History Group Talk July 2015


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Violet Pinwill’s Dartmoor Churches by Dr Helen Watson

Précis of July speaker.

Dr  Helen Wilson, a Plymouthian, has done considerable research into three women who in the 1800’s became famous for ecclesiastical wood carving.
Mary. Esther and Violet Pinwill, were three of the seven daughters of the vicar of Ermington. The girls grandfather was also a wood carver, and their father too was interested in woodwork. The church at that time was in need of some restoration, and the vicar decided to do so. Lord Mildmay of the nearby Holbeton also was interested in restoration of Holbeton church, and both approached the architects Snedding. Lord Mildmay, with considerable more money at his disposal, secured the services of the senior architect, and Snedding’s nephew Edmund, was assigned the Ermington project. This may have been an advantage, since the younger man was able at times to add small features with a more modern touch.
In 1890.the sisters set up in business under the name of Rashleigh, Pinwill and co. The pulpit at Ermington church, installed in 1893 was one of their pieces, and as with all their work, was carried out using oak. They secured work over much of Devon, particularly the area around Plymouth, but examples of their work, can be found in most parts. The chancel screen at Manaton, dates from 1893,and their work can also be found at Mary Tavy dating from 1894. However by 1896 the company moved to Plymouth, with premises in Athenium Street, Mary had married in 1900 and retired, Ethel and Violet continued to run the business and they became well known and noted craftsmen. When, in 1911 Esther too, left and moved to London, it was even more necessary to take on more carvers, and the firm became V.Pinwill Carvers. It is thought that Violet was involved in working in an aeroplane factory during the war making propellers, she died in 1957. Dr Wilson has knowledge of work in 184 churches in Devon and Cornwall, and of 16 in other parts of the country, there is even an example of their work in British Guiana.
Some of the churches here on Dartmoor at which we can see the Pinwill work include, Harford, Sheepstor, where there are bench ends, one of which depicts the signing of The Magna Carta.
Yelverton, Lydford, Postbridge, have some bench ends which depict wildlife, also Buckland in the Moor. Architect Edmund Snedding designed St Mary’s, Abbotsbury in Newton Abbot.
The Pinwill Firm appears to have had a monopoly of the ecclesiastical work in Cornwall, with an even spread from Sennen in the extreme West, to Bude in the North.
A visit has been arranged for July 22nd to meet Dr Wilson again, and view the carvings at Buckland-in-the-Moor Church, and to travel on to Postbridge Church also, and finish with a cream tea at Beechwood, Postbridge.


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