Alphington Church General History

Alphington Church
Copyright © Rowena Kirkpatrick

On the site of our present-day church a former place of worship once stood. Ralph Avenel, the Lord of the Honour of Okehampton, built this first church with permission from his Aunt Adelza, Lady of Okehampton. Certainly, this church was constructed before 1142 as Adelza died in that year and the font, which is known to have been the only item remaining from the previous building is dated as Norman.

Upon completion the church was immediately handed over to the Augustiman Priory, Plympton Priory, and one record showed that it was Ralph's son, William, who arranged this.

A document produced shortly after 1100 stated the revenues of Alphington Church were appropriated to Plympton Priory.

In 1241 the church was in the gift of the Neville family.

The Priory of Plympton lost the patronage of the church in July 1263 when Sir John Neville along with Bishop Bronescombe appointed William de Staneway, Dean of Exeter, as the first Rector of Alphington.

The Bishop accused William de Cheverstion (or Chursten), the Sheriff, of sacrilege in 1328 because he had removed John le Hennere from Alphington Church, where he had taken sanctuary, and placed him in Exeter Castle on the charge of murder.

In 1440 the Rector, John Major, complained that the church, rectory and other parts had been left in disrepair by the late Rector, Sir Richard Robert.

The church became beyond repair in 1447 and Sir William Courtenay rebuilt much of the building and his younger brother may have assisted. It is thought that at this time a tower was added.

The present-day church was built around 1480 and is dedicated to St. Michael and All Angels, the parishioners and the Earl of Devon, who contributed £700, paid for the building work.

The Will of William Oldreve, who had become Rector in 1536, was proven in June 1589 and he left 40/- for the repair of the church, 20d to be given to 20 poor parishioners and all his stock of wood to be divided amongst the poor of the parish.

When John Doughty was Rector between 1593 and 1651 he paid for the elaborate ceiling in the dining hall of the Rectory.

In 1646 it is thought that the church was used as a stable when Colonel Fairfax and his troops were stationed in the village in that year.

Between 1662 and 1667 the Rector, James Smith BD, restored the church.

In 1685 a record stated that the organ loft was cleaned, so we may assume from this that a small organ was being used at this time.

In 1745 2/- was paid for matting for the members of the choir to kneel on.

In 1776 overseers spent £2 5s 6d on a base viol and regular payments continued for some years to provide strings for the viol. A viol was also called a viola da gamba. It was a bowed stringed musical instrument used principally in chamber music of the 16th to 18th Centuries.

In 1792 a hautboy joined the viol. A Hautboy was a medieval musical instrument also known as a Hautbois from the French words 'haut' meaning high, loud and 'bois' meaning wood, woodwind. It was a slender double-reeded wood wind instrument with a conical bore and a double-reeded mouthpiece.

Sir Lawrence Palk Bart., the son of Sir Robert Palk 1st Bart., had purchased Matford from Henry Hippisley Coxe. Sir Lawrence claimed that as Matford was in the Parish of Alphington two or three pews in Alphington Church went with the estate of Matford. In 1801 several Vestry meetings were held and correspondence was exchanged between Robert Strong, the church warden, and Mr. John Pidsley, solicitor for Sir Lawrence, who set out that Sir Lawrence had an exclusive right to an aisle in the church. The conclusion was that Sir Lawrence did not have an exclusive right to an aisle in the church as the Parish had 'uniformly repaired the said aisle, uninterruptedly used and occupied parts of the aisle'. A similar claim had been made by Henry Hippisley Coxe in 1789 but that had also been refuted.

In 1814 a violin was purchased and also books were provided.

In 1823 five guineas was paid for a barrel for the organ and £1 purchased a case. Some years later a harmonium replaced the barrel organ and this remained in use until the major restoration of 1877–1878.

When William Ellicombe was Rector between 1780 and 1831 he altered the rectory pulling down the buttery and brew-house but he left the elaborate dining-hall ceiling. William was interested in the establishment of Kew Gardens and he planted several rare trees, including Tulip trees in the glebe field.

