Worship and Music.
1. The Worship Life of the Church
The main function of any parish church is the worship of God. The design and decoration of a church is to provide a setting for liturgy. Churches have changed greatly over the centuries, as patterns and styles of worship have changed.
Worship in the Middle Ages
Central to medieval Catholicism were the seven sacraments, rituals where God’s grace was believed to be bestowed on Christians. These were: baptism, confirmation, penance, the eucharist, marriage, ordination of priests and extreme unction for the dying. The central form of worship in the church was the Latin mass where the eucharist took place. For this reason, the chancel and high altar – where the mass took place – were the most important parts of the church and the most richly decorated. Because only priests were allowed in the chancel, it was screened off from the nave, where the congregation worshipped.
Two other important worship activities were veneration of saints and prayers for the dead. So that these could take place, the church would have side altars in addition to the high altar. The damaged piscina in the wall of the south chancel chapel of Ugborough church shows that there was at least one here before the Reformation. Also, the importance the saints meant that the church would have contained numerous statues and other images of saints venerated at Ugborough.
The Rood Screen and Parcloses.
The rood screen separates the church’s nave from the chancel. A rood screen was an elaborate, partition with a large cross, or rood, on top. The rood screen in Ugborough church dates to 1510-1520, and probably replaced an earlier one. The painted panels of the screen possibly date to around 1540. 36 panels survive. The panels largely depict saints, for example, the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary with the angel Gabriel; the Adoration of the Magi with a star; the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin; the martyrdom of St. Sebastian and the beheading of St. John the Baptist. The 12 figures to the right of centre depict sybils, mythological figures from ancient Greece and Rome who became popular in Renaissance England. At some point, probably during the 16th or 17th centuries, these figures have had their eyes gouged out, a common tactic by iconoclastic Protestants.
The rood itself and the gallery were removed during the Reformation. The section of the screen stretching across the main body of the nave was cut down to the tops of the painted panels in the 1850s.
The parclose screens, which stretch towards the east end of the church, seem to date from the early 16th century, and may have originally been made for chantry chapels. From the mid-16th century, they were converted to chapels for local gentry families, to sit during service and for burial of their members. The southern chapel contains the coat of arms of William Fontayne, who was buried in Ugborough in 1585, and his wife Marie, who was buried here in 1610/11.
The Protestant Reformation
When Henry VIII broke off relations with Rome and declared himself head of the church in England in 1534, worship in churches began to change. This was slow at first, for Henry remained Catholic. But saints’ statues were not to be venerated and prayers for certain groups, ceased. The reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) brought Protestantism to England. Saints’ cults were outlawed as were chantries and prayers for the dead, and in 1549 the Latin mass was abolished when Archbishop Thomas Cranmer issued the first Book of Common Prayer. We do not know what happened in Ugborough at that time, but throughout the South West, parishes rebelled against the government and men from Devon and Cornwall marched on Plymouth and Exeter in protest. The rebellion was suppressed however and a new, more Protestant prayer book issued in 1552.
With the reign of Mary I (1553-1558), Catholic worship was restored and along with it, fittings and furnishings for the mass and saints’ cults. But with the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558, Protestantism returned. Because the queen reigned for over forty years, Protestantism became fully established as the state religion. In 1559, Elizabeth re-introduced the 1552 Book of Common Prayer to all churches. In Ugborough, the main service became matins or morning prayer. The churchwarden’s accounts show that in the 1580s, there were also 4 communions a year.
Over the 17th century, there were struggles in Ugborough as is every English parish church over forms of worship. Some groups we often call Puritans wanted a more Protestant form of worship than the BCP provided. Ugborough seems to have been influenced by strict Protestantism in the years before and during the Civil Wars (1642 onwards) for its vicar Francis Bernard was in trouble in the 1630s for opposition to Archbishop Laud’s reforms and he was a known Presbyterian during the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell.
With the restoration of Charles II, the BCP was again restored as the official form of worship, in a version of 1662. Those who would not accept this settlement – the non-conformists - were expelled from the church and formed congregations of their own. Nathan Jacob, vicar of Ugborough, was one. These men were persecuted off and on over the next thirty years, until in 1690 the Act of Toleration was passed in England. This permitted any form of Protestant worship in law. Many non-conformist chapels and congregations were erected shortly afterwards.
