Chistianity was first brought to West Devon by
Celtic Missionaries and by 650AD was firmly established throughout the
Holsworthy probably became a Parish sometime between
1086 and 1130. The first positive record of the church was in 1268 when
Bishop Bronscombe visited the Parish and it is likely the first church
to be built on this site was in 1130.
The original Norman Church was small and occupied
the site of the present nave. This Romanesque building gave place to one
of the Early English style in about 1250. Additions and alterations were
made in 1366. There is evidence of this in the South Porch with the two
Door Posts on each side with their capitals and bases in the Romanesque
style. Notice the Pilgrim crosses on the right hand column.
In the 14th Century a Chantry Chapel was established
at Trewyn, about half a mile from the Chruch. The founder and patron of
the Chantry was Walter le Deneis (the Danish Man). The Deneis or "Dennis"
family held the manors of Pancrasweek, Manworthy and Trewyn and endowed
the priests of the Chantry for two hundred years. The principal duty of
a Chantry priest was to say Mass daily for the repose of the souls of
the founder family. The Chantry was transferred to, and incorporated in,
the Parish Chruch in 1450 and probably occupied what is now the South
Aisle of the Church. Chantries were dissolved in 1536 and the last appointment
of a Chantry Priest to St Mary's Chantry as the Trewyn Chantry was called,
was in 1524.
The Holsworthy Parish Church is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul who
were martyred in Rome about 62AD. At the Reformation an attempt was made
to name only the Apostle Peter but this has reverted by usage over the
last centaury to the two saints.
The ecclesiastical parish is united with the parishes of Hollacombe and
Milton Damerel. The living of Hollacombe has been held in plurality for
much of the last two hundred years but the benefice was officially united
with Holsworthy on May 1st 1974. It's dedication is to St Petroc. The
benefice of Milton Damerel was incorporated into the United Benefice under
the present incumbent in 1986/7. It is situated some eight miles in the
direction of Bideford just of the main road by Town Farm. The village
of Milton Damerel mostly disappeared during the 15th century but is now
well established with it's Parish Church, Holy Trinity, within the rural
deanery of Holsworthy, the Archdeaconry of Totnes and the Diocese of Exeter.
Churchyards were often the sites of ancient village meeting places or
market places. It is almost certain that in Holsworthy, a fair was held
and took place in what is now the churchyard, even before the first church
In the course of time it became the practice to hold the Fair on the Feast
Day of the Saint to whom the Church was dedicated so Holsworthy Fair became
known as St Peter's Fair. The present annual Fair is known by this name,
although, ever since the Gregorian calendar was altered in 1752 by the
omission of eleven days, the Fair has been held eleven days after St Peter's
In 1285 the Statute of Winchester ordered fairs to be moved out of churchyards.
From that date Holsworthy Fair moved to the nearest available public ground,
which was a field to the north of the churchyard still known as Fair Park.
This is behind the houses on North Road just before the old Primary School.
The last trading Fair to be moved was the Horse Fair, which was held in
the road alongside the Church wall. The rings for the horse tethers are
still there in one or two places. Some elderly residents can still remember
horses tethered the entire length of the churchyard wall and along North
Road as far as the old Primary School. Horses were trotted to and fro
while noisy and excited buying and selling went on in the road. Sometimes
horses jumped over the wall into the churchyard. To prevent this, railings
were fixed inside the wall making the present very useful footpath. At
one time the churchyard was level with the road but frequent burials over
the centuries have caused the level to rise, while the road outside has
become compacted to take the ever-increasing traffic.
The War Memorial stands outside near the South entrance and is made of
granite in the form of a Cornish Cross. The names of the men of Holsworthy
who were killed in the two World Wars are engraved on the plinth stones
to their memory.
At the lower corner of the Churchyard there is a flight of steps that
lead down to Church Lane and to a former Rectory, now known as No 1, 2
and 3 Church Cottages. Later a small house was bought for the Rectory
on the opposite side of the main road at the north side of the Square.
This property has been enlarged twice, the latest addition having been
carried our by the Reverend George Wright Thornton when large rooms in
the front were added and the Portico built. There were extensive grounds
comprising an unusual Labyrinth or Maze, a walled fruit and vegetable
garden, lawns and tennis court. The Rector employed a coachman, two gardeners
and three domestic servants. This became too much to keep up and in 1947
the Holsworthy Urban District Council bought the house and grounds. Most
of the garden is now used for a car park. Part was used for road widening
and also provided the site for the Memorial Hall. The house is now known
as the Manor Office and is used mainly as offices and provides a room
for the Holsworthy Museum.
