History of St David's Church

In the early 1980's a series of articles were published In the Parish Magazine reproducing an account that was written in 1936 by Mr. Hubert C. Reade, who lived at Church Farm, Much Dewchurch, as a paying guest of the Edwards family. He wrote it at the request of Mr. Henry Smith, sometime sub-postmaster at Wormelow and long-serving churchwarden of Much Dewchurch.

The copy in our possession was sent to the Rector recently by the Rev. Leslie Rhodes. It is not the original manuscript, but a carbon of a careful transcription. For the purposes of this magazine it has been necessary to fill in one or two gaps in the text, and these instances will be denoted .with a broken underline

Hubert Reade would not have claimed that this paper was a complete history of Much Dewchurch, or even of its church. For example he could easily have listed all the parish priests and said something about many of them, but he does not do so. He does, however, give us a good idea of how the parish church came into being, how it developed and why it changed; and he clads this framework with fascinating detail - mostly factual, though a few of his statements do look a little bit like flights of fancy.

So do read it, even if you don't live in Much Dewchurch – there is plenty to interest any local person. If you knew Hubert Reade personally, or if you have any documents which shed light on local history, I should be most interested to hear from you (Mayfield Cottage, Much Birch; G.V. 540316) *   

The copy we are using will be passed into the custody of the Churchwardens of Much Dewchurch, who will decide whether to keep it in the church safe or at the County Record Office.

Malcolm Acheson

[  * "GV" is "Golden Valley" - 01981 540316 - Webmaster]

This intro sets out the background to the articles, which is then set out in 7 sections below............

   Part 1; Britons & Romans

St. David's Church is the Parish Church of Much Dewchurch, the Welsh name of which may have been LLANDEWI FAWR RHOS Y CERION, i.e. "Great St. David's on the moor with the Medlar Trees." * (see footnote)

It is situated on a ridge which separates the head waters of the Worm from the brook running down from Orcop Hill which is known as the Mynde Brook, and commands the ford over the Worm on the road from Callow Hill to the main road at Much Dewchurch, which is known as Low Lane, and which forms a part of the original highroad from Hereford to Abergavenny and the coast of the Bristol Channel at Caerleon and Ogmore, and on the other side to Monmouth and Chepstow at the mouth of the Wye. As for centuries the Worm formed the frontier which divided the English-and Welsh-speaking parts of Herefordshire, Much Dewchurch was an important military position. The parish was originally included in the Welsh Principality of Archenfield, and as early as A.D. 531, a large portion of it became the property of the See of Llandaff, which until A.D. 1131 included much of South Herefordshire east of the Worm.

This part of Wales became Christian at a very early date possibly before A.D. 180, if not a century earlier, for according to Welsh tradition which is most probably correct, the first Welsh Christian was Bran the Blessed, the father of Caractacus, the champion of British independence who was taken as a captive to Rome in hero's day, and whose daughter or niece Claudia was the wife of the Senator Pudens, with whom St. Paul was so intimate. (2 Tim.4.21) It may be added that Vespasian and Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem , fought against Caractacus in Britain and that the Welsh troops took part in that siege of Jerusalem in which the Templewas laid in ashes. There was little difficulty in finding missionaries for work amongst the Britons. The Galatians, to whom St. Paul wrote his epistle, were a Celtic tribe who had settled in Asia Minor and had adopted the Greek civilisation, but who at the same time had retained their own Celtic language which was identical with that spoken in the Rhineland and north of France. The South of England had been occupied by these tribes (known as the Belgae) about 75 B.C. and consequently all the upper classes as far West as Newportspoke the same language as that of the Galatians. St. Paul, therefore, would have had no difficulty in finding suitable missionaries to send to Britain. Many centuries before the Roman Conquest there had been a most important trade between the Mediterranean and the Bristol Channel, and not only is Irish gold found in Gaza and Cyprus, but lead from the Mendips was used to line bathrooms at Rome in the first days of Christianity.

It was perhaps through the traders in metals that Christianity first came to England, and there may be some truth in the story which tells that Our Lord when a lad visited Somersetshire with St. Joseph of Arimathaea. Consequently, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire had many Christian inhabitants at a very early date. There is a Roman Church for instance at Caerwent, and the Bishop of Caerleon upon Usk took part in a very important Church Council at Arles in Southern France in A.D.312.

