Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: June 28, 2017
Webpage updated: February 26, 2023




The Ancient Parish Church of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Plymouith.
From a postcard.

The Ancient Parish Church of Saint Andrew the Apostle, now a Minster Church, is located on the southern side of Royal Parade.  Before the Second World War it was on the southern side of Bedford Street.

A similar view of southern and eastern sides of the Ancient Parish Church of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Plymouth.
From a postcard.

Saint Andrew's has the distinction of being the largest parish church in Devon, measuring some 185 feet in length and 69 feet in width, except at the transepts where it is 96 feet wide.  The tower is 136 feet 6 inches tall.

The Ancient Parish Church of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Plymouth,
with the Saint Andrew's Cross in the foreground.
From a postcard.

In the Beginning

On the basis that the sites of churches are normally dedicated in perpetuity, it is believed that this must have been the site of the first church in Saxon times.  The vicar was appointed by the Prior of Plympton and the earliest recorded priest was Ealphege, who officiated at the time of King William II.  This places its date as before 1100, when King William died.

The earliest documentary reference to the Church is in a survey of made in 1291 on the orders of Pope Nicholas.  The crypt beneath the present chancel is said to date from that time.  The other ancient parish churches in the area at that time were at Eggbuckland, Stoke Damerel and Tamerton Foliot.  There were two outlying chapels at Pennycross and Saint Budeaux, both probably belonging to the individual Lords of the Manors.

An internal view of Saint Andrew's Church, including the font.
From a postcard.

14th Century Development

In 1370, in the Register of Bishop Thomas De Brantyngham, Bishop of Exeter, came the first mention of the Chapel of Saint Katherine-upon-The Hoe, which was also served by the Vicar of Saint Andrew's or visiting priests from Plympton Priory.

With the growing prosperity of the township came the enlargement of the Church to take the increasing population.  The south chancel aisle was built circa 1380 by by Mr John Edenes and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The 15th Century Structure

The north aisle, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, was started in 1440, just after Plymouth received its borough charter.  The tower, which is more decorated than the main body of the Church, dates from 1460/61, when the Town provided the materials and a wealthy local merchant named Mr Thomas Yogge paid for the labour to build it.  He also financed the building of the Lady Chapel on the north side of the Church.

In 1472 there was the first reference to the Chapel of Saint Lawrence at East Stonehouse.  It was to be two centuries before it became a parish church in its own right.

The previously private chapel at Saint Budeaux was created a parish church in its own right in 1482 after the local residents complained to the Bishop of Exeter that it was inconvenient to have to journey into Saint Andrew's Church for baptisms and burials.

One famous visitor to Saint Andrew's Church was Katherine of Aragon.  After a perilous passage across the English Channel she landed at Plymouth on October 2nd 1501 and promptly made her way in procession to the Church to give thanks for her safe arrival.  She then departed for London to marry Prince Arthur, the brother of King Henry VIII, whom she married in 1509 after the death of her husband.

Birth of the Church of England

It was King Henry's attempts to divorce Catherine of Aragon that led to the break with the Roman Catholic Church and the birth of the Church of England, with Henry at its head.  When he dissolved the monasteries in 1536-39, he took the revenues from both Plympton Priory and Saint Andrew's Church.  The vicarage was valued at 25 10s 9d.  Luckily, the Church plate passed into the hands of Plymouth Corporation.

In 1572 Queen Elizabeth I granted the revenues and patronage back to the Mayor and Corporation, although they had to pay 59 7s 8d for the letters patent.  This was quite fortuitous as her most famous citizen, Captain Francis Drake, was about to return from his adventures at Nombre de Dios.  He arrived in Plymouth on Sunday August 9th 1573 and when the news reached Saint Andrew's, the congregation left the service to welcome him home.

Had there been bells in the Church tower on that day they would surely have been rung but the first mention of them occurs in the 'Black Book' in 1594: 'This yere were fyve newe belles cast at the Townes only charge.'   It is not clear from the reference to 'newe belles' whether these were the first ones or replacements for earlier ones.  They cost 293 12 4d and Worth tells us that both Drake and Hawkins donated broken guns towards the metal required.

