The History of the Church

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Our church is a tribute to the faith and generosity of many generations of villagers.  It is likely that a simple wooden church stood on this site for centuries before it was replaced by a stone building over 900 years ago.   Domesday Book records a church at ‘Ailvertuna’. (Yelverton).  The plan of the church shows that part of this simple stone church, which had only a nave measuring 30ft. by 19ft., and a slightly tapered chancel measuring about 16ft square, survives.  The only parts visible today are the north-east corner of the old nave, with its large blocks of conglomerate as quoins, and the north wall of the original chancel.  The join where the later, probably fifteenth century, extension was added can be seen clearly.  High up in this chancel wall is a blocked circular double-splay window and a small round-headed window, re-opened in the 20th century, both from the Saxon church.

saxon windows

Another early survival is the small Early English doorway in the north nave wall. This was probably blocked up, as were many other north doors, at the time of the Reformation, to stop the tradition of processions around the church at festivals.

floor plan key to plan

The church was obviously altered and enlarged in the 14th century, in the Decorated style.  The trend towards larger windows to light the sanctuary, which began with the Saxon and Norman windows in the north wall, continued when the ‘Y’ traceried window in the north chancel wall was inserted in about 1300 (the similar window in the nave is comparatively modern).  In the mid-14th century there was a period of major expansion, a south aisle being added with Decorated windows of various designs, wheel tracery in the spandrels and originally a flat leaded roof.   At the same time a matching Decorated window was installed in the east wall of the chancel. 

The porch is also of this period, and has the remains of a stoup where people would dip their fingers into holy water and sign themselves with the cross as they entered the church, to remind them of their baptism.

In the 15th century there was further development: the chancel was lengthened, and this section was squared rather than tapering.  A new east window of the modern Perpendicular style provided a grand backdrop to the altar, and it seems that the old east window was re-used in the south wall of the chancel, flooding the sanctuary with light.

In the last quarter of the 15th century a clerestory was added to the nave.  The windows are simple two-lights, and those on the north side still have their Tudor brick edging. The work was in progress in 1579, when the rector of the time, Thomas Wyoth, left money in his will towards the ‘new roof’.  Today the south windows appear shortened, with a sloping interior sill, but this was the result of a late 19th century alteration of roofing material.  The thatched chancel, and leaded nave and aisle, were all re-roofed with slate.  The need for a steeper pitch in the aisle meant that an additional roof was built over the earlier one, creating a void over the aisle and closing up the bottom half of the south clerestory.  Robert Ladbrooke’s engraving of the church in 1823 shows the leaded aisle and the full-height south clerestory. 

etching of church

In about 1500 a neat Tudor brick doorway gave access to the chapel in the south aisle, which meant shortening the Decorated window above it.  Since that time the use of brick, perhaps from the local brickyard in Alpington, seems to have been popular.  On the exterior of the south aisle wall, framed in brick, are memorial tablets to Leonard andWilliam Hood, who died in 1705 and 1711 respectively.  Leonard’s memorial has a skull and William’s an epitaph which is worth reading.

The most recent part of the building is the tower, which was rebuilt in 1673-4, of flint and brick. 

The name of the mason, Thomas Thetford, who was a member of a local family, is inscribed on a plaque on the south side.  He describes himself as ‘Thomas Thetford, Workeman’, suggesting that he might not have been apprenticed as a mason.   Thomas Thetford

Inside the tower hang three bells, No 1 by Edward Tooke, 1678, and Nos. 2 and 3 by William Brend of Norwich (1613 and 1624) which were recast from medieval bells made by Brasyer of Norwich.

Apart from the tower, with its brick and knapped flint, and the brick features mentioned above, the structure of the walls appears haphazard and rather rough.  This is because the outside was once covered in creamy lime plaster, fragments of which survive, particularly on the east wall.  How spectacular it would have looked, glowing bright at the top of the hill.

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