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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Car Tour 2 Ermington

I recently bought a small second hand book for £3 called, "South Devon and Dartmoor Car Tours".

Get it while you can. Books promoting driving cars will probably soon be illegal. This small book was published in 1995. Often when you are given books like this they prove to be disappointing but in this instance it proved to be a great little find.

You will find the first part of Car Tour 1 here.

This tour was interesting because it was an area we had not explored in detail although it is not very far away. Our nearest city is Plymouth and the main route to Plymouth is straddled in the south by the sea and in the north by Dartmoor. This tour started in the centre, headed south to the coast and then turned north to the edge of Dartmoor.

The route was a bit different to Car Tour 1 because this was essentially a church crawl. The things of most interest in South Devon villages are usually the churches or the pubs. In this case it was churches. A church crawl is like a pub crawl apart from the lack of alcohol on offer, unless you partake in Holy Communion, which we didn't, and in the fact that you don't collapse in a stupor at the end of it, or have a thick head the next morning.

So we found ourselves in Ermington, a village we normally negotiate on our way to the Garden Centre, which has very narrow roads which means you are looking at the road and not the village. So it came as something of a surprise that it even had a church which is set back and raised above the road from where you can only really see stone walls either side.

Parking is also at a premium so we found the last space in the village square outside the pub.

So why is the pub called The Crooked Spire? Pubs don't have spires as a rule and this church doesn't have a crooked one, I mean look at it. It looks fairly straight for a crooked spire.

From the village you need to cross a field to get to the church, unless you want to get mowed down on the road by locals aiming for the Garden Centre. There is a lovely old kissing gate with it's knarled and twisted rusty metal frame which would still work as a kissing gate if you were in the mood. I have always assumed it was the action of a couple trying to get through the gate one at a time, whereupon a kiss is snatched that gives them their name. If not then I have no other ideas.

In any case the main idea is that creatures with a large enough brain and two legs can manage to get through them while creatures with smaller brains and four legs have a bit more trouble. Unless you are a Chihuahua of course in which case just throw yourself through the gaps. I know a certain Chihuahua cross that would be through there in a trice.

Trice is a lovely old fashioned word not heard much anymore. - In a moment; very quickly. From Middle English trīcen, trice, trise (“to pull or push; to snatch away; to steal”), from Middle Dutch trīsen (“to hoist”) (modern Dutch trijsen) or Middle Low German trissen.

The history of Ermington can be traced back 3000 years, although the strongest evidence of an early settlement here is the bronze age 2300 to 600 years BC. Ermington itself was probably founded soon after 700 at which point the Saxons were in control. It appeared in the Domesday Book as a royal manor. Near the boundary of the parish there is a place, called Penquit, which has probably been continuously inhabited since the Celtic times of Dumnonia. Dumnonia is the Latinised name for a Brythonic kingdom that existed in Sub-Roman Britain between the late 4th and late 8th centuries CE in the more westerly parts of present-day South West England. It was centred in the area of modern Devon, but also included modern Cornwall and part of Somerset. In the 14th century, Ermington church, named after Saint Peter, was constructed and was later enlarged in the 15th century.

Just before you get to the church gate you come to this unusual sight, a Holy Well. A neat well house with iron gates covers a suitably green and ferny Holy Well, one without any apparent dedication. The well lies outside the churchyard, just over its West wall. It was restored in 2000, and there is an adjacent information board. The dedication of the church is to St Peter & St Paul, but this is probably not the original dedication.

The well still has water if a little murky running inside. So it is more of a Holy Spring than a well. The people in this area were converted to Christianity by wandering missionaries from Ireland and Wales before the time of St. Augustine. The Christianity they practiced was different from that of the Catholic church, being more ascetic and giving greater importance to natural things. Hermits often settled in remote places near a spring where they erected a wooden cross and recited Psalms. This could then lead to a later stone cross and later still a church. The different practices were probably a hybrid form of Christianity with Celtic Animist influences. Similar results can be seen in the Green Man figures, faces made from foliage, that are often seen in older churches.

After the Reformation, Holy Springs fell out of favour, except in remoter rural areas where change came much later. It is thought that this spring in Ermington may well have been the main sources of pure water right into the twentieth century. A recorded account at the end of the nineteenth century was a witness to the water still being used at that time for Christenings. At the end of this post we will see where the water emerges in the village.

Woaaahhh! I move another thirty yards and look up and there it is after all. The Crooked Spire. It's all in the angle of approach. Legend tells that the spire was once straight. However, one day, a beautiful bride arrived at the church and the church bent forward for her. It’s thought that the timbers were still slightly damp when the spire was constructed, meaning that once they settled and dried, they buckled and bent. There are several famous crooked spires in England.

