Cornwall Information & Accommodation Guide

Morwenstow is the northenmost parish of Cornwall bounded by the north Cornish coast and the Tamar River, the border with Devon at Marsland Mouth.

Morwenstow Parish Church

Located in a remote position not far from magnificent cliffs the church is dedicated to St Morwenna, a local Saint and St John the Baptist.

A Grade 1 listed building with some Norman remains. It is likely an earlier Saxon church would have stood here.

Before 1291 the advowson was granted to St John's Hospital at Bridgwater by the Bishop of Exeter. In a document dated 1296, the church was referred to as an "old and well-known structure". Additions to the church were made in the 13th, 15th and 16th centuries.

The church consists of a west tower of three stages, a nave and chancel, five-bay north and south arcades, a south porch and a northeast vestry.

The western three bays of the north arcade are Norman and include zigzag carving and a carved ram's head. The two easterly arcades are Transitional. The south arcade is mainly Perpendicular in style.

The doorway to the porch consists of the outer order of a Norman doorway which has been moved from elsewhere. It includes zigzag carving and flowers carved in heavy relief. The doorway to the church itself consists of the inner two orders of the Norman doorway with zigzag carving on both orders. On the capitals are carved birds and pine cones.

The church was restored in the 1850s, when the box pews were removed. A further restoration took place around 1878. In 1887 a vestry was added.

The arcades date from the 12th, 13th and 15th centuries. The granite piers and arches are from the 16th-century.

Norman font
Chancel screen with 16th and 17th century carving.

One of the carved pew ends is inscribed T.K., for Rev Thomas Kempthorne, who was vicar from 1539 to 1594.

Reredos dated 1908 which was designed by E. H. Sedding and carved by the Pinwill sisters of Plymouth. It contains a cartoon by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta and three engravings by John-Baptist Jackson.


17th-century communion table.

Tomb chests and memorials including a slate memorial for Hawker's first wife, Charlotte.

Hawker memorial window by Lavers and Westlake which was erected in 1904. It depicts Parson Hawker and his dog, the church and various other features associated with him.

Organ built by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd of London in 1892 and rebuilt by Geo. Osmond of Taunton in 1969.

Ring of six bells. Four of these were cast by Abel Rudhall in 1753, the other two being by Mears & Stainbank of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry dated 1902.

The figurehead of the wrecked ship, Caledonia, stands in the churchyard.

Granite Celtic cross which is believed to have been moved from a nearby moor by Parson Hawker to commemorate the death of his first wife, Charlotte. Her initials C E H are carved on the shaft.

At the entrance to the churchyard are a stile, lychgate and a former mortuary. The stile dates from the 19th century. The lychgate, which is wooden with a slate roof, was built in 1641 and extensively repaired in 1738. The former mortuary, which is now used as a store, is a stone building which was used for laying out the corpses of drowned sailors.

In a corner of the vicarage garden is the holy well of St John with a medieval well house; its water has been used for baptisms for hundreds of years.

Famous People born in Morwenstow

Morwenstow parish was the birthplace of William Adams (1783-1827). Born at Stanbury Manor in 1783, Adams became a famous surgeon who specialised in eye surgery. He founded the Eye Infirmary at Exeter in 1808 and went on to be knighted in 1814 for his pioneering work in ophthalmic surgery.

Although not born here, another of Morwenstow's famous residents was the Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker, Vicar of Morwenstow Church from 1834 until the year of his death in 1875.

A year after becoming the Vicar of Morwenstow, Hawker began work on restoring the church and building a vicarage. He was the first resident vicar at Morwenstow for over 100 years.
His vicarage can still be seen today with its chimneys modelled on churches which had influenced his life including Tamerton, Morwenstow, Welcombe and Magdalen College, Oxford. The old kitchen chimney is a replica of Hawker's mother's tomb.

Hawker is believed to have been a rather eccentric parson. He disliked dark clothing but instead wore bright colours including a claret-coloured coat, blue fishermen's jersey, a pink hat - sometimes broad-rimmed and other times a fez, long sea-boots, red gloves, red trousers and a yellow poncho made from a horse blanket. It is said that he sometimes dressed as a mermaid.

His eccentricities extended to his pets and other animals who he adored. He excommunicated one of his pet cats for catching mice on Sundays, invited his ten cats to attend church, kept a domesticated stag, talked to birds and kept a pet pig, who accompanied him on walks around the parish.

On 1st October 1843, he was responsible for introducing the type of Harvest Festival which is used today. Hawker invited his parishioners to take communion with bread made from the first cut of corn taken during harvest.

Hawker wrote many books on subjects as diverse as smuggling, Arthurian legend and poetry.

The famous Cornish anthem, 'Song of the Western Men' otherwise known as 'Trelawney' was written by Hawker.

Hawker's Hut can be found perched atop the cliffs a short walk from the church.

Of his interesting life, Hawker himself wrote: "What a life mine would be if it were all written and published in a book."

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