As the Saxons did not occupy any part of Archenfield until after A.D. 640, when many of them were already Christian, it is not too much to say that Much Dewchurch has been a Christian parish ever since the Roman Empire became Christian in A.D. 314.

* James Wood, F.S.A., believed that the original name was LLANDEWI CILPEDEC (= cil bedwg), "St. David's in the hollow in the birch country."

See Woolhope Club Transactions1913, pp. 138-141, in the reference room of the City Library - (JMA)

   Part 2; Monks & Missionaries

Within the next 120 years the Roman rule over Britain became a thing of the past and the Legions evacuated the island, but by that time Christianity was already the dominating religion in the lands west of the Severn, and the Welsh Church which was in full communion with all its sister churches throughout the Empire was solidly established. The monastic system which had been set up in Italy and the East within fifty years after Christianity had become the religion of the Empire was eagerly adopted by the inhabit­ants of Archenfield and Ewyas. Llanfrother - the "Church of the Brothers" - in the parish of Hentland was in being before 450 and served as a training ground for the teachers of Christianity in the district and there were similar establishments at Cloduck and at Moccas, whilst at Much Dewchurch before A.D.500, monks were living in a cluster of low huts with a sickhouse and humble chapel, which stood in the orchard which now lies between the Post Office and Parish Church. It has been said, probably with little foundation, that the great St. David, the patron of the Welsh, was born at Much Dewchurch, but there is far better reason for believing that parts of the existing Church are the work of Welsh monks of the Seventh Century who were inmates of the adjoining monastery. Bryngwyn, as has been said, had been granted to the See of Llandaff in 531, and it is, perhaps, worth noting that even in heathen times the parish had been one of the strongholds of Pagan worship. Some remains of the ancient Druid worship were said to exist about eighty years ago near the house at Old Bryngwyn, and "Poor Man's Wood" which runs down the side of Cole's Tump above the Mynde is really the "Devil's Wood", for in Saxon times, as now in Germany, Satan is often spoken of as the "Poor Man", and preserves the memories of the sites in which the ancient inhabitants of Herefordshire offered human victims to Coel the God of Heaven to whom the hill was sacred. Everyone in the parish knows the legend, which tells that if a tree is felled in that wood, the owner of the Mynde or his heir will die within the year. We often find a very early British or French Church founded near such a centre of heathen worship to drive out the evil influence. St. Paul 's Cathedral in London, and York Minster, are said to stand on the sites of heathen temples.  

However this may be, Much Dewchurch had long been. a Christian parish at the time when, in A.D. 596 St. Augustine and his band of Roman Missionaries landed at Pegwell Bay in the Isle of Thanet to bring back Christianity to Eastern England, where but for a few scattered remnants it had been nearly stamped out by the Saxon invaders 120 years before. And when the great evangelist fromRome travelled to the Severn to meet the Christian Bishops who still ruled in the Welsh Marches, a Bishop of Hereford seems to have been one of those who met him, and who refused to recognize him as their superior.

It seems probable that the lower courses of masonry in the south wall of the nave of Much Dewchurch, at least as far up as the sills of the large windows, are of Welsh origin, and that the brown stones covered with a design worked out in a kind of basket work which lie in the porch are part of the canopy which covered the altar of that building. In any case they cannot be later than 800 A.D. and are certainly of Celtic work. 

   Part 3; Wormelowe Tump - Harold's Border Defenses

Archenfield, of which Much Dewchurch was a parish, placed itself by treaty under the King of England, Edward the Elder, about 937, preserving its own laws and thus became one of the first of those native states such as those over which in India and in Africa King Edward VIII now rules.

For the administration of Archenfield the Hundred Court met at Wormelow round a funeral mound said by tradition to cover the remains of Mordred, that nephew of King Arthur who was murdered by his uncle on the highway at Gamber Head.

