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St Peter’s, Thornbury

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Here is a place where God has been worshipped in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord for at least eight hundred years and probably longer. In April 1275 John le Cornu was instituted as Rector of the parish. The patron at that time, and Lord of the Manor, was William le Cornu whose family had been lords of Thornbury since the time of Henry I. Before the Conquest the land had been owned by the Abbey of Tavistock. It is quite possible that there was a Saxon Church here before the Norman one, of which some traces remain.

The south entrance doorway, with its two colonettes, partly scalloped capitals and roll-moulded arch, dates from about 1150. The preservation of these Norman doorways is not uncommon in the neighbourhood (see Bradford, Shebbear, Highampton and Buckland Filliegh). The bowl of the font by the south door is of the 13th Century. Nothing else discernible remains of the Norman church.


There is good reason for the preservation of the old doorways and the font as these were two very important parts of-the church. -The doorway was not only the entrance to the church building, but the porch was an important place of meeting when there were no other public buildings in the community. The font was equally important: it was here that Christians were baptised. When there was rebuilding, enlargement or restoration the builders often kept these parts which held so many valued memories for them.

Many of the Norman churches were symbolically cruciform in shape, like a cross laid upon the ground, with a chancel at the east end, north and south transepts making the arms of the cross, and the nave running westwards. Thornbury church may have been like this in the 12th Century. The church is built mainly in the Perpendicular style, like many Westcountry churches. This style of building began in England in the second half of the 14th Century and is well illustrated by the nave of Exeter Cathedral, completed in 1369. In most of our local parishes this style was still being used in the 15th Century which makes dating a little difficult. It is fairly certain that the north chancel chapel, where the Speccot memorial now stands, was added in the 14th Century, The piscina, for rinsing the chalice, can be seen in a niche in the south wall. The octagonal piers to the arches behind the choir stalls also indicate this early period. In the next century the north aisle was added with its typical perpendicular columns supporting two arcades, and the tower was built or rebuilt.

In 1524 Bishop Voysey of Exeter invited the faithful to contribute toward the building of Thornbury church. This would have been a rebuilding, possibly after a fire, as evidence of charred timbers were found during the restoration in the 1870's. In 1553 Thornbury boasted four bells when most of the neighbouring churches had only three. In the Visitation return for 1744 there are only three bells and only one of those a mediaeval bell. The second had the date 1639, the third one of these was replaced in 1779 and inscribed - "Mr John Watts, churchwarden". These three bells were melted down and used in the making of the present peal of five bells cast by Mears & Stainbank at White Chapel Road in London in 1876. The cost was £206, but £138 was allowed off for the old metal!

Early in the 19th Century there was still extant in the church a 15th Century tomb with a monumental brass commemorating Sir Thomas Brooke and his Lady even then the inscription was incomplete and lacked a date. By 1849 it had disappeared altogether. The alabaster monument which remains in the church, and used to stand on the north side of the chancel, was thought to be of Sir John Speccot, who died in 1641 and Elizabeth, his first wife, the daughter of Sir Piers Edgecombe. Her coat of arms are displayed on the wall with the Edgecombe crest, beneath it in the small shield are the arms of Speccot (3 Millrinds) impaled with the arms of Walter. It is probable that the tomb is that of Humphrey Speccot (father of Sir John) who married Elizabeth daughter of John Walter, and who died in 1590.

The manor of Thornbury and patronage of the church passed from Cornu in the 15th Century. The Cornus had founded a chantry at Thornbury before 1300, and funded two priests to celebrate the mass in the parish church with an annual pension of £6 each. Edmund Speccot dissolved one of these stipendiaries circa 1514, and the chantry fell into abeyance soon after.

Sir John Speccot's grandson, Charles, was the last Speccot of Thornbury. He had married Katherine Wyndham, but both he and their daughter died soon after, and Katherine married John Tanner who inherited the Thornbury estates. In 1656 Mrs Katherine Tanner presented a silver chalice to the church of Thornbury.

Prebendary Chanter recalled having seen it in the 1870's, but no one knows what became of it. The church possesses a Victorian chalice and paten (1883 and 1888), and a new chalice and paten of beaten silver presented to the church in 1937 by Sir Edward and Lady Graham. The stained glass window on the north side of the north aisle, of the Resurrection, is in memory of Sir Edward's father, Joseph Graham K.C., and was placed there by his younger son, Arthur, in 1946. The east window of the north aisle, over the Speccot memorial, was placed there in memory of Mrs Elizabeth Graham in 1897; made by Beer of Exeter. It is a copy of the figures of Faith, Charity and Hope which form part of the west window of New College, Oxford, which was designed by Joshua Reynolds in 1779. Joseph Graham defrayed the cost of rebuilding the north aisle in the 1870's, which included inserting a new window at the west end, putting new stone mullions and tracery in the other windows and, presumably, building a new vestry. (The old one had been formed out of the north aisle beside the chancel). The cost of all this was about £400.

At the same time the Rev. William Edgecome and his family undertook the restoration of the chancel. The East Window is in memory of the Rev John Edgecombe and his second wife, Jane, placed there by their daughters, Phillis and Fanny. Two new south windows, in memory of William's brother John, replaced a single window previously in the middle of the south wall. These three windows were made by W. Wailes of Newcastle. Some panels of earlier church furnishing of the 16th Century were inserted in the choir stalls. Six corbels in the form of carved heads support the roof timbers in the chancel. At the east end are effigies of our Lord and the Blessed Virgin, next a queen and a bishop (or king), and at the nave end a knight and a monk (or abbess). The cost of the chancel restoration was £450. Also at this time £600 was spent on raising the tower by five feet, the font was moved to its present position, the nave, south transept and porch were re-roofed, new lead valleys and Delabole slates provided, and a new window of the east side of the transept.

Beneath the altar is a carved tombstone with the arms of Speccot impaled with those of Waldron; it is probably that of Edmund Speccot of Launcells, an elder brother of Sir John. In the north aisle there is a tombstone of a former Rector, William Hammond, who died in June 1681. The earliest remaining memorial in the churchyard is on a table tomb to the south of the church, dated 1702, in memory of Elizabeth Johns and her two younger children, Thomas and Patience.

The earliest church registers surviving date from 1652 and are deposited in the County Record Office. The last Rector to live in Thornbury was Mr Jarratt who resigned in 1950. The Rectory, now called "The Priory", was sold and the living was united with Bradford. Since 1973 St Peter's has been part of a United Benefice with Bradford and Black Torrington. Highampton subsequently joined the Benefice in 1982.

(A more detailed history of the parish of Thornbury is available from the church)