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History File

Notes on Denbury

Part 4

There are no high tombs nor memorial brasses in the Church, but numerous mural memorial tablets. The most interesting one is on the east wall of the north transept commemorative of Archbishop Aldred. It is made of white freestone, and set in a brown wooden frame. The inscription is as follows, with a Maltese Cross underneath the first line:-

"To the Glory of God
And in pious memory of
Aldred, Archbishop of York,
Who crowned William the Conqueror
And ministered at one time as
A priest in Denbury."

In the south transept, which is attached to the Manor of Denbury, all the memorials are to the Taylor family, which owned the Manor before it came into the possession of the Froudes of Dartington in the person of Archdeacon Froude's mother. The most important of these tablets is in memory of Captain Joseph Taylor, of Queen Anne's Navy, deceased in 1733.

It is a huge stone erection in the baroque style of 18th century sepulchral sculpture, with a lengthy eulogistic Latin epitaph, now scarcely legible. Below is a relief in marble with a carved representation of, probably, his most important battle, that with the French, and having skulls as supporters. At the top is a portrait of Captain Taylor, an anchor and a quadrant, and two small portraits are suspended from nautical instruments. An inscription reads:- "John Weston fecit." He was an Exeter sculptor whose work is found there, at St. Petrock's, and also in some other Devonshire churches, all with much the same characteristics.

It is stated that this monument was copied from that to Commander Priestman in Westminster Abbey. Joseph Taylor and Henry Priestman were friends and fellow officers, the latter receiving a post at the Admiralty. But the two monuments are not exactly alike, the Priestman monument having faces of sea monsters. The epitaph to Captain Taylor was composed by his friend Dr. Williams, of Exeter. There are in this transept a helmet and sword, but the helmet looks too small to have ever been worn by a man.


There is one coat of arms in the church the armorial bearings of John Peters, or Peter, or Petre, of Cornworthy, painted on canvas and framed, and now hung on the chancel wall of the vestry door. He is there styled "The Customer of Exeter," i.e., the collector of customs. Mr Tapley Soper, in "A Chapter in the History of the Peter, or Petre Family of Devon" (Trans. Devon Ass., vol.50, p.419), tells us that John "the Customer" was the second son of John and Alice Peter, or Petre, of Tor Newton, "who apparently died of the plague at Hayes in Cowyck (Cowick) Street, in the parish of St. Thomas, Exeter, and whose memory is perpetuated (often with a wrong date, etc., assigned) in so many churches of South Devon on account of the bequests which he left to the poor of the district."

The date of his decease that is given in Denbury Church is 1573, but this is an error, as his will (26 Holney, cited by Mr. Tapley Soper) was proved in 1571. He left a sum of 20s per annum to the poor of Denbury, the same amount as he bequeathed to the poor of three other parishes, payable out of the sheaf of Cornworthy.

In the chancel of the church is the grave of William Smith, one of the leading citizens of Exeter during the first half of the 16th century, and the most prominent of the goldsmiths of the city. He resided next the Broadgate, was Warden of St. Petrock's Church 1531-37-49; Bailiff of the City, 1537; Sheriff, 1550; Mayor 1553. He purchased from the churchwardens of All Hallows, Goldsmith Street, a silver cross and chalice in 1540, and deceased in 1556. In the register of St. Petrock's for that year is the following entry:-

"Mr. William Smyth, Alderman of the Cittie of Excester and of the parish of St. Petrox, dep'ted unto Almighty God in the p'sonage of Denbery, and was buryed in the chauncell before the hight altar in the p'rish churche of the said Denbery"

(for this account of him see the Rev. J,F. (now Prebendary and Treasurer) Chanter's article on "The Exeter Goldsmiths' Guild" (Trans. Devon Ass., vol.44, p.441).

Denbury Church was repaired and decorated for the second time in 1866 at the cost of the Rector (the Rev. J.H. Reibey). The new stained glass windows were attractively executed by Wailes. The east window represented the Baptism, Crucifixion and Ascension of our Divine Redeemer. East Window A further renovation of the church took place in 1912 at a cost of £500, which was raised by subscription, £150 being a gift by two descendants of a former rector for the improvement of the chancel; the south transept was taken in hand at the charge of the family at Denbury House. The whole work was carried out under the auspices of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

The chancel stalls, the pulpit, and lectern, all of oak, are in simple but tasteful style. The priest's stall should have been "returned," so as to face eastward. There is no ancient precedent, or sound reason, for it to face sideways, which is a corrupt following of modern continental usage. An expert on this ecclesiological point writes:

"There is much post-Reformation evidence that in this respect the chancels of churches remained as they had done in times past until Puritan innovation or injudicious restoration altered their arrangements." The principle, he adds, was explicitly defended by the bishops at the Savoy Conference (1661), when they said that when the officiating minister speaks to the people as in lessons, absolution, and benedictions; it is seemly that he turns to them. But when he speaks "for them to God" it is fitting that he should turn another way, "as the ancient churches ever did."


