The Waterside Churches -
Devoran - History
The parish of Devoran consists of three communities: the villages of Devoran, Carnon Downs and Point with West Penpol. The whole area exists because of the enormous commercial and industrial life of the nineteenth century. Mining, local railways and shipping generated the economic life which led to the development of the villages on the northern side of Restronguet Creek. The parish church stands at the heart of the now beautiful creek side village of Devoran which has lost all but traces of its industrial past. The much-loved Victorian building was designed by JL Pearson who was also the architect for Truro cathedral some years later
By Barry Simpson with line Drawings by John Trumble.
Around 1,500 years ago the Celtic Saints and Missionaries travelled far and wide, in the wake of Mediterranean traders who visited the South West peninsula via Brittany. Dedications to them abound throughout Cornwall and there is no reason to doubt that they, like the traders, used the shipping haven of Carrick Roads. The Church of St. Feock, sited in that village so close to the deep water, was the centre of worship for the Parish that included the farmland of Devoran and Carnon Downs for many centuries.
Devoran, as a hamlet may have begun in the late 18th century when a large open-cast mine started up, actually in the creek, to recover alluvial tin which lay beneath the mud. The tidal waters were also used by barges which transported the copper ore from the mines inland; this had been carried from the mines by pack horses. In 1823 the construction was begun of a tramway to replace the different horse tracks and, combined with a major expansion of quay facilities, led to population growth that called for a school and a Church.
Initially a Chapel-of-Ease within the Parish of Feock, it seems to have been known as St. Peters at first but, at the Consecration on the 23rd of May 1857, the dedication was to St. John Evangelist. The Agar-Robartes family made an Endowment of £60 per annum and this was made up to £150 by the Incorporated Church Society and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The consecration was reported at length by the local newspaper, the ‘West Briton’. No fewer than three members of the Phillpotts family took part in the ceremony, the Bishop of Exeter being assisted by his son Henry and his nephew Thomas. The collection amounted to £15 and this was added to the fund for the building of a parsonage house nearby. The report also mentioned that the ships in port at the time ‘were gaily bedecked with a profusion of colours of all descriptions.
There are four memorial tablets in addition to the 1914-18 War Memorial, on the walls of the Church. One, in the sanctuary, is to the memory of John Phillpotts, MP for Gloucester and Sarah, his wife, who both died in 1849; also to Theophilus Hughes (died 1809) and his wife Rachel Penelope (died 1826). This states that the Chancel was built in memory of the above by their surviving children, the Revd Thomas Phillpotts, Vicar of this Parish and his wife in 1855. On the North wall is a tablet to the memory of the Revd A Williams, Vicar of Devoran for 24 years, and on the South wall one to the memory of Thomas Charles Agar-Robartes, Viscount Clifden, patron and benefactor, who died in 1930.
His family had been the major landowners of the agricultural area upon which Devoran was built. The plaque is unfortunately slightly inaccurate in that, although was the 2nd Baron Robartes, he would have been the 5th Viscount Clifden. This title derived from an Irish root and relates to the Connemara town of that name. Clifden, although small, is nevertheless the principal centre for this wild, sparsely populated area. It has two churches and is delightfully situated on the Atlantic coast.
The area of the churchyard was extended in 1923 by the gift of a further half acre of land from Lord Clifden. This is to the north east of the original plot. The churchyard also contains a memorial listing the names of those Devoran men who lost their lives during the two World Wars, 17 in 1914- 1918 and 8 in 1939-1945.
The altar service missal was a gift in memory of Charles Duke Taylor, a son of John Taylor who brought the industrial railway to Devoran. Charles pioneered the last major ‘submarine’ mining project in the creek in 1871 and the remains of the ventilation shaft, which was named after him, are still to be seen just off Point Quay. He died at an early age in 1876. The altar service book was given in memory of Eyre Burton and Mary Augusta Powell. The brass lectern on the pulpit had been presented in 1866 by W & O A Lidgey and in that same year the family of Richard Michell Sampson, who had also played a managerial part in Devoran’s industrial past, gave the tall free-standing lectern in his memory. The altar is a memorial of the Tyacke family. J F Tyacke was the last manager of the Redruth & Chasewater Railway at its Devoran Headquarters.
