Early years of the church in Tywardreath


It is known that Christians have worshipped in Tywardreath since the foundation of the Benedictine Priory of St Andrew in 1088.

Tywardreath priory foundation charter has not survived. The Benedictine monks travelled from the abbey of St Sergius and St Bacclius in Angers and the parent abbey exercised control for 283 years. One prior and around four to six monks established the priory buildings behind an enclosed wall. Tywardreath seems to have been a sizeable village at the time of the Doomsday survey. The monks built the priory at the head of a sheltered valley probably just below where the churchyard is now. Supplies of fish, fresh water, timber, local stone and labour from the villages would have been readily available.

The priory came under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Exeter, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was endowed with lands and churches throughout Cornwall for which Tywardreath was overlord and therefore due a considerable income. However, it was taxed for the Pope, the king and the diocese, and its fortune was further complicated by the prolonged "Hundred Year War" with France. Several times the priory's assets were seized by the king as those of an "alien" priory which had the monks being temporarily ejected. They also left at a time when the priory was under attack from sea pirates (1338). The fact that Bishopric of Exeter confirmed the prior since 1333 and that the royal family had the right of presentation of priory at least since 1406, ensured its continued existence until the dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII in 1536. The religious work of the monastery continued with occasional lapses, for 448 yeas.

When the Archbishop of Canterbury visited in July 1261, he noted that the needs of he parishioners would be best served by a vicar. A month later Ralph was appointed, to live in the priory and "he should have the portion of one of the monks... with a pension of 4 marcs, a chamber and the keep of his horse". The priory had the right of nomination and presentation of the vicar. In 1331, Bishop Grandison found that the incumbent, John Roger, to be unsuitable for his position. In June 1390 Thomas Jordan complained to the Bishop of the large number of his parishioners and that his income was insufficient and uncertain and that his accommodation within the priory restricted his ability to get in and out. The vicarage on the corner of Woodland Avenue and Vicarage Lane dates from 1820-23 (Rev Thomas Pearce) and was partly built of priory stones dug up in the excavation of the priory site in 1822. Nothing can be seen of this site now. Tywardreath parish church was consecrated by the Archbishop of Armargh on 13 July 1347.

The Church

The Church built on the north side of the priory enclosure was probably cruciform in shape, consisting of nave, sanctuary and north and south transepts. Ranulph de Spaldynge was vicar in 1347 and the Prior, ~William Bouges, when the Archbishop of Armagh, Richard fitz Ralph, came to consecrate the church. He anointed the large stone altar slab with five crosses in oil to represent the five wounds of Christ, and a stone mason immediately chopped the crosses out as a permanent memorial and can still be seen today, In 1480 the tower was added and a south aisle. The present granite pillar arcade was erected and the St Catherine's wheel window moved.

St Sampson's church in Golant remained a chaperlry of Tywardreath, and as such they were expected to pay their dues to the mother church. They paid £4 towards the new aisle and £10 towards the purchase of bells. In 1508 they were asked to contribute to the rood loft and when they refused the church wardens took action against them. *(Eventually the parishioners of St Sampson's gained their independence).

Tywardreath church survived the ravages of the priory dissolution in 1536 and the Parliamentarian invasion of 1655. The bells were recase and two more were added in 1774. In 1798 there was a restoration to the tower. Before 1820 the richly ornamented rood screen was taken down. In 1830 a major restoration took place. The pillars of the arcade were straightened (at night!). The pulpit, reading desk and parish clerk's desk were constructed from the 16th Century bench ends. The pulpit, supported by a wineglass shaped wooden pillar, had difficult access. The other desks were below it.

Church interior before 1878 showing pulpit on wooden pillar

Tywardreath Church, interior showing pulpit on wooden pillar, photo taken before 1878

Church interior before 1878, South aisle

Tywardreath Church, interior before 1878, South Aisle

The church was re-pewed with yellow stained pine, half facing west, half facing east. There were three grand box pews for the Rashleigh family of Menablly in the South aisle, for the Lords and Adventurers of Fowey Consols Copper Mine where the Polkinghorne family sat, and for Colonel John Peard of Trenython. The ringers gallery was at the west end of the nave and there was a gallery for the Sunday School boys across the south side, and for the girls across the transept with the vestry room underneath. The walls had boards painted with the creed, Lords Prayer and Ten Commandments. In 1880 a very though and unsympathetic overhaul took place, re-roofing, rendering of the walls and the floor and the removal of the galleries and pews. The pulpit, Priory Colyns' tombstone and the window showing the priory arms were moved. The altar slab, found when the floor was dug up was replaced. The alabaster reredos dates from 1889, the Lady Chapel from 1968. The 16th century oak bench ends have been incorporated into the pulpit. The reading desk gave way of a bronze lectern. The priest door and steps to the rood loft remain in the Lady Chapel. There are memorial in the walls to members of the Rashleigh family, Richard and Honor Harris, Septimus Valentine Baker, John Sheere, Jane Baker of Kilmarth, Rev G Ross and window in memory of William Rashleigh and William Eads Geach (churchwarden).

Outside the church near the base of the tower is a collection of priory stones, and a cross shaft which one indicated the safest way to cross the old estuary at St Andrew' Bridge.