From the Cradle to the Grave and Beyond
1. Baptism, Confirmation and marriage in Ugborough
The stages of the life journey of a Christian have always been marked by special occasions, celebrated in church. Three of the most important are baptism, confirmation and marriage. In 1538, registers for baptism, marriage and burial were made a legal requirement for churches. Ugborough’s baptism and marriage registers begin in this year. Later, in 1837, compulsory state registration for these three events was introduced, although they frequently took place in church. Today, these rites continue to be important in Ugborough church.
The first formal act of acceptance of the Christian faith is the sacrament of baptism. Invoking the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, water is poured on a person (or they might be immersed totally in water) and through this ritual, an individual is reborn or regenerated, original sin is cast out and they are welcomed to the Church community. It mirrors the baptism of Jesus Christ in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. Traditionally, babies were baptised soon after their birth but in more recent decades, adult baptism has also become important.
The medieval rite of baptism was elaborate. Within 48 hours of birth, babies would be brought by their godparents to the church to be christened. The priest would meet the baby at the door and perform a rite of exorcism with salt. He would anoint the baby with holy oil – chrism – and then the baby would be baptised by full immersion in the font. The oldest part of Ugborough church is the 12th century sandstone font comprising a bowl on a short, thick shaft. It would have been located in the west end of the nave. In its original state, the bowl of the font would have been decorated outside with honeysuckle ornament and saw-tooth. It was later mutilated, possibly during the Reformation.
The first inhabitant of Ugborough whose baptism was recorded was Mary, daughter of Edward Beere, christened in 1538, followed by Stephen, son of John West. In 1544, two sets of twins were recorded, on 22 November Hugh and Elizabeth, children of William Grocer and Joan his wife, then on 26 November, Elizabeth and Margery, daughters of Hugh May and Joan his wife.
With the Protestant Reformation, a simpler baptism was introduced. Babies were christened with oil and water, but without the other elaborate rituals. At some point, probably during the 16th or 17th century, the font was altered: the decoration was removed from all but a small area and the rim was cut down by several inches. This may have been a Puritan attempt to make the font more acceptable for Protestant baptism.
In the 19th century, the old font was replaced by a new, Victorian font. The old font was placed in the back of the church and the new font was located near to the main door. In 2009, the new font was moved to the south chancel chapel and the medieval font restored to use, although in a new position at the rear of the pews.
In the Middle Ages, reception into the church as an adult was marked by the sacrament of confirmation. Because baptism was bestowed on babies, confirmation was a validation of baptismal vows by an individual who was now old enough to speak for him or herself. It could only be conferred by bishops, so it tended not be very regular and to be a formal rather than a practical recognition of having obtained an age of ‘reason’.
With the Reformation, confirmation was kept in the Book of Common Prayer but it was not considered to a sacrament of the Church as it was not evidenced in the Bible. In practice, it may have fallen out of use in many places. But Confirmation became popular again in the Victorian period with the rise of Anglo-Catholicism and the wider return in the Anglican Church to ‘medieval’ traditions. Today, it is seen as an opportunity to renew vows and as a formal validation of full membership of the church. It bestows the privilege of taking communion at the altar.
Slowly across the Middle Ages, marriage became a sacrament that was celebrated in church. In the later Middle Ages, marriage took place at the church door, which is one reason for the building of elaborate porches at this time. The first marriage to be recorded in Ugborough was that of Thomas Canterell and Maria Trenyche [Trinnick] on 26 January 1539, followed the next day by Richard Foxe & Rabigia Hill. Both couples had their first child almost exactly nine months later, with the Canterell’s son Richard baptised on 21 October and the Foxe’s daughter Elizabeth baptised on 29 October.
With the Reformation, marriage was no longer considered a sacrament, but it did continue to take place in church with registration being important to confirm the legality of the union. With the growth of independent churches and chapels, then civil registration in the Victorian era, marriages were increasingly celebrated in different places. Today, family patterns have changed but weddings are still an important part of Ugborough church life.
2. Burial and commemoration.
Christians believe that after death, their souls pass to heaven or hell. Their bodies will, on the Day of Judgement, be resurrected from their resting places and reunited with their souls, to spend eternity with God. Burial in or near churches was thought to help their souls, safeguard their bodies until the day of resurrection and provide a site of remembrance for individuals and their families.
