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St Nicholas’ Church, Nether Compton

St Nicholas’ Church at Nether Compton (near the Somerset/Dorset border, and 3 miles west of Sherborne) stands in a peaceful and rural setting. It is beautifully kept and on the day of my visit was filled with the most beautifully scented flowers.

The purpose of my visit to St Nicholas’ was twofold; firstly, to admire and soak up the atmosphere of this ancient House of God and secondly to wander in the footsteps of my ancestors, some of whom possessed the Cure of Souls here in the distant 16th Century.


St Nicholas’ Church, Nether Compton (July 2016)

St Nicholas’ has stood at Nether Compton since the 13th Century – when the nave, chancel and entrance porch were erected. The tower was added later in the 15th Century, at which time the church was further enlarged, becoming the building we see today.

It’s likely the first clergy to minister at Nether Compton were the Benedictine Monks from the nearby Sherborne Abbey. This assumption is based, according to the Church Guide, from the fact that there is no appointment of a Rector to the parish until 1405.

My own interests at Nether Compton begin in the 1530s just prior to, and after the Reformation and the Dissolution of Sherborne Abbey. At this time we meet one Rev. Pancras Growte who was instituted as Rector of Nether Compton in 1535. Growte appears to have begun his religious career at Sherborne, originally as a school teacher and later as organist at All Hallows Church, Sherborne from 1524-1527. His appointment to Nether Compton began soon after his Ordination in 1533. Growte’s name also appears amongst those given an annuity after the Dissolution of Sherborne Abbey in 1539 so he must have spent some time there, possibly as a Monk.

Pancras Growte remained as Rector of Nether Compton until his death there in 1579. His Last Will and Testament prove of great interest since it is within this document I find reference to my own ancestors, thereby giving me a potential family link to this interesting man.


Interior of St Nicholas’ Church (July 2016)

In his Will he leaves legacies to his cousins Elizabeth of Stanlinge, Edith and Agnes of Armitage (where are these places?) but primarily his estate is left to members of the Fathers family, including my 12th Great Grandfather, John Fathers and his children; Giles, Thomas, Nicholas and my 11th Great Grandmother, Agnes Fathers.

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Burial of Rev. Pancras Growte at Nether Compton, July 1579

My presumption is that John Fathers’ wife was possibly a relation to Pancras Growte, thereby creating the family link.

Agnes Fathers, my 11th Great Grandmother, married the Rev. John Keyllwaye alias Clarke at Nether Compton in 1581. This man was of a greatly religious family where most males became Anglican clergyman. John Keyllwaye alias Clarke (sometimes known as Rev. John Clarke or Rev. John Keyllwaye) was Rector at Nether Compton from 1579-1608 and members of this family served as Rector here until the early 1630s.

In feeling such a personal connection to St Nicholas’ Church it was natural for me to wonder how much the place had changed and ponder upon their lives in this lovely place.

Both Pancras Growte and John Keyllwaye alias Clarke lived through those turbulent post-Reformation years embracing willingly, or perhaps not, the many ecclesiastical and liturgical changes of the time.

The Church Guide offers some interesting insights into the life of St Nicholas’ after my ancestor’s connections. In the summer 1645 for example, we learn that Oliver Cromwell’s men stabled their horses inside the church and “burnt popish furnishings” – presumably any of those relics which had already survived the purges of the century before. St Nicholas’ is unusual in possessing a late 15th Century stone rood-screen. Perhaps this rather permanent structure saved it from destruction?


The 15th Century Stone Rood Screen (July 2016)

Of interest to many are the internal fixtures and fittings of the church including the lovely 17th Century pews and the pulpit, thought to date to circa 1600. The Font which is octagonal and made of sandstone dates to the 14th Century.


The Font (July 2016)

The Chancel is plain with a beautiful two light stained glass window depicting the Resurrection.


The Chancel (July 2016)

Around St Nicholas’ Church, internally and externally, one is able to see a number of Consecration Crosses. This is one of a few churches in which I have noticed so many. There is also a wonderful ‘scratch dial’ cut into the stone of the south porch. This primitive form of sundial provided each villager with correct time for Mass.


Consecration Crosses (July 2016)

This is a very beautiful church and one that glows golden in glorious summer sunshine, as indeed it did on my visit.

© Images and Text by Graham Naylor



My 5th Great Grandmother, Catherine Rook, 1762-1829

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).


1856 Plymouth Town Plan showing Batter Street Chapel with its adjoining Burial Ground and School

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.

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Baptism of Catherine ROOK at Petrockstowe, 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.

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Marriage (by Licence) of William ACWRIGHT to Catherine ROOK at Petrockstowe, 2 October 1786

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.

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Marriage of William ELLIS to Catherine ARKWRIGHT, Charles Church, Plymouth, 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.

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Burial of William ELLIS at Batter Street Presbyterian, 17 November 1825

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.

