapple. From the ceiling were suspended three brass chandeliers, the central one being very massive and gorgeous, “grand enough to have done duty in Solomon’s Temple.”
A portrait of Mends shows him in full wig. Wigs were then going out of fashion, and most of the men had their hair powdered, and tied up in perukes or queues. They wore long waistcoats and long-tailed coats, with large rolling collars and brass buttons, the cloth being blue, green or brown. Breeches or pantaloons, with buckle shoes, made up the picturesque attire.
The elderly ladies were carried to Chapel in Sedan chairs, the streets being so narrow and the hackney carriages so very clumsy and inconvenient. Women of the humble classes all wore pattens. Some of them came late, forgot to take off their pattens in the Porch, and so disturbed the service. At one service they were admonished from the Pulpit; and so the Deacons provided a wooden frame in the Porch, in the charge of the buttwoman.
Umbrellas were just coming into fashion. They were large cumber-some things, even bigger than gig-umbrellas. It was quite a distinction to have one in the family, and two were a sign of extravagance. Young men would not carry them, because it was thought foppish. Weak old people could not carry them on account of their weight. In case of rain a large checked handkerchief would be tied over the bonnet.
At this time the congregation formed an influential centre for good, and for many years comprehended a large proportion of the wealth, intelligence and piety of Plymouth. The Choir had a full band of instruments—violins, ‘cellos and flutes and had a very high reputation in the Town.
In 1785, Herbert Mends, son of Christopher, founded a Charity School styled “The Benevolent Institution for Educating the Children of the Poor.” At first both sexes were trained, but in 1806 boys were given up, and 50 girls were clothed and educated. The School first met in Broad street (Buckwell Street), and then in Tin Street (Vauxhall Street). In 1806 it was held in a low room in the Chapel, which should have held 20, but 60 children were crammed in, and a good woman taught them week-days and Sundays. The girls had to wear uniform, “which,” as the records say, “was not thought any disgrace.”
Among the rules were:—
“1. Every child to appear at School clean and neat in her person and dress; her hair combed and kept short; no earrings or ornaments worn, and always to have a pocket-handkerchief, with thimble and needles.
2. Every child to be admonished not to spend money on the Lord’s Day; and that fruit or sweetmeats will be immediately forfeited, if brought to School.”
The Girls’ School was placed under a School Board, “which after carrying on for ten years in our room, they quietly stole from us, not without regret on our part.”
The Mayor and Corporation attended the Anniversary Services.
Mends assisted to educate, and granted the loan of his books to a poor Workhouse boy living in Seven Stars Lane. This boy grew up to be Dr. John Kitto, the famous Eastern traveller.
Batter Street Church was the mother of Emma Place Church, built in 1787, of the revival of an old Chapel at Plympton in 1798, and of Courtenay Street Chapel, built in 1848.
In 1785 Mends formed the Association of Independent Ministers and Churches in the West of England.
The Dissenters of Plymouth and neighbourhood were indebted to Mends for the removal of a disability respecting the Dockyard. A prospective apprentice had to produce a baptismal certificate signed by an Anglican clergyman. Mends was instrumental in getting a rule adopted that the registers of Dissenters should also be accepted.
Candles cost from £10 to £15 per annum, 63 being allowed on Sundays and 35 on Wednesdays–4 to the lb. for the Pulpit, and 6 to the lb. in the body of the Church. They were expected to last four evenings each in the winter.
There is a charge of 18/- for drink for the Painters cleaning the meeting-house.
In 1801 the Church entertained the Association, and a grand dinner was given at the Pope’s Head Inn, Looe Street, at a cost of £25 3s. 0d.
In the area of the Chapel there were 20 large square pews, and 22 single pews, “varying very much in length.” There were 50 pews in the Gallery. The seats accommodated from 4 to 10 persons, and there was a waiting list for vacancies. The seats were 1st, 2nd or 3rd Class-1st Class, 4d. per quarter per sitting ; 2nd Class, 3d. ; and 3rd Class, 2d. per quarter. Voluntary contributions varied from 4/- to 10 guineas per annum.
We have to remember that the Minister had to conduct three services •on Sundays, as well as one on the Wednesday evening.
Mends died in 1819, and it is said that 1,400 or 1,500 people were present in the Chapel and Yard, and as many went away in vain. The service was conducted by the Rev. William Rooker of Tavistock, the father of the late Alderman Alfred Rooker. He could not get in at the door, because of the crush, so a ladder was placed in the graveyard to a window in the Gallery, and another ladder placed in the Pulpit. On the Sunday following, sermons were preached at the Tabernacle, and in Baptist and Methodist Chapels, and without a knowledge of each other’s design, four Ministers chose the same text.
In 1828 two whole seats in the Gallery, and many single sittings were vacant. Two of the Deacons were instructed to prepare an address on this important matter, calling upon all persons to pay up their arrears; and inviting others to take sittings. This address was read by the Minister from the Pulpit on the first convenient and clear Sunday. Burial fees were voluntary, and we find the following entries:—
“No money received for the burial of Mrs. Way.”
“April 1834. Mrs. Morrell. Party snatched money.”
Later the fees had to be prepaid. The charge for breaking the ground in the Yard was 12/3, and in the Meeting House £2 2s. 3d., plus the cost of removing and refixing pews, flooring, etc. From 1806 to 1820, 172 adults and 164 children were buried. In the cholera epidemic of 1832, the Register gives 4 burials for one family, 3 for another, and 2 for another family.
A resolution provides for collections “if fine weather, but if foul to be deferred.”
In 1837 Chapel Wardens were appointed in writing by the Minister. They were a Treasurer, a Secretary, and two Collectors, to meet twice a quarter, or oftener if requisite.
In 1867, the Rev. William Whittley became Minister. He wrote a series of sermons on the panels on the outside of the Guildhall.
In 1882, out of about 500 scholars in the Sunday School, so large a proportion were from 14 to 18 years of age, as to render it desirable to form a number of additional classrooms. A new entrance to the Chapel was opened in Stillman Street, surmounted by a spire 74 feet high, which, as a tablet records, was the gift of Mr. William Derry.
Owing to migration of population, the attendance at the Church declined at the beginning of this century, following two centuries of very useful work.
The Manse was demolished in 1895, and in 1923 the other premises were sold to Lord Astor, in order to extend the work of the Victory Club. After undergoing considerable reconstruction, the buildings were opened by Lord and Lady Astor on 5th December, 1925, and, together with the premises formerly occupied by the Victory Club, became known as the Virginia House Settlement. The human remains in the Graveyard were removed to Efford Cemetery. Another Church in this district—Holy Trinity—has been closed, and the remains in the vaults have been buried in the Old Cemetery.
LIST OF MINISTERS
1704-1719 John Enty Co-Pastor
1704-1758 Peter Baron Co-Pastor
1727-1760 John Moore
1760-1762 John Hanmer
1762-1799 Christopher Mends
1782-1819 Herbert Mends
1819-1821 Thomas Mitchell
1823-1836 Richard Hartley
1837-1839 William Morris
1839-1846 Thomas Collins Hine
1846-1851 Joseph Steer
1851-1854 John Burfitt
1855-1860 William Robert Noble
1860-1867 Edmund Hipwood
1867-1885 William Whittley
1886-1888 Sampson Higman
1889-1893 Alfred Cooke
1893- J. Bertram Rudall
1907-1917 Charles Farmer
1917-1920 Oliver James Searchfield, (With Emma Place Church).
© Graham Naylor
[Chapel photos are reproduced courtesy of and © to Plymouth City Council Library Services]