From a record dated 2nd August 1835 Henry Toms was appointed as Parish Clerk taking over from Francis Turner. A following record on 12th April 1841 stated that the Parish Clerk, Henry Toms, would receive a salary of £8 annually and £1 for washing the surplices and linen but he must relinquish the custom of asking for Christmas boxes.

On 13th May 1841 it was stated that a teacher should be appointed to select the voices for the future choir. This was to be under the approbation of the minister and the church wardens. The annual remuneration for the choir members was to be reserved for the future consideration.

On 27th October 1842 it was resolved that Mr. Richard Lear be appointed the Vestry Clerk from Michaelmas 1842. He would be required to affix all notices of Parish meetings and to attend all those meetings. He also had to make entries of the proceedings in the Vestry Books, and from time to time make out all such church notes as required. He was to receive a salary of three guineas per annum and would be paid by the church wardens.

On 24th March 1845 it was shown in records that James Shilley was to be engaged to play the organ and to 'exert his voice' for the salary of 1 shilling per week, this would be paid quarterley. Another record for this date stated 'the church wardens should not pay the singers their usual salary for the last year having abruptly left the choir'. Also the church wardens should take possession of the violincello and books belonging to the Parish.
There was also a memorandum by the Rector, Rev. Richard Ellicombe, 'According to the legal authority of Lord Stowell, the appointment of the organist and the control of the musical part of the service is entirely in the hands of the clergyman. Consequently, James Shilley could not be legally appointed by the parishioners but continues his office by permission of the minister for the time being'.

In a record dated 16th April 1849 it was stated that the singers be paid the sum of £2 2s 0d for the last year, it was not clear if this was for each singer or the whole choir. The church wardens should in future pay the agreed sum in May each year provided the choir had attended church and conducted their singing respectably.

On 6th April 1863 a Vestry Meeting resolved it had been carried unanimously that the organist and singers were to be discontinued for the ensuing year.

Then just over a month later on 21st May 1863 or there was another Vestry meeting for the purpose of taking into consideration the rescinding of the resolution passed at the previous meeting in April that the salary of the organist and singers be discontinued for the ensuing year and also the propriety of restoring singing in the church. It was resolved that the sum of £5 per annum be placed in the hands of the church wardens for the purpose of promoting singing in the choir.

In 1933 the church organ was converted to electric.

To commemorate the coronation of King George VI in 1937 the Church Councillor, Mr. A. Wedgewood Gater, gave a very hansom gift to the church of the Royal Arms beautifully painted and raised upon an oak frame. Alphington Church use to have a shield of Royal Arms as all churches were ordered to do so but in the severe restoration of 1877–1878 it is thought it was either lost or destroyed. The gift was dedicated on Coronation Day by the Rector Bernard C. Bennett.

Also in 1937 the church received two beautiful birthday gifts on St Michael's Day. These were two beautifully bound altar books from Mrs Erica Newton and two fine altar vases from an anonymous donor.

In February of 1938 the cleaning of the church and painting of the walls was under way.

The Bishop of Crediton dedicated a window placed by the Rector Bernard C. Bennett in memory of his wife Mrs Kittie Bennett on Saturday 12th March 1938 at 3 pm. The 12th March was Mrs Bennett's birthday. The stone work was from the architect's design Mr. M. Drury and the window design was by Mr. Hubert Blanchard.

In January of 1940 two oak benches were given by Miss M. Veitch in memory of Miss R. M. Veitch.

Also in 1940 on 14th January Mr. Leonard and Miss Mitchell gave a bench in memory of both their parents.