Over the centuries, Ugborough church and churchyard has provided a resting place for many of the village community and a place where they are remembered.
The Churchyard and Burial.
From its earliest creation, Ugborough church was surrounded by a churchyard where parishioners were buried. Churchyards are consecrated land, blessed by a bishop. The first recorded burial at Ugborough was Elizabeth Horsam, on 10th April 1563. But the churchyard had been used for many centuries before this date, as its height compared to the paths running through it shows. Until the Victorian era, priests and wealthier members of the community might be buried inside the church, but most people were interred outside.
The most common burial was of an individual in a grave, wrapped in a shroud or in a coffin. The place was sometimes identified with a marker, which by the 17th century was often an inscribed headstone, if the family was wealthy enough. Poorer people could be buried in common graves if their family could not afford an individual plot. Poorer members of the parish also marked graves with simple wooden crosses. In the past, the parish was responsible for burying its very poor members. In 1680, a local carpenter called Henry Kingromb was commissioned to make a number of coffins, including one for a parish pauper called Peter Clarke. The same year Mr Lapp was paid for making graves and occasionally bringing people to be buried.
In the Victorian period the system of burial at Ugborough became more complicated, as families were offered different types of grave, including extra deep graves and wall graves. Some of the headstones in the churchyard show that it was common practice for married couples to be buried in the same plot, often with any children who died unmarried or in infancy. This tradition continued until the closing of the churchyard to burial.
The churchyard has not always been the size it is today. In 1904, the parish council explored the possibility of extending the churchyard or establishing a new cemetery close to the village, as the existing churchyard was becoming too full. Thanks to a generous offer by Miss Carew, the required land was purchased for only £10 and the churchyard was extended.
In 1977, a new cemetery was opened in Ugborough and in 2014 the churchyard was completely closed for use.
On the wall of the north transept is the only remaining brass in the church, which was found during renovations in 1862. Brasses became a popular form of memorial for wealthy patrons from the 13th century onwards. They were popular in churches because they are flat and usually set into the floor, so did not take up much space. The brass here commemorates a lady of the early 16th century. The matrix stone into which it was set can be seen in in the floor nearby,
On the walls of the church in the nave and chancel there are wall monuments commemorating prominent parishioners and their families.
On the north wall of the chancel is a monument made of two marble tablets which once formed part of a larger monument. The monument is to members of the Fownes family, Mr Richard Fownes (d. 1680) Petronel his wife (d. 1712), and her sister Mrs Honor Edgcombe (d. 1706). In 2009, fragments of an elaborate, painted sculptured frame to the monument were found during the relaying of the floor of the church, at the west end. At some point, probably in the nineteenth century, these were used to pack a void in the floor. The heraldic crest on the sculpture is that of Mr Fownes.
The memorial stone for George Mitchell Rowe found in the south transept commemorates a man who died far from Ugborough. Rowe was killed while on service with the East Devonshire Regiment in Malta in 1879, and was buried in Ta Braxia Cemetery. Also, William Sutherland Widdicombe has a memorial in the south transept, who died of typhoid fever in 1881 during the Afghan war, near to Kandahar. More recently, a monument of 1973 on the west nave wall commemorates Roger Cawrse, who died near Tahiti.
The earliest funerary monument in Ugborough church is a stone coffin lid incised with a cross, located today in front of the high altar. This is of 13th or 14th century date and may have been that of a priest. It was moved to its present position during the restorations of the 1860s, it is not known where it was sited beforehand.
On the floor of the aisles of the church, there are engraved slabs commemorating the lives of a number of parishioners who were buried in the church. Due to extensive renovation, particularly in the 19th century, the stones probably do not lie in their original positions. In the north chancel chapel there is large slate slab for William Spry, son of the vicar, who died at the young age of 16.
The War Memorial
After World War I, many communities chose to commemorate the fallen, providing somewhere to remember those who had died a long way from home. In Ugborough, initially the men killed in the conflict were commemorated on a Roll of Honour. But a more permanent monument was required and it was decided to put up a stone memorial, funded by subscriptions from the parishioners and various fundraising activities. The cost of the memorial amounted to £200. The memorial was finally completed in December 1921. After World War II a further panel was added to the base of the memorial, commemorating the men from the village who were lost in that conflict. It remains the central focus of Remembrance Day ceremonies, with the laying of poppy wreaths.