Fowey, St Fimbarrus

Grid ref SX125513
Church Square, Fowey, PL23 1BU


This ancient church was dedicated to St Barry who by the late 13th century was sometimes confused with the Irish saint Finnbarr, first Bishop of Cork.  As St Barry was reputed to be buried at Fowey, he may have been a saint unique to Fowey.  A man with this name appears in a stained glass window at St Neot as Neot’s servant and a connection is likely as St Barry of Fowey and St Neot shared the same feast day.

Only the font has survived from the Norman church here.  With a round bowl and striking palmette leaf design, it is typical of 11th century fonts in South Cornwall and South Devon including Lanreath and Dartmouth.  Vicars are noted from the early 1260s.

The present church was built shortly before 1336 with simple octagonal columns, lean-to north and south aisles, a lack of decorative capitals, and a clerestory (row of upper windows).  This style is also found up-river at Lostwithiel, one of only a handful of Cornish churches which retains a clerestory.

Fowey was a base for pirates during much of its history. The town was attacked by the French in 1457 and the raiders were repulsed at “Place’’, the neighbouring great house, by Elizabeth Treffry  (a member of the family which still lives there) who is reputed to have had molten lead poured over the attackers.  The work of restoration began about 1460 with the help of the Earl of Warwick, and lasted until the next century. Warwick’s badge can be seen on the outside of the impressive church tower and there are monumental brasses of this date, too. Inside the tower, there is an 18th Century Ringers’ Board, with bell ringers in contemporary dress.  Fowey Church now has eight bells and the tower clock was added in 1620.


Merchants and local gentry left money to enlarge the south aisle as a Lady chapel and processional aisle in the 1500s.  Angels in the wagon roof of the nave and chancel also have rather long Tudor hair-styles of this date suggesting that re-roofing may have been necessary when a rood screen was introduced.  Its position is indicated by the stone stairway which can be seen in the North Chancel wall.  The nave roof was restored in the early 20th century, further work being carried out in 2009. The pulpit was made in 1601 and Fowey has an exceptionally interesting collection of monuments commemorating the Treffry and Rashleigh families.

In 1876, an important restoration took place removing the Western gallery, providing a new roof for the North aisle, a clergy vestry, choir stalls and pews for the congregation. The choir vestry was added in 1894.  The screen was erected in 1907 in memory of Canon H N Purcell, vicar of Fowey for over 50 years and a wooden reredos and panelling in 1947 in memory of Colonel Edward Treffry and the Rev. and Mrs F H Treffry; the Chancel was paved then with Cornish slate slabs. The tablets containing the Creed and the Ten Commandments, in memory of Canon W R Guest and others, were erected in 1970.  Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, the town’s most famous resident, died here in 1944.

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