One of the grand old yew trees of Devon, of enormous girth, stands in Denbury churchyard. In the spring of 1876 a branch was torn from the venerable trunk during a heavy gale, with which is connected an interesting episode. The sap was rising at the time, and the tree would have bled to death but for the skilful doctoring of the village farrier (alas! no smith now in Denbury) who closed the wound with some composition of a highly curative nature. Churchyard Yew In his bill, sent to the churchwardens, and recorded in the parish books, curiously mixed with sundry items for shoeing horses, etc., is the following:- "To healing the yew tree, 2s 6d."

On the south side of the churchyard, and separated from it by a
wall with a doorway, is Denbury House, standing in spacious and park-like grounds. The present Lord of the Manor, Mr. W.S. Curtis, upon purchasing the estate, enclosed the grounds by a high wall on the side of the public road, the western section of which is of enormous height, upwards perhaps of 20 feet and rather in appearance like a rampart.

Denbury House represents the ancient manor house of the Abbots and Convent of Tavistock, and is supposed to have been a small cell of the Abbey. A friend of the writer, a well-known Exeter architect, writing to him about this house says:- "The old work I saw there that was left before the new face was put up looked to be 17th century, and this had been faced-over about 50 years later with 18th century stone work. There may have been some earlier work in the house than 17th century but I did not see it." It is presumbly an altered 16th century house.

In Mrs. Guiney's fascinating book on "Hurrell Froude" (pp.25,26) there is a very interesting reference to Denbury House from Froude's own pen. In a letter to his adored as well as venerated friend and former tutor at Oriel College, Oxford, John Keble, of blessed memory as a divine and sacred poet, dated May 13th, 1825, after informing him that he has become "something of an architect," proceeds in his characteristic racy epistolary style:-

"I am a powerful coadjutor (though I say that I should not say it) in the completion of D(enbury), which bears a different aspect from which you saw it last. It will be a pretty monastic looking erection, and if we could make it old, and buy a ghost or two, would be somewhat sentimental. For, thanks to my grandmother's perverseness, she would not have a new house except in the shape of an old one repaired, which superinduced the necessity of so many crooked little passages, and such an irregular exterior, that my father (the Archdeacon) had an excuse for doing what would else have seemed fanciful."


The rectory house is located about a quarter of a mile from the church, and at the western end of the village, and is approached from the road by rather a long and very shady avenue drive. Old Rectory - 1938 It consists of two distinct parts architecturally; the back part may be considered Elizabethan; the front part dates only from 1847, when the Rev. John Richard Bogue, son-in-law of Archdeacon Froude, and his curate at Denbury, enlarged the house; and, as would be supposed, it is not so picturesque and interesting as the old part.

The net income of the benefice is £350 with house and 16 acres of glebe, valued at £69. The altar plate was given to the church by Captain Joseph Taylor, Lord of the Manor, deceased 1733. The registers commence in 1559. The old church house, adjoining the churchyard, was sold years ago by the feoffees, and is now a public house.

The Rector of Denbury was among the persecuted and ejected clergy in Devon during the Great Rebellion. Dr. Walker, in his famous book on the "Sufferings of the Clergy in the Diocese of Exeter," ed. Hingeston-Randolph (1908), says that Richard Serle, A.M., was admitted to the benefice of Denbury in 1642, and turned out of it not long after. In 1646, he adds, one Bickle (or Bickly), came and lost it, in 1662, through Nonconformity.

Prebendary Hingeston-Randolph, in his notes to the edition, says that on the death of Walter Moore, Rector of Denbury, Richard Serle was instituted, on the 10th day of August, 1642, on the presentation of two mentioned gentlemen, patrons for this turn, as trustees of Francis, Lord Russell, the true and original patron. Mr Serle was of Queen's College, Oxford, where he matriculated on the 31st of November, 1628, at the age of 18. Before the 26th of January, 1629-30, when he took his B.A. degree, he migrated to Exeter College, in the same University; M.A. on the 20th of October, 1632. He was incorporated at Cambridge in 1634.

Perhaps Denbury's most noted rector was that man of superior parts and forceful personality, Robert Hurrell Froude Archdeacon of Totnes, who was the priest there in 1799, when he became Rector of Dartington, while still retaining the rectory of Denbury until not long before his decease in 1859.

End of Part 4   (More about the Church in Part 2 & 3)

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