A brief History of St Andrew’s Church

by Old Plymouth Society
Published March 2012

People have been congregating on this site to worship for more than 1200 years. Prior to WW2 it was on the southern side of Bedford Street, now it is on the southern side of Royal Parade. Many famous figures have been here, including Katherine of Aragon, Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins, Captain Bligh and Sir Francis Chichester to name a few. It is the largest parish church in Devon and can seat 1700 people. Its bells are the third heaviest in the county. It is believed that in the Saxon village of Sutton, on the site now occupied by St Andrews, there was a chapel. Ealphege, the first recorded cleric, was vicar during the reign of William 2. The south chancel aisle was built between 1380 -85 by Mr John Edenes due to the growing prosperity of the town. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The north aisle was started in 1440, just after the town received its first borough charter, and was dedicated to St John the Baptist. The tower, which is more ornate than the body of the church and reaches to a height of 136 feet dates from 1460/61. Although the materials were paid for by the Town, the labour was paid for by a wealthy merchant by the name of Thomas Yogge. He also financed the Lady Chapel on the north side of the Church. 

The church has been restored three times. In 1826 the local architect, John Foulston, was reported by Brooking Rowe to have left the church neat and tidy, but a shadow of its former self! Foulston is reported as saying that he found the church choked up and encumbered! Unfortunately much of the old woodwork was removed and the finely carved screen was sold at auction for 134. The archway was closed beneath the tower and high pews, referred to by the churchgoers as horse boxes, were installed. The total cost of the refurbishment was 5000.

In 1874 Sir George Gilbert Scott is said to have carried out a more careful and worthy restoration under the direction of Archdeacon Wilkinson, at a cost of 6000. The galleries were removed, the high pews dispensed with, the tower arch opened and a modern pulpit erected in place of the old three decker one.

Between 1949 and 1957 the church was rebuilt by Mr Frederick Etchells after being badly bombed during the Second World War.

There was once a graveyard attached to the church, known as The Mound. This was levelled in 1884 and the remains moved to Westwell Street burial ground. One simple stone bore the name of Francis Bligh, the father of Breadfruit Bligh, of Bounty fame. As this burial ground was damaged during WW2, the remaining graves were moved to Efford Cemetery.

8 Century First evidence of a Christian community here

1087 Ealphege was the first named vicar

12 Century Administered by Plympton Priory

1370  1486 Church enlarged to its present shape. The south aisle was enlarged at a cost of nearly 45 by John Dawe, a mason. The town was so proud of its church that the mayor requested John Gill to preach a special Christmas sermon in 1486. Soon after, the mayors pew was carpeted and 2 goatskins were stuffed with flock to make cushions, gold paint was used to pick out the towns arms on the cushion covers.

15 Century Construction of Prysten House, adjacent to the church, the house of Thomas Yogge

1481 Construction of church tower by Thomas Yogge

1501 Arrival of Katherine of Aragon, who on October 2 came to the Church to give thanks for her safe arrival after a rough voyage across the Channel. She then went onto London to marry Prince Arthur, Henry 8s brother and eventually, Henry himself.

1536  39 With the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the revenues from St Andrews went to King Henry 8.

1567 October 2, John Hawkins and his 400 crew attend a service before their usual Africa  West Indies voyage.

1572 Queen Elizabeth 1 granted the revenues back to the Mayor and Corporation and the right to appoint the vicars.

1573 On Sunday 9 August, Francis Drake returned from his adventures at Nombre de Dios. When the congregation heard of his arrival, they left the service to welcome him home.

1594 A mention for the first time about church bells. In the Black Book it states: This yere were five newe belles cast at the Townes only charge. It is not known if these were replacement bells or new ones. Drake and Hawkins provided ordnance for the necessary metal.

1594 22 November, Martin Frobishers entrails were buried in the church.

1596 Gallery introduced into the north aisle to help with the growing population. Church attendance was compulsory in those days.

1657 The heart of Admiral Blake is buried in the church.

1735 On December 7 the organ was played for the first time officially by Mr John Evans, whose salary was 14 a year. The organ was originally built by Mr James Parsons and was funded by subscriptions of 391.80p.

1749 8 bells were cast from previous bells by Thomas Bilbie on the site where the Guildhall now stands. The 2.5 ton tenor bell cracked in 1838 and was recast in 1839 by Thomas Mears of London.

1775 John Wesley visited the church and was impressed by the 300 communicants. 

1812 Burial of American naval officers, now commemorated by the Door of Unity into Prysten House.

1824 The Reverend John Hatchard was vicar here until his death in 1869.

1826 First restoration of church by John Foulston.

1842 To pay off debts on the Royal Hotel and Theatre, the Town Council sold the advowson. It finally came into the hands of the Church Patronal Society. 

1874 Present peal of 10 bells completed with the addition of 2 bells donated by the local Member of Parliament, Edward Bates. Second restoration of church by Sir George Gilbert Scott

1940 Just prior to the Church being bombed, Messrs John Hele and Company had rebuilt the organ.

1941 Between March 20 and 22, the church was burnt out in the Blitz. Only the walls and tower remained. The carillon of bells and two faces of the clock were damaged. The bells themselves were intact. The manual organ was destroyed. A board with the word Resurgam  meaning I will rise again – was fixed over the north porch. The ruins were laid out as gardens and services were held there in what became known as The Garden Church between 1942 -1949. 

1949 October 22, HRH Princess Elizabeth laid the foundation stone for the restoration of the church, which was re-roofed and restored by Mr Frederick Etchells.

1957 November – St Andrews Day, the church was re-consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Exeter. The new organ is still the largest west of Bristol. It was designed by Dr Harry Moreton, who had been the organist here since 1885. He retired in 1958 at the age of 93. He was assisted in its design by Doctor William Lloyd Webber  father of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Doctor O H Peasgood.

2009 Church declared a Minster as part of 1100th anniversary of the Diocese of Exeter on November 29, by the Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Michael Langrish.

St Andrews Church is built of stone in the Perpendicular style. The tower contains a peal of ten bells and a clock which used to chime  a public house which once stood nearby was called The Chimes. Under the chancel is a crypt said to communicate with Prysten House  now a restaurant. There are stained glass windows by John Piper including one in memory of the Astors. A walk around the inside of the church will reveal many tablets and memorials to famous people associated with Plymouth through the centuries. When was the last time you had a look around.

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