Church History

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St Peter's Peter Tavy.JPG (63950 bytes)

The Story of St Peter’s Church


There is no record before 1185 of a church in Peter Tavy. At that time "the son of Robert, Chaplain of Tavi" was involved in a property deal near Tavistock. It would be wrong to assume that there was no church however, as the clearly Norman face mask over the south Transept window and the structure of the Chancel with the Priest’s door makes it almost certain that a church was built in Norman times. As people had been living in the immediate area since at least the Bronze Age (2500b.c.) that building probably replaced an even older wooden Saxon church.


The Parish of Peter Tavy originally covered the Saxon Manors of Peter Tavy, Wilsworthy and Huntingdon. See Village Story. Many landowners used "a fit and proper person" to collect the tithes. This person came to be called the Parson and could be in Holy Orders when he would be known as the Rector. In 1270 when Roger de Okstone was appointed Prebendary of St Teath he was Rector of both Peter and Mary Tavy. A new priest was appointed at Mary Tavy but Roger Okstone did not relinquish Peter Tavy until 1276. It would appear that this was the point of separation although there is evidence of some joint working well into the 16th century. At sometime later the Manor of Sortridge near Whitchurch was added to Peter Tavy but was transferred to Tavistock in 1884 when Cudlipptown, which had been part of Tavistock parish was joined with Peter Tavy. Similarly further adjustments were made in 1923 when Wilsworthy, Beardown and some other smaller areas were removed to Mary Tavy and Lydford parishes.


Many churches in Devon were rebuilt or enlarged between 1330-1370, partly in thanksgiving for coming through the great famine of 1317-1320 and also for recovery after the Black Death 1348-1350. It is probable that St Peter’s took on a cruciform shape at this time. In the early years of the 16th century the Tower was rebuilt, and in 1553 the Church Commissioners reported the tower had three bells. Like many rural churches St Peter’s suffered badly during the Parliamentarian Commonwealth, and even in 1673 the the Rector Andrew Gove was complaining "the church is neither wind nor watertight and has many woeful defrayments". By 1692 however the church had been enlarged by the addition of the north aisle which absorbed the north transept. The south transept has been known as the ‘Dairy’ for more than 200 years. It is uncertain why, but it may be that Tithes in kind were brought to the church and in the absence of a Tithe Barn, were sold after service each week.

There are many interesting features to the building, with a horseshoe shaped arch to the south transept, the early English Font, the medieval rood screen remnants and the Tudor wood carvings tell their own story. Modern but traditional wood carving on the Communion rail, the Reredos and the Tower screen show the continuing affection for the church.


The 19th century opened with a severe storm in which the North West pinnacle of the Tower was struck by lightning. A large hole was torn in the roof, and the small gallery at the back of the church virtually destroyed. Immediate repairs costing over 100 were done, but it was not until 1820 that money was available to renew the Gallery, replace the skylights and refloor the church. There was now space for 210 parishioners allowing 20 inches (50cms) per person!!


By 1870 it was again necessary to find money for restoration. Once again the floor was renewed, the old pews replaced and the walls replastered. When the Rev Francis Bryant came in 1879 he immediately asked that the cracked Treble Bell be repaired and that a sixth be added to the five now in place. The Bells are rung for festivals and Ringers practice regularly on Monday evening.


Until the end of the first quarter of the 18th century music in the church had been by instruments played by villagers in the gallery. At that time a barrel organ was introduced, which served for a number of years. It was replaced by an Harmonium in the same place. The first pipe organ was installed at the front of the north aisle but was replaced by the present full pipe organ in 1906. In 1923 it was overhauled and rotated so that the organist was facing north instead of the original east.


The oldest gravestones in the Yard are dated to 1663. Some six hundred graves have been identified, though headstones are not always present or entirely legible. The Burial Registers record that over two thousand have been buried here since 1614 when the Registers begin. see Parish Records The Lime Trees so dear to many who have known Peter Tavy in the past, were planted in 1760 perhaps as celebration of George III coronation or the ‘Annus Mirabilis’ of 1759. By 1900 there was some danger from broken branches but it was not until 1970 that they had to be pollarded. By 1983, perhaps from age or pollarding they were shown to be rotten and had to be felled. Following a policy of random planting of smaller trees the churchyard now looks less formal with primroses and other wild flowers in the spring.


Anyone visiting Peter Tavy is invited to walk around the church and share the tranquillity of the church and the calm of the surroundings. We welcome enquiries and wish to hear from anyone with memories or knowledge of the Church and Village whether from personal knowledge or hearsay past down in their families. or as below.

SERVICES are held on Sunday at 09.30 hours except on the fifth Sunday in a month.

IT IS HOPED to prepare part of the Churchyard along the northern border as a Garden of Remembrance during the coming year. Contributions towards the cost would be very gratefully received, and should be sent to The PCC Treasurer at Boulters Tor, Smeardon Down, Peter Tavy, Tavistock. PL19 9NX United Kingdom. Cheques should be made out to St Peter’s Parish Church Council.

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