It was believed that no one could step round or across this mound twice in the same number of paces, a superstition which also occurs in various instances in classical literature. Unfortunately the tumulus, which covered the place opposite the Wormelow Tump ( Inn ), was removed when the road was widened only in the last century, and there seems to be no record to show that remains, if any, were found in it.

Much Dewchurch, however, from its position at the ford over the Worm was a more important place than Wormelow, where there (are) not any very old houses, and consequently was the ecclesiastical centre of the district.

The first church, which remained in use until the Eleventh Century, was evidently a long, low building stretching from the entrance to the Tower on the West to the chancel arch on the East, and probably ended in a small semicircular apse.

It was not until the Eleventh Century that the English made any attempt to advance into Wales beyond the Dore, but about 1050 A.D. they began to take possession of the lower valley of the Monnow and brought Monmouth under English rule. In 1057 the Welsh raided Herefordshire, took the City of Hereford and burnt the Cathedral, and in consequence every effort was made by the English to strengthen the fortifications of the borderland.

Edward the Confessor who was then on the throne had been brought up in Normandy, and was to a great extent in the hands of Norman counselors. Probably by their advice he gave grants of land in the Welsh Marches to Immigrants from Normandy who spoke Breton - a 'Welsh dialect - and who undertook to organize their holdings for defensive purposes, and thus Herefordshire came to be one of the few districts in England in which Norman Castles were built before William the Conqueror subdued the country in 1066. Ewyas Harold and Richard's Castle, if not Hereford Castle, were in Norman hands before that date.

The powerful Saxon Earl Godwin, who then ruled in Kent and Sussex, was bitterly opposed to the Norman courtiers, and possibly, in order to gratify him, Edward the Confessor appointed his son Harold, the King Harold who fell at Hastings, to command the Welsh districts lying on the West side of the Wye between Ross and Chepstow.

It was Harold who conquered the town of Monmouth and made it a Saxon settlement, and who shortly afterwards began to fortify the frontiers of Archenfield in order to protect the Western Midlands against incursions from South Wales .

In 1060 the Spaniards were, probably, the greatest military engineers in Western Europe, and had just completed the fortified lines which protected North-Western Spain against the invasion of the Moors who held the South of the Iberian Peninsula . These lines gave its name to Old Castille. The Normans had long been in close touch with Spain, and undoubtedly Harold based his plans on those which had been carried out there by the Christians but a few years earlier.

Like the Spaniards, he incorporated every kind of building in his scheme of defence, in which Castles, Peel Towers, Churches, Abbeys, and a little later on the estates of the Military Orders, such as the Knights Templars, had each to play a part, and in this line the Church of Much Dewchurch was an important link.

   Part 4; Features of the building

The Church as rebuilt in the year before the Conquest must have been a position of some strength. Its thick walls and narrow windows, some of which still remain, were by no means insignificant means of defence in days when sieges were mostly carried on with bows and arrows, as must have been the case with these border districts.

The Chancel Arch shows most probably that the Church must have been lengthened about 1060 when a square end replaced the former semicircular apse. The base of the tower is, however, of a somewhat later date, and is believed to be of Twelfth Century origin, whilst the upper part is probably of the early Thirteenth Century.

Thus this long narrow building with its thick walls, pierced only with narrow -window slits and entered by heavy doors, formed in itself a fortress which could be used in times of danger from Welsh marauders to store the property of the villagers, and served to protect the highway leading up from the ford along the ridge leading towards the Monnow and South Wales which ran between the marshes to the West and South.

It was not until the Fourteenth Century that any great changes were made in the structure of the Church. Windows had gradually become larger, and the narrow loopholes of the early Norman period had been transformed into large casements formed of several lights, which by the time of Edward III had made their way into every village church. Thus it became necessary to pull down the upper part of the original structure and to rebuild the walls in the eastern part of the nave and chancel in order to allow of the change in the windows. At Much Dewchurch the reconstruc­tion had been finished before 1350 when the ravages of the Black Death by decreasing the population checked the progress of the so-called decorated architecture, and caused it to be replaced by a style known as the Perpendicular, which was more economical of labour and material.

The pointed arch in the wall of the nave under the Westernmost of the new windows probably marks the grave of the rebuilder of the church, but nothing remains to show who he was.

