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St Thomas the Apostle Church - Cowick Street

Page updated 19th May 2016

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The Gervase Exe bridge had a church at the St Thomas end, similar to St Edmund's at the other end. However, the faster flowing river on this side often flooded the church on the bridge and eventually swept it away. In 1412, the new church of St Thomas Becket was built on safer high ground, and was consecrated by Bishop Stafford.

In 1549 the vicar, Robert Welshe joined the Prayer Book Rebellion and the Catholic rebels who laid siege to Exeter for five weeks, from the west side of the river. After the rebellion failed, Welshe was captured, and hung from the tower of his church, for treason and for his part in the execution of a messenger on Exe Island who was travelling to Lord Russel's King's Army. His tarred body hung there until Mary succeeded her brother Edward VI in 1553. In 1645, the tower crashed to the ground when the church was destroyed by the Royalist defenders of the city during the Civil War, to prevent Parliamentary troops occupying the structure.

The present Church

The present church, built of local red sandstone, dates from 1657 when its name was changed from St Thomas the Martyr to very protestant, St Thomas the Apostle. The cost at the time was £587. The church, in the Perpendicular style has a chancel, nave, aisles, transepts, a north porch and a tower with pinnacles. The tower contains 6 bells, cast by Pennington in 1789 from the metal of a former peal of five.

In 1871, when the church was undergoing restoration, Mr Frederick Drake was selected to make a stained glass window of the Incredulity of St. Thomas the Apostle. A hurricane in December 1872 caused a £100 of damage during the afternoon service. A loud crash was heard and on investigation, it was found that some of the pinnacles on the tower and the roof had blown off, falling into the roof and smashing it. The evening service to be taken by the Dean of Exeter was cancelled as the building was thought to be unsafe.

The registers of baptisms and burials date from 1554 and marriages from 1577.

The bombing of 1942 destroyed the east end stained glass window, that was replaced in 1951. The grandfathers of the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds and General Gordon are buried in the church yard. There is also a memorial outside of the church, which commemorates Grace Darling. Western Times 19 April 1845.

"Mr. Barnet Blake hath erected a handsome monument to the memory of Grace Darling, in St. Thomas's church-yard This heroic woman was an honour to her sex and Mr. Blake's devotion to her memory is only another proof of his enlarged and generous admiration of the sex."

There were still public stocks in the churchyard before the First World War, although, not still in use.

Sources: Kelly's 1897 and the Flying Post

St Thomas the Apostle Church, Cowick StreetPostcard of the church. St Thomas the Apostle Church, interior Interior of the church
St Thomas stocks
The stocks in the church yard.

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