The present Rectory, a large and imposing limestone building, stands at
the end of Bodmin Street, which is the road to Derriton. A bungalow for
the assistant Priest was built at West View in 1968, which is now let
at the discretion of the Parish County Council (PCC).
The jambs of the inner doorway of the Porch are Norman. On both sides
there are interesting carvings thought to have come from the remains of
the original Oratory and to have been incorporated into the walls of the
Porch. One is a carving of a lamb beneath a cross and under which is a
bracket and a lily. The other seems to be worked in a different stone
and is a bracket with carved work over it.
The South Aisle
The South Aisle has five massive octagonal columns with pointed arches
dating from the fourteenth century. The bases are of ashlar granite and
the rest of sandstone.
The font was erected at a cost of £30 in 1884. It replaced an earlier
much more interesting one of Norman origin.
Some of the pews were removed from the east of the aisle in 1961 and an
oak alter was placed there as a memorial by the family of Mr and Mrs W
T Kivell. Above the alter is a crucifix carved by a German who was detained
in Holsworthy Prisoner of War (POW) camp during the Second World War.
The crucifix was given to the Church on his repatriation. The stained
glass window is a memorial to John Cory, a mercer, who died in 1675. Beside
this window there is an old slate slab in the wall over the tomb of Theophilus
Dennis 1691. It shows clearly the Dennis coat of arms of three Danish
battle-axes. He was a descendant of Walter le Dennis, the founder of the
Trewyn Chantry. There is an interesting tablet on the south wall of Benedictus
Marwood Kelly 1836 a lawyer and the last of the private bankers in Holsworthy
and to his wife Mary (formally Coham). It reads, "He left to his
family a rich inheritance in example of a life of industry unremitting
of probity unsullied an piety most sincere". It was his wealthy son,
Admiral B M Kelly, who founded and endowed Kelly College Tavistock.
The Nave is 16.3 meters long and 5.8 meters wide. At the west end, on
each side of the belfry, massive stone walls jut out into the Church and
these may be the original end of the Norman building. It is also probable
that there was a Gallery here. The arch above is a fine example of Early
Gothic. A new large plate glass screen, with oak doors, separates the
belfry from the Nave. This was a gift from Mr and Mrs Norman Clark in
Hung either side of the Belfry door are two hand painted glass windows
depicting the nativity and the annunciation they were made by extracting
dyes from vegetable matter and clothing by Italian prisoners of war around
1942, who were detained in the POW camp No 42 near Holsworthy. The site
of Stanhope Close today. The windows were removed from the hut that served
as the Roman Catholic Chapel for Italians and later for German POWs by
Mr Whapham, a one time Church Warden, and kept in a garage for many years.
Then given to the Church for public display in 1994.
Turning towards the Alter, the Book of Remembrance is kept in an oak glass-topped
table near the Lectern. It contains the names, photographs and the short
biographies of all the Holsworthy men killed in the two World Wars. Both
the book and the casket are the work of local craftsmen. The book was
compiled and presented to the Town in 1960 by Mr Stanley J Roland.
Visitors who wish to see a particular entry may obtain the keys from any
of the Church officials.
The North Aisle and Lady Chapel
The North Aisle was added in 1884. When a wall was pulled down in order
to make room for the addition a human skeleton was found. This may have
been a grim relic of the original Norman building "on the foundation
of life, ie the walling in of a living person.
The whole of this aisle was transformed into a Lady Chapel soon after
the Second World War. The large window over the Alter was given in 1970
by the Misses England of Chilsworthy. It represents the enthroned Virgin
and was designed and made by Mr James Paterson, ARCA, at the Bideford
School of Art. In the Tracery above are the cock, sword and keys, symbols
of the two patron saints, St Peter and St Paul. There is an Ambry near
the altar where the Sacrament is reserved for the sick.
At the back above the choir vestry is a window made by John Bell of London
in memory of Francis Honey Thorne (1876) who was churchwarden for many
years at the time of the Revd Roger Kingdon. This window shows eight events
in the life of Christ from the Nativity to the Ascension. The lights above
show the Holy Ghost, the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary.
