History


The following is a Guide to St Mary the Virgin written by the Reverend Kenneth Newell in 1993

Follow the page numbers across and then down

This is also available in printed format in church Price £1.50

The Parish Church of
St Mary the Virgin


Upon entering the church, first perhaps having paused to enjoy the wonderful view over Lynmouth Bay and Countisbury Foreland; most visitors are struck by the size of the building in relation to the population of the area which it serves.

In the mid-nineteen eighties all churches in the Exeter Diocese were assessed and categorised, taking into consideration not only the strategical importance, but also that of the building itself. It will come as no surprise that St. Mary's, Lynton was placed in the highest category as a fine example of church architecture of the late nineteenth century.

Often described in print as 'an ancient church' -St. Mary's for the main part is little more than 100 years old; for within that time three major re-building projects were carried out, and as the result of these, both the size and the general appearance has greatly changed from the small village church that it once was. The exception to this is the tower which dates from Norman times; and is a constant reminder to us that churches have stood on this site for hundreds of years. More proof, if it were needed; can be gained from an inspection of the memorials, both inside and out. The earliest in the churchyard is to Elizabeth Sqvier and Peter Sqvier of Parracombe and dates from 1645.

Before that date the main purpose of a churchyard was for the disposal of bodies. In the reign of Elizabeth the First, a law was passed which required all corpses to be buried in a woollen cloth shroud, to provide work for the woollen mills who were having a particularly bad time. Private graves were few in number and in the course of time the graveyard was probably reworked several times.

At the time of the first extension to the church it was necessary to remove some of the graves and the remains recovered were re-interred. Some of the most interesting headstones were brought into the church and are affixed to the south wall.

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The Reverend Walter Eustace Cox M.A was appointed to the living in 1887, and it was soon thought necessary to carry out an even larger extension to the church, which involved the removal of many more graves. An octogenarian recently told me of a story that he had heard as a child from a labourer working on this somewhat grizzly task. One day one of the workmen unearthed a skull complete with horns. He related how the men all dropped their tools and ran; absolutely convinced that they had disturbed the remains of the Devil. However, the reports of the Devil's demise was alas soon quashed when the skull was identified as being that of a ram. I cannot vouch for the truth of this story, it may simply have been a tale invented to frighten a small lad, but I can vouch for the next one.

In the late 1960's a road widening scheme was carried out in the Lee Road. It started at the Town Hall and ended at the church. The church authorities were asked to agree to part with just over 3' of the churchyard to enable a path to be constructed. Parting with this land also involved setting back the ancient Lych-gate -the roofed gateway to the church; beneath which a coffin was set down to await the arrival of the officiating minister. At the same time it was thought worthwhile to create a parking bay, which involved the removal of even more graves. The mortal remains were again gathered as before and re-buried in a communal grave on the north side of the church.

A local hotelier came to see me the morning after this event to ask if I knew the identity of any of the remains that were moved. He feared that we may have disturbed the grave of one of the previous owners of his property. This is the story he had to tell:

The evening before he had let a twin-bedded room to two young men. One of them had difficulty in getting to sleep because his companion insisted on walking about the room, stopping every so often to gaze out of the window. "I do wish you would get into bed and let me get to sleep", said he. It I am in bed" came a drowsy response. "I have been for ages". After an early breakfast these two visitors left, VOWING NEVER TO RETURN.
So, perhaps the story of the ram's skull is not far-fetched after all.
However let us return to the topic in hand, for I digress.

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The Reverend Cox and the Churchwardens engaged a young architect from Taunton to design and oversee the alterations. The work, in the main. was to be carried out by local labour with the importation of specialists where necessary.

The young architect was Mr J.D. Sedding, but alas he was never to see his plan completed. On a journey from his home town of Taunton he was taken ill. He had arrived at Minehead, by train. and felt unable to continue that day with his visit to Lynton, as it involved an arduous 19 mile journey by horse drawn carriage· the famous Minehead to Lynton coach.

Mr Sedding booked in at an hotel in Minehead, intending just to stay the night. Alas, what he thought was simply a chill developed into pneumonia, and it proved fatal.

The work was completed by a pupil of Mr Sedding -a Mr H. Wilson. He made several alterations to the original plan. Mr Sedding had envisaged a BALDACCINO (a canopy) over the main altar -bearing in mind that the East window would then have been just plain glass. Likewise, Mr Sedding had included a gallery at the west end of the nave in his plan. It was never completed. High on the wall you may see the blocked doorway which was intended to be its entrance. Behind this there is a flight of spiral stone steps which lead up from the entrance porch. They are now concealed behind a locked door. The staircase is both narrow and steep, so much so that only the most agile and adventurous worshippers would ever have used them. It seems likely to me that this contributed to the abandonment of the scheme.

The Reverend Cox was a great benefactor of Lynton Church. He left behind many things to remind us of his years of service to the Parish of Lynton. One of the bells bears the names of his sons - CUTHBERT, EUSTACE, MICHAEL, CYRIL, STEPHEN, PATRICK, DENYS - after which follows the rhyme -"We brothers seven give thanks to heaven".

The Reverend Cox died in April 1942 at the ripe old age of 91 years. Although long retired, and away from Lynton, the funeral service was held in this church and his body was laid to rest in the churchyard extension on the road to the Valley of the Rocks, known as Longmead.

