Last Updated on March 4, 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
The small village of Malborough is found among the rolling hills of the South Hams. It’s home to the 13th century Church of All Saints, which is known locally as the Cathedral of the South Hams, and as being located on the highest point of the village its spire can be seen for miles around.
History of the Parish of Malborough
The sheer size of the Church of All Saints is a major clue that the Parish of Malborough was, in earlier times, a place of considerable importance and highly prosperous. The village of Malborough was the major settlement in the parish, during the late Middle Ages, which also included a number of small hamlets, and was serviced by the small estuary port of Salcombe situated some two miles away.
Today the roles have been completely reversed and Salcombe, close to the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary, has become a hive of activity, especially during the summer months, with tourists travelling far and wide to visit the popular destination and enjoy the water sports. Malborough, due to its inland position, is now a somewhat sleepy village apart from the through traffic en route to the coast.
The Church of All Saints, Malborough
It’s believed that the existing church, at Malborough, was founded c1200AD, a number of years before the village itself became officially documented in 1249. Prior to this date the settlement must have been part of one of the five Manors in the Parish that had been recorded in the Domesday Book (1086).
The late Norman font probably dates to the original construction of the church itself, c.1200AD, and is quite unusual in that the central column supports a ‘table-top’ (square) bowl.
The All Saints dedication was first used in the 19th century, possibly after the renovation, and to date no record has been discovered as to the Saint’s name that was used at the original consecration of the church. Like most ancient churches it underwent numerous alterations and additions; many of these occurring in the late 15th century.
Late Victorian Renovation of the Church of All Saints, Malborough
The church was heavily renovated between 1868 – 1870 and it was at this time that the decision was taken to remove the Rood Screen due to its poor condition. Two sections of this were salvaged and enclose the High Altar and the Sanctuary.
It was around the time of the 1868-70 renovation that the beautiful jewel-like stained glass windows were added in the North Aisle (above), and (below) the Lady Chapel. The many other windows are mostly clear making the church very bright and creating a wonderful luminosity.
The Oxford Movement and the ‘CologneAltar’
The chancel is home to an altar designed by the Anglican clergyman, Richard Hurrell Froude (1803-1836) who whilst at Oxford University became acquainted with John Keble and John Henry Newman and Edward Pusey.
The group formed the Oxford Movement in 1833 which sought to renew ‘catholic’ influence within the Church of England. This led to the increased importance of ceremony and ritual within the Anglican church worship; and consequently, the creation of ever more decorative and ornate church interiors harking back to the Medieval period and the Gothic style.
Later examples of churches whose decor was heavily influenced by the Oxford Movement include the Church of St Petroc Minor at Little Petherick and the Rood Screen by F C Eden at the Church of St Protus and St Hyacinth at Blisland.
The Malborough altar was inspired by Froude’s visit to the High Altar (c.1322) at Cologne Cathedral and is an early example Gothic Revival Style. Sadly, Richard Hurrell Froude never saw his altar and the stone reredos that was completed c.1840. He died in 1836, at the age of just 33, from a disease, tuberculosis, that had plagued him throughout his short life.
And finally … An Ancient Altar Cloth in South Devon
Perhaps the most exciting object to be found at the Church of All Saints in Malborough is an ancient altar cloth that can be viewed in a glass case as you enter the church on the left-hand side.
It’s a large complete altar frontal but unfortunately is not possible to photograph clearly as the glass is highly reflective. The altar cloth was made up in the late 16th century using two 15th century copes (ie. liturgical mantles) and comprises of figures of saints and figures of cherubim, a typically medieval motif, such as the one illustrated above.
The delicate needlepoint of the copes was, perhaps, the work of nuns living at Cornworthy Priory during the 15th century.
It seems miraculous that the fabric, although severely worn, has survived in the church for which it was created for over five hundred years and somehow escaped the wrath of the Elizabethan iconoclasts, and then the Interregnum under Oliver Cromwell.
The story of this amazing altarpiece doesn’t end here. With the installation of the new Froude Altar, the cloth became surplus to requirements and was stowed in a space between the new altar and stone reredos. It was subsequently rediscovered towards the end of the 19th century and taken to the vicarage. For a period of time, it’s alleged that it was used as a covering for sacks of potatoes in the vicarage outbuilding!
Bigbury-on-Sea – with a fabulous sandy beach, an island with a 14th-century pub and a stunning Art Deco hotel there’s certainly plenty to see.
Buckfast Abbey – is located on the fringes of Dartmoor and the impressive Abbey was constructed on a shoestring by a few Benedictine monks who undertook much of the building work themselves.
Hope Cove – with two sandy beaches and numerous places to eat it’s a great place to visit.
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