A notice dated 10th February 1946 stated: 'Ladies. To those members of the Sunday morning parade whom I rarely see except by the organ mirror. The Sunday morning service last week was ragged and out of tune. Will you kindly attend all the practices in order to rectify the above or honourably resign from what is rapidly becoming a voiceless beauty chorus. We (i.e. the reminder of the choir) have reached the half way mark in the Lenten cantata and some of you do not know correctly six notes of it. We might say, 'Wot! No Conscience?' Seriously though, this choir is going to be sadly depleted unless some of you honour your obligations'. [signed] A. G. Chanter

On Good Friday 1947 Matins was conducted by the Rector, Preb. Bernard C. Bennett. The three-hour service was taken by Rev. E. F. Tozer RD. Instead of evensong the sacred cantata 'The Cross of Calvary' was rendered by the choir, this consisted of solos and quartets and was conducted by A. J. Brewer. Miss Hynas Sanders played the organ. One Easter Sunday over 200 were communicated at Matins. The choir performed the anthem 'Jesus Christ our Lord is Risen' and the preacher was Rev. D. Lewtas. At evensong the anthem was once again rendered conducted by A. J. Brewer. Miss Hynas Sanders played the organ and Mr. W. Pike and Miss Sanders accompanied the singing and organ with their violins. The Rector Preb. Bernard C. Bennett officiated. The church was tastefully decorated by helpers and the collections were given as an Easter gift to the Rector.

Between 1954 and 1962 many improvements were made to the church. It was cleaned inside, the walls colour washed, the tower was strengthened, linen and vestments were renewed, the electric wiring was renewed throughout, the sanctuary was panelled, a new altar was placed in the south side, the ringing chamber was glassed in, the heating system 'stepped up' and one or two oak seats added.

In 1962 the church's heating system was drained, repaired and renewed.

Also in 1962 the roof bosses had been worked on and it was said that it added a bit of coloured light to the dark chancel.

Parishioners were informed that the church would be much warmer on Lent week nights in 1962 as the oil central heating was working well and could be turned on and off at any time. There would still be draughts, the worse being around the altar and the tower. It was stated, 'nothing will ever move those who sit near the tower! They've always sat there and always will! But they won't get any sympathy — or warmth either!'

The weather in February 1963 was so bad that bricklaying was impossible so the new heating in the church had been delayed for a month. However, it was hoped to place an oil tank on temporary foundations which would be made good in the Summer.

In the middle of 1960 complaints were made about the strips of carpet in the Sanctuary which were thought to be shabby. One Parishioner said of the carpet strips, 'most people would not think good enough to have in a passage in their own homes'.

In 1970 a pump was installed in the heating system to send water faster around the church. It was said that it would make a big difference.

In January 1971 work commenced on the organ, it was thoroughly cleaned and worn parts were replaced.

Also in 1971 Messrs Baskerville and Robinson painted the organ pipes to match the curtains, carpets and seat covers. It was stated that this cheered up the darkest corner of the church.

On Ash Wednesday in 1972, during the power cuts caused by the miners strike, everyone said they had never seen the church look so lovely as it did in candle light. The only problem was the stumps of candles were becoming smaller and smaller.

On the night of 6th–7th October 1986 a fire started in the church. The roof, centre and south aisles, vestry and the old Hele organ were severely damaged. Forty firemen from Exeter, Topsham and Crediton fought to control the blaze. The interior of the church were left charred and blackened and water, foam and pieces of burnt roof timbers littered the pews and aisles. Pews from the south half of the church were taken to a local farm for storage and the holes in the roof were covered by tarpaulins. On the evening of 8th October Revd. Mark Bate held a special service of rededication and also to pay tribute to the fire service and to the volunteers who had helped with the salvage and clean-up operation. One hundred and fifty people were crammed into the Lady Chapel, north and left–centre parts of the church; the bells rang out that evening. Hele & Company Ltd built the new organ, the case is of oak and the interior constructed from mahogany. All the metal pipework and some of the wood pipework were made in Hele's workshops. The pedal Bourdon pipes were made by Aug. Laukhoft of Germany. Peter Gundrig F.R.I.B.A., F.R.S.A, surveyor to the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral, designed the illustrated west front. The new organ was placed in a loft south of the chancel. When the restoration was complete the first service took place on the eve of the feast of St. Michael on Monday 28th September 1987. A small patch of wall in the chancel was left uncleaned to remind us of the fire.



Copyright © Rowena Kirkpatrick