Outline History of the Church
We do not know when the first parish church was built at Ugborough. There may have been a church here in the Anglo-Saxon period before the Norman Conquest, but nothing remains. There was a church with a priest in the village by 1121, when the right to appoint to the living of Ugborough (known as the advowson) was granted to Plympton Priory, Plymouth. This was confirmed in 1176 a letter of John, bishop of Exeter, to Martin, prior of Plympton convent.
Today, Ugborough parish church is dedicated to St Peter. We do not know to whom the church was dedicated in the Middle Ages as the information was lost after the Reformation. It may have been St Michael but we cannot be certain. In the 1950s, the vicar Rev. Evans decided to dedicate the church to St Peter and the bishop of Exeter held a dedication service at Petertide in June 1954
The Church in the Middle Ages: By 1300, a sizeable church stood on the present site, although little of this survives. The north and south arcades of the nave probably represent the exterior walls of this church, so it was smaller than the current building.
In the early 14th century, the church was rebuilt and enlarged in the Decorated Gothic style. The chancel was rebuilt first and the high altar was dedicated by Bishop Stapleton of Exeter on 28 October 1311. The nave and the aisles were then rebuilt and re-dedicated by the bishop on 21 February 1322. There would also have been a tower, smaller than the present one today. Outside the main door is a holy water stoop of this period, for people to use to bless themselves with, when entering the church.
Around 100 years later, in the early 15th century, the chancel was again rebuilt in the Perpendicular style, in granite. There may have been a restoration of other parts of the church as well, for the roof in the north aisle, with the roof bosses, probably dates to this period. The rebuilding seems to have taken place during the ministry of William Browning, who was born in Ugborough.
The Sixteenth Century and Reformation: in the early 16th century, major works were again undertaken. The tower was rebuilt to be much larger and grander than the medieval tower, again in granite. At about this time the large porch over the main north door was built, with a parvis room above it. This was used for storage, meetings and possibly accommodation. The traditional name for this room in the churchwarden’s accounts of the 17th and 18th centuries was the ‘Comply room’ or ‘comply garrett’, although the meaning of this is not clear. The interior of the church was also refurbished, with a new wooden roodscreen, with saints and sybils painted on the wainscots.
We do not know what happened to the church building during the Reformation period after 1534, but there would have been changes. It is likely that walls were whitewashed, saints’ statues taken down and the rood loft above the screen, with its life-size crucifixion scene, dismantled. In c. 1585, the south chancel chapel was refurbished with the addition of new parclose screen which bears the coats of arms of William and Anne Fountain of North Baucombe, Ugborough. In common with many parish churches of England, it is likely that few major changes or additions were made over the following one hundred years or so.
The Eighteenth Century: We have very good records of the repairs and building works carried out in this period. For example, in 1731-32 a new door was made for the church. It was constructed out of English oak board and framed with elm at a cost of £9 3s 7d. During the 1740s and the incumbency of Richard Cranch, the church was renovated and enlarged. The north and south transepts seem to have been added at this time. In 1751, seats were repaired and 50 feet of rafters were replaced.
The sundial was installed in 1758, paid for by Joseph Philiips and the church clock was renewed in 1780. In 1795, the seats in the church were replaced ‘for the better convenience of the parishioners and inhabitants of the … parish to sit and hear divine service’.
In the 1770s, a gallery was added to the west end of the church to accommodate singers and musicians, to accompany worship. Mr. Rivers drew the plans for the gallery, John Denning and Robert Jeffrey were paid £45 for building it and it was painted in 1777 by Nathaniel Priston. It no longer survives.
The Nineteenth Century: was an important period of change for the church. For the first time, we get an idea of the size of the congregation. In 1824, the churchwardens estimated that the church could hold 690 people. In 1851, the vicar John May recorded that on 30 March, 60 people attended the morning service and 500 attended in the afternoon; in addition, 61 children attended the Sunday school. On a normal Sunday, attendance was usually higher in the morning, at about 200, around 80 children at Sunday school.
From at least the 1820s, concerns were being raised about 'green damp' on the south side of the church, and ivy intruding through the north wall. In 1848, new, larger steps were built from the village square to the churchyard, making access easier. Changes were made to the chancel after 1854, when pews were lowered and the central portion of the rood screen cut down, to make the communion table more visible to the congregation. Lady Carew, who helped fund this restoration, donated a set of altar-rails the following year. In 1857, a lych gate was built or rebuilt.
Commencing in 1861, a major restoration of the church took place. The south transept was rebuilt and reseated, the chancel was redecorated and the present large windows were constructed in the north and south aisles. These were glazed 1861-65. A new font was installed as well. In 1868, an organ was installed and the gallery may have been demolished around this date.
In 1872, the tower was struck by lightning. Some years before, the parish council had decided not to install a lightening conductor, so the strike did extensive damage. The roof, masonry, clock bell and several windows were broken by the shock of the strike. In 1896, five further new windows were added.
The Twentieth Century: saw many changes to the interior of the church and to the churchyard. In 1903 it was agreed that the churchyard needed to be extended. Miss Carew offered 28 poles of land for the sum of £10, which was accepted by the parish council. In 1910, Rev. Windle led a campaign to raise money to carry out important repairs on the church. The eight bells were re-hung in an iron frame, and a new floor and beams had been made for the belfry. The pinnacles and roof were restored, the clock was painted and re-gilded, as was the weather vane on the tower.
In 1921, the war memorial was erected at the northern edge of the churchyard, to commemorate the men who were killed in World War I. In 1923, the church was recorded as having seating for 670 people. The interior of the church continued to evolve: a choir vestry was added to the base of the tower in 1923 and in 1927, a heating system was installed. In 1939, the organ was replaced with a new Hammond organ, the south chapel was refurbished with an altar and kneelers for communion.
The Twenty-First Century: In 2009, a major refurbishment of the church interior took place, with the clearing of pews of the west end of the church, the creation of a choir vestry in the south transept behind a splendid wooden screen made from the old pews, and the installation of a toilet and kitchen facility to modernise the church. Also, the Victorian font was moved, to the south chancel chapel and the medieval font reinstituted as the main place of baptism, near to the north door entrance.
In 2014, rainwater was threatening the fabric of the north aisle. The Heritage Lottery Fund generously granted funds to repair the lead of the roof and stabilise the medieval ceiling bosses. Ongoing works are now planned to improve wall plaster and to install a proper heating system. Thus, we continue a 900-year-old tradition of repairs to Ugborough church!