Recently I visited the lovely parish church at Newton Ferrers which is dedicated to the Holy Cross.
I had visited the churchyard before, on the quest of family history, but had never before been into the church. My preconception of wonderful stained glass was richly rewarded and the church contains some of the loveliest windows in this district. For, (if I may say) a wealthy parish, I was surprised to see that not all the windows are of richly detailed stained glass!
Holy Cross is a church well placed with a number of former manors and large houses within it parish bounds. The church bears great testament to one prominent local family, many of whom became the Incumbents of the parish – that of the Yonge Family. The Yonge’s lived at the nearby Puslinch House with many of the family bearing great distinction within their own fields of interest. It would be fascinating to learn more on this family, of which there is much to tell, but I digress!
On first impressions the church presents a superb aspect from the road on the south of the church. Its lofty Perpendicular tower stands proudly besides the rest of the church which is largely a 19C rebuild on its earlier footprint. The rebuild probably accounts for the rather strange entrance one makes into the church whereby the south porch leads into what one may almost think of a foyer, before entering the nave itself. In this way the tower and south porch feel a little detached from the main body in comparison to more ‘conventional’ church buildings (if such things exist!).
The main body of the church was rebuilt in 1885-86 by George Halford Fellowes Prynne – a Plymothian and son of the Rev. George Rundle Prynne of St Peter’s Church, Plymouth.
The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of Friday, 26 February 1886 reported upon the reopening of Newton Ferrers Church as follows:
The Parish Church of the Holy Cross, at Newton Ferrers, some seven miles from Plymouth, and situated on the high banks of the picturesque river Yealm, was reopened on Tuesday, by the Lord Bishop of Exeter, after careful and expensive restoration.
The building is in the main of 15th century date; but some of the finest “bits” of 13th century work in the county still exist in the chancel. The western tower arch is also of Early English or Norman work. Much of the edifice has been rebuilt, and the fine granite tracery of the new windows is a marked feature in the sacred fane. The roofs are also particularly fine specimens of oak work, and are enriched by many hundreds of well-carved bosses, the work of Mr. Harry Hems, ecclesiastical sculptor, Exeter. Mr. Hems has also made the exquisite polished alabaster font, the pulpit, the elaborate north and south parclose screens, the litany desk, credence table, &c. The general contractors were Messrs. Stevenson and Son, builders, of Newton Ferrers, and Mr. F. M. Rowse was the clerk of works. All the work has been carried out from the designs and under the immediate supervision of Mr. G. H. Fellowes-Prynne, A.R.I.B.A., architect, of London, and son of the Rev. G. R. Prynne, the Vicar of St Peter’s, Plymouth.
In the morning, at half-past eight, Holy Communion was administered, the Revs. S. H. Archer and F. J. Peto being the celebrants. A few minutes after eleven a procession of clergy proceeded to the Church, the following clergymen taking part: The Revs. W. F. H. Eales, Yealmpton; C. Burgess, Wembury; F. A. Sanders, Brixton; T. Coulthard, Plymstock; M. Kelly, Salcombe; G. C. Green, Modbury; J. Mercer Cox, Plympton St Mary; H. F. Roe, Revelstoke; H. T. Hole, Plympton Maurice; A. Williams, All Saints, Plymouth; A. T. Allin, Holbeton; J. Buller Kitson, Lanreath; M. Wheeler, St Michael’s Caerhayes; L. Woolcombe, Menheniot; S. G. Cresswell, Holcombe Burnell; G. R. Prynne, St Peter’s, Plymouth; F. J. Peto, Newton Ferrers; S. H. Archer, Rector of the Parish; the Rural Dean, the Rev. G. W. Anstiss, bearing the crozier; and the Lord Bishop. The procession was met at the western door by the churchwardens (Messrs. M. Williand and N. Chaffe), carrying wands, and by the choir, who preceded the clergy to the chancel, singing hymn 391, A and M. The first portion of the Service having been intoned by the Rev. H. T. Hole, the First Lesson, from II Chron., v., was read by the Rev. H. F. Roe, and the Second Lesson, Ephes. ii., from v. 13, by the Rev. G. W. Anstiss. The anthem was from the 84th Psalm, “Blessed are they who dwell in Thy house.” The Rev. M. Kelly read the second part of the prayers, after which the introit, “I will go unto the altar,” was sung. The Communion Service was conducted by the Bishop, the Rev. S. H. Archer reading the Epistle, and the Rev. G. W. Anstiss the Gospel. After the singing of hymn 396, the Bishop preached the sermon, taking for his text, Revelation, ii., 3 – “For my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.”
A luncheon, presided over by Mr. Williams, was subsequently held in the little barn, and there was a public tea prior to the Evening Service.
It is certain much of antiquity was lost in the restoration and I have to confess that sometimes these so called restorations undid so much of interest. However Prynne did leave certain elements of antiquity in place such as the splendid 14C sedilia and piscina in the chancel.
Pevsner rightly acknowledges that “the interior is dominated by Prynne’s rich woodwork, all carved by Hems”… but perhaps the most spectacular work of the 19C restoration was that of the super alabaster and marble reredos by J. D. Sedding. The reredos, in a similar style to that of Plympton St Mary is really worth close attention.