Anglicanism and the Eighteenth Century:
The Anglican church of the eighteenth century has had a bad reputation as rather moribund and dominated by wealthy parsons. This is certainly not the whole story. The century saw a serious religious revival, often associated with John and Charles Wesley and others. At Ugborough, there was much activity in the church, including the introduction of new forms of musical worship with the west gallery.
The Nineteenth Century:
The nineteenth century was a period of enormous activism in the Anglican Church. Anglo-Catholics were eager to reform the worship of the church, making the eucharist its central service and reintroducing vestments and liturgy. There was an interest in medievalism, restoring the church styles of the middle ages, particularly associated with the Oxford Movement and John Henry Newman.
The ecclesiological movement of church reform certainly affected Ugborough. In the 1850s, a medieval-style chancel was restored, with altar rails. In the 1860s, a new font and the installation of an organ are again indicators of a this new direction in worship.
Changes over the Twentieth Century:
The twentieth century witnessed a variety of worship forms. Before World War II, liturgy remained similar to that of the nineteenth century. For example, in 1939 there were four services held on ‘normal’ Sundays: 8am Holy Communion (which had few attendees), the main service at 11am was Matins with a sermon; Sunday School was held in the afternoon at 2.30pm and Evensong took place at 6.30pm. By 1949, there were two services on Sundays: Holy Communion or Matins with a sermon, on alternate weeks, at 11am and Evensong with a sermon at 6.30pm. In 1959, 1969 and 1979, the earlier pattern of early morning communion, Matins and Evensong was back, with Matins again the best attended service.
There have been more experiments, with family services, hymn-based worship and a more active role for the worshippers in services. The eucharist remains the central worship form at Ugborough in the early 21st century.
Tower and Bells.
Bells have been an essential part of the religious life of parishes since their creation. They play an important part in worship and community activities. The present tower, built around 1520, housed four bells. In 1553, four bells were recorded by – and presumably surrendered to - the commissioners of Edward VI. We do not know at what point they were replaced, but possibly in the reign of Elizabeth.
In 1761, the vestry decided that the bells needed to be recast. It was agreed that Thomas Bilbie a bellfounder of Cullompton would take down the five bells and recast them for the sum of £150. A new bell was also commissioned. The final bill was £261 1s 6d, so the new bell was expensive! In 1813, two bells were added, again from the Cullompton foundry, to make a peal of 8. In 1930, permission was sought to recast number 5 bell, which was cracked, retaining the original inscription. Number 4 bell was recast at some point in Loughborough.
Some of the bells are inscribed and read:
Number 3 bell – ‘To call Christ’s flock I sing’
Number 5 bell - ‘God preserve the Church and King’. Mr John Nathen Gest & Mr John Stentiver. Churchwardens.
Number 8 bell – ‘Religion, Death and Pleasure makes me ring’. Mr John Pain. Church warden.
Vessels and Ornaments.
We know little about the furnishings of Ugborough church before the Reformation. The altar will have been decorated with rich textiles and furnished with vessels for the mass, notably a chalice, patern and water ewer to prepare and serve the eucharist. These had to be made of precious metals or at least an alloy, as it was believed that they came into contact with the very flesh and blood of Christ himself. We know that Ugborough had at least two chalices, for one was surrended to the commissioners of Edward VI in 1553 (churches were allowed to keep one for their use). There would also have been candle sticks, censors, crosses, altar linen and frontals, vestments and other articles for services.
Ugborough is very fortunate to have a set of silver service vessels of sixteenth and seventeenth century date. There is a chalice made in Exeter c.1572. One patern was made to fit the chalice as a cover, by Philip Elston of Exeter in 1728 and a second patern was made in London by John Edwards in 1740 and bears the donor’s arms. Two flagons or tankards are probably 18th century and there is an alms dish was made in London with a hallmark for 1681.
2. Music: Organ, Gallery and Choir.
Music has always been fundamental to Christian worship. Ugborough parish church has had a rich musical tradition, although the instruments played and the hymns sung have changed over time.
The Middle Ages
The main form of worship in the Middle Ages was the Latin Mass. This was celebrated in two forms. ‘Low’ mass was a short service chanted quietly by a sole priest. ‘High’ or sung mass involved deacons, choirs or singers singing the service, along with the priest, on ‘high days’ at major festivals. Ugborough church would have had some boys and men trained to assist the priest in singing masses in this way and it would probably have had an organ to accompany them. The rector Richard Palmer bequeathed service books to the church to provide guidelines for the liturgy.
The Protestant reformers of the 16th century did not approve of church music. Although Martin Luther considered hymns to be very important and wrote a number for his reformed church (for example ‘A Mighty Fortress is our God’), Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin and others who were influential in England, considered organ music and elaborate singing to be unnecessary in worship. Organs were therefore cast out of churches and choral singing in Latin ceased in parishes, although it continued in cathedrals. Instead, congregations were encouraged to sing the Psalms as part of worship.
A famous collection of Psalms sung in Elizabeth and Jacobean England was the Metrical Psalter of Sternhold and Hopkins, that is, psalms set for singing in English rhyme. We still sing some of these today, for example the One Hundredth Psalm ‘All People that on Earth do Dwell’ whose tune is ‘Old Hundredth’. The singing was often slow and methodical, using a system known as ‘outlining’, that is, the priest or clerk would sing a line and the congregation would repeat it, until the end of the psalm.
Gallery Music and the Eighteenth Century
The 18th century was a very important time for church music. With the religious revival associated with John and Charles Wesley and their associates, came a new desire to sing hymns as part of worship. Many excellent hymns were composed by the two brothers as well as Isaac Watts, John Newton and William Cowper, which we still sing today. The central purpose of their hymns was to teach church doctrine – they are centred on the stories and messages of the Bible – with a very good tune to encourage people to learn them. They were a sort of ‘sermon in song’, an important form of religious education for ordinary people.
Also at this time, choir singing and instrument playing was re-introduced into parish worship throughout England. This usually meant ‘gallery music’, with a choir of singing men and boys and a small orchestra of wind and string instruments sited on an upper gallery at the west end of the church.
At Ugborough, a gallery for musicians was constructed in 1775-76, sometimes called the ‘singing loft’ in the churchwarden’s accounts. We do not know how large the choir was, but in 1775, 24 singing books were purchased for the church and a Mr Bennett was employed and lodged in the village to teach the singers. This cost the large sum of £11 12s 6d. Mr Bennett continued to instruct the choir for the following two or three years.
The instruments were strings and woodwind. In 1788-9, for example, the church purchased reeds and strings for musical instruments, and paid for the use of a 'cello.
The Victorian Revival – organs and choirs.
With the Medievalist revival of the Victorian period, gallery music went out of fashion and ‘singing lofts’ were demolished all over England. This happened in Ugborough during refurbishments of the church in the 1850s or 1860s. In their place, churches restored the use of organs. In Ugborough, an organ was installed in 1868.
Congregational singing continued to be important. Choirs were formed to lead the congregation in singing and the Victorian age saw many excellent hymns and tunes composed for churches. The choir at Ugborough was large and active. In 1895, there were 9 paid and 17 unpaid choristers, all men.
In 1908, Maud Mary Moore was appointed church organist. This was a paid position and a vital part of the Vicar’s team. Upon accepting the role, Maud agreed to take the weekly Sunday morning service and a further service in the afternoon. During the periods of Advent and Lent, she would play at the weekly evening service, and also on Christmas Day, Good Friday and Ascension Day. There was a children’s afternoon service once a month which she would also attend. In return for her work, Maud received a salary of £8, to be paid quarterly by the churchwardens.
In 1939, the old manual organ was replaced with an electric Hammond organ.
Church Music today.
Church music continued to evolve in the 20th century and is today a very strong feature of worship. The cathedrals and larger churches have been very important patrons of new music, performed to excellent standards by their professional musicians and choirs. In parishes, this music has also been influential. New hymns have brought new messages to congregations and choirs have enjoyed the challenge of embellishing worship with recent settings of liturgies.
Organ accompaniment and choirs continued to be a feature of Ugborough worship throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, down to the present day. Today, there is an active choir and Mr Vernon Tuck celebrated his 60th anniversary as organist in 2014.