The Parish is Split in Two

But trouble was brewing.  In 1634 King Charles I asserted his right to appoint the Vicar of Saint Andrew's and, not surprisingly, his choice, Doctor Aaron Wilson, was a Royalist.  When the Civil War broke out in 1642 Doctor Wilson was imprisoned, first on Drake's Island and later at Portsmouth, and the Town appointed a Puritan vicar.  After the Restoration of King Charles II, the Townsfolk feared Royal intervention in the appointment of vicars to Saint Andrew's and petitioned for a new Church to which they could appoint their own choices.  They cleverly named it Charles' Church.

Admiral Blake's Heart

The heart of Admiral Blake is buried in Saint Andrew's Church.  He was returning from the defeat of the Spanish Armada, when, on August 15th 1657, he died just as his flagship, the "Saint George", was entering Plymouth Sound.  His body was originally given a state burial at Saint Margaret's Church, Westminster, but upon the Restoration it was removed and thrown into a pit beneath the Tyburn gallows along with those of Cromwell.

Installation of an Organ   

The organ was originally built by Mr James Parsons and formally brought into use on December 7th 1735.  It was funded by subscriptions amounting to 391 16s.  The salary of the organist, Mr John Evans, is recorded as being 14 per year.  It has been much enlarged and improved since then.  It had just been rebuilt by Messrs John Hele and Company when the Church was bombed in 1941.

Read more about the subscribers to the organ..........

The Bells

Seven of the present bells date from 1749.  In that year eight of the bells were cast by Mr Thomas Bilbie on the site where the Guildhall now stands from previous bells made in 1594, 1631 and 1709.  They were described as more deep-toned than usual with the tenor bell weighing some two and a half tons. The heaviest of those bells unfortunately cracked in 1839 and the following year it was recast by Mr Thomas Mears of London.  It weighed 35 cwt 14 lbs.  Two more bells were donated in 1874 by Mr Edward Bates, the local Member of Parliament.

There are apparently only two sets of bells in Devon that are heavier than those in Saint Andrew's: they are in Exeter Cathedral and Buckfast Abbey.

Early Description

The earliest description of Saint Andrew's Church, published in 1812, was not exactly flattering.  The architecture was described as 'bastard gothic' and it continued that 'the appearance of it in the interior is much injured by the erection of various galleries, at different periods, and the injudicious construction of sepulchral monuments'.  But even worse was to come: 'The whole management of this church reflects discredit on the parishioners'.  The seats, it transpires, were let out for lives, and only a small sum of money was paid for adding a new life.  As no church rate was levied, this meant that there was very little income with which to keep the church in good repair.

First Restoration

Saint Andrew's Church has been restored three times, first in 1826 by the noted local architect Mr John Foulston, who sadly removed much of the old woodwork and the finely carved screen (which was sold at auction for 134 15s), closed the archway beneath the tower, and installed high pews.

End of Corporation Control

In 1836 the advowson of Saint Andrew's Church was sold by the Corporation and eventually ended up with the Church Patronage Society.

Removal of the Old Pulpit

The old, unsightly, wooden pulpit, known by some, it would seem, as the "tub-thumper", was removed on the morning of Monday May 1st 1871.  In its place, ready for use on the following Sunday, was erected a fine new one designed by Mr John Hine.  The base was of Cornish granite from the quarry of Messrs Freeman & Sons at Penryn.  Dartmoor granite was used for the stem while the octagonal, main section was of Bath stone from Corsham, in Wiltshire.  The panels, columns and angles were of red Devonshire marble, from Ipplepen, relieved by well-marked veins of a cream colour.  A figure of Saint Andrew with his unique X-shaped cross faced down the length of the Church from a central panel in the pulpit.  The carving was carried out by Mr Harry Hems, sculptor, of Exeter.  The work cost about 130.

