Wembury, Devon - Genealogy and Family Histoy

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Wembury

St. Werburgh

St. Werburgh Church at Wembury, overlooking the sea.

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Historical Overview

A picture taken from Wembury Beach.  At the top of the hill, you can see St. Werburgh Church and in the centre is Wembury Mill now used as a Cafe. Wembury lies about 6 miles south-east of the centre of the City of Plymouth.  The parish lies on the coast and includes the hamlets of Knighton and Down Thomas.

Saxon Beginnings

Settlement at Wembury is believed to date back to Saxon times - "bury" in topographical terms means "a fortified structure or stronghold", so it is likely that Wembury grew up as a look-out post against attacks by the Danes in the 9th century.  The views across the sea would have meant that the locals would have had plenty of warning from any pending attack, although this did not necessarily stop such an attack happening.  Mee (1965) mentions the fact that "stories are told" of a battle that was fought here between the Saxons and Danes some 1000 years ago (p.297).  Although sadly he fails to give an exact date, but if anyone knows more about this, I would be very interested to hear.

St. Werburgh Church and other Chapels

Another view of Wembury Church showing part of the tiny graveyard in front of the church.

Wembury's beautiful, quaint parish church lies right on the coast,  at the top of a hill, overlooking the sea, as can be seen from the pictures above.  It is dedicated to St. Werburgh, the niece of the Saxon King Ethelred, thus further enhancing the belief of the parishes' Saxon beginnings.  Mee (1965) tells us that the church still has evidence of its 15th century features, so presumably this was around the time that it was built, although no doubt a wooden structure would have existed in Saxon times.

Kelly (1893) gives the following description of Wembury Church:

"The church of St. Werburg, situated close to the sea and at some distance from the village, is a plain building of local stone in the Early English style, consisting of chancel, nave, aisles, south porch and an embattled western town containing 3 bells, of which the first is dated 1675, the second is a plain bell badly cast, with the inscription 'When I doe call, then follow me all,' and the tenor dates from 1631: in the church are several monuments, including one dated 1677 to the family of Calmady..." (p. 664)

Another view of St. Werburg. The picture above shows the main porch and part of the tiny graveyard that surrounds it.  Around the back of the church are some further gravestones and another view of the church (shown below), perhaps gives some indication of just how small the original graveyard really is.  As you can see the surrounding wall is quite close to the edge of the hill.

Other religious denominations in the parish included some non-conformists.  White (1850) mentions that the Wesleyan's built a Chapel in the parish in 1820. 

Langdon Court

Langdon Court, an Elizabethan Mansion House, was the former Manor of Wembury, and built in 1577 by the CALMADY family from Plymouth.  Until the dissolution it belonged to Plympton Priory.  In 1592 it was acquired by Sir John HELE, a lawyer, who was sergeant-at-law to Queen Elizabeth I and King James I, he also took part in the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh.  HELE died on the 4th June 1608, but is remembered inside St. Werburgh Church by a magnificent monument which spans from the floor to the ceiling.  Langdon Court, is now a hotel and restaurant set in beautiful surroundings.  You can find some photographs and more about its history on the Langdon Court Restaurant and Hotel site.

Parish Life

There appear to have been two Public Houses within the parish.  Below shows the publicans, otherwise then known as victuallers, inn keepers in both 1851 and 1893:

Name Place 1851 Census Kelly (1893)
Jubilee Inn Knighton Richard GREGORY Alfred PERRING
New Inn Wembury John TAYLOR Thomas HURRELL

Another prominent occupation in the parish over the years, as of many country communities, has been farming.  Kelly's (1893) lists wheat, oats, barley and turnips as the main crops grown in the parish.  Like many other farming communities the population of Wembury decreased between the 1851 and 1901 census. 

There is no mention of a school in Wembury at all until Kelly's (1893), where he mentions that a Board School was built in the parish in 1876 to cater for 80 children.  The school master was James HARRY and the average attendance was said to be 75 pupils. 

The "Old Mill Café ", Wembury's former Mill lying right next to the beach.

The Mill

On the beach is the Old Mill Café and as its name suggests, it is a café housed in Wembury's former mill house.  It is at least 150 years old as it is mentioned in the 1851 census.  Thomas COOK and his family were living here at the time.  Kelly's (1893) lists the Mill as being a "water-mill".  By then, the local Miller was William BEER.  From looking at the censuses it appears that the building behind the "Old Mill" was probably Wembury Mill Cottage as this is listed separately from the Mill House.  Near the former Mill House, is the River Yealm estuary that runs into the sea.

