St Stephen in Brannel

St StephenIB 01St Stephen sits in the village of the same name in the middle of Clay Country. Today the village is surrounded by signs warning ‘keep out, deep hole’ but it was obviously once a prosperous farming area as the church is large and its surrounding buildings show signs of style.

Its layout is ‘truncated Cornish’ with a north aisle, nave and foreshortened south aisle, creating three altar spaces. Presumably the south transept was extended eastwards to create the Tanner chapel at some point.

The main door has a simple Norman surround with what look like half billiard balls to adorn its curve.

St StephenIB 04Inside, the church is large, light and airy with (mostly) plain glass in the windows and few memorials on the walls. The arcade runs easily into the chancel without a chancel arch or alteration in the roof. The wagon roof in the nave is not original although that of the north aisle is, although much restored.

It is perhaps too large to justify the term ‘simple’ but it is a fairly unadorned space, although an artists was in residence when we visited which added to the ‘clutter’.

St StephenIB 05The church was restored twice in the C19: in 1854 and 1893, the latter by G Fellows Prynne. It was a restrained piece of work with the old benches replaced by chairs and a general tidying up.

One notable feature is the way the font has been raised up a few steps at the west end of the nave. This gives it a commanding position, and affords the congregation a much better view than otherwise. We have not seen this anywhere else in Cornwall (so far).

The font itself is a joy. Bodmin style with a legs and heads at each corner, the sides feature a dragon which Betjeman described as looking like ‘Tiger Tim’.

St StephenIB 12There is modern glass in both the nave and south aisle windows. That in the aisle refers to St Stephen’s marytrdom while that in the nave references the local clay industry. Will these windows stand the test of time? They are certainly a refreshing change from Victorian glass which insists on colouring in every square inch.

The pulpit was constructed using some C17 bench-ends. The quality is such that one wonders why more bench ends were not rescued. The altar frontal has a refreshing Pre-Raphaelite feel to it with kneeling angels.

Outside, there is a fine churchyard cross and a curious feature known as the Reading stone which is about as dull as a small post can be. On the south side, there is also a Glastonbury thorn tree.


A journey through the landscape and history of Cornwall