The pulpit has, in recent years, been enhanced by the addition of three wooden figures. That representing St. John Evangelist was a gift by the Hibbert family whilst that representing St. Petroc, who is depicted holding a Celtic pastoral staff or ‘bachall’, is in memory of Audrey Webber. The third and most recent addition was a figure of the Virgin Mary donated in memory of Lucy Webber.
Until recently, a Church Room on the first floor of a building in Market Street had been in use since the 1920s when it was donated by Lord Clifden. It had previously been the home of the ‘Loyal Agar Robartes Lodge of the Ancient Order of Oddfellows’. As the adjacent Primary School, now transferred to a new site off Devoran Lane, was in urgent need of additional accomodation the building was sold to the Education Department and, with further funds raised separately, the Church was able to construct the present Parish Centre to the north of the nave. This practical, adaptable building which blends so well with the architecture of the main Church, was formally opened by the then Bishop of Truro, the Rt. Revd. Michael Ball on the 20th January 1991.
In 2007 the West End of the church was re-ordered to make easier wheel chair access.
St John and St Petroc
We are reminded of the patron saints of the church as we spy trailing St John’s wort, Hypericum humifosum amongst the gravel on the paths and gravetops. Its tiny yellow flowers bloom throughout the summer.
Bishop Hunkin, a keen horticulturalist, donated a plant to each of his parishes. Devoran received Rosa muscosa lobbii which can be found close to the south wall of the church.
Habitats where plants and animals live are fragile and need to be conserved. In Cornwall we have areas that are specially protected for their wildlife; however any area can become such a haven, be it field corner, garden or churchyard.
All the measures that we take for conservation are within the parish and diocesan regulations a copy of which can be obtained from the church warden
An area extending along the eastern boundary has been planted with spring bulbs and wild flowers.
As the season unfolds you can expect to see snowdrops, celandines, violets, primroses, snake’s-head fritillaries, bluebells, three-cornered leeks, foxgloves, columbines, lady’s smock, stitchwort and speedwells.There are a few Cornish jacks, Gladiola byzantine on the western boundary.
Herb robert, ivy-leaved toad flax and bird’s foot trefoil, typical of many Cornish churchyards, flower amongst the grey stones with lichens, mosses and ferns to complete the picture.
Elsewhere in the churchyard green alkanet flourishes. Teasels have been planted to attract goldfinches and other seed-eating birds. Hemp agrimony and buddleia attract many butterflies.
Each spring we are visited by one or two black redstarts. Parties of redwings feast on yew berries on chill autumn days. Wrens and overwintering butterflies use the thick ivy on the boundaries. From centipedes to snails, from beetles to butterflies, many creatures make up the web of life that is an essential part of our churchyard.
The existing Church there was dedicated in 1264 to St. Feoca, who may have been female – as were several other Saints in the County – and who could have had links with either Ireland, as ‘Fiacc’ was a fairly common name there, or with Brittany where there lived a Saint Fiacre. This name was said to have been on a signboard above the entrance to a Paris cab proprietor in the 19th century and to have lent itself to the covered, horse-drawn cab of that era – not to mention a popular song of the day!
1844 saw the installation of the Rev. Thomas Phillpotts as the Vicar of Feock, that Church being enlarged the same year. He was a nephew of the then Bishop of Exeter, Dr. Henry Phillpotts, who encouraged a Church-building programme – especially in the new industrial areas – which saw 36 new Churches built in Cornwall alone during his period of office from 1830 – 1869.
Thomas Phillpotts, who was also a magistrate, was instrumental in the establishment of Devoran School which opened in1846 and, from 14th March 1847, was used for Church services until the opening of today’s Church in July, 1856. The site for the Church was donated by the largest landowners in the village, the Hon. Anna Maria Agar and her son Thomas James Agar-Robartes (later Baron Robartes) and building took place over a period of years at a cost £1,485. The masonry was completed by William Gerrish of Carnon Downs whilst a Mr. Salmon of Truro was the carpenter and joiner. In Early English style, the building was designed by J.L. Pearson who was also the architect for Truro Cathedral some years later – it would be nice to think that the regard in which Devoran Church was held could have been a factor in his selection for the Cathedral contract. With its pyramidal spire and an apse, it was at once hailed as a pretty little mid-Victorian Church and was enhanced by the fitting of a pulpit of Caen stone.