Improvement work then started on the Church's burial ground.  On Thursday June 15th 1871 Mr Pethick's men started on removing the high wall around the graveyard at the top of Catherine Street.  Most of the work was done during the night so it came as a surprise to many residents on the Friday morning.  The burial ground was reduced in size by removing some of the remains to the Westwell Street Burial Ground.  A new dwarf wall was erected, once again designed by Mr Hine.  The lower level was of limestone, after which came a red band of Dartmoor granite.  The upper layer was of Cornish granite and the whole was completed with Portland stone piers and capitals carved by Mr Harry Hems and his staff.  Railings were then placed on top of the wall by Mr Joseph Murch, of Stoke, and an ornate lamp supplied by Mr Marshall, ironmonger, of Plymouth, was placed on top of each pier.      Unfortunately the notorious "mound" in front of the Church remained.

In August 1872 a monument was erected in Saint Andrew's Church in memory of the Reverend John Hatchard MA, who had been vicar for 45 years from August 1824 until his death on December 1st 1869.

Second Restoration

A more careful restoration of the Church followed in 1874-75 under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott FSA.  In February 1873 the contract for the restoration was awarded to Mr John Finch, builder.  The high oak pews (referred to as 'horse-boxes') dating from 1826 were swept away as were the great teak staircase and the spacious galleries with their flights of stone steps both inside and outside the Church.  The arch below the tower was opened up again and the vaults were filled in and covered with charcoal.  New oak pews exquisitely carved by Mr Harry Hems were installed.  Saint Andrew's was re-opened for worship on March 31st 1875.

Carillon and Chimes

In 1878 a fine carillon and chimes were given to the Church by Mr Charles Norrington in memory of his son, Mr C H Norrington, who was a member of the Devonshire Guild of Ringers.  The Mayor and Corporation attended a special service on July 6th 1878, when the carillon was formally opened.

Read more about the Saint Andrew's Church carillon..........

Erection of the Saint Andrew's Cross

The "Mound" was finally removed in 1884 and in its place was later erected a memorial cross, Saint Andrew's Cross.

The chapel on the north side was fitted up in 1912 as a memorial to Archdeacon Wilkinson, who was vicar from 1870 to 1902.  Until the Second World War, when it was destroyed, the Chapel contained an organ presented by Doctor Moreton in memory of his son, Lieutenant Cecil H Moreton, who was killed in action at Queant in 1918.  When his body was sent home it was found that his personal effects included two organ pipes from the ruins of a French church.  These were incorporated into one of the stops on the organ, which was opened in 1920.

Looking towards the altar of the Minster Church of Saint Andrew, Plymouth.

Looking towards the altar of the Minster Church of Saint Andrew, Plymouth.


Now a part of Royal Parade, the post-war Saint Andrew's Church
after the new roof was installed.
From the author's collection.

During the air raid of the night of March 20th/21st 1941 the Church was, as Twyford described, 'mauled but not beyond repair'.   The main building had been saved although it was not easy to gain entrance as there was fairly extensive damage outside the doorway.

The roofless Saint Andrew's Church after the Second World War.
From a postcard.

But that relatively happy situation was not to last.  During the following night the Church was laid to ruin and on the Saturday morning (22nd) only the walls and tower were left standing.  The carillon of bells in the tower was damaged as were the north and east faces of the clock.  The church bells themselves were undamaged.  The four-manual organ was totally destroyed.  At this time, when spirits were low, a board was fixed over the north porch door upon which was carved the one word "Resurgam" - 'I will rise again'.  The ruins were laid out as gardens and services were once again held in what became known as the Garden Church.  Normal services were held at Saint Catharine's Church in Lockyer Street, which had formerly been a chapel-of-ease to Saint Andrew's.

The Saint Andrew's Cross was badly damaged in the Blitz of March 1941 and later removed for safety.