We know that the Black Death must have committed great ravages in Much Dewchurch as in other parts of Herefordshire, for in 1348 three vicars held the parish within the year.

The Southern porch of the Church dates from about 1370, and the figures of a King and a bishop on the springs of the outer arch are generally said to be portraits of King Edward III on the East, and Adam or Orleton - that Bishop of Hereford who had raised him to the throne by assisting to depose his father Edward II - on the West. It seems, however, more probable that the Bishop is Lewis de Charleton who built the White Cross at Hereford, and held the See about 1361.

After the large windows had been inserted about 1345, the church suffered comparatively little change until after the Reformation when the side altars were removed, and a large gallery built at the west end of the nave, almost blocking up the entrance leading from the nave into the tower. This gallery remained until 1876, when the Church was thoroughly restored by the late Sir James Rankin Bt. To replace the gallery, the quarter part of the north wall of the nave was pulled down, and an aisle now known as the "Shepherds Aisle" - from the first window placed in it - and a vestry which allowed room to be made in the chancel for an organ, were built out into the churchyard to accommodate those who had previously sat there.

At the same time the old chancel rails were pulled down and replaced by a stone balustrade covered with Algerian onyx, and seats for the choir were placed in the chancel. None  of the glass in the Church is old. The oldest window is that in the south wall of the nave with pictures of the Raising of Lazarus and dating only from 1858.

The pulpit which is elaborately carved in the Jacobean style was probably erected about 1630, and stands on the site of one of the side altars.

The bells date from 1721 and were cast by Rudhall of Gloucester.

   Part 5; The Verry Family; the Moated manor; ghost of a famous cat?

The Church Registers begin in 1558 shortly after the accession of Queen Elizabeth, and although Welsh was undoubtedly spoken in the Parish at the time, contain few or no welsh entries - although the surnames are nearly all Welsh.

Some of the earlier ones are interesting; for instance, we note the change in the surname of the Pyes of the Mynde who, at that time, were one of the two leading families of the parish, from "Appie" to Pye".

Herefordshire was, until the Civil War under Charles I, one of the most Catholic countries in England, so it is a little surprising to find entries of Protestant refugees from the Continent in these Registers.

Foreign surnames occur, and Lewis Verrier of the Lowe Farm (Lewis the "Glassmaker"), the remains of whose glassworks may still be seen in a field on the side of the Worm under Pool House, which in Elizabeth's time probably formed part of the estate of Kivernoll, was evidently one of those from the Netherlands who fled to England to escape from the persecution of the Protestants by the Spaniards under the D uk e of Alva. The name Verrier continues in the Register until about 1650, passing into the forms of Verray and Verry, and their descendants are still to be found in the neighbouring parishes of Dewsall and Aconbury.

There are remains of similar glassworks in several places in the neighbourhood, notably in a field at Kivernoll, which about 1600 belonged to a rich landowner named Morgan.

Another family of distinction at Much Dewchurch were a branch of the Bodenhames of Rotherwas who held Old Bryngwyn, a manor house standing on the island in the moat in Bryngwyn Park from 1376 until 1793, when the estate was sold to the Phillips of Hereford. The Bodenhams, like their present representatives the Bodenham Lubienskis, were zealous representatives of the Ancient Faith, and consequently their names are rarely found in Much Dewchurch parish Registers, whilst unfortunately many of their tombstones were removed from the Churchyard at the time of the erection of the North aisle; transcripts of the inscriptions exist in the Pilley Collection in the Free Library at Hereford and people still living can remember an old retainer of the family.

In 1546 the then owner of Bryngwyn married the last heiress of the famous Dick Whittington, the Lord Mayor of London, whose arms are still borne by the Bodenham-Lubienskis.

An old lady, whose husband had formerly been gasman at Bryngwyn and who had lived at the gas works upon the island until the house was lighted with electricity, delighted in telling the story of the apparitions of a large grey cat which used to visit her home at intervals to the accompani­ment of jangling gas irons and falling crockery, and which disappeared as mysteriously as it came.

She was utterly unaware that the last representative of the Whittingtons had lived on her island, but a well-known local historian afterwards showed the present writer the proof of the fact in the Bodenham pedigree given in the Herefordshire Herald's Visitation of 1565.

