Reopening of St Mary's, Atherington

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, Friday, November 2, 1883.


The parish of Atherington, with the manor of Umberleigh within it, now adds one more to the long list of restored churches in North Devon. The halo of antiquity surrounds the place. It is said that King Athelstan had a palace at Umberleigh, and built a chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Umberleigh is said also to have been a place of great magnificence, and was the home to many noble families, from Asculph de Soleigny, who dwelt there in the reigh of Henry II, and ultimately it became vested in the ancient family of Basset, who still hold it. The present owner of the manor, Mrs. Basset, of Watermouth Castle and Pilton House (the wife of C.H. Basset, Esq.), has borne the whole cost of the restoration. The living, a very rich one, is owned by the Rev. T.F. Arthur, whose son, the Rev. W.W. Arthur, is the Rector. The village of Atherington is very pleasantly situated on a hill, from which some good views of the surrounding nieghbourhood can be obtained.

A very conspicuous feature in the landscape is the church of St. Mary. The tower, although only some eighy feet high, from its commanding position on the brow of the hill overlooking the valley of the Taw, is quite a landmark. The church was in a wretchedly dilapidated state; and had not the present work been taken in hand, the fabric must soon have collapsed altogether. Very little, if any, of the present structure appears to date earlier than the middle of the 14th century. The plan is not quite that with which we are so familiar in this part of the country. It consists of the usual long nave and chancel, with a north aisle of about the same length and width as the nave and chancel, a south transept in lieu of the usual south aisle, a south porth and western tower.

The work of restoration was commenced some two years ago, and, as we have said, it was not undertaken too soon, for on stripping off the outside of rough caste and plaster from the external surface of the chancel walls, they were found to be in such a condition that it was necessary to take down and rebuild a considerable portion of them. Portions of the walls elsewhere also required similar treatment, including even the apparently solid and substantial tower. The walls have now been made perfectly solid, and the whole of the masonry has been restored. New windows of appropriate character replace the modern windows on the south side of the chancel and in the west of the tower. The gable end of the porch has been rebuilt in harmony with the rest of the work, and the gables generally have been renewed, and the ground which had accmulated round the walls has been lowered to a level slightly below that of the floors.

Internally, the church is very interesting from the valuable specimens of ancient woodwork which it contains. The roofs are of the usual Devonshire type, rickly moulded carved ribs dividing it into panels with carved bosses and enriched wall plates. The transept roof in addition has some curious vigorously-carved figures standing upon the wall plates. All these roofs have been thoroughly repaired in such a way as to retain every fragment of the wold work and simply to restore the roofs to their original condition. The church contained also some very beautiful old seats, of a rather unusual type, and others of a plainter character, but very solid and substantial, intermized with modern pews. These have been removed, and the old seats repaired and rearranged, and new ones provide to match the simpler old ones. Some remains of elbow stalls have been repaired and refized in the chancek, and new stalls provided to correspond in character with the old work. The north aisle of the chancel, the Umberleigh chaple, has also been provided with seats of a somewhat similar character. But the great feature of the church is the fragment of a rood-screen which now encloses the north chance, or Umberleigh aisle, said to have removed from Umberleigh chapel when it was pulled down. The screen is of the type so frequently met with in Devonshire, and is an usually fine speciment, being literally covered with the most delicate carving. It is now being carefully repaired by Mr. C. Pickard, of Barnstaple.

The screen which separates the nave and chancel is also an interesting specimen of carved wood-work. Perhaps the earliest fragment in the church is the 13th century effigy, said to be John of Gaunt, which has been replaced in the north chancel aisle. The great endeavour in carrying out the work has been to retain everything, as far as possible, as it originally was in the days when money and labour were so lavishly expendeded in church building, and which spirit, happily, animiamtes many at the present itme. Several of the ancestors of the Bassets are interred, as the ancient tombs show, in the Umberleigh chaple aisle. Carved open stalls of rich design have been placed in position, also five similar ones in the chancel or Basset aisle. An oak pulpit of chaste design has been placed outside the rood-screen. All the oak seats are unpolished. The specimens of carving of some of the seat-ends are excellent examples of poppyheads. The reredos, though unpretentious in design, looks very imposing among its surroundings. It is of Caen stone, and was provided and carved by Messrs. Bryant and Son, of Barnstaple. The church is lit with oil lamps, some of which are affixed to ornamental iron standards projecting from the walls, others being supported upon wood standards. The organ is the instrument for so many years standing in the Barnstaple Music Hall. It was the property of the late Miss Basset (sister of Mrs. Basset), who gave it to Atherington Church, to which place it has only recently been removed. The whole edifice presents a remarkably improved appearance, and reflects great credit upon architect and builder alike.

The designs were by Mr. J. L. Pearson, architect, of Mansfield-street, London, who carried out the Truro Cathedral; the builder was Mr. Dart, of Crediton; and the Clerk of the Works Mr. Charles Oatway, late of Barnstaple, now steward to Sir William Williams, Bart. There is a new lych-gate at the entrance to the churchyard, the cost of which has been defrayed by the Rector, the Rev. W. W. Arthur. The bells have been re-hung by Mr. Harry Stokes, of Woodbury. There is to be a clock, with a dial facing north and another facing south, erected in the tower by Mr. John Gaydon, of Barnstaple.