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Burial of Catherine ELLIS at Batter Street Presbyterian, 27 January 1829

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:


G. T. GLIDDON, “practical” Hat and Cap Manufacturer, 7 Bedford Street, Plymouth (1880)

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 Denys/Dennis Family of Holcombe Burnell, Devon


 Arms: DENYS of Devon

One set of my 13th Great Grandparents are Sir Thomas DENYS, of Holcombe Burnell, and his wife, Elizabeth MIRFYN, nee DONNE, of London.

Sir Thomas Denys was born circa 1476 in Holcombe Burnell, Devon. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Angel Donne (of London) in 1524.

Sir Thomas met Elizabeth whilst he was living or studying at the New Inn?, London. A marriage licence was granted by the Bishop of London for their marriage on 14 July 1524.

Elizabeth was sister to Gabriel Donne, the last medieval Abbot of Buckfast Abbey. He had been presented to the Abbacy by Thomas Cromwell in 1535 and remained there until the surrender of monasteries and monastic lands to King Henry VIII in 1539.

Ancient Seal of Buckfast Abbey

Medieval Seal of Buckfast Abbey

After the Dissolution, the Abbey of Buckfast passed from Sir Thomas Denys to his son, Sir Robert, and then from him to his eldest son, another Thomas, who left two daughters and co-heirs – Anne, married to Sir Henry Rolle, and Margaret, who became the wife of Sir Arthur Mainwaring. The manor of Buckfast, which had acquired the name of Buckfast-Dennis, was the property of Anne, and descended to her grandson, Sir John Rolle, who died in 1706, in possession of that lordship. Though extinct in the male line, the family of Sir Thomas Dennis has been carried down through females by the families of Rolle, Mainwaring, Chichester, Arundel and Benthal.
[Source: Guide to Buckfast Abbey, by Dom John Stephan., O.S.B., 1932]

In many respects, of greater interest to me personally, is the career of my 14th Great Uncle, Abbot Gabriel DONNE, of Buckfast who after the Reformation became a Canon Residentiary of St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Gabriel Donne, born circa 1491 was the eldest child born to Angel and Anne Donne of London. Although no records exist which accurately record his date of birth the year 1491 is an educated approximation given that Angel Donne married his wife, Anne Sparrow circa 1490 and by 1506 Gabriel was old enough to belong to the religious order of Cistercians at Stratford.

Gabriel was an educated and powerful cleric and he rose to great prominence in 1535 upon his appointment to the Abbacy of Buckfast Abbey by Thomas Cromwell. History however has not been kind to Gabriel since he was alleged to have played a pivotal role in the betrayal of William Tyndale in 1535. This allegation rose to greater prominence during the 19th century when the subject was tackled many times by a large number of protestant authors. Gabriel was also falsely regarded as having been appointed to the Abbacy of Buckfast by Thomas Cromwell as a way of reward for betraying William Tyndale to the authorities. Gabriel’s subsequent resignation to the powers of King Henry VIII in 1539 saw him surrender Buckfast Abbey to the Commissioners of the Reformation. For this action Gabriel has been wrongly regarded as an impostor into the Abbacy of Buckfast. Modern research has shown that despite great religious upheavals in England during the 1530s it could not have been known in 1535 that the Suppression of the Monasteries was to be so wide scale and complete and that therefore it is a great disservice to Gabriel to suggest he willingly handed “his” Abbey over to the Commissioners in 1539. This falsehood was further developed by the new community of Benedictines who had returned to Buckfast in 1882.


St Pauwls Church [From Hollar’s Map of London, 1665]

After the dissolution of Buckfast Abbey Gabriel pursued duties as a secular priest in London. His educated status and his Pre-Reformation role as Abbot enabled him to become a Residentiary Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. This was an excellent opportunity for Gabriel to continue in his ministry back in a part of the world he knew from his childhood. Records indicate that Gabriel performed his duties at St Paul’s from 1540 until his death in December 1558. Gabriel was buried immediately next to, or before the High Altar in St Paul’s Cathedral, a burial place reserved for the very ecclesiastical elite.

Gabriel had outlived the tyrannical King Henry VIII and the reign of the King’s son, Edward IV. In 1553 Catholicism reigned once more upon the Queenship of Mary. Under Queen Mary many of the religious and liturgical ‘undoings’ of the former monarchs were undone and Catholic practices came back once more. How Gabriel adjusted to life as a Catholic once again can only be speculated but it must have come as something of familiarity and of pious devotion to him.

Gabriel’s death came only weeks after the death of Catholic Queen Mary. It would be interesting therefore to speculate how his funeral was conducted at St Paul’s. It seems most probable that it would have been largely Catholic in nature despite the fact that Queen Elizabeth I had now taken the throne. Although it is of a somewhat contentious argument there are those scholars who agree that Queen Elizabeth was a Catholic sympathiser so the recitation of the Hail Mary or use of Rosary Beads would not have been out of place in the early weeks and months of her reign.

© Graham Naylor