It is curious to think that, even at the present day, cats are so rare in Uganda that the wife of a Herefordshire gentleman who is in the Uganda Civil Service told the writer that the present of an English Kitten was one of the greatest kindnesses she could do to a Uganda chief.

Evidently the tradition of Dick Whittington’s cat must go back to a very early time, although many writers have tried to make out that "Cat" really means the name of a trading vessel (as in "Cattenwater" at Plymouth) in which English traders traded with the North African coast.

   Part 6; Love thy neighbour?
              The Pyes of the Mynde vs. the Bodenhams of (old) Bryngwyn

Another memory of the Bodenhams is connected with the tombstone of Robert Pye, which lies at the foot of the chancel steps.

Robert Pye was the grandson and heir of Sir Walter Pye of the Mynde, who had been one of the chief confidants of tie famous George Villiers, D uk e of Buckingham, the favourite of Charles 1. Robert was born in 1630 and grew up in the troubled years of the Civil War during which his father lost much of his estate in aiding the Royalist cause. After the Restoration he was one of the chief supporters of the Crown in Herefordshire and, when Titus Oates invented the supposed Papist plot, he took an active part in defending the Protestant cause. Thanks to the exertions of the Protestant champions a violent persecution of the Catholics was started in Herefordshire. Father Kemble, a harmless priest, who had spent over forty years of his life in ministering in Herefordshire, was hung at Hereford in August 1680, solely for the crime of saying Mass.

Catholicism was still represented amongst the Herefordshire gentry, and amongst these who remained faithful to the ancient church were, as has been said, the Bodenhams of Bryngwyn, who had suffered severely under the burden of the Penal Laws. The Quarter sessions accordingly ordered John Bodenham, the then owner of Bryngwyn to appear before them in January 1681 to take the oath of allegiance and, thus practically to abjure the Catholic church.

Bodenham refused, and Pye determined to arrest him with his own hand. he found him cutting a hedge in front of his house, but Bodenham refused to surrender and rushed at him with a billhook, striking him several furious blows. Pye was rescued by some farm labourers who rushed up at the sound of the affray, and carried him back to the Mynde, where he died of his injuries on January 30th 1681. Pye's funeral was the occasion of a great Protestant demonstration and a long pamphlet recounting the martyrdom of this servile hero was published by a London printer. Bodenham was carried off to Hereford and tried at the Spring Assizes in the following March, but was acquitted in claiming benefit of clergy and lived for some years afterwards to pay double land tax.

The walnut tree under which Pye fell is flourishing today near the bridge over the moat which surrounded Bodenham's old home, and it is even now believed that on the anniversary of the assault the two combatants may be seen struggling under it in mortal combat.

The Bodenhams are still flourishing, but the Pyes died out before 1716, and the remains of the Mynde Estate were sold eventually about 1736 to the Symons who held the lands until 1928 when they passed by bequest to Capt. H.A. Clive.

It sounds almost ironical to add that the head of the Pye family followed James II into exile at St. Germains, where he received from his exiled master the empty honour of Baron Kilpeck, and died there in poverty, being now represented by another branch of Sir Walter Pye’s family - the Pyes of Long Whittenham in Berkshire .

Sir Walter Pye's monument, the work of Nicholas Janssen - the elder brother of the Gerhard Janssen who carved the bust of William Shakespeare at Stratford on Avon - stands behind the Pulpit * to the right of his grandson’s tomb.

The Pyes were a middle-class Welsh family who, in the middle of the Fifteenth Century, had acquired the estate of the Mynde - lying at the foot of the Orcop range - by marriage with the heiress of the Andrews who, a century earlier, had. married the last heiress of the de la Mynds who had built a fortified manor house.