The services on Tuesday were attended by the parishioners generally, and by a large number of neighbouring clergy and gentry. The church was filled in every part, and the services throughout were of a most hearty description. The musical portions were well rendered by a mixed choir, Mr. A. P. Standley, F.C.O., organist at St. mary's, Taunton, presiding at the organ. Among the surpliced clergy present with the Lord Bishop of Exeter at the Mroning Service were the Venerable Archdeacon Woollcombe, the Rev. Treasurer Hawker, Berrynarbor; the Rev. Prebendary Pigot, Fremington; the Rev. T.F. Arthur, the Rev. W.W. Arthur (Rector), the Rev. C.T.D. Acland, Georgenympton; The Rev. A.E. Seymour, Barnstaple, the Rev. J. Whale, Dolton; the Rev. H.J. Bull, Roborough; the Rev. J. Gough (Church of England Temperance Society), the Rev. J.P. Bremridge, Winkleigh; the Rev. W. Pigot, Harracott; the Rev. W.E. Durham, Eastdown; the Rev. H.F. Baker, Bishipstawton; the Rev. P. Wodehouse, Bratton Fleming; the Rev. R.L.P. Samborne, Ashreigny; the Rev. R.E. Trefusis, Chittlehampton; the Rev. W. Thorold, Warkleigh; the Rev. J. Vere-Stead, Swymbridge; the Rev. J. Vowler Tanner, Chawleigh; the Rev. H.W. Toms, Combmartin; the Rev. J. Yerburgh, Umberleigh; the Rev. G.H. Fagan, Barnstaple; the Rev. W.G. Morcom, Braunton; the Rev. J.B. Singleton, Yarnscombe, &c. As the clergy proceeded up the south aisle the choir and congregation sang the hymn, "Onward, Christian soldiers." The Prayers were read by the Rector; the First Lesson by his father, the Rev. T.F. Arthur; and the Second Lesson by the Rev. A.E. Seymour. The Lord Bishop took the Communion Service. During the Service Hymns 397 and 242, "Ancient and Modern," were sung. The Lord Bishop preached the sermon, taking for his text the last verse of the 14th chapter of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians—"Let all things be done decently and in order."

A public luncheon was held after the service in the National Schoolroom, which was decorated for the purpose. Mr. C.H. Basset presided, and there was a large attendance. The luncheon was provided by Mr. H. Brooks, confectioner, Barnstaple. During the luncheon the Chairman proposed "The health of the Queen and the members of the Royal Family." He also proposed, "The health of the Bishop," of whose unceasing work he warmly spoke.—The Bishop of Exeter expressed his gratefulness for the manner in which the Chairman's remarkds had been received. Having spoken of the increasing demands on his time, which, he said, meant that the clergy were more active in their work, or they would not require his assistance, he said the meeting that day was a very particular and singular one. As a general rule, the occasion which brought them together was one where the clergyman had done a great deal and the parishioners had done a great deal, and the money had been procured from all sources; but on that occasion a great deal of the usual way of getting money had been entirely spared them by the generosity of Mr. and Mrs Basset, whose health he would ask them to drink. (Loud applause.) He had no doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Basset would feel a real pleasure in what had been done, and how well it had been done, and all of them ought to show how gratefully they accepted so great a boon. (Applause.)—Mr. Basset replied to the toast, and expressed himself as highly satisfied with the way in which the work had been done. He had lived at Atherington some years ago, and he recollected the bad state in which the church then was. The Basset family had from time to time done things for the church. They sent the beautiful screen, which they took from Umberleigh Chapel; and, what was most remarkable, they sent a four-post bedstead, as they did not know what to do with it. That bedstead was put over the old loose box-pew of the family—(laughter)—and for years he had sat there, and he recollected he used to go to sleep, which was probably induced by the presence of the bedstead. (Laughter.) The architect, however, did not now approve of it, and therefore it had been removed. He was glad to meet so many old faces, and he and Mrs. Basset were pleased to know that the work had given such satisfaction. (Applause.)—The Ven. Archdeacon Woollcombe proposed, "The healths of the Donors, past and present, of the Church and Schools." He also spoke of the former condition of the church, which he knew of his personal knowledge, and he made some valuable remarks with reference to the preservation of parish registers.—Captain Arthur replied to the toast on behalf of the parishioners.—Mr. W.P. Hiern gave the toast of "The Rector and Churchwardens." He endorsed the Archdeacon's remarks with regard to the parish registers, and suggested that the Rector should do as had been done in a neighbouring parish, namely, index all the old registers in his possession. (Applause.)—The Rector replied in feeling terms.—Mr. Oatway afterwards replied for the architect and himself, and Mr. Dart acknowledged the compliments paid to his father, as the builder.

A public tea was held later on, and in the evening service was again held in the church, when the Ven. Archdeacon Woollcombe was the preacher.