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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Stoke Fleming Church 2

Part 1 looked at the fabric of the church, both inside and out. In Part 2 I'll show some of the objects and furnishings inside the church, from the Font to the Pulpit to the many memorials, some of which are very old, and some more recent.

The Font is one of the oldest parts of the church, being Norman in origin and made of local red sandstone. At one time it had a cover which was kept locked which was something demanded by the church authorities. Fonts were kept locked to prevent theft or misuse of the Holy water inside. The Font was usually considered the Holiest part of the church, because it contained the Holy water, this is often why the Font is the oldest object and often predates the existing building, as the Font was usually kept and reused after a rebuild. So this has stood on or near this spot for a thousand years and has a few scars to prove it, including holes that once held the locking mechanism and hinge of the lid, since ripped out at some point in history.

The sharper carving on the plinth gives away it's later date. This square base with spired corners is Devon Limestone of the 19th century.

Many churches have rows of Hassocks or kneelers in the pews, quite often made by members of the congregation. They often feature quotes from the Bible or follow a theme like flowers or animals, but this is the only set I have ever seen that feature the buildings of the village.

There must be about thirty altogether, if not made by the same hand, at least made to the same design.

In Part 1 I mentioned the different colours of stone used in the interior designs. Here is a better example of the contrasting white Purbeck marble and the local red sandstone divided by the carved decoration. Beerstone capitals are finely carved with foliage. Beerstone was a luxury product and used to build many of England's greatest cathedrals, including Exeter.

The much worn face of a full size reclining effigy of a woman believed to be Eleanor Mohun, the wife of Sir John Carew. Her costume still bears enough detail to date it to the 13th century, thought to be of 1277.

When I am taking photos in old churches I try to photograph any memorials with a view to researching who the individuals are, as you can stumble on the most amazing stories in the process. This plain and unassuming memorial caught my eye as I felt sure there would be something interesting when I saw Grenadier Guards along with all those initials after Sir Julian's name.

So first to all those initials. KCMG - The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is a British order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince of Wales, the future George IV, while he was acting as prince regent for his father, King George III. The Order of St Michael and St George was originally awarded to those holding commands or high position in the Mediterranean territories acquired in the Napoleonic Wars, and was subsequently extended to holders of similar office or position in other territories of the British Empire.

This gives a us a big clue as to who Sir Julian is, as the award is in modern times given to those who hold high office and render extraordinary non-military service to the country. But we know that Sir Julian was also a Major General.

KCVO - The Royal Victorian Order is a dynastic order of knighthood established in 1896 by Queen Victoria. It recognises distinguished personal service to the British monarch.

Admission is at the sole discretion of the monarch.

CB - The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by King George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate medieval ceremony for appointing a knight, of which bathing (as a symbol of purification) was an element. Knights so created were known as "Knights of the Bath".

Recipients of the Order are now usually senior military officers or senior civil servants.

DSO - The Distinguished Service Order (DSO) is a military decoration of the United Kingdom, as well as formerly of other parts of the Commonwealth, awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.

So you can see, that if you are able to speak "Honorese" (My word) and able to decipher what all these letters mean you can immediately get a sense of the life of this man and his achievements.

In short, Major-General Sir Julian Alvery Gascoigne, KCMG, KCVO, CB, DSO, was a senior British Army officer who served in the Second World War and became Major-General commanding the Household Brigade and General Officer Commanding London District. After retiring from the army, he worked as a stockbroker and then served as Governor of Bermuda from 1959 to 1964.

Sir Julian risked his life and did his bit to free Europe from Fascism. He fought at the Battle of Alamein, with the Eighth Army in Tunis, and in Salerno as part of the Allied invasion of Italy. He was seriously wounded during fighting at Monte Camino in 1943, and was evacuated back to the UK where he spent time recuperating in hospital.

Here he is on the right in ceremonial dress in his role as Governor of Bermuda receiving both the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and the US President John F Kennedy in December 1961. This summit meeting between Britain and the US was held to discuss the recent raising of the Berlin Wall.

One often finds wooden eagles holding the open Bible ready for the Sunday reading but here is an unusual but very appropriate Seagull Lectern of 1984 by Nigel Watson, a beautiful thing.

One of the standout pieces of artistry in the church is the wine glass pulpit all carved from wood by hand by the Pinwill Sisters. There is a lot more about the Pinwill Sisters and their heritage of wood carving in my post about Ermington Church here. What we cannot be sure of is which sisters actually carved it. Various carved letters and signatures confuse the issue but it is almost certain it was either Ethel, Violet or a joint effort by the two. The pulpit was given by Matilda Margaret Noble and cost £300. (That's £25,000 today)

The pulpit design is by Edmund H Sedding and dates from 1891. It has to be viewed up close to really appreciate the amount of detail. I offer some close ups here of birds and animals many of which are mere inches in size.

The carving is intricate and many layered, as you can see here, where a great depth is created by the use of shadow and tracery. There are believed to be as many as sixty different animals and birds featured, but there is an open challenge to try to count them all.

At the back of the church is a map of the grave yard with each known grave numbered, to aid those researching their family history.

This memorial brass remembers Elias Newcomen. The Newcomen family originated in Lincolnshire but Elias from this family of merchants ended up being educated in Cambridge graduating in 1569. Later, he set up a grammar school near his home in London. In 1600 he was given "the living" of Stoke Fleming where he later died.

A living, (a parish church), was typically set up so that a rector or a vicar presided. In the Regency period, once installed in a living, a man was there for life. No one less than the bishop could remove him for cause.

His great grandson Thomas Newcomen later invented the "Atmospheric Engine" the first practical fuel-burning engine in the world, in 1712.

Despite having no formal training in mechanical engineering, Newcomen developed the world's first practical atmospheric steam engine in the early 1700s. It proved that steam could safely be used to drive machinery and therefore paved the way for the Industrial Revolution, including the creation of the railways.

The Newcomen Memorial Engine is a preserved beam engine in nearby Dartmouth. It was preserved as a memorial to Thomas Newcomen (d. 1729), inventor of the beam engine, who was born in Dartmouth. The engine is the world's oldest surviving steam engine.

This brass is also a testament to the fact that even in death, people had a sense of humour back in 1614, for it states in the first sentence....

Elias old hes here intombd in grace but Newcomin to heavens habitation.

Ok, so it's not the Comedy Club, but I think it adds a great human touch to our opinion of our straightlaced ancestors.

Having criss crossed the church a few times, taking photos, I had not even noticed this small rectangle of carpet. I was looking for a brass memorial featuring two figures, supposedly in situ at the front of the nave. Having scratched my head and had another thorough search, it suddenly occurred to me that this piece of carpet seemed to be placed here for no purpose, which was when I had my lightbulb moment and looked underneath it.

That was when I had the pleasure to uncover the memorial to John Corp and a Lady thought to be his granddaughter Elyenore. It is dated to 1391 and is believed to be the oldest dated brass in the west of England.

So if you are visiting the South Hams and are looking for activities that cost nothing, other than a donation in the collection box, and especially something for a rainy day, you could do worse than tip toe into one of the very ancient local churches and be wowed by all their history and beauty, or just sit quietly and contemplate the peace now on offer after all that has transpired here over the centuries, in this small corner of England.

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John Durham
John Durham
May 26, 2023

Another amazing church - I envy your historical and visual riches. I especially love the carvings. I could make (at one time) most anything out of wood, but chance!

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
May 26, 2023
Replying to

Thanks John, yes so much history going so far back around here on the south coast. The Midlands was all Industrial Revolution and a bit sparse prior to that.

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