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The Parish Church of St. Eustachius, Tavistock


Tavistock Abbey was founded in 981 by Ordulf, on instruction by King Edgar. By 1318, Abbot Robert Champeaux completed the reconstruction and enlargement of this church and it was re-dedicated on 21/May, 1318. Most of the walls and the base of the tower of this building (in the sea-green volcanic Hurdwick stone) still remain. Between 1425 and 1450 it was again partly rebuilt in the present early perpendicular style, and the fourth aisle, known as the ‘Clothworkers Aisle’, added by the gift of Constance, widow of Maurice Bird. Externally the church has changed little since then.

Tour of the Church

The FONT is 15th century. Probably Sir Francis Drake was baptised here, but our records begin only in 1614. The WAGON CHEST is 14th century. The only other one known is in the Victoria and Albert museum. The PARISH CHEST (with 3 locks) contained a number of ancient documents and churchwarden’s rolls and accounts, the earliest being a bill of sale dated 1286. Above the Holy Water Stoop is a carved relief of Saint Eustachius and on the right a PICTURE by DESCHWANDEN given by the Reverend S. Baring-Gould, Vicar of the nearby village of Lew Trenchard, composer of "Onward, Christian Soldiers".

The TOWER base dates from 1318, the higher parts from the 15th century. The arches in the North and South walls formed the gateway to the Lay Cemetery separating the parish church from the much longer and narrower Abbey church. This was one of the four main entrances to the Abbey. The height of the tower is 28 metres to the top of the battlements. On the North side of the door is an OPHICLEIDE used in the church band before the removal of the gallery in 1845. In the floor beneath this instrument are buried the bones of Ordulf, giant Earl of Devon, founder of the Abbey. Interred in a vault close to Ordulf are the bones of later Abbots which were discovered in Bedford Square during recent works by the water company, and re-interred in the church in 2000.

The tower contains TEN BELLS, eight of which were given by the 4th Duke of Bedford in 1769. These were re-cast and re-hung in 1925. The third of these is still called "the Poor Bell" after one of the five which the Duke’s bells replaced. The original had been given by an old lady to be tolled whenever a poor person was buried because, until then, no bell was tolled for the poor "to hasten their departure into Heaven". Two more bells were added for the millennium, partly with the aid of a grant from the Millennium Commission.

The NORTH AISLE has a carved TRIPTYCH commemorating the men of Tavistock who fell in the 1914–1918 war. Next to this is an oak board with the names of the Abbots and Vicars of Tavistock with their dates. The PILLARS are of elvan, a volcanic intrusion from nearby Roborough. Near the organ is a 14th century tomb, an ogee arch with carved angel’s head (of an unknown person), partly restored.

The PULPIT dating from 1844–6 replaced an earlier one and is of Caen stone – much used in Victorian times for its decorativeness because of its whiteness and because it could be easily carved and undercut. There is a carved snail climbing a vine at the bottom of the second pillar from the entrance and oak leaves and acorns on the pillars on either side of the entrance.

The ORGAN was built to specifications drawn up by Dr Samuel Wesley, then organist and grandson of Charles Wesley. The organ was enlarged in 1952 and again in 1974 and again in 1989 with further pipes added in 1997. The oak screen was carved by local craftsmen for the restoration of the interior of the church in 1845. It was completed and the figures filled in in 1879. In 1845 the old pews of all heights and sizes were replaced and their ends and the choir bench ends beautifully carved by local craftsmen, copying those in neighbouring local churches, particularly the 11th century church at Bere Ferrers.

East of the organ are rare EARLY 17TH CENTURY PEWTER FLAGONS in a glass case blocking a 15th century doorway. The case also contains a copy of the "Paraphrases" of the Greek Testament by the Dutch theologian, Erasmus, who taught for a time at Cambridge. The book was purchased in 1561 for fifteen shillings. Above, there is a BOSS with three rabbit’s ears, often used to denote the Trinity in mediaeval times and the emblem of the tinners.

The FITZ MEMORIAL at the entrance to the ST. MARY MAGDALENE CHAPEL commemorates John Fitz (1528–1585), a lawyer. In the corner of the chapel are some 15th century bench ends. The east window commemorating John Hornbrook-Gill was designed by Burne-Jones and William Morris (1876). Moriss’ sister married Hornbrook-Gill’s son. To the right and below the window is an old doorway.

The EAST WINDOW (1949) is a memorial to Prebendary H.L. Bickersteth, former much-loved Vicar for 28 years.

The LADY CHAPEL contains an altar of Dartmoor granite (1965) and also the GLANVILL MONUMENT depicting Judge Glanvill, who died in 1600, his wife and children. The monument is of Devon marble and alabaster.

The WINDOW to the right and above the sacristy door depicts the saints to whom the Abbey was dedicated – Saint Rumon, Bishop of Dumnonia (Exmoor to Land’s End), the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the right, Saint Eustachius, to whom the church is dedicated.

The BRASS LECTERN at the West end of the choir stalls is a modern copy of the mediaeval lectern in Southwell Minster. It was the gift of the 9th Duke of Bedford in 1877.

ST. GEORGE’S CHAPEL and the CLOTHWORKERS’ AISLE. This 15th century guild chapel is richer than the rest of the church – this can be deduced from the roof bosses, capitals and granite pillars. The ALTAR TABLE is late Elizabethan. The PICTURE behind the altar is by local artist Arthur Read and is entitled "The Dawn of the Third Millennium". The WINDOW above shows Saint George and Saint Martin, patron saint of the clothworkers, cutting his military cloak in two to give half to a shivering beggar by the roadside. (Hence presumably, his adoption as patron saint of the clothworkers) Clothmaking, with the rather tough wool of the Dartmoor sheep, was a very important industry in Tavistock. The recent READING DESK was finely carved by local craftsmen. An eccentricity is the little white mouse in the third pew end opposite – possibly the signature of the carver.

The PILLARS in this aisle are of Dartmoor granite and sparkle in the light. The capitals are decorated with a double leaf-sprig motif, the insignia of the clothworkers. Adjacent to two of the pillars are happy and sad faces carved into tops of two bench ends.

The legend of Saint Eustachius is told in various places. The written description is under the window to the left of the South door. The pulpit fall is a beautiful version in tapestry. TILES from the floor of the old Abbey Church are in a glass case by the South door. These date from the 14th century.

In the south porch, QUATREFOILS have been carved into the inside and outside of the lintel. In the churchyard, the WALL between the North Cloister and the Abbey Church is all that remains of this edifice. As may be inferred from two of the doorways of the church and the outside traffic, in mediaeval times the floor level was much lower.



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