Monday, 1 February 2016

Chagford break: some churches worth visiting

Apart from walking, another free pleasure that we indulge in whenever we can is visiting local churches. And there were a goodly number of these around Chagford. All open and all clearly much loved by their communities. But with declining congregations and the general dissociation of the public from the church, how much longer will they remain this way? Jump forward 30 years to a time when most of the present churchgoers have gone to meet their Maker, who will be there to maintain these churches in their present form? Particularly those in the more isolated hamlets and villages? It's going to be a big problem and I have yet to read how the C of E is intending to address the issue. Let's put the pessimism to one side for the time being and enjoy those we did visit.
Starting with St Michael the Archangel in Chagford, which was consecrated it in July 1261.
The interior with a nicely carved screen and an impressive barrel roof. There are some good carved bosses in the ceiling but, unfortunately, the light was not good enough to make them outA toddler's group was in full swing when we visited and it was good to see the church being used. We got a good welcome from the people there.
Now to the Church of the Holy Trinity in the hamlet of Gidleigh. I have to quote verbatim something I came across in a booklet: "On the Dartmoor Richter Scale of architectural magnificence Gidleigh church would hardly register a reading. However, in the spiritual sense the place quakes with tranquillity and reverence like no other moorland church". A rather harsh assessment but I know what the author means. It's a lovely little church, Saxon or Norman in origin and situated in an area that has been of religious significance for thousands of years. One of its claims to fame, apparently, is that it is one of the very few churchyards with a stream running through it, the line of which can just be made out. Thinking about it, with so much water in this part of the world, it would be more surprising if an area the size of the churchyard didn't have a stream running through it. With the remains of a castle/fortified manor house next door, there's more than one reason to visit Gidleigh.
An unusual carved wooden font cover, dating from early Victorian times.
The ornate rood screen, dating from the 1400s, was the main feature of the simple and light interior. It has had a chequered career and spent some time in another church before coming back to its original position. The regilding was done by the Victorians (who else?).
From the Church of the Holy Trinity to Holy Trinity Church in Drewesteignton, a serf's throw from Castle Drogo. Dating from the fifteenth century, this one isn't as old as some but still worth visiting. We had a friendly 'flower lady' tell us a little of the history, including one fact that really please me. And what was it that please you so, Deri? That the Reverend Keble Martin was an incumbent here for a while in the 1950s. Who he?  None other than the author of the Concise British Flora, my indispensable companion during my A Level and undergraduate Botany courses. I've got a well-thumbed copy some where; I'll have to dig it out.
 Hanging over the entrance is a well preserved and recently restored board showing the Royal Coats of Arms of Queen Elizabeth I. This showed the churchgoers who was in charge and gave them permission to hold protestant . Apparently each monarch should do something similar but this practice seems to have died out a long time ago. It's rare (unique?) for us to come across one as old as this.
Our penultimate church, St Mary the Virgin in Throwleigh.
The first recorded rector was in 1248, but most of the present church dates from
the 15th and 16th centuries. The church guide tells us that Throwleigh has attracted some fascinating (code for extremely eccentric) church leaders over the years, particularly George Gambier Lowe and Herbert Leslie Drew. Well worth looking them up on Google.
The remains of the rood screen were at low level and fragments of the original had been incorporated into some modern panels. What was interesting was that the rood beam was there and supported a modern rood (the cross and the crucifixion). The original rood stairway was in the wall to the right.
On the way home we called on in St Petroc's Church in Lydford. Given that Lydford was a well-developed Saxon town, it is no surprise that the original church on this site was built of wood. It was burnt down by Viking raiders and the present building, dating from the thirteenth century, was erected on the site.
As good a collection of inscribed slate headstones that we've come across anywhere. What was unusual about these was that, although they dated from around the mid-1700s, the writing was still very clearly discernible. The absence of lichen on them suggests that they have been well looked after.
The three aisles in the church are covered with magnificent barrel roofs in oak. Not all of the wood is original but any restoration has been done extremely sensitively. The uplighting really sets of the features and it's a pity that more churches don't do the same. All too often you have to peer into the gloom to make out what's up there.
The questions ask "who is she and what did she do?". Clever clogs me knew the answers to both. She was Violet Pinwill and what do she do?
She carved wood, that's what. Her splendid work can be found in many churches in West Devon and East Cornwall and her carved screens here at Lydford are typically impressive. It's a thrill just to run your hands along the surface wood, admire the skill and feel a connection with her workshop in Ermington.
Not a casualty of war. Frederick Fry's service number prefixed by TR7 indicates that he was in the Training Reserve and not on active duty. A quick search suggests that he was killed in a training exercise accident.
I'm not sure that a modern day carver would have recommended some of this lettering. Unless, of course, it was true......

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