The pulpit is beautifully carved in oak and the Revd Edward Royle writing
in the Parish Magazine of 1949 reported "The Revd W H Rogers writes
to me from Mortimer End Vicarage at Reading to give me the sad news that
his wife, remembered by us as Ethel Mary Aspinall, passed away suddenly
on 6th December last". She always took a great interest in her old
parish and received the magazine. It was she who carved the panels of
the pulpit and she and her sister gave our reredos. Many will remember
this old Holsworthy family with affection.
The Chancel was completely rebuilt in 1884 by the Revd G W Thornton at
his own expense. The roof is of very fine oak with carved bosses and the
corbels are carved with angels. This carving was done by John Northcott
of Ashwater who also carved the choir stalls.
The reredos is of oak, carved by Herbert Read of Exeter, and given by
the Misses Aspinall of Waterloo House in 1926. The reredos and the roof,
the bosses, corbels and angels were all cleaned, gilded and painted in
The painting and gilding of the reredos has made the figures stand out
clearly. It can be seen that St Peter with the keys and figures carry
shields embossed with details of the Passion Story as follows; 1 Hammer
and Pliers; 2 Wounds of the heart, hands and feet; 3 Cloak and Dice; 4
Ladder sponge and spear; 5 Nails and crown of thorns; 6 Pillar and two
scourges; 7 Bag of tribute money; 8 Sword and Malchus's ear.
Above the Altar is a large five-light window showing the resurrection
with the twelve apostles and the three women who came to empty the tomb.
There are smaller windows on either side. The one to the right is in memory
of Thomas Thornton (1867), father of The Revd G W Thornton, and of Thomas
Hardman (1852) Patron of the Living. This window represents St Peter and
St Paul and shows fine enamel painting of their faces. The quatrefoil
light above shows two quills, which symbolise their writings.
The window on the left is a one-light lancet window depicting the Virgin
Another window in the Chancel, above the choir stalls, shows the parable
of the Good Samaritan and in the quatrefoil light above there is a "Pelican
in her piety" symbolising redemption by the blood of Christ. This
window is in memory of Samuel Fry and his wife Eliza Fry. The latter was
the daughter of the Revd. Roger Kingdon, Rector of the Parish for thirty-eight
years in the early 19th century.
The brass sanctuary lamp hanging above the Altar was made by hand by Mr
Russel Luxton and given to the Church in 1970.
On the north wall of the Chancel the oval tablet with the coat of arms
above is in memory of the Revd Humphrey Saunders (1670) who was deprived
of the living of Holsworthy after thirty years as Rector because he refused
to sign the Declaration of Conformity.
Behind the Altar is the Cory vault inscribed with the names of nine members
of the family.
During the incumbency of Revd Edward Royle a brass altar rail was replaced
with an oak one, which was moved back to a lower step giving more space
in the Sanctuary. The choir stalls were also moved as far as possible
towards the nave.
The handsome organ is claimed to be the work of Renatus Harris. It was
originally for the parish church of All Saints in Chelsea in 1645. Efforts
to confirm this have failed as the church in Chelsea was bombed during
the Second World War and all records were destroyed. The Bideford Corporation
bought the organ in 1723 and presented it to their Parish Church. Then,
in 1865 the parishioners of Holsworthy bought it for £300. The pipe
work of the Great and Choir Organ is unique because it includes some spotted
metal flue work.
The Tower, built in 1450, is the most noteworthy part of the Church. It
is a very fine perpendicular structure about 21.5 metres high and made
of granite. It has a square battlemented parapet carrying four pinnacles.
The pinnacles have been struck twice by lightening. The most recent occasion
being on 14th February 1914 at four o'clock in the afternoon when the
South West pinnacle fell into the road. Large pieces of stone damaged
the shop premises and the cottages, which were opposite the church at
that time, but no one was hurt. The Tower is now fitted with four lightening
There are two very old doors in the Tower, which must have been put there
when it was built. They are made from solid oak, heavily studded with
hand made iron nails and have large iron Hinges. The lower door in the
belfry has been covered with a new panel of wood.
The large Victorian stained glass window in the belfry was erected to
the memory of Miss Jane Meyrick. She was the daughter of the Revd Owen
Meyrick, Rector of Holsworthy for fifty-three years. The window depicts
four well-known bible stories from the life of Christ.
A spiral stairway of ninety-two granite steps provides access to the top
of the tower in three stages. The first flight of steps leads to a room
that houses the workings of the clock and the electric tune-playing machine
for the Carillon. A clock was first mentioned in the Churchwarden's accounts
in 1690. The present clock was erected in 1869 and the part to chime the
Westminster quarters was added in 1873 by Gillet and Bland, Steam Clock
Factory, Croydon. The clock used to be wound by hand every day by three
separate movements: 1 the hours, 2 the minutes, 3 the chimes, but is now
The second stage in the Tower is where the bells are hung. Sockets can
be seen where the old oak framework was set into the walls. This has now
been replaced with a freestanding steel framework.
