Charles Church, Plymouth

Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries vol. VI, (January 1910 to October 1911), pp. 200-202.


An Old “Charley Boy”

Prepared by Michael Steer

Charles Church is the second most ancient parish church in Plymouth. The senior church is St Andrew's Church, the mother church of Plymouth.  The church was an important centre of spiritual life for the city for 300 years; boasted a number of important clergy; and was the mother of many existing churches. During the nights of 21 and 22 March 1941, the church was entirely burned out by incendiary bombs. Although now a monument, the tradition of ministry at "Charles" is not lost and is carried on by the Parish of Charles with St Matthias, one of its daughter churches a quarter of a mile away to the north. It is an important landmark for the city of Plymouth. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Note 190. CHARLES CHURCH, PLYMOUTH. - The authority for the division of the town of Plymouth into two parishes, and for the erection of a new church to be called Charles Church, has been so persistently and unanimously attributed to the year 1640, that it is somewhat curious that none of the various local writers on matters connected with the history of Plymouth should have suspected that there was an error in ascribing it to that year. Even the formal historians, Jewitt and Worth, give 1640 as the date both of the King's Letters Patent and of the subsequent passing of the Statute.

Recently, however, the Vicar of Charles, the Rev. J. P. Baker, observed that the King's Letters Patent were dated ''April 21 in the 17th year of his reign, which was clearly 1641, and furthermore that the Act being subsequent to the Letters Patent, and in fact citing them by the date of the 17th regnal year of Charles, could not possibly have been passed in the year 1640, although that was indeed the year in which the Parliament which enacted it began its existence.

One Plymothian of repute, who wrote in 1882-3 on the "Founders of Charles Church," maintained that this Act was the product of the "Short" Parliament. Speaking of Robert Trelawney, who was M.P. for Plymouth both in the Short " and in the "Long" Parliaments his words are: - "13th April, 1640. Parliament was again summoned . . . on the 5th May; just three short weeks after Parliament was again dissolved. Plymouth electors had however taken — singularly enough considering the memorable part the town was to take a few years after - the Royal side, and Robert Trelawney was one of the representatives. Perhaps to secure the continuance of his support, four (sic) days after the assembling, namely on the 21st April, the King by his Letters Patent granted the prayer of the Petition of 1634 for the division of the parishes, and then immediately followed the Act."

When one so well acquainted as Mr. E. G. Bennett with the history of the parishes, and with the original documents before him, fell into this mistake of taking for granted the date which had always been named, it is the more necessary that the correction should be made public in a wider manner than in the pages of the Parish Magazine. In that publication (for March) after reprinting the Text of the Act of Parliament, the Vicar goes on to say "Sir Henry Graham, the present Clerk of the Parliaments, has very kindly had the records searched for us, from which it appears that the bill really belonged to the ' Long ' Parliament, and having passed the Commons on July 6th, 1641, received the Royal Assent on August 7th following."

It may not be uninteresting to endeavour to ascertain the probable cause of the mistake which has been of such constant recurrence whenever this subject has been dealt with.

The chief authority in regard to Acts of Parliament has for a long time been the reprints of them known by the title of "The Statutes of the Realm" issued from the Record Office in the reign of George III. In this publication, the 37 Public Acts passed in the early part of the "Long" Parliament (whose validity is acknowledged), are printed under the sole heading of " 16th Charles I, 1640," and the Act relating to Charles Church is named as the 9th of the Private Acts, none of which are printed.

More than one of the Public Acts bears internal evidence of being passed as late even as 1642, and there is a note attached which we must presume was overlooked by former enquirers, who doubtless accepted the title heading as accurately applying to all the Statutes printed under it.

This note states: - " The whole of the Acts of this Session are here printed as having passed in the 16th year of King Charles the First, there not appearing upon the Roll anything to distinguish what Acts passed in the 16th and 17th year, and what in the 17th and 18th year, the three parts of the Roll being a regular continuation of Acts under the same head as to the Session.

"At the Parliament Office, the first 22 Acts are in a bundle indorsed ' 16 and 17 Car.,' and by the 'Long Calendar ' in the same office are stated to have passed 'Att the first recesse of Parliament begun at Westminster the third day of November Anno R Car. 16 0 and 17 0 1 640/1 641.'

"And the remaining 15 Acts are in another bundle indorsed ' 17 and 18 Car,' and in the same Calendar are stated to be ' Acts of Parliament passed after the first recesse A°- 1 7 0 and 18 0 Car Regis in the Parliament begunn on the third day of Nov'- A°- 16 0 Car Regis.' "

I think there can therefore be little doubt that the heading of this set of Statutes printed as the work of the "Parliament begunn Nov. 3rd - 1640 " was the cause of our local historians asserting with one voice that the Act was passed in the year 1640. So often does one writer copy from an earlier one, and accept his statements without question, that the internal evidence which might have set them right, must have been passed over without thought, or at least without serious examination.

I think we must all be glad that the present Vicar of Charles has been the means of bringing to light the true facts of the case.

                                                An Old "Charley Boy."