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An elderly parishioner who was present on that occasion told me a rather sad story connected with it. The marriage of one of the sons had ended in divorce -something that his father would never accept. holding very strong views on the subject. As a result of this father and son became estranged. The son attended the service, but out of respect for his father remained in the porch throughout the entire proceedings.

It is time now to start our guided tour. Are you ready? Then follow me. We make our entry to the church via the north porch. Once inside we pause for a moment to admire the beautiful leather-clad and brass studded double doors. Once through them before us is an unhindered view of the elegant Lady Chapel, the main altar, chancel and nave, whilst further over, gazing through the arches, we see the south aisle, baptistry and the entrance to the tower.

The theme of the Benedicite is carried out everywhere in the church. Immediately overhead as you enter is the first of the Benedicite windows - designed by the noted artist Christopher Whall -"PRAISE HIM SUN AND MOON; PRAISE HIM ALL YE STARS OF LIGHT". On our travels around the church you will discover in other of these light windows, birds, animals, fish, flowers -even the turmoil of the waves. The same theme is carried out in the various wood carvings -particularly of interest are the pulpit and the lectern.

The second window in the north aisle is in memory of Walter Hume, churchwarden of St. Mary's for many years. This rather dark, but beautiful, window depicts four young men. They represent Wisdom, Love, Work and Fortitude. Look closely at this window for it involves a rather delightful story which I will now impart to you: The Reverend and Mrs Cox had made a personal gift of the east window in the Lady Chapel. They used the faces of their three eldest sons in the representations of the saints. Captain Walter Hume had been heard to express regret on many occasions that the other members of the family had not been remembered in a similar way -but there were in all eight children. Seven sons as you will recall; and then, at last, a daughter. Yes, the Reverend Cox's wish was at last granted. Avis was born and it is said that the church bells rang out that day for several hours to celebrate the arrival of Avis. Undoubtedly Mrs Cox was even more relieved than her husband for the family was now complete

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When the 'Hume Window' was commissioned it was decided to use the faces of the four remaining sons to illustrate Wisdom, Love, etc. Finally, so that the family should really be complete, the face of little Avis appears at the top of the first panel looking over the head of her brother.

Further down the north aisle is a glass topped box which contains a copy of THE BISHOP'S BIBLE. This was purchased and given to the church by the children of Lynton. Their tiny donations are all recorded in a note book and this now resides in the Parish Chest in the Sacristy. This chest had in former years held all the parish records but the conditions were far from ideal. They are now preserved in the library at Barnstaple where they are available for inspection on request. The earliest records date from the 16th Century. 'The BISHOP'S BIBLE is a translation compiled under the direction of an Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker. It was first published in 1568. It remained in general use in churches throughout the land until the Authorised Version was published in 1611. Many translators were involved in its production and it is unique in that each contributor was allowed to append his signature at the end of his contribution.

We have now arrived at the Lady Chapel, which has a number of interesting features. To the left is a small lancet window depicting The Virgin Mary as a child with her mother, St. Anne. Dominating the chapel is a statue of the Blessed Virgin given in memory of the mother of a former Incumbent. He obtained it through the good offices of the Warden of the Shrine at Walsingham. It is carved from lime wood and it arrived in its natural state. It was painted by a professional artist, a member of the congregation. This lady was also responsible for restoring the paintings on the reredos, to the left and right of the altar.

Before the statue was finally placed in its present position, it was tried out in several other locations. The first of these was in the south aisle, in front of the organ case. You will have noticed that the Statue is almost life-sized, being just over five feet in height. When it was first introduced an elderly parishioner, upon entering the church at dusk thought that she had been chosen to see an apparition. She hurried as fast as her shaking legs would carry here to the Rectory to break the news.

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For one very brief moment Lynton almost became another Lourdes. The old lady who later became a great benefactress of the church, often chuckled over what at the time was both a shock and a great disappointment.

The centre of the reredos has a panel covered in blue velvet cloth. This is not how the designer intended' it to be. At one time this reredos formed part of the main altar and arrived in the church during the alterations of 1868 when the Reverend William Lipsett Lawson M.A. was the Incumbent (1866 to 1887). The Reverend Lawson was a highly controversial figure. The reredos was erected without the sanction of the church officers; but worse still, in the centre section, much to the horror of the parishioners, appeared a carved crucifix with the standing figure of the Blessed Virgin and Mary Magdalen at either side of the cross. The outraged parishioners invaded the church and wrenched the offending figures from their fixings. They were never to return and they eventually found a permanent home in a church in South Devon.

Public meetings, to which the press were invited, were held during the Reverend Lawson's incumbency, the aim being to remove him from the living. Difficult when a minister had a freehold. He had outraged the parishioners on many occasions and they decided that enough was enough. He ordered his churchwardens to wear a cassock and surplice - this didn't go down at all well. Furthermore, both he and his curate were bitterly criticised for wearing dress that was described as 'popish'.

He was absent from the parish for the last five years of his incumbency, during which time It was served by a succession of curates.

The fine copper altar frontal was a later addition. This attractive and unusual object is in a style which is known as Repousse, which in simple terms means that the intricate design was hammered through from the underside of the thin sheet of copper. There are other much less ornate examples of this work to be seen in some of the memorials in the north aisle.

A matching copper cross and candlesticks complete the altar furniture.



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To be continued!


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