Morwenstow in North Cornwall


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Morwenstow in North Cornwall

Booby's Bay
Coads Green
Crackington Haven
Constantine Bay
Daymer Bay
Five Lanes
Harlyn Bay
North Hill
Petherwin Gate
Port Isaac
Porthcothan Bay
Port Quin
South Petherwin
St Breward
St Endellion
St Issey
St Juliot
St Kew
St Kew Highway
St Mabyn
St Merryn/Shop
Stoke Climsland
St Teath
St Tudy
Trebarwith Strand
Warbstow Cross
Week St Mary
Widemouth Bay


Morwenstow is a small village right on the border between Devon and Cornwall. Morwenstow was once a base for "wreckers" but is now more associated with the satellite station.

The vicar of Morwenstow was once Robert Stephen Hawker 1803 - 1875, a cleric and a poet, renowned for his often eccentric behaviour, who invented the now common place Harvest Festival.
There are many small beaches and coves that can be reached from Morwenstow including Sandymouth, which as car parking and a cafe and toilets. Further along is Duckpool.

Morwenstow Parish Church

Morwenstow Parish Church is dedicated to Morwenna (a local saint) and St.John the Baptist, and is part of the United Benefice of Kilkhampton with Morwenstow.

A short stroll to the south along the Coast Path is ‘Hawker’s Hut’ - the driftwood hut where the Rev.Hawker wrote sermons and poetry and contemplated the sea.

The Church is approached through a lych gate with a slate stile alongside. An adjacent stone and slate building was formerly used as a temporary mortuary, and is still known locally as the ‘Dead House’.

The interior walls of the Church are plaster-covered; the north wall of the chancel carrying a fragment of a 15th or 16th century wall painting believed to represent St. Morwenna. Opposite is a piscina, once used for washing Holy Communion vessels. This was uncovered by Hawker in 1855, having been hidden beneath the plaster for some 300 years.

The reredos above the altar features a triptych of engravings of the Crucifixion by the artist John Baptist Jackson (1701-1780), as well as a remarkable red chalk drawing of St John the Baptist by the Venetian artist, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1683-1754).

Fine carvings abound, including pew ends dating as far back as 1539, and there are many historic tombs beneath the floor of the Church as well as in the churchyard. Between the pulpit and the lectern is the tomb of Hawker’s first wife, Charlotte. Hawker married again and was buried with his second wife, Pauline Anne, in Plymouth.

The Church has many memorials and some impressive stained glass windows. Particularly noteworthy are the Waddon Martyn Windows (commemorating a prominent local family) and the Hawker Memorial Window.

The restored original figurehead of the brig.‘Caledonia of Arbroath’ is mounted inside the Church high on the north wall opposite the entrance. For generations it served as the grave-marker for the crew of this ill-fated vessel, wrecked nearby in 1842. They, along with some 40 other shipwreck victims, were given a Christian burial by the Rev.Hawker. A weather-resistant replica now serves as the grave marker.

For worshippers and other visitors there is a car park near the lych gate, with a small car park for disabled visitors accessed from the driveway leading down to the Old Vicarage.

Harvest Festival - like so many English traditions, the church Harvest Festival service is a Victorian innovation. It was just about invented by Rev. Hawker. Christians had always given thanks for the harvest. But it was not until Hawker devised the Harvest Festival that it turned into the service that we know today. On September 13, 1843, he put up a notice saying that there would a special Sunday of thanksgiving, and that the old custom of making eucharistic bread from the first corn would be revived. It read: "Let us gather together in the chancel of our church, and there receive, in the bread of the new corn, that blessed sacrament which was ordained to strengthen and refresh our souls."

Shipwrecks. When awakened in the middle of the night by the news of a shipwreck, he would leap out of bed and go down to the shore to supervise the retrieval of bodies from the sea, and to their eventual burial in the churchyard. As you enter Morwenstow churchyard, there is a Lych House, and it was here that the corpses of drowned sailors were laid out. The Reverend Hawker buried over forty sailors who were drowned at sea and washed up at the bottom of Vicarage Cliff. There is a white memorial figurehead of the "Caledonia" commemorating her Captain and crew who lie buried here. The "Caledonia" was a boat of 500 tons, from Scotland, which floundered on the rocks of Higher Sharpnose in 1842. A book "Treachery at Sharpnose Point: Unravelling the Mystery of the Caledonia's Final Voyage" sets out to show that Rev Hawker was implicated in the wrecking of the ship. The "Caledonia" figurehead marks the grave of nine of the ten man crew of that vessel. Hawker described the wrecking in his book "Footprints of Former Men in Far Cornwall". Nearby stands a tall granite cross marked "Unknown Yet Well Known", marking the mass grave of 30 or more sailors washed up on local beaches, including the captain of "The Alonzo", also wrecked in 1842. In the 1840 ships were being lost along the British coast at a rate of two a day.

"From Pentire Point to Hartland Light, a watery grave by day or night".

The Vicarage He built himself a remarkable vicarage, with chimneys modelled on the towers of the churches in his life: Tamerton, where he had been curate; Morwenstow, his other living of Wellcombe; plus that of Magdalen College, Oxford. The old kitchen chimney is a replica of Hawker's Mother's tomb.

On his death bed Hawker converted to the Roman Catholic Church. He was very high church, and this probably was his spiritual home. Interestingly 100 years later, Michael Ramsey, the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, preached at an ecumenical service in his honour. Ramsey described Hawker as "a beyond man in a beyond place", to whom all English Christians should be grateful.

Morwenstow Church Genealogical information on Genuki


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