St Werburgh’s Church at Wembury

The Box

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St Werburgh’s Church in Wembury must have one of the most picturesque locations in the UK.

Positioned on the cliff top above Wembury Beach, it’s surrounded by land belonging to the National Trust with views over the Yealm Estuary and the Mewstone – the small, triangular island and important conservation site that lies about half a mile off the coast. 

The church is part of the Diocese of Exeter and serves the parish of Wembury as well as the nearby communities of Heybrook Bay and Down Thomas.

According to its website, the main part of the current church was built by the Normans in 1088, replacing an earlier wooden building that dated from Saxon times (410-1066).

The last part of the building to be completed was the tower in the 1400s. An inventory dating from 1552 records three bells.

In the 1880s a substantial amount of restoration work to the church took place, funded by the Cory family of Langdon Court. This wealthy family of coal merchants purchased the Langdon Estate in 1872 and it remained in their ownership until 1927.

In 1909 the bell peal at St Werburgh’s was increased to five and the bells were recast to repair their cracks. A sixth bell was added in 1948 in memory of all the parishioners who lost their lives in the Second World War.

Other interesting features in the church include a series of stained-glass windows, carvings of St. Werburgh and the four gospel writers on the nave roof and some original medieval timbers.

Find out even more about the church from these links:

St Werburgh’s is the main feature in this oil painting which was gifted to our permanent art collection in 1977.

Wembury Church painting by Henry George Cogle © The Box, Plymouth

The Mewstone is clearly visible in the background. In the bottom right, you can see two figures walking towards the church. There are some grey clouds in the sky and the sea looks quite choppy too.

The artist’s initials and surname can be seen bottom left – H G Cogle. Henry George Cogle (c.1875-1957) was born in Plymouth and started life as an engineer in the Devonport dockyard. He eventually decided to change careers and, having gained the necessary qualifications, ended up teaching art in Belfast.

By this point he’d also married – his wife Sarah was a farmer’s daughter from Chagford, Dartmoor. They had a daughter called Marjorie who would go on to become an actress. In 1909 they moved to London. Henry taught at the Battersea Polytechnic Institute for many years and also exhibited his paintings at the Royal Academy on seven different occasions.

In later life Henry apparently had a house in Newton Ferrers – not that far from the location captured in this painting.

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