Some Old Devon Churches
By J. Stabb
London: Simpkin et al (1908-16)
Transcribed and edited by Dr Roger Peters
Full text available at
Between 1908 and 1916, John Stabb, an ecclesiologist and photographer who lived in Torquay, published three volumes of Some Old Devon Churches and one of Devon Church Antiquities. A projected second volume of the latter, regarded by Stabb himself as a complement to the former, did not materialize because of his untimely death on August 2nd 1917, aged 52. Collectively, Stabb's four volumes present descriptions of 261 Devon churches and their antiquities.
CRUWYS MORCHARD. Holy Cross. This church serves as the private chapel of the Cruwys family, who have owned the Manor House adjoining from at least the time of King John [1199-1216].
The church consists of chancel, nave, south aisle, south porch, and an embattled west tower with six bells, dating from 1721 to 1765. The church was struck by lightning in 1688, when the steeple was shattered and the bells melted. The principal object of interest in the church is the fine Georgian chancel screen of Corinthian design [plate 74]; the type is uncommon in Devonshire, the only two in any way resembling it being those at Ermington and Washfield. This and the parclose screen are well carved, and in a good state of preservation. Over the chancel doorway is the crown resting on a cushion. There are return stalls in the choir.
The following is from Prince's Worthies of Devon:-
"As for the church, the old being wholly destroyed, and the present built about the 20th King Henry VIII [i.e., 1529], there are no vestigia or tracts found of any ancient monuments. And before the late conflagration by lightning (which happened A.D. 1689, so dreadful that it rent the steeple, melted the bells, lead, and glass, nothing escaping but the Communion plate), there were only orates for some of the family with the coats of arms intinged or painted on the glass. Some of this family very likely were the founders of the Antient Parish Church, which they endowed well with glebe lands which, with the tythes thereunto belonging, makes the rectory amount to an hundred and sixty pounds per annum clear."
The following letter found in Cruwys Morchard House, and dated Monday, 18th February 1688, gives an interesting account of the fire:-
"The Parish Church of Cruwys Morchard, in County Devon, was totally consumed by fire, enkindled by lightning, in the spire or steeple thereof, melting the bells, lead, glass, nothing escaping but the silver Communion plate. At eleven Sunday evening John Copp passed by the churchyard, saw nothing of the fire. About 12 or 1 next morning Mr. Podger being sick in Morchard House, and not able to sleep, heard two or three extreme violent claps of thunder, with lightning, which he fancied was different from what was common, because it did not seem to vanish as usual, but rested or shined for some time. About two hours after he heard a rapping crackling noise, and at last judging it to be fire, he got up, and found the upper part of the steeple burnt and fallen in, and the remaining part burning very furiously. The Church itself, as yet untouched, he got what hands he could, and by throwing a great deal of water, saved the porch, and by help of a long cornpike with spaves turned downward after they have forced the doors, they drew out the chest all in flames, where the Communion plate was, some of which began to be discoloured, and the wind was strong in the west, and blew directly over Morchard House. It was computed by all that were present that the sparks of the fire flew as far east as Morchard Mill. That there were three very violent claps of thunder about midnight, and that a storm of snow or hail had fallen which discoloured the ground. That all of the bells which hung in the steeple about the tower (the frames being placed at the top of the framework) were melted where they hung, because a great deal of the melted metal was found at the top of the tower, down the sides of the walls, and that they melted (at least some of them) by the shape in which the metal was found. That they dug three or four feet into the earth and found a great deal of metal sunk into it. That they dug three or four feet into the earth under the belfry and found a considerable quantity of metal. That the evening when they were ringing several boys were up in the tower, and he himself, when there was a vast amount of combustible matter, as sticks, straw, etc., which had been brought thither by the choughs and if they had any candles there - the clappers were melted and small pieces of the brims of the bells. 'Tis reported that someone at present unknown at Withleigh, in Tiverton, saw when the fire at the top of the steeple appeared no larger than a man's hat. The steeple was built with a bandment of extraordinary massive timber. The axel and . . . covered with wood, had been lately new done, as was the Church. John Copp positively affirms that he himself, after he had made a path by throwing much water, ran into the Church and took up the Chalice and Paten, and brought them out in a bucket. That the chest in which they were burnt abroad, and found the plate among the coals, but the basin was melted, the foot of the chalice burnt as well, the Church all fallen in, but he himself ran into the Church for the plate."
I am indebted for the above to the kindness of Mrs. Cruwys, of the Manor House.
There are monuments to the Averay and Cruwys families, and a brass to William Stone, of Bath, who left a considerable benefaction to the parish.
The registers date from 1572.