Coast Guard Station

Wembury also had a Coast Guard station, listed as "Coast Guard Buildings" in the 1851 census of the parish.  6 separate families are listed, interestingly all the "coast guards" were born elsewhere other than in Wembury.  Presumably such people moved around to various parishes where they could get work.  The following were listed as Heads of Households living at the Coast Guard Buildings in Wembury in the 1851 Census:

Name Occupation Born  Place of Birth
Robert O'BRIEN Lieutenant RN c1809 Galway, Ireland
Edward BARTER Comm. Boatman Coast Guard c1801 Isle of Wight, Hampshire
Samuel STEDIFORD Boatman Coast Guard c1813 Scilly, Cornwall
William SPENCER Boatman Coast Guard c1821 Sidmouth, Devon
William JOHNSON Boatman Coast Guard c1815 Down, Ireland
James GOGGIN Comm. Boatman Coast Guard c1805 Ireland

Source: 1851 Census ©Crown Copyright

Kelly (1893) also mentions the coastguard station.  John BROCK is listed as the Superintendent and the entry also says "and 6 men", although no other names are mentioned. 

Great Mewstone Rock, just off the coast of Wembury.Great Mewstone Rock and HMS Cambridge

Just off the coast of Wembury is Great Mewstone Rock, home to many varieties of sea birds.  Until being sold to developers a few years ago, nearby on the mainland used to be HMS Cambridge, a former Royal Naval Gunnery School.  Great Mewstone Rock used to be used for "live" firing practice by the Royal Navy, which if their accuracy was any good, might account for its shape one side!   Historically, though, HMS Cambridge had not always been a land base as you can find out by visiting Steve Johnson's interesting site HMS Cambridge - The Famous Naval Gunnery School.

Wembury Today

Since the 1930's, the parish of Wembury has grown rapidly, the population tripling itself between the 1931 and 1961 census.  But since the 1960's, Wembury's population has nearly doubled.  See Historic Populations below.

The River Yealm estuary that runs into the sea.  In the background to the right you can just see some of Wembury Village which lies about a mile from the beach. Undoubtedly Wembury must be a beautiful parish to live in, it's popularity coming from the panoramic views that surround the village and from the parish being close to the sea.  It is near enough to the City of Plymouth for shopping and other amenities, but away from the hustle and bustle that goes with living in a larger town or city.  

The beach at Wembury is a designated Marine Conservation Area. Wembury Marine Centre is an educational centre where you can learn about wildlife in the area through interactive displays and rockpool rambles.  It is a popular place for local schools to visit for educational visits and highly suitable for them learning about sea-life, geology and geographical landscapes. See Wembury Marine Centre: Events for further information on the events running over the coming months.

Children from Austin Farm Primary School in Plymouth, rock rambling at Wembury.  In the centre in the stripey t-shirt is my son Liam.Wembury beach is also very popular with both local people and tourists too, especially in the summer months.The top of the beach remains pebbly and when the tide is in, the beach is quite small.  But when it goes out again, it leaves a lovely sandy beach surrounded by an array of rock pools that contain numerous varieties of crabs, sea anemones and other forms of sea-life.  These are only accessible at low tide, but very interesting to explore. I would highly recommend going on one of the organised rockpool rambles if you get the chance.  Just be careful on the rocks though - they can be very slippery sometimes, especially those covered in seaweed.  

I was lucky enough to go on one of the rockpool rambles with Austin Farm Primary School in Plymouth back in June 2003. We had a wonderful time clambering around on the rocks and seeing what we could find in the rock pools.  It was an interesting experience and we learnt so much that day.  I was surprised to learn that if crabs loose any of their limbs, in time, they will grow back again.  They also shed their shells as they grow.  So we learn something new every day!

If you are lucky enough to ever visit, you never know, you might just spot one of the many dolphins and porpoises that have in the past been spotted swimming in the area!


Sources

Books - click for sources.

Historic Populations

Year 1801 1851 1901 1931 1961 1971 1981 1991 2001
Population 390 577 501 596 1423 2062 2268 2901 2884

Source: 1801-1991 Census ©Crown Copyright
Source: 2001 Registrar General Population Estimates

Data originally from Devon Facts and Figures part of the Devon County Council website. [no longer available]


Map of the Area


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