The church although 14th to 15th century has been consistently added to and restored over the years.

This is an ancient sun dial from a time when clocks were very expensive and very rare, dated 1766. It states - Cito pede praeterit aetas. Latin.-"Time fleeth away without delay." In a church that is a serious warning, repent today while you still can.

The Church of St Peter and later St Paul is a grade 1 listed building. This is some detail from the main south doorway in the porch, it is fifteenth century like the aisles inside, while the porch itself is about a hundred years older.

In the porch is a very good example of the head of a Spurrell’s type of cross. The cross is set back into a semi-circular recess in the wall and the socket stone rests on a base of slate slabs. Although the cross looks quite old and weather beaten, it is still in very good condition. The shaft, head and arms are all chamfered. The arms, head and shaft below the arms, all have spurs on them similar to those on the Spurrell’s Cross, but in much better condition. The left hand arm is slightly damaged towards its end, which means it is now slightly shorter than its right hand partner.

Spurrel's Cross, Dartmoor.

The nineteenth century leaded windows are in the style of spider's webs, which are beautiful in their simplicity and something I have not seen anywhere else. I have already come across the spider web in Christian iconography which was new to me until recently, when I visited Chivelstone Church. They cast beautiful spidery shadows.

A memorial to Esther Swete of Train in Modbury. My Modbury 4 post includes photos of Train in Modbury where she lived. An interesting story attached to this memorial was her will which left her estate to a vicar called Tripe on condition he changed his name to Swete, which unsurprisingly he did.

The newly named Mr Swete of Ashburton, between 1789 and 1800 undertook a number of lengthy excursions around Devon, later recording his travels in a series of illustrated journals. These originally consisted of twenty volumes which contained over 670 watercolour illustrations. Three of the volumes were lost during the Second World War but the remaining seventeen, which cover most of the county, are an important source of topographical description for Devon. His comments are those of a man who defined the landscape in terms of its picturesque and Romantic qualities, noting particularly the seats of the gentry and their gardens. His observations on local industries and agricultural methods are especially valuable as these were made just before the changes brought about by the industrial revolution.

Lead spider's webs alongside the real thing.

Francis Geach MD, FRS was surgeon to the Royal Naval Hospital, Plymouth from about 1765 until he died in 1798. The son of a sail maker, he was born and raised in Plymouth. He was apprenticed to a surgeon in 1745 and probably undertook some medical training in London but he spent his professional career in Plymouth as a naval surgeon and in private practice. Geach had a particular interest in trauma and skin disease and was highly respected as a diagnostic physician, notably of inflammatory disorders, but he also had an interest in local issues including the cause of Devonshire colic. He was noted for the recognition of the skin disease of Francis Beaufort, later Admiral Sir Francis, as Greek leprosy (psoriasis) and for the recognition and support he gave to Sir William Knighton, physician and private secretary to the Prince Regent, later George IV. National Library of Medicine

This is quite a moving and effusive display of affection for the man, that gives some insight into his character. It is worth reading the beautifully worded description written by his nephew.

Effusive - Showing or expressing gratitude, pleasure, or approval in an unrestrained or heartfelt manner.

The glorious late Renaissance carving on a possibly repurposed older altar tomb, below.

In the south chapel lies this seemingly repurposed altar tomb. In around 1570, it was done up as a memorial, either adding the canopy or recarving it. The dragons on top are definitely an addition.

The structural style is late Medieval, quite old-fashioned for its day, though Devon has not usually been one to leap on a fashion bandwagon. It does not even have an inscription, which were becoming much more common at that time.

But it does have all those coats of arms clearly repainted but the vibrancy might be closer to the original idea than faded, peeling colouring.

This memorial below, relates to the clock in the tower, both of which form one memorial to Rodney Gransmore.


The Battle of Loos took place from 25 September to 8 October 1915 in France on the Western Front, during the First World War. It was the biggest British attack of 1915, the first time that the British used poison gas and the first mass engagement of New Army units. The French and British tried to break through the German defences in Artois and Champagne and restore a war of movement. It was a major defeat. The twelve attacking battalions suffered 8,000 casualties out of 10,000 men in four hours

Analysis - Rawlinson wrote to the King's adviser Arthur Bigge (28 September)

From what I can ascertain, some of the divisions did actually reach the enemy's trenches, for their bodies can now be seen on the barbed wire.

Reading that description I can only assume that Rawlinson intended his observation to be as barbed as the wire. This account was sent the same day as Gransmore's death.

The unique story of Ermington Church revolves around the vicar Edmund Pinwill and his seven daughters. Wood carving work was being carried out in the church by Trusk & Co of Somerset, more particularly by a carver called Giles. Three of the sisters learnt wood working skills from Giles the carver as it was considered a worthy occupation for young ladies at the time.

