Calstock church

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Calstock

The church of St Andrew stands alone on a hill above the modern town of Calstock. The early Christians were not the only ones to appreciate the site for the church is sited in the middle of what was a Roman fort: one of only three known in Cornwall. From its hilltop, it commands the gorges of the tidal Tamar with views towards Dartmoor and Bodmin moor.

Built in solid granite, the tower looks late C15 with its four solid pinnacles.

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Calstock: the nave

Walking through the porch, our eyes were caught by a granite ledger stone to what Pevsner calls ‘the Griffin family’ but which is more likely to be the Steven family. The first name ‘Griffin’ was apparently used in the area in the C17. It is always a strange sensation walking over one’s family’s graves (cf Mylor).

Inside, the church seems tall, light and airy, helped by the white plaster and tall arcades, again typical of the C15. The nave is not long, given its height but this adds to the sense of space.

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Calstock: wall painting

Above is a fine wagon roof which Piers St Aubyn failed to replace with one of his wind-braced roofs in the restoration of 1886-8. The fine stone pulpit, an unusual material for Cornwall, is probably C19, as is the font.

There are three particular delights.

High up above the north arcade is the remains of a wall-painting which was discovered when the plaster was restored. This, it is suggested, shows St George. Certainly it is a knight on horse back. A speculative reconstruction water colour is a poor guide to the original as the knightly figure is vastly out of scale and facing the wrong way. Sadly it does not do justice to the artistry of the original.

The other gem is the ringers’ board with some elegantly be-shirted and balding C18 gentlemen. The rhyme alongside sets out the penalties for bad behaviour:

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Calstock: ringers’ board

We ring the quick to Church, the dead to grave
Good is our Use such Usage lett us have,
Who swears or Curse or in A Cholerick mood
Quarrels or strike altho he draw no blood
Who wears his Hat or Spur or turns a Bell
Or by unskilfull handling marrs A Peal
Lett him pay Six pence for each Single crime
Twill make him more Cautious against another time
So when the Bells are ceased then lett us
Sing God bless our holy Church
God save the King.
These Bells was cast in the year 1773 and the Tower new leaded.

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Calstock: the ‘Silver Chair’

Calstock church is the ancestral church of the Honeycombe family and a couple of plaques remind us that they have been since the 1300s and that Gordon (d 2015) was a household name as a television newsreader.

A splendid chair in the chancel bears the initials CWH which may be another member of the family. The chair is a fine piece of carving with some charming animals. It feels like an inspiration for Pauline Baynes’ illustration in CS Lewis’ book The Silver Chair and one can imagine the White Witch seated in it, turning those around her to stone.

There is a last architectural anomalies which can only be seen from the east end. In the C16 two chapels were added to the east end alongside the chancel. These have curiously domestic-looking square-headed windows. One was the Edgcumbe chapel, donated by the family from nearby Cotehele.

 

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