The third flight of steps leads to the roof by means of a doorway, which
is only about four feet high and is made of four large pieces of granite
set in a rectangle.
The bells have been added gradually over the years. In 1553 there were
three, in 1727 there were five and in 1836 Thomas Mears of London made
eight new bells. In 1949 the eight bells were recast with increased weight
and re-hung with new fittings and a steel framework. At the same time
a new Carillon was installed. The whole of this work was re-dedicated
by the then Bishop of Exeter, Dr Robert Mortimer, one of his first engagements
as Diocesan Bishop. This event occurred five hundred years after the Tower
was built. Generous donations for this work came from far and wide and
particularly from the townspeople of Holsworthy regardless of their denomination.
The following inscriptions from the old bells were cast on the new bells
with increased weight and all the bells have "Gillette & Johnson
Croydon 1949" inscribed around the top band.
There have two Carillons, the first being installed in 1872 at a cost
of £400. The framework for the Carillon and the present clock was
made in 1869 by a Holsworthy tradesman, Mr S L Manning and lasted thirty-eight
years. This Carillon had two large drums of seven tunes each which were
entitled: 'Hanover,' 'Life let us cherish,' 'My lodging is on the cold
ground,' 'Blue bells of Scotland,' 'The last rose of summer,' 'German
chorale,' 'Home sweet home,' 'O rest the Lord,' 'Holsworthy bells No 1,'
'Morning Glory,' 'Holsworthy bells No 2,' 'The return,' 'The pilgrim,'
and 'Trinity Church New York.' This apparatus continued to function, albeit
spasmodically, until 1910 when a replacement was considered. Under guidance
of the Portreeve, Dr Linnington Aish, and a fund for the repair raised
£100 by 1912.
The old apparatus was dismantled and dispatched for Germany for a complete
overhaul but the First World War intervened and it was never heard of
The present Carillon, manufactured by Gillette & Johnson, was installed
at the same time as the new ring of bells in 1949. The mechanism is a
'one-off' designed for Holsworthy Church and operates on an electrical
micro switch/compressed air principle. There are a total of thirteen tunes
(listed below) on individual drums and played at three hourly intervals
during the day from 9 am to 9 pm.
The strife is o'er, the battle done
The First Noel
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Brahms Cradle Song
Ye watchers and ye holy ones
We love this place O God
Home Sweet Home
Through the night of doubt and sorrow
Gentle Jesus meek and mild
God that makest earth and heaven
Fight the good fight
The king of love my Shepard is
The music for Holsworthy Church Bells is known and loved worldwide and
is reputed to have been written beneath the large beech trees on the southern
side of Badock Gardens by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (a distant relative
of brothers Charles and John). He was at the time organist at Exeter Cathedral
and wrote the piece as a tribute to the Holsworthy bells. He gave the
first rendering of his composition at the dedication of Holsworthy Church
organ in 1865. The words were written later by the Rector's Warden, F
The Pretty Maids' Charity
This unique gift is worth mentioning. It was contained in the Will of
a Revd Thomas Merryck of Carta Martha, near Launceston, who died 27th
May 1841. He was the brother of the Revd Owen Merryck one time Rector
Under the terms of the Will, the income from a legacy is to be paid annually
"to the young single woman resident in Holsworthy under 30 years
of age who is generally esteemed by the young as:
The most deserving
The most handsome
The most noted for her quietness and attendance at church."
The Will states that the donations were made to maintain peace on earth
and goodwill amongst men and adds "may this well meant example lead
rulers to see and know that subjects are better directed and led by harmless
amusement and by judicious reward, than by the fear of punishment."
The Pretty Maids' Charity is administered by a sub-committee of three
from Specotts Charity from which a larger committee distributes to the
poor the income from other sources. It has been distributed to the poor
each year since 1841 and the annual presentation is made from the Belfry
doorway at 12 o'clock noon on the first day of St Peter's Fair. The identity
of the chosen young lady is kept a close secret until she emerges through
the doorway at the first stroke of the church clock and confronts an ever
increasing crowd of people anxious to view this unique ceremony.
©Virworthy Wharf 2000
(Further history items to be added in the coming