I have mentioned already that the church possesses some lovely stained glass. Clayton & Bell being the designers and manufacturers of some of the most prominent windows, including the East chancel window. My favourite by far however is the window located in front of the south porch entrance which depicts St Cecilia – this is really a beautiful window indeed. The dedication panel which runs across the bottom of this window says that it stands “To the Glory of God and in Memory of Katherine STEER who died March 16th 1895, aged 31”. What a stunning memorial to this young lady!
The churchyard possesses many ancient headstones, some of the earliest to be spotted in any local churchyard thats for sure. I suspect the large ledger stones located immediately beside the church tower and against the wall once lived within the church – perhaps removed during its 19C restoration. Sadly the weather has made deciphering their inscriptions rather difficult. The churchyard unsurprisingly marks the last resting places for many of the Yonge family and the other folk from the parish. Its well worth a traipse around!
© Graham Naylor
There can be few, if any, parish churches in Devon sited in a more beautiful and picturesque location than St Werburgh’s. Standing as it does above the beach, opposite the Mewstone it is easy to see why the church has become a favourite to couples planning a wedding.
There is of course more of interest to St Werburgh’s than its location. The church itself, dedicated to St Werburgh is of interest. Wikipedia helpfully says that St Werburgh:
…was born at Stone (now in Staffordshire), and was the daughter of King Wulfhere of Mercia (himself the Christian son of the pagan King Penda of Mercia) and his wife St Ermenilda, herself daughter of the King of Kent. She obtained her father’s consent to enter the Abbey of Ely, which had been founded by her great aunt Etheldreda (or Audrey), the first Abbess of Ely and former queen of Northumbria, whose fame was widespread. Werburgh was trained at home by St. Chad (afterwards Bishop of Lichfield), and by her mother; and in the cloister by her aunt and grandmother. Werburgh was a nun for most of her life. During some of her life she was resident in Weedon Bec, Northamptonshire.
Werburh was instrumental in convent reform across England. She eventually succeeded her mother Ermenilda, her grandmother Seaxburh, and great-aunt Etheldreda as fourth Abbess of Ely.
Werburgh died on 3 February 700. She was buried at Hanbury in Staffordshire and her remains were later transferred to Chester, of which church and monastery she became the great patroness.
So Wembury’s parish church carries an unusual dedication for a church on the south Devon Coast; there being no apparent connection to St Werburgh in this part of the country.
The church building we see today dates largely from the 15C although it is of course much changed, internally at least – latterly during a restoration of the church in 1886.
The tower contains six bells, the ‘newest’ bell was added as a war memorial in 1949.
There is much to see of interest inside the church. The font, pulpit and pews are especially beautifully carved. These are the work of Mr Hems of Exeter in 1886.
Two stained glass windows in the church particularly interested me, being the work of Fouracre and Watson, of Stonehouse; these windows being the chancel window and the tower window. The chancel east window is unusual being made up of geometric patterns instead of figures. The dedicational panel running across the bottom of the window is obscured by the reredos but it is probably a memorial to the Cory family. The tower window acts as the dedication window, depicting St Werburgh holding a church or cathedral, possibly Chester Cathedral?
Of the other stained glass windows the best by far, in my view, is the east window of the south aisle. It is a modern work, the ‘Millennium Window’ installed in 2004. It is particularly attractive and casts a beautiful light into the church.
The church contains a great number of memorials – a real treasure trove. The most splendid of these commemorate the Hele Family and Calmady Family (in the chancel) and Dame Elizabeth Narborough (SW corner).
The Hele memorial stands to the memory of Sir John Hele who died in 1608 and his family. The memorial holds small figures of the Hele children whilst Sir John is semi-reclining, proped up on one elbow. Below and in front of him is his wife, recumbent, with their little girl seated on a chair by her feet.
On the opposite side of the chancel stands a large memorial to Elizabeth Calmady, who died in 1694. It carried a long epitaph in Latin. This is one of many other memorials in the church to the Calmady family. There are some ancient ledger stones in the chancel to members of the family.
The memorial to Dame Elizabeth Narborough is a remarkable free-standing memorial surrounded by a contemporary iron railing. It is made of black and white marble and is incredibly striking. Dame Narborough was the daughter of Josias Calmady, of Wembury and the wife of Sir John Narborough. She died in January 1677/78 after less than a year of marriage.
Also of interest in the south aisle is an Australian flag and Western Australian flag. The Western Australia flag was presented to St Werburgh’s in 1941 by the Australian Government to commemorate the unfurling of the first Union Flag in Western Australia by a Wembury man, Major Edward Lockyer, in 1826. At the presentation ceremony in August 1941 the Australian flag was unfurled by Australian Airmen, presumably based at the nearby RAF Mount Batten at Hooe. The Australian flag was presented to the church in 1979.
The church is surrounded by an interesting churchyard filled with lovely ancient stones. There can be few more beautiful locations to rest in God’s-acre than here in Wembury. Overall this is one of my favourite places to “get away from it all” – even if just for a few minutes.The peace and tranquility are hard to beat – not least as its almost impossible to get a phone signal at the church!
© Graham Naylor