It was not until the evening of Sunday May 23rd 1943 that a service was once again held in Saint Andrew's Church.  So many people turned up that the police had to control the crowd.  Led by the choir, the congregation processed from Saint Catharine's Church to Saint Andrew's, where they were joined by the Exeter Street Band of the Salvation Army.  The service was conducted by the vicar of Saint Andrew's, the reverend T A Martin, in  the presence of the Deputy Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Alderman W J W Modley, and the Anglican Bishop of Plymouth.  The Bishop gave his address from the disfigured pulpit, damaged by the air raids in March 1941, and recalled that he last stood in the pulpit on December 1st 1940, during an air raid.  The Reverend Martin announced that, weather permitting, it was hoped to hold an open-air service in the ruins at 8pm every Sunday during the summer months.

On Sunday December 16th 1945 as young children of the congregation were placing dolls, toys and books beneath the Christmas Tree that had been put up in the tower, the bells were ringing out above them for the first time since June 1940.

The Lord Bishop of Plymouth, the Right Reverend F Whitfield Daulkes MA, dedicated the City of Plymouth Police Force War Memorial plaque in Saint Andrew's Church on Sunday October 20th 1946.  Prayers were said by the Vicar of Saint Andrew's, the Reverend Canon Norman H Clarke MA, and the Lesson was read by the Chief Constable of Plymouth, Mr J F Skittery.  By permission of Major-General A E Reading CBE, buglers from the Royal Marines (Plymouth Division) sounded the "Last Post and "Reveille".

Rebuilding and Re-consecration

Note the Civic Centre under construction in the background.
From a postcard.

On January 15th 1949, during the incumbency of the Reverend Norman Clarke, a special service was held to inaugurate the rebuilding of Saint Andrew's and on October 22nd 1949 a commemorative stone was laid by HRH the Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II.  The Church was re-roofed and restored by Mr (later Sir) Frederick Etchells FRIBA.   It was re-consecrated at 3pm on November 30th 1957, Saint Andrew's Day, by the Lord Bishop of Exeter, assisted by the Bishops of Liverpool and Plymouth, and in the presence of HRH the Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, and the Lord Mayor.

Mission Chapels

In 1890 there were two Saint Andrew's Mission Chapels, one in Lower Lane/Palace Street, and another in Willow Street.

Saint Andrew's Church Today

Saint Andrew's Church is built of stone in the Perpendicular style and consists of chancel, nave, aisles extending the whole length of the building, transepts, north and south porches, and a lofty embattled western tower with pinnacles.  The aisles are separated from the nave and chancel by a series of lofty pointed arches springing from clustered shafts, with carved foliated capitals.  The tower contains a clock and a peal of 10 bells, numbers three to nine of which were cast in 1749.  The clock used to chime and there used to be a public house nearby called "The Chimes".  The eastern portions of the aisles form chapels and under the chancel is a crypt said to communicate with the nearby "Prysten House".

I am indebted to Mr Jason Smart of Plympton, a member and past president of the Plymouth and District Organists' Association, for drawing my attention to the fact that the new organ installed during the post-war restoration is still the largest organ west of Bristol, bigger even that those in Exeter and Truro Cathedrals.  It was designed by Doctor Harry Moreton, who had been the organist at Saint Andrew's since 1885, and Doctor William Lloyd Webber (father of the present Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber) and Doctor O H Peasgood.  It was constructed by Messrs Rushworth and Dreaper Ltd of Liverpool, and apparently it vies with the organ of Guildford Cathedral as their masterpiece.  This organ was played at the dedication service by Doctor Moreton, who retired in March 1958 at the grand old age of 93 years.

Minster Church

At 10.30am on Sunday November 29th 2009 The Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Michael Langrish, conferred Minster status on Saint Andrew's Church in recognition of the very great esteem in the Church and its record of service was held by the City of Plymouth.  The Rector was the Reverend Nick McKinnel.

Parish Registers

The parish registers, which begin in 1581, are held at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office in Clare Place, Sutton Road, Plymouth.

Mission Chapels

The Parish of Saint Andrew's supported the Saint Thomas's Mission Chapel in Lower Lane and the Saint Philip's Mission Chapel in WillowStreet.