In Henry the Eighth's time the head of the family had been a Justice of the Peace who had, however, had to purchase his life from his sovereign to escape the penalty for attacking his neighbour Walter Court's home at Dewsall Court and plundering it of its contents, but who was perhaps more widely known for the size of his family, which numbered no less than sixty-five, scattered over the South of Herefordshire, as was until lately recorded with some pride on his tombstone, which, in deference to modern squeamishness has lately been removed. The old gentleman is seen lying in a pilgrim's gown, with clasped hands and a long scraggy forked beard on an altar tomb to the left of the pulpit. Beside him is his son - a burly warrior who had fought in the wars of Queen Elizabeth's day, and whose wife Dame Bridget is commemorated in the Parish Register as that "Good Lady" Dame Bridget Pye.

NOTE: * pulpit has been moved recently. (H. Smith 8.7.65)

   Part 7; Much Dewchurch man at court James I and Charles I)
                Conclusion & more features of the Church

Sir Walter Pye began life as a lawyer and by marrying into the family of Rudhall of Rudhall, whose beautiful monuments are still to be seen in the Church of Ross on Wye, and whose representative had taken part with Sir Richard Grenville in that attack on the Spaniards in the Azores in 1596 in which the "Revenge" made herself immortal, he had acquired not only some money but also connections with several families who had influence at Court, - for it must be remembered that nearly everyone who rose to power under the Tudors (including Burleigh) had family relationships with Herefordshire and the Welsh Marches.

It was probably owing to this marriage that Walter Pye became connected with the Court and he found his opportunity when Buckingham - then the penniless George Villiers - first came under the notice of James I.

Pye, to judge from the effigy on his tomb and from a portrait by Cornelis Janssens in the collection of his descendant Sir Geoffrey Cornewall at Moccas, was a strikingly handsome man with black hair and a sunburnt face, and he had evidently a courtly bearing and a great taste for art and painting, for his name occurs frequently in the correspondence of the great painter Rubens, who seems to have known him well. He was a clever lawyer and a shrewd financier, and must have been of great use to Buckingham during his rise to power, for he was eventually appointed Attorney General of the Court of Laws, and as such had much to do with the marriages of some of the greatest heirs and heiresses in the Kingdom. In Loudon he was more envied than respected and backbiters railed at him as a butcher's son. That he was the friend of the Duchess of Buckingham, by birth a Manners, as well as of her husband, is evident from the fact that his tomb is closely modelled on those of the Rutland family at Bottesford in North Leicestershire .

Pye, by birth a small landowner of very modest means, when he died in 1637 left an estate of about £25,000 a year which, in our money, would be worth about £113,000, and nearly all of which was spent by his heirs within the following 80 years in supporting the Royalist cause. He left a family of 14 children whose effigies can be seen on his monument.

His consort Lady Pye, a worthy woman who certainly had not the fatal gift of beauty, died in 1625, and his monument bears an epitaph which seems strange from the pen of Buckingham's trusted agent : "Fides et spes sunt anchora animae" - "Faith and hope are the anchor of the soul".

His funeral helmet of steel, beautifully inlaid with gold, still hangs above his monument, whilst a stone cannon-ball - evidently fired during some skirmish in the Civil War till lately lay on a ledge at the side.

The other monuments in the Church are not very striking and mostly date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Those in the Chancel are to the Symons family, the earliest dating from 1763, whilst in the nave is one (copied from a slab dated 1716 in Much Dewchurch Churchyard) to the late Sir James Rankin, M.P. of Bryngwyn who, as has been said, was a great benefactor to the Church.

We ought not to omit to mention the font, which is of very early Norman work, and has heads representing the virtues and vices sculptured on its base. In the porch are lying a stone with a knight's head scraped out of it which was used as a Holy Water basin and dates from the Eleventh Century. The long and short work on the left hand side of the Chancel Arch is also of a very early design.

The Churchyard is most beautifully kept by the caretaker Mr. George Payne, and the large yew tree near the Church door goes back to mediaeval times. None of the monuments go back further than the late Seventeenth Century, but a tomb on which are planted figures made of some kind of evergreen, trimmed to represent three foxhounds in pursuit of a fox is worth notice.

The old vicarage to the east of the Churchyard contains work as early as the Thirteenth Century, and the Church House at the west gate was built in Elizabeth's time by one of the Pyes.

It is now used as a house for the schoolmistress.

Such are the Church and Churchyard of St. David's Much Dewchurch.


(signed - in 1936)



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