A Short History of St Lawrence Church, Bigbury

A Short History of St Lawrence Church, Bigbury, c1934


The early history of this Church is shrouded in the mists of obscurity. Said to have been originally built in the 12th century, it was dedicated to St Lawrence and became a conspicuous land-mark for mariners out at sea, and the whole Bay, from Stoke Point to Bolt Tail, became known as “Bigbury Bay”.

It originally consisted of Chancel, Nave and Tower, and the Lords of the Manor were the Knightly family of de Bikebury, who gave their name to the Parish – Bigbury. The last male representative of this family was killed in a duel at Morley Bridge, near Woodleigh, and the North Aisle of the Church is said to have been added by his two daughters, in memory of their slain father, and they themselves are commemorated to this day by two graceful Brasses in the North Aisle which must be more than 500 years old. Ancient Brasses in West Country Churches are somewhat rare.

[NB the Brasses are now in the S. transept – they must have been moved at some stage in the C20]

Other features of interest in the Church are

The ancient carved Oak Pulpit, said to have been the work of a celebrated wood-carver in the year 1509 – one Thomas Prideaux, of Ashburton.

The painted carved Oak Lectern, also made by Thomas Prideaux. After being in use in Ashburton Church for 268 years, they were brought to this Church in the year 1776 by Charles Powlett, Curate of Ashburton, on his presentation to the living of Bigbury by Harry, Duke of Bolton, the then Patron of the Living. Thus they date back for 425 years.

The large slate Tombstone on the wall of the South Transept, depicting two figures in Elizabethan costume, with the following quaint epitaphs, which shows that Limericks were not unknown in the days of Queen Elizabeth:

Here lies the corpses of John and Jane his wife
Surnamed Pearse whom death bereaved of life
O lovely Peirce untill death did them call
They objectus were to love in generall
Living they lived in fame and Honesti
Dieing they left both to the Progeni
Alive and dead at wares their charitie
Hath doth and will help helples Povertie
By nature they were two by love made one
By Death made two againe with mournful mone
O cruell Death in turning odde to even
Yet blessed Death in bringing both to Heaven
On earth they had one bed in earth one toombe
And now their soules in heaven enjoy one roome.
Thus Pearse being pierced by death doth peace obtaine
O happie Peirce since peace is Pearses gaine.
He dyed the 10 day of December 1612.
She dyed the 31 day of Julie 1586.

Notice also the Easter Sepulchre in the North wall of the Chancel. This was covered up during Holy Week, and the Easter service began with the drawing aside of the curtain, and the joyful chanting of the refrain; “He is risen, He is not here. He is risen, as He said.”

There is a peal of 6 bells, dating from the year 1788, which were re-hung on steel girders and frames in the year 1908, during the incumbency of the Rev. H. Bowden-Smith, Messrs. J. Sparrow Wroth and B. J. Hooppell being the churchwardens.

One of the two windows in the North Aisle was given in memory of John Sparrow Wroth, and his son, killed in the war, Walter Wroth, and the other of Ellen S. Adams, wife of Dr. John Adams, and are the work of Beatrice Cameron, Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, London.

An Oak Tablet in the Church Porch shows the names and units of Parishioners who served in the Great War.

Read some more of St Lawrence’s Church history here – with archive photos from my personal collection.

© Graham Naylor