In April 1873 the Church was separated from Feock and took responsibility for its present area as the Ecclesiastical Parish of Devoran, Carnon Downs and West Penpoll, the first Vicar being the then Curate, the Rev J H Gillan. Thomas Phillpotts, by then a Canon, retired in 1874 and died in 1890. He was a very popular Vicar known to many people as ‘Reverend Tom’. It is thought that the seventeenth century chalice still in use today was one of the gifts of Canon Phillpotts.
The present bell was fitted in 1889, having been cast at the Whitechapel foundry of Mears & Stainbank. It replaced the original which became cracked during an over- enthusiastic celebration of New Year’s Eve. This was referred to in the Parish Magazine and it is evident that the Vicar was critical of whoever had given permission for its use for that purpose! The Magazine had been initiated in 1888 by the then curate, the Revd T H L Jellicoe. A new organ, built by Sweetlands of Bath, was installed in October 2903. It has two manuals and pedals.
Another tablet is to the memory of William and Thomas Lobb, two brothers who, as lads, went to work as gardeners at the Carclew mansion of Sir Charles Lemon (on the other side of the creek opposite Devoran). They both later became internationally famous in the horticultural world for their plant-collecting journeys in America and Asia. William died in California but Thomas retired to a cottage in Bissoe Lane for 34 years, having lost a leg from infection. He died in 1894, aged 76, and lies in Devoran Churchyard. The Lobb brothers introduced a huge range of plants to the United Kingdom including varieties of escallonias and rhododenrons. Some of the plants had the suffix ‘Lobbii’ added in their honour. In 1942 the Cornish-born Bishop of Truro, Dr J W Hunkin, conducted a ceremony in Devoran Churchyard dedicating a memorial garden to them. Bishop Hunkin was the author of several articles on horticulture and was asked to contribute one to the Church Times on ‘The Lobbs of Devoran’. He encouraged the planting of trees and shrubs throughout Cornwall.
Of all the many Cornish saints, St. Petroc has been referred to as the Apostle of the whole kingdom of Dumnonia (there are more dedications to him in Devon than in Cornwall). He was so revered by Christians in Brittany that, when a disgruntled monk stole his relics from Bodmin in 1177 and took them to the Abbey of St. Meen in Brittany, they were only recovered because King Henry 11 was the sovereign of both countries and was prevailed upon by the Prior of Bodmin to send soldiers to St. Meen. He has given his name to several towns and villages, notably Padstow (originally St. Petrocstowe) and also has dedications in Wales and Somerset. It was during a period of Cornish ‘revivalism’ in the late 1950s that the name of St. Petroc was added to that of St. John at Devoran by the then Bishop of Truro, the Rt. Revd. Edmund Morgan.
There is history in the shrubs and trees of our churchyard as well as the stones.
The parish church, situated in the centre of the village, overlooks Restronguet Creek. The land was donated by the
Agar-Robartes family of Lanhydrock in the middle of the nineteenth century. Before that time it was farm land and many of the traditional meadow flowers remain.
The yew trees were probably planted when the church was finished in 1856. The red maple and whitebeams some time later. In 1923 the churchyard was extended by the gift of a further half acre from Lord Clifden, 2nd Baron Robartes.
The Lobb brothers
In 1942 Bishop Hunkin dedicated shrubs to two distinguished plant collectors, William and Thomas Lobb. William hunted for exotic plants in the Americas and his younger brother in the Far East. A stone commemorates Thomas who is buried here. They introduced many plants to this country including the four found here Escallonia
macrantha, Berberis darwinii, Hypericum hookeranium and the Crinodendron Tricuspidaria lanceolata. By 1999
the shrubs had either become lost or overgrown and the bed was refurbished for the new millennium. With the help of Kew Gardens we were able to replant the original species.
A LIVING CHURCHYARD
As you walk around quietly, look for different varieties of plants growing around the graves and in the hedges. Many
of them are referred to as weeds, for instance the dandelion, daisy and pretty blue-petalled speedwell of which we have three species present, slender, thyme-leaved and field speedwell. Others like orange hawkweed, known as ‘fox and
cubs’, are probably of garden origin but have naturalised in these favourable conditions.
To help maintain the churchyard’s value for wildlife we use as few chemicals as possible and you will see that some areas of grass are not cut as frequently as others to allow flowers to set seed.
We try to ensure that all graves that are tended are accessible and that the wild flowers enhance the surroundings
About one hundred different flowering plants and ferns can be found in the churchyard.
A variety of climbing species such as bramble, black bryony, dog rose, ivy and old man’s beard are allowed to scramble in the Cornish hedges.