What was unusual was that these three ladies went on to form their own wood carving company and were so highly adept at the art that they received commissions from all over Devon and Cornwall. The youngest sister carried on until 1957.

The pulpit. Take a moment. It is symphony in shapes and shadows, and like any symphony it takes few listens for its exuberances to sweep one away; gothic arches, an almost Art Nouveau frieze at the top, a splendidly dynamic interpretation of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (spot the hand of God at the top) front centre, graceful statuettes, and cherubs along the bottom.

This altar back (reredos), which would not be amiss in a major London church, was created in 1911, when Violet (37 now) was operating the business on her own, and it shows her facility with stone carving too. The alabaster Nativity is said to be based on a Burne-Jones design, him being one of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite artists. The size of the whole blocks the East Window and runs the risk of the details disappearing into shadow, but the window to the right is clear and big, and lets in a wealth of light. The deep carving, I venture, is designed to catch this light whatever the weather, and display the figures and scenes to their greatest effect.

My favourite photo of the wood carving ended up being this least decorated part of the back of the last row of church pews. Even though I didn't spot it at the time, I now realise that this is where the carving ended, for some unknown reason. The panel on the right has the traditional linen fold pattern, while the one on the left is simply marked out but uncarved. It is intriguing and leaves so many questions unanswered. There was a particular day when this panel was marked out and the next day, whoever did it, never returned. It has remained unfinished to this day.

Linenfold is a simple style of relief carving used to decorate wood panelling with a design imitating folded linen. Originally from Flanders, the style became widespread across Northern Europe in the 14th to 16th centuries. The name was applied to the decorative style by antiquarian connoisseurs in the early 19th century. Wikipedia

A message on leaving, just to tug at your heartstrings and trigger your feelings of guilt so that you may leave something for others.

Also a convenient date remembered for the electric lighting. How was the church lit, up until 1952? Candles? Oil lamps?

If you like old weathered stone, lichen, moss and carvings, then there is plenty to see in the church grounds. Here is a stone bouquet of lilies.

The lychgate is itself very unusual and separately listed as Grade 2. Lychgate. Circa early C20. Large lychgate in Italianate style. Granite ashlar with low pitched hipped slate roof with wide bracketed eaves. In the form of a freestanding loggia, two by one bays with round arch arcades with squat columns. Buttressed at each end by large volutes. Approached by two flights of steps with moulded coping to solid balustrades.

Here lower down the hill and below the Holy Spring is a possible site for the water for common use. There is mention of a point where the water emerges with stands for buckets to be placed to collect it. This at a time before homes had their own water supplies. The arched recess here is most likely that source commonly called a conduit.

Only feet away another receptacle to hold the flowing water, this time for passing livestock or horses.

With no relevance at all to any of the above I did stumble across this interesting gobbet of information. Records show that in 1623 a meteor, weighing 23 lbs, fell to earth at Strachleigh, in the parish of Ermington, and buried itself a full three feet into the ground.

Risdon, who was engaged between the years 1605 and 1630 in collecting materials for his Chorographical Survey of Devon, gives the following account*[page 186]:--Stretchleigh.--"In this siginory, A.D. 1623, there fell from above a stone of twenty-three pounds weight, which in falling, made a fearful noise, first like the rumbling of a piece of ordnance, which, in descending lower, lessened, and ended, when upon the ground, no louder than the report of a petronel. It was composed of matter like a stone singed or half burnt for lime."

A pamphlet published at the time, further describes this aerolite as having fallen on January 10th, 1623, in an orchard, near some men who were planting trees. It was buried in the ground three feet deep, and its dimensions were three feet and a half in length, two feet and a half in breadth, and one foot and a half in thickness. The pamphlet states that pieces broken from off it were in the possession of many of the neighbouring gentry.

After all the research for this post I will in all likelihood return to do a portrait in more detail which I will post later and link here.


David Nurse
David Nurse
Jun 20, 2022

Another very interesting read and great images. Always surprising what's on your doorstep.

Regarding the kissing gates, when I was a boy we always called them slam bang gates, a term I have not heard for some time now. Near me a lot of the pathways are being kept open by the local council and interested groups and I have noticed that stiles are now going out of fashion being replaced by kissing gates (a lot easier on the knees).

Never heard of linenfold carving but it's to my taste.


Unknown member
Jun 17, 2022

Quite and extensive research on your part to go along with the photos you captured. I really like the spider windows. but I am sure at this time and age lead is not something one would see in windows.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jun 17, 2022
Replying to

The spider web windows are 19th century. The oldest stained glass in England is thought to be in Canterbury cathedral from around 1130-1160

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