An occasional piece about things in our Church which you may not have seen or heard about
Q: WHAT’S THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE CHURCH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, MARLDON AND THE CHURCH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, LITTLEHEMPSTON
A: I’ll put you out of your misery straight away – it’s a WINDOW. To be more precise, it is the three- light window in the North Chancel of Littlehempston Church. And the connection is that, hundreds of years ago, this window was part of Marldon Church!
The fullest account we have so far is that contained in a book titled “Devonshire Parishes ….. or the Antiquities, Heraldry and Family History of Twenty-eight Parishes in the Archdeaconry of Totnes”, by Charles Worthy, published in 1889. In the chapter on Littlehempston (there is no chapter on Marldon, which did not become a separate Parish until 1912), Mr. Worthy writes about this window, firstly in antiquarian, architectural terms, and then, as he says, “I will then state what I have been able to discover as to their history …..”
He starts by saying that, whilst writing his book, a former Rector of Littlehempston had written to him saying that he had been assured by the widow of another former Rector, the Rev. W. Gower, (Rector from 1823 to 1837) that many years ago a glazier from Totnes named Mr. Croydon had told how his father had been employed to repair some windows at Marldon Church, (which might take us back to the middle 1700’s) but had not taken with him sufficient glass to do the job. A bystander at Marldon Church (perhaps one of the Churchwardens?) told him that there was a “rubbish-heap” full of glass in the belfry, and when Mr. Croydon went to investigate he found that this was so. When Mr. Croydon started to clean the glass, he found that it was coloured glass (and therefore more expensive than plain glass) and someone at Marldon Church gave him permission to take it, on condition that he “at once cleared it out of the way of the ringers”!
Sometime after this, in 1784, Littlehempston had a new Rector, the Rev. Stephen Weston (Rector from 1784 to 1823), grandson of a former Bishop of Exeter, an accomplished scholar, a Fellow of Exeter College Oxford, a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries. The Rev. Weston somehow heard of this “glass” which was available at Totnes, and, according to Mr. Worthy’s book, “soon recognised the value of the glass which the good people of Marldon had so readily disposed of, and he became the fortunate purchaser of the whole of it for the sum of £10!”
According to Mr. Worthy’s book, the Rev. Weston “had two of the lights (ie two of the three parts of the window) placed in their present position” (ie in Littlehempston Church) and presumably this indicates that the “glass” was more than just a heap of broken glass, but was perhaps a complete window, although perhaps damaged, removed for some reason, and thrown on a heap of rubbish in the belfry.
Coincidentally, it appears that at this time a Dr. John Eveleigh, the Provost of Oriel College Oxford between 1781 and 1814, was visiting Totnes, which was his “native town”, and at his “urgent request” the Rev. Weston gave the third light to him as a gift. At the general restoration of Littlehempston Church in 1863, the present quarried light in the centre of the window was installed at the cost of the then Rector, the Rev. Fitz Henry Hele.
Another source of information is a leaflet produced by the Littlehempston History Archive, titled “A short history of Littlehempston Church”, which is available from the small display at the back of the Church. Although not mentioned in the above account by Charles Worthy, the glass in the window is identified as 15th century by this leaflet, which also states that the third light given to Dr. John Eveleigh, as mentioned in the above account, is still in the Chapel of Oriel College, Oxford. (We have not been able to verify this as yet).
If the glass (and therefore the window) is 15th century, then it would have been part of Marldon Church when built – c.1450. This raises the question of why it was removed between Marldon Church being finished and when the “glass” was removed from the belfry by Mr. Croydon, glazier of Totnes, in about the mid 1700’s. Was the window accidentally broken or damaged, did it collapse, or was it removed for religious reasons, as a consequence of the Reformation, or as a result of the break with Rome by Henry V111, both of which were responsible for the removal or disfigurement of many religious objects and fittings from many Churches, including Marldon.
We may never know!!
TONY CHIDLOW – CHAIRMAN