Moving through the screen into the chancel we see it after its restoration by Nicholson. The new altar, priest’s stalls and reredos (painted by Gerald Smith) were all designed by Nicholson. The altar is of oak and walnut, bearing a carved and gilded design of wheat and wine, emblems of the Blessed Sacrament. The paintings in the reredos represent St. Nicholas, St. Hubert, St. Winwaloe, the Virgin Mary, St. Martha and St. Cecilia.
The Rectory would originally have been close to the church but was moved, probably around the 15th century, to a fine site at Horse Pool Cove on the banks of the estuary. The 1840 Tithe map shows that a chapel had been built next to it. This would have been a private chapel for the rector, a not uncommon feature for Rectories some distance from the church. The Rectory was rebuilt in the 19th century and sold to a private owner in the 1980s. The existence of the chapel led earlier authors to suggest that this was the site of the first church in East Portlemouth.
Our knowledge of St. Winwaloe comes from a manuscript, Vita, by Wurdistan, Abbot of Landévennec, in the middle of the 9th century. Winwaloe was born in Brittany in about AD 462. His father, Fracan, was a Celtic chieftain who fled there from Wales around AD 460 when the Saxons arrived. Winwaloe became a disciple of St Budoc on the Island of Lavret, a small island close to the Island of Bréhat, just off the North Brittany coast.
He later founded a settlement at Tibidy and then, in 485, the monastery at Landévennec, south of Brest, which still exists. After his death around 532 AD, monks founded a monastery in Cornwall. His Patronal Day is the 3rd of March.
An Earlier Church
The ovoid (egg-shaped) shape of the churchyard is characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon period. After the Norman Conquest, churchyards became rectangular or square so the ovoid shape suggested there might have been an earlier, probably wooden, church on this site. The existence of a manor house in East Portlemouth in 1086 (Domesday Book) provides support for this. Not surprisingly no trace of an earlier church remains above ground. Anglo-Saxon churches did however sometimes have rooms under them and, in 2006, Stratascan carried out a survey under St Winwaloe’s using ground penetrating radar. This appeared to suggest there was indeed a room under the central part of the nave. However this was not supported by a series of core samples taken in 2012 nor by a second radar scan. This does not of course rule out the possibility that there was an earlier church on the site. It not thought though that that would have been built before the 10th century.
East Portlemouth used to be a much larger and more flourishing place than it is today; it was a port and ship-building was an important industry. It provided four ships and ninety men for the Crécy and Calais campaigns of 1346 and contributed at least one ship to chase the Spanish Armada in 1588. The ship-building, farming and fishing community would have provided the wealth to construct and maintain this fine church and Roger Champernoun, who became its patron in 1450, is thought to have provided the money for its rebuilding. Ship-building declined in importance from the early 18th century.
In the 19th century, the village became part of the estate of the Duke of Bolton but passed to the Duke of Cleveland around 1870. In 1879 the Duke and Duchess reorganised the whole village. Many fishermen’s cottages were destroyed and their tenants dispossessed, while several farms and smallholdings were amalgamated into three 200 acre farms at East Portlemouth Village, Rickham and Holset. High House remained a separate entity, as did Goodshelter and West Prawle. At its peak, the village had a population approaching 500 but this was drastically reduced by the reorganisation. Local commentators were appalled at the social effects of these changes and similar changes that took place in nearby Bigbury, likening them to the Highland Clearances in Scotland.
The Dedication and Title of The Church
The dedication of the church to a Breton saint presumably reflects the fact that its founder was a descendant of a Breton noble who came to Britain with William the Conqueror’s army. The spelling of Winwaloe has varied over the centuries and from about 1780 the Latin form, Onolaus, was used. The English form, Winwalloe, was used again from about 1930 although now with a double l, presumably to indicate it was pronounced like Winwallow. In 2006, the diocese asked the church to return to the historically correct spelling: Winwaloe.
A Holiday Prayer
Lord, you are the source of peace and hope. Be with me at this time. Help me to be aware of your presence in your church and in the beauty of nature around me and grant that when I return home I may be renewed for the duties of my daily life – Amen.
This leaflet was revised in 2007 and again in 2013. These revisions followed the publication in 2000 of East Portlemouth Heritage Appraisal, An Archaeological History of the Parish by the archaeologist, Robert Waterhouse, the 2012 archaeological investigation and further historical research. We are very grateful to Robert Waterhouse, Professors Nicholas Orme and Sarah Hamilton (Exeter University), Michael Reeve (Cambridge University), Michael Jones (Nottingham University) and Andrew Reynolds, (University College, London) and to the Revd Prebendary John Scott for all their help.
We also thank the Friends of East Portlemouth Church for funding the radar survey (from an ear-marked donation) and the Heritage Lottery Fund for largely funding the 2012 archaeological investigation and the restoration of the parvis..
The original leaflet was written about 1990 by the Revd Paul Hancock, drawing on the 1960 history of the church by the Revd W.W. Price. A copy of this history